SpiritsHandpicked by IWSC

Award-winning shochu to try

With tasting notes ranging from lemon sherbet and jalapeños to umami and mushroom, these are 16 of the best shochu bottlings from the IWSC 2023

Words by IWSC Judges

shochu cocktail in glass on table
Handpicked by IWSC

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.

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.

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.

sochu distillery
Blossoms outside Machida Shuzo distillery on Amami Island in the Pacific Ocean

A total of three shochu bottlings scored an impressive 98/100 in the shochu category of this year’s IWSC, each earning a Gold medal. Judges praised the ‘autumnal forest floor’ on the nose of Sakagura Ohtemon’s Aku No Kurobuka AQ Shochu, while orange flower, lychee and kiwi leapt out from Hamada Syuzou Co’s Daiyame Shochu and baked apples, vanilla and plums were at the forefront of Komasa Jyozo Co’s Mellowed Kozuru Excellence Shochu. All three go a long way to demonstrating the gamut of flavours and aromas encompassed within this versatile style of spirit.

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

kome rice sochu


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.


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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