Types of Honkaku Shochu by raw materials

Sweet Potato Shochu

Sweet potato Shochu is perhaps the most surprising and probably the last of the big three to appear in Japan, since potatoes came from the Americas, that were discovered by Christopher Columbus only in 1492; therefore, we can assume they were unknown to Japanese when the Portuguese arrived in 1543.

Sweet potatoes are cultivated in numerous varieties and therefore make the most fragrant and diverse products, much like wine. For this reason, these spirits are probably the most suitable for consumption with meals – provided they are properly diluted to 12-15 degrees alcohol.

For sweet potatoes Shochu, only white koji is used, usually grafted onto rice. Thus, the typical resulting product is approximately 85% potato and 15% rice. Pure sweet potato Shochu is almost non-existent.

Because of its rich floral and fresh aromas, there is a tendency not to age it and to bottle sweet potato Shochu at 25-30 proof. However, there is no shortage of full-degree products, which tend to be rare, of very high quality and generally expensive.

Barley Shochu

Honkaku Shochu is also obtained from barley fermentation. These type of products are the most palatable to Western consumers, who are normally used to beverages derived from barley, like beer and whisky.

This family of Honkaku Shochu is very wide and includes spirits of all kinds, bottled in a very wide range from 20° to 45° alcohol proof.

Those with lower alcohol content, 20 to 25%, are generally not aged and intended for a further dilution directly in the glass, in order to obtain drinks ranging from 12 to 15% alcohol, since they are generally consumed with meals.

Honkaku Shochu with higher percentage of alcohol, 35 and above, are also consumed diluted, but their cost and relative scarcity make them less suitable to accompany meals.

Many barley Honkaku Shochu are aged in wooden casks until they are similar to whisky, or at least they look like it. Nevertheless, since Shochu is distilled only once, ageing is shorter and the taste of barley much more evident than in almost any whisky, which is distilled twice (three times in Ireland) and therefore tends to loose the raw material’s aromatic molecules.

Rice Shochu

Rice, both indica and japonica, is the staple of many Asian cuisines, including that of Japan. Therefore, it is likely that the first Shochu was obtained from the fermentation and further distillation of this cereal.

The product obtained from rice is characterised by a great versatility. Probably, more than any other type of Honkaku Shochu. In fact, it can be processed with white, black and even yellow koji – the latter in the case of sake kasu, which is the residual of rice fermented must, after pressing during sake production process. Rice can be distilled at atmospheric pressure or in vacuum, to produce delicate spirits that are similar to vodka, though preserving the character of raw material. Finally, it is bottled with or without ageing. If it is aged, it can go on for decades, as in the case of Awamori from Okinawa, it can be kept in enamelled amphoras or wooden casks.

Certain producers, who age rice Honkaku Shochu in wooden casks, have obtained spirits that are exactly as Japanese rice whisky would have been, if it ever existed. A real case of innovation into tradition.

Sugar cane Shochu

Honkaku Shochu cannot be obtained from sugar cane in Japan, except on Amami island.

The official name of Shochu made from sugar cane is: “Amami Kokutou Shochu”, and it is an island speciality. On Amami, just like Okinawa, Awamori is being produced since the Edo period. When the island was returned to Japan, after the second world war, there was an excess of sugar cane production that was absorbed by distillation, with the technologies used for Shochu at the time.

The main ingredient is the juice obtained by pressing sugar cane, which is added to koji rice already in the fermentation stage and finally distilled. Sugar cane Shochu, is traditionally distilled at atmospheric pressure and nowadays in vacuum, to obtain more palatable products.

Honkaku Shochu from other botanical species.

Over time, approximately 50 different botanical varieties, both terrestrial and marine, have been used to make Honkaku Shochu, either alone or in combination of two or more. In extreme synthesis, Shochu cannot be made from fruits, because in this case it would be brandy.

This means, you will not find a pear, cherry or raspberry Honkaku Shochu, but rather a ginger, peppers, carrots or even marine algae one.

It is unlikely that any of these botanical varieties will be distilled by themselves. The technique generally involves the use of rice koji, then barley and then a certain amount of one or more botanic spices, whose function is to lend aroma and taste to the finished products. These ingredients ferment together and the resulting mix undergoes one single distillation.

Therefore, the products derived from this method have very intense aromas and taste. This specific technique, a Japanese exclusive, allows the production of Shochu that is already at low alcohol content, for instance 25 degrees or less once diluted and enjoys the amplified characteristics of a gin. For this reason, Honkaku Shochu from certain botanical varieties can be considered a sort of “Japanese super gin”.


Type of Shochu and alcohol content

Less than 25% alcoholFrom 25 to 30% alcholAbove 30% alcohol


Essentially consumed with meals, if distilled at atmospheric pressure. Ideal in cocktails instead of vodka when distilled in vacuum.

Intended for long ageing in different materials.


Ready to drink shortly after distillation. Ideal for long drinks.

Ideal with meals in one of the many dilutions used in Japan.

Generally aged in wooden casks, to be consumed in a similar way to whisky.


Rich in aroma, flowery, ideal over meals, diluted with sparkling water.

Rich in aroma, flowery, ideal over meals, diluted with sparkling water.

Expensive and relatively rare products, recommended for the most refined consumers in search of new experiences.

Sugar cane

Easy to drink, has a delicate aroma but also tasty.

Rich in aroma, similar to rum and adaptable to cocktails like mojito.

Enhances the raw material potential. It has a pleasant after taste.

Other botanic

Ideal instead of gin in any recipe that makes use of it.









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