Discovering Shochu – Episode 13 – Shochu Certified as Japanese National Alcoholic Beverage

On April 15, 2012, the Japanese government officially announced Sake and Shochu as Japan’s National Alcoholic Beverages.


Shochu: Uniquely Japanese


The precise answer to why Shochu is Japan’s National Alcoholic Beverage is that, Shochu is made with ingredients grown and harvested in Japan, and that it uses Koji in the fermentation process, the unique mold indigenous to Japan.


In the strictest sense, Koji use is not limited to Japanese culture. In fact, in China, there’s a type of Koji that’s similar and derived from Rizophus and mucor, two different types of mold, however, it is very different from the Koji of Japan. The ensuing process of fermenting the Moromi mash and then brewing, also differ between the two countries. Brewing Shochu: A Distinctively Unique Process


Rice Koji used in brewing Sake and Shochu are made in the exact same way. For Shochu, although most breweries use rice Koji as a fermentation starter base, there are now many that have developed ways of producing koji using other ingredients such as sweet potato and barley.


In most Western alcoholic beverage production, the malting process converts starches into sugars, which yeast can convert into alcohol with relative ease.  In the case of Japanese alcohols, however, with rice as the most widely used base ingredient, the grain provides a rather unfriendly, sugar-deprived environment not conducive to alcohol production.  First, the magical working of Koji is required to break down the long string of starch molecules into smaller, fermentable glucose that can then allow conversion into alcohol.


The starch conversion into glucose, and glucose into alcohol occur at the same time, in the same tank, which leads to another unique aspect of the Japanese brewing art: parallel fermentation.  It’s a complicated procedure, however, Koji is one of key reasons why Japanese brewed liquors achieve the highest naturally brewed alcohol in the world.  Therefore, and rightfully so, Sake and Shochu using Koji, unique only to Japan, is what’s earned their position as Japan’s National Liquor.


Did you know . . . ?


Miso and soy sauce are fermented foods, also made using Koji mold. Unlike in Western food culture, a majority of fermented foods in Japan are made from grains.  And due to their many nutritional and health benefits, Japanese fermented food products are now becoming subject to medical research and is gaining consumer popularity world-wide.