Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Shiso Shochu

Shochu is one of the more difficult alcoholic beverages to describe. According to the wiki entry, a recipe resembling shochu is believed to have originated in Persia as "arak". Arak arrived in Japan in the mid-1500's in Kagoshima at the southwestern tip of Kyushu. The reason why it's so difficult to describe is that unlike something like wine, whiskey or vodka, shochu doesn't refer to the starting materials. Instead, it's more of a process that can use a wide variety of materials as long as it has starch. The classic ingredients are rice, barley, sweet potato or brown sugar. The point is that shochu was made with whatever was available in that region.

Barley and sweet potato shochus have fairly strong earthy flavors that keep them from mixing well in drinks. I like them on the rocks, although I'm told they go well with hot water. They're good straight, too. The brown sugar shochu is very sweet and does taste like sugar. It goes well with club soda.

Now, other base ingredients include soba, which is a noodle made from buckwheat. And then there's shiso. One website I stumbled across had someone comment that shiso is one of those things that the originators of shochu would blanch at. Thing is shiso shochu is quite famous in Japan and very popular, so I'm thinking that the commentor isn't a big shochu drinker. In any event, this is one of the most bizarre shochu's I've had to-date. A sake fan I talked to described shizo as being like apricot. I found it to be very aromatic and almost perfumy, with some identifiable apricot notes. It's kind of sweet and blends with Canadian Dry ginger ale to become almost undetectable. This particular bottle, from Hokkaido, is 860 yen ($9.50 USD) which is very affordable. Highly recommended if you're looking for something new to try. (The Rakuten auction site description for this other bottle is funny.)

Next up is rice shochu and soba shochu.

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