Shochu was first made in Japan over 500 years ago, and can be crafted from 55 different raw and processed ingredients, but is usually made from sweet potato, barley, buckwheat or rice. It has a relatively low ABV (around 20-30%) and is typically served on ice, with hot or cold water for dilution, or mixed with tonic or soda. Indeed, with international recognition for Asian spirits on the rise, shochu has been cropping up on bar menus around the world and in cocktails like highballs or even Martinis.
There are several different kinds of shochu on the market, with Honkaku shochu being of the highest quality. This kind of shochu is fermented using koji and yeast, distilled once and through the use of single pot distillation to retain the authentic flavour of the base ingredient.
Once distilled, there are a few different ways in which shochu can be aged. The first is in a barrel, which results in sweeter vanilla notes; the second in ceramic pots, which produces a milder shochu; and lastly in stainless steel tanks, which makes the purest shochu and places emphasis on the spirit’s base ingredients.
Kiyata Co.’s Mugi Shochu was the top scoring spirit in the shochu category of this year’s IWSC, scoring an impressive 99 points and earning a Gold medal. Judges praised the superbly complex flavours, citing ‘puffed corn, butter, burnt toast, fire-cracker, cigar, gun smoke, barley, toasted cookie, nuts and cream’ as some of the notes from the bottle.
Similarly impressive was Iichiko Saiten Shochu, which scored 98 points and showed off ‘nutty, oily, roasted barley aromas followed by a lovely palate.’
If you’re keen to explore a more savoury shochu, then Beyond Shochu from Mizuho Shuzo came highly praised from judges who were keen on the big, bold flavours with notes of ‘umami, bark, wood, beef dashi, creamy mushroom and baked apple aromas that carry through to the palate.’
All the shochu on this list was tasted blind by an expert panel of judges, including the Managing Director at JFC (UK) LTD. (a Japanese food distributor) Tetsusaburo Mogi, sake sommelier and founder of Tengu Sake Oliver Hilton-Johnson and bar owner Samuel Boulton.
HOW DO WE JUDGE THESE SPIRITS?
We run a tightly structured, rigorous spirits tasting process. That means that each spirit sample is pre-poured into numbered glasses and assessed blindly by the judges. Most importantly, our IWSC spirit judges are experts in their field, who work across all sectors of the drinks industry. For evidence, see our full list of judges.
HOW DO WE SCORE THESE SPIRITS?
Only the best spirits sampled receive a Gold or Silver award. For example, to win Gold, spirits have to score between 95 and 100 points. Meanwhile, Silver wines range from 90 to 94 points. Click here to read more on our scoring system.
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