Discovering Shochu: Episode 11 – Honkaku Shochu
Among all distilled liquors of the world, only Honkaku Shochu uses Koji to break down starch into glucose to ferment the Moromi mash. With hand-crafted artisan Jizake as the national brewed liquor of Japan, Honkaku Shochu is the nation’s distilled version.
Differentiating from other Shochu’s, Honkaku Shochu undergoes single distillation to retain the unique flavor and aroma of its original base ingredients. Regular shochu on the other hand undergoes multiple distillation which removes all traces of flavor and aroma, and into a neutral alcohol. The Japanese word Honkaku literally means “authentic”, and Honkaku Shochu refers to shochu that retains the original, authentic flavor of the ingredient used.
Unique Characteristics of Honkaku Shochu
- Distilled only once, using a single distillation machine
Unlike tequila that’s distilled multiple times using a single distillation machine, or vodka, gin, and rum that are distilled with continuous distillation machines, Honkaku shochu is distilled only once through a single distillation machine. By distilling only once, Honkaku shochu retains the natural flavor and aroma of the base ingredients.
- Uses Koji
Malt is an often used ingredient for Western liquors. Malt modifies the grain’s starches to convert into glucose. However, for Honkaku Shochu, Koji is the required ingredient for converting starch into glucose. The converted glucose is then fermented using yeast.
Many Honkaku Shochu Breweries are concentrated in the southern island of Kyushu, where the high temperature and humidity is ideal for Shochu fermentation. Koji helps produce citric acid which suppresses bacteria that breed in the warm environment and may interfere with a healthy fermentation.
- Undergoes the multiple parallel fermentation process
Honkaku Shochu is produced by heikou fukuhakkou or multiple parallel fermentation, where two major processes occur simultaneously, and in the same tank. Koji actively breaks down starch molecules into smaller fermentable glucose, whilst yeast converts that glucose into alcohol. This fermentation process is the same with sake production, but unique from all other liquors of the world.
- Locally sourced ingredients, culture
Breweries use ingredients that highlight the region of the brewery. The water, climate, Toji (brew master), brewing process, history and culinary culture all play a role in creating a brew unique to that particular region.
- Pure, unfortified flavors or aromas
Distilled liquors from the Western world include ones with juniper, caraway seeds, grassroots, and peat to fortify flavors and add aroma. However, by the definition of Honkaku Shochu, the base ingredient is its only flavor and aroma enhancer – nothing can be added. Should other ingredients be added, such as shiso or yuzu, it then is categorized as a liquor product. In the case of Aged Honkaku Shochu, this type takes on distinct aromas and flavors, naturally, as it ages in jars and barrels.
The Appeal of Honkaku Shochu
- Health benefits
Honkaku Shochu is a distilled liquor, and thus sugar-free. Medical studies have shown that it also improves blood circulation.
- Easy to customize
Alcohol level and temperatures can be customized to one’s liking and physical condition. Adjusting temperature and strength is simple.
- An any occasion drink
As with brandy and gin, Honkaku Shochu can be enjoyed on many occasions – before, during and after a meal. The affordable price allows it to become “the everyday drink”.
There are endless ways of enjoying Honkaku Shochu – straight up, on the rocks, mizu-wari (with water), oyu-wari (with warm water) and kan (warmed). Similar to sake, warm Honkaku Shochu is quite unique compared to Western liquors.
- Regional charm
Honkaku Shochu bottles local ingredients, and uses unique distilling methods and aging processes, to offer a “tasting trip enjoyment” to that region without having to go there.
- Clear ingredient classification
Each Honkaku Shochu product clearly lists the main ingredient which helps drinkers make their selections.
- Japanese Kodawari
Japan is known for kodawari, a passion for reaching perfection. In this never-ending pursuit, the breweries fork out the best in bottling their Honkaku Shochu products.