How To Drink Shochu Depending On Its Type

Most people imagine sake when they think of traditional Japanese alcohol. But Japan connoisseurs must be familiar with shochu as well. I could find sake everywhere when I went abroad, but very few restaurants or liquor shops had shochu. It’s worth trying shochu as it has a different taste from sake, and its most significant attraction is its wide variety of drinking styles. I will introduce various ways to enjoy shochu and the recommended food depending on each type.

What Is Shochu

Shochu is a hard liquor made from sweet potatoes or grains. Many Japanese izakaya have more shochu than sake in their drink menu. Despite the relatively high alcohol content of around 25 degrees, it goes well with a large meal that can be unusual as distilled spirits. We can enjoy drinking shochu while we are eating. (Japanese people can’t drink without food. No joke.)

Difference Between Sake

Unlike shochu, sake is classified as brewed spirits and therefore easy to drink, with an alcohol content of 15%. It depends on the type and brand, but in general, the taste of sake is sweet and mellow, while shochu has a clean and robust flavor.

Furthermore, they do not only differ in terms of their alcohol content and taste but also in the way they are drunk. We usually drink sake straight, but shochu can be drunk in various ways, allowing each person to enjoy it in their own way. To put it a little crudely, we can say that sake is wine and shochu is whisky.

CategoryBrewed SpiritsDisstilled Spirits
TasteSweet & MildRefreshing & Strong
Approx. alcohol%15%25%
How to drinkStraightwith Various Drinks

Different Ways To Drink Shochu

There are so many different ways to drink shochu. So, when you go to izakaya or a Japanese restaurant, why don’t you try them all?

On The Rocks (Rock [ロック])

on the rock

This is the most classic way to drink shochu. At first, we can taste the full aroma and flavor of the shochu. As the ice melts, it will become more and more mellow. If drinking at home, fill the glass with ice first and then pour shochu into it. Do not forget to keep the glass chilled in the fridge beforehand!

With Water (Mizuwari [水割り])


For those who find it too strong to drink shochu on the rocks, I recommend “Mizuwari”. The point is to add shochu first, followed by the water and ice so that water, which has a higher specific gravity, sinks, and the shochu goes on top to mix well. You can try the ratio of shochu to water at 5:5 at the very beginning and adjust it according to your taste.

Based on my experience working in izakaya, most restaurants serve Mizuwari with thinner shochu to keep it cheap. It is also essential to use chilled water to avoid the ice melting too quickly and diluting the flavor.

With Boiled Water (Oyuwari [お湯割り])

boiled water

“Oyuwari” is especially recommended in the cold season as shochu’s aroma rises with the steam. Contrary to Mizuwari, we should put boiled water first and then shochu. It is because alcohol evaporates if the water is too hot. And it also helps to warm the glass in advance. It’s best to use a smaller glass so that you can finish before it gets cold.

With Soda (Sodawari [ソーダ割り])


This is sometimes called “evil way” to drink shochu, but it’s a great way to enjoy sipping with refreshment. To make it, pour ice and shochu into a glass, then add soda water. That is the same as the Mizuwari, but the difference is its ratio. The soda’s carbonation makes the shochu’s taste stronger, so shochu’s ratio to water should be around 1:3. You can add a slice of lemon if you want to make it more tingly fresh.

With Oolong Tea (Oolongwari [ウーロン割り])


Shochu with Oolong tea, so-called “Oolong Highball” is a pretty popular style to enjoy shochu. Many restaurants serve Oolonghai on their drinks menu, separate from the Shochu menu. It mixes with the oolong tea flavor and makes it very easy to drink, even strong shochu. However, shochu’s original taste will also be lost, which means it’s only recommended when drinking an inexpensive one.

Straight [ストレート]


Some people, who want to enjoy 100% pure taste of shochu, drink it straight. In Japan, alcohol connoisseurs call it “ki [生]” which means “straight”. If you want to enjoy drinking in a cool and stylish way at a Japanese restaurant, you can try ordering it by saying “ki” instead of “straight”.

Having said that, some waiters may not understand what you are talking about, especially if they are young who are not very familiar with alcohol. So it might be safer to say “straight” in a normal Izakaya.

Make In Advance (Maewari [前割り])

Very few restaurants offer this. It is Mizuwari pre-made several days in advance. It makes shochu mix thoroughly with the water and becomes extremely mellow. In the old days, people served this to welcome their important guests. 

Types of Shochu And Its Best Way To Enjoy

Even with a good shochu, you will end up ruining it if you drink in the wrong way. Here is an introduction to each of the six types of shochu, and their best ways to drink in general, and the food that goes well.

Mugi Shochu (Barley)


Mugi shochu, with its clean and refreshing taste, can be enjoyed on its own. But I recommend mixing it with something else, especially for those who can’t drink strong liquor. Since mugi shochu’s flavor is not so strong, it goes well with various types of food, even Chinese or Western cuisine.

Best way to drink Mugi Shochu

  • with Water (Mizuwari)
  • with Oolong Tea (Oolongwari)

Imo Shochu (Sweet Potato)

sweet potato

Imo shochu has the opposite characteristics to mugi shochu. It has a strong aroma and distinctive taste, which is why many people think of imo shochu as “The King of Shochu”. On the rocks is the best way to taste its full flavor. Besides, you can drink with boiled water in cold weather. With its strong flavor, imo shochu may overpower light foods. So, meat or intensely flavored Izakaya dishes are an ideal combination.

Best way to drink Imo Shochu

  • On the Rocks
  • with Boiled Water (Oyuwari)

Kome Shochu (Rice)


Kome shochu is made from rice like sake. So, it goes well with all kinds of seafood or traditional Japanese food, such as sushi, sashimi, and tempura. The best way to drink it is with boiled water, which enhances the sweetness of the rice.

Best way to drink Kome Shochu

  • with Boiled Water (Oyuwari)
  • with Water (Mizuwari)

Kokuto Shochu (Brown Sugar)

brown sugar

There are not many kokuto shochu brands compared to other types of shochu. But it is quite popular among female or young people because it has a less characteristic smell of shochu with a subtle sweetness. It’s the closest in taste to western liquor of all shochu and is particularly similar to rum. It is soft on the palate and can be drunk on the rocks if you are not a strong drinker.

Or, boiled water is also a good idea if you want to enhance the brown sugar’s aroma. Kokuto shochu is particularly good with soy sauce flavored dishes such as sukiyaki and yakitori.

Best way to drink Kokuto Shochu

  • On the Rocks
  • with Boiled Water (Oyuwari)

Shiso Shochu (Shiso Herb)


Shiso Shochu is made from the leaves of shiso herb. It has a refreshing and citrus-like sour taste. I recommend drinking it as sodawari, and raw fish such as sushi or sashimi will be a perfect match. By the way, most of the Izakaya restaurants offering Shiso Shochu have one specific brand called “Tantakatan (鍛高譚)” only. It is no exaggeration to say that shiso shochu equals Tantakatan. So, if you have a chance to go to Izakaya in Japan next time, please check it out.

Best way to drink Shiso Shochu

  • with Soda (Sodawari)

Soba Shochu


As the name says, soba shochu is made from the same ingredient as the Japanese noodle “Soba”. It’s still young in the history of shochu as it was first made in the 1970s. It has a clean and crisp taste, and oyuwari is the best to savor soba’s flavor. It is a refreshing yet aromatic shochu that goes well with all Japanese food.

Best way to drink Soba Shochu

  • with Boiled Water (Oyuwari)

Awamori (Okinawa Style)


Strictly speaking, Awamori isn’t shochu because it is made differently. But it is often treated as a kind of Shochu. Awamori is the most famous alcohol in Okinawa island, and it has a richer and more aromatic flavor than shochu. The locals in Okinawa usually drink it as mizuwari or sodawari. It would be best if you drank Awamori with local Okinawan cuisine to enjoy it fully.

Best way to drink Awamori

  • with Water (Mizuwari)
  • with Soda (Sodawari)

Yes, sake is sweet, aromatic, and delicious. But why don’t you try shochu in various styles when you visit izakaya next time? I hope you will find your favorite way!


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