I had never tasted a shochu before but wanted to know more about them and to start an exploration of the various types of shochu. I am adventurous and always open to trying new wines and liquors. But where to start? I really needed a recommendation from someone, to find a shochu for a beginner like me.
So, during my recent visit to Sakaya in New York City, I asked Hiroko, one of the owners, for a shochu recommendation. They obviously knew their Sake and they carried a number of different bottles of shochu. I wanted something relatively smooth, something to ease my way into the world of shochu. Newbie shochu.
Hiroko recommended the Satsuma Hozan Imo Shochu ($36.99) and I bought a bottle. This shochu is from the Kagoshima Prefecture and made by the Nishi Shuzo brewery. It is made from 83% sweet potato and 17% rice. It is also an otsurui, meaning it had only a single distillation. The shochu has an alcohol content of 25% and they used white koji in the distillation process.
I brought the bottle with me to my local poker game, figuring my buddies would be interested in trying the shochu. Many of them enjoy premium liquors, such as vodka, tequila and scotch, so I felt the shochu would fit in. I chilled the shochu and everyone drank it straight.
I found the shochu to have an aromatic nose, almost like a less expensive tequila or scotch. I think the smell could be a bit strong for some though I had no problem with it. As I have no other comparison, I can't say whether this smell is typical to sweet potato shochu or not, though I am aware sweet potato shochu is aromatic. As for the taste, it is smooth and easy drinking until you get to the finish. The finish is a bit harsher, more like a scotch but without any real burn. You can tell as well that it has a high alcohol content. I found it interesting and did have a few small glasses of it. My friends also generally liked it though none of them raved about it.
I really need to try some more shochu, to get a better baseline for how it should smell and taste. I liked this shochu though I did not find it to be excellent. It was a bit harsher than I prefer my premium liquors. But, I liked it enough to keep trying more shochu. If you have not tried shochu, this is probably a good place to start.