A Season for Shochu

Kevin, a mixologist at DTLA's Death & Co, creates a Shochu Highball called the "Wolf Song."
Kevin, a mixologist at DTLA’s Death & Co, creates a Shochu Highball called the “Wolf Song.”
(Photo courtesy of JFOODO)

It’s a New Year – Why Not Sample a Traditional Japanese Spirit?


In a cosmopolitan region like Southern California, variety is never lacking. There are almost endless things to do, see, eat and drink, to the point where even longtime residents admit there are experiences they’ve yet to try. Happily adding to that mix is international flair: Los Angeles, a melting pot of thousands of cultures, is well poised to bring worldwide delight to its residents, especially with food and drink.

Now, Japan, already well established as one of the culinary capitals of the world, is offering its generosity again in the form of a unique type of spirit: shochu. While novices to the drink may want to compare the alcoholic beverage with more-familiar sake, shochu is less one type of drink as a classification of spirits with a medium amount of alcoholic content - and beyond that textbook definition, the fun begins.

Shochu offers both unique flavors and inviting aromas, so it can be difficult to compare it to other liquors. In fact, it often depends on the ingredients. While classified as one spirit, the ingredients of shochu vary widely. Varieties are distilled from different source materials such as rice, barley, sweet potatoes and even brown sugar, offering a wide range of tastes and aromas - similar to sampling fine wines, you use multiple senses to enjoy the experience.

Shochu derived from rice has a light, high fragrance like that of ginjo sake, featuring aromatic hints of green apple, citrus and melon. Rice shochu produced using atmospheric distillation (a process using vacuum that lowers the spirit’s boiling point) retains the powerful aroma and savory flavor of rice.

Sweet potato shochu features fruity aromas reminiscent of lychee and mango coupled with floral notes of lavender and roses. This variety of shochu becomes richer as it ages.

Barley-based shochu offers a richness and flavor that rivals a young barrel-aged whiskey or rum. As it matures, the boldness of the nose settles down and its flavor develops, becoming fuller and more intense.

The spirit’s variety is only one reason there is a boom of shochu in Japan and worldwide. Shochu can be enjoyed in a myriad of different ways, from simple sipping, adding hot water, poured over ice with club soda and a twist, or as the star ingredient in inventive cocktails. And, because shochu is a spirit rich with the flavors of its ingredients; the taste of the base ingredient always comes through.

For intrigued drinkers, the next question is very often “where can i try shochu?” Many Japanese restaurants, grocers and drinking establishments in Southern California do stock varieties of the drink, but the best way to have an experience is to try several varieties of the beverage in a very popular way - the Shochu Highball.

The Shochu Highball is, as the name suggests, the spirit mixed with carbonated water, and offers a way to more directly experience the spirit’s aroma and taste. The effervescence amplifies the flavors of the shochu, creating a fresh, light and refreshing cocktail.

Even better for Angelenos, 10 local bars (Bar Bohémien, Big Bar, Death & Co, Jonah’s Kitchen + Bar, Kodō, The Normandie Club, Redbird, Thunderbolt, Wolf & Crane, and 1212 Santa Monica) are giving patrons a chance to try the Shochu Highball, as well as several craft shochu cocktails created by talented mixologists. Each drink has been made to highlight the unique flavors of the shochu varieties while offering the elevated experience that those familiar with L.A.’s cocktail culture are used to.

Best of all, since several bars in the region are participating, the opportunity to make an evening out of this new experience is tantalizing - you can even do a little “bar hopping” to enjoy several wonderful shochu creations.

For those who want even more exposure to shochu, JFOODO is offering a tasting event on Jan. 26 at Downtown Los Angeles’ Death & Co., an intimate cocktail bar.• Participants can enjoy a Shochu Highball, a signature cocktail created by Death & Co. bartenders, and other shochu cocktails for the special price of $20 per person (RSVP required). It’s an excellent opportunity to learn about shochu, sample its rich aroma and flavor, and experience its full potential as a distilled spirit that can be enjoyed in many different ways.

For more information about shochu, participating bars, and the Death & Co. event, visit

• subject to change