Tangents: Dassai Shochu

I am not normally a shochu drinker, as I left my hard-spirit drinking days behind me long ago. However, I do occasionally enjoy some when I’m out on the town, and I appreciate its cultural place as Japan’s native distilled spirit. Adding to that the big attention this particular one is getting, I figure it’s perfect for a little addition to my usual sake-based investigation.

First, for those who don’t know, shochu is a distilled liquor unique to Japan. It’s most strongly associated inside Japan with the southern island of Kyushu, particularly Kagoshima prefecture and its sweet-potato-based Satsuma Shochu. Shochu can be made from any number of base fermentables, with the most common being sweet potato (known as imojochu), and barley (mugishochu), or unrefined black sugar kokuto shochu in the far southern Amami islands. Rice based shochu (komejochu) does exist (and indeed may have been the first one made, through the distillation of sake) but is a distant third. And this particular sake is in a subcategory of rice shochu: sake lee shochu (kasutori shochu in Japanese).

This shochu is made by distilling the sake lees left after making sake. This can be useful for sake makers in many ways, not least of which is turning a waste material into a profit maker.

Dassai Shochu, drunk with ice and water. 39% ABV

Enough about the big picture, what about this particular shochu? Well, as I mentioned, it is kasutori shochu, and since Dassai only makes daiginjo some people call this “Daiginjo shochu.” It appears to be only available in Yamaguchi prefecture right now, but locally it’s pretty easy to find. It is, however, quite pricey for shochu at around 4,000 yen a bottle. Other kasutori shochu I’ve seen go for less than half that. Dassai, folks. It’s an expensive label.

Shochu is rarely drunk neat. It’s more common to see it with a variety of mixers: hot or cold water, green tea, juice, barley tea, etc, but I did sip it straight, just to see what it was like. It was a relatively sweet, highly aromatic shochu. It did have ginjo-ka notes with fruity hints and a touch of rice, but it was heavier and (of course) far more alcoholic than any sake.

When mixed with water (mizu wari in Japanese), those fruity notes were enhanced. However, one thing that struck me was how little (non-existent?) the umami and acidity were. Drinking Dassai shochu like this was like drinking a one-note version of sake. For many, perhaps, it would be better enjoyed on the rocks or perhaps in a more concentrated cocktail to help bring out the “shochuness” of it, rather than merely thinning it down like this. I did like it as a cold refresher, and I can see a highball version (shochu and soda) being great on a hot summer night.

Please remember, though, that I am not an experienced shochu drinker so my evaluations should be taken with a grain of salt (and perhaps a squeeze of lemon).

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