Episode 055 - The Shochu Episode
What’s shakin, cocktail fans?
Welcome back to another episode of the Modern Bar Cart Podcast!
This week’s guest is Taka Amano of New American Spirits, makers of Umai! Shochu, which is a traditional Japanese spirit that Taka is bringing to the American spirits market.
In this really fascinating conversation, some of the topics we cover include:
- How Taka used his experience traveling and working within the Japanese biotech space to become an ambassador for Shochu here in the US.
- Shochu base grains and production methods, including the use of ASPERGILLUS...that’s right. Black mold.
- The history of Shochu distillation in Japan, including how it’s becoming one of the most popular spirits on the market today.
- Shochu cocktails and the best way to enjoy shochu at home and abroad
- How to find a quality bottle here in the US
- And much, much more.
Featured Cocktail - The Highball
This week’s featured cocktail is the highball - it’s light, sessionable, refreshing, and a really perfect way to get to know your favorite spirits just a little bit better. The beauty of the highball is its incredible versatility. You can make it with any spirit you please, and the recipe is as follows:
In a tall highball (or Collins) glass filled with ice, combine:
- 2 oz of your favorite spirit
- And 6-8 oz of seltzer water
It’s as simple as that...or is it?
A lot of folks out there in the craft bartending world make a big to-do about stirring the highball, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It makes sense that you’d want to either use a reusable straw, or a swizzle stick, or even a bar spoon to give your highball a little agitation to enhance the mixing and chilling of the ingredients. Some folks have a superstition as to the precise number of times a highball should be stirred, but if you ask us, just give it three or four rotations around the glass and go to town.
Shochu is a spirit that most folks aren't familiar with here in the United States, so we'll try and give a pretty solid rundown of the thing you need to know when exploring this delicious distilled beverage for yourself.
Shochu traditionally weighs in at around 24% or 25% ABV, which makes it a bit more sessionable than most distilled spirits. It can be consumed neat, on the rocks, in a highball (or Chūhai), or in a cocktail.
Shochu Base Grains
There are many different base grains that can be used to distill Shochu. Unlike rum, which can only be made from sugar or sugar byproducts, or Scotch must be made using malted barley, Shochu doesn't have that kind of restriction.
Some of the most popular base grains used to produce Shochu in Japan are:
- Barley (mugi)
- Sweet Potato (imo)
- Rice (komei)
- Buckwheat (soba)
Koji is the name for the Aspergillus Luchuensus used to kick off the fermentation process. There are two types (white and black), and these microorganisms create enzymes that sugarize the barley used to make the Shochu. This fermentation process takes about two weeks from start to finish, which is much longer than most spirit fermentations.
Not only does the Koji help kick off the sugars in the barley, but it also produces a special type of citric acid that helps to preserve the shochu mash while it ferments.
It is said that Shochu production stretches back to at least the 16th century in Japan, and perhaps earlier, having been derived from distilling practices elsewhere in Asia. Originally, Shochu (a very blue colllar liquor) was made from the leftovers of Sake (a drink for the upper classes).
A Manhattan. I've been into Manhattans for quite a while, but I think there's a Manhattan resurgence going on right now.
If You Were a Cocktail Tool or Ingredient, What Would You Be?
I would be a Madorā, which is a Japanese word for a stir stick, derived from the world "muddler."
Cocktail with Anyone, Past or Present
A nice craft beer with Bernie Sanders.
Influential Shochu Narrative
The story of Kirishima Distillery is really inspiring.
Advice for New Home Bartenders
If you're getting into shochu, perhaps start off with a barley (mugi) base, which tends to be the most accessible for the western palate. If that tickles your fancy, the sweet potato (imo) versions, there are a lot of different flavors to get into.