Iichiko Silhouette shochu, $23
The back story
As we head into the final days of the Tokyo Olympics, it’s time to toast the athletes and all their accomplishments with a classic Japanese sip. No, not sake (we already shared a few thoughts about that a couple of weeks ago). But shochu, a distilled product that is mildly boozy (around 25% alcohol by volume) and is made from different ingredients, from barley to sweet potatoes. It is somewhat similar to soju, a Korean sip.
Until recently, Americans weren’t likely to find shochu unless they were dining at a Japanese restaurant (and even then, a restaurant with a sizable beverage list) or shopping at an Asian market. But Iichiko, a Japanese brand (pronounced Each-ko) that debuted in 1979, has been making inroads in the U.S. and is aiming to appeal to everyday consumers.
Iichiko touts the care and attention it puts into its shochu (it also offers a higher-alcohol version, called Saiten). It points to the fact that the water it uses is “filtered through 1,000 feet of volcanic rock.” And the barley that goes into the product is carefully “polished to remove impurities.” In all, it says it shochu is classified in Japan as Honkaku, the highest grade, which also signifies that it has been distilled only once.
What we think about it
We’ve always been fans of Korean soju, having enjoyed it at many a meal of bulgogi and other Korean favorites. But we were less familiar with Japanese shochu and clearly that’s our loss. Iichiko Silhouette is like a revelation to us — mildly sweet and fruity, almost like a good sake, but with a certain heft, too. The Iichiko team says you should pick up notes of everything from white peaches to sea breezes. In a word, delicious.
How to enjoy it
This is fine served either chilled or over ice and makes a great complement to food. The Japanese also often enjoy shochu in the form of a highball, mixed with soda water and fruit juice. The higher alcohol Saiten version is better suited for more complex cocktails.