TIDBITS

7. "Sake" or Alcohol in Japan

To many of you, "sake" (pronounced sa-ke with a short e as in end) is the only Japanese alcoholic beverage. Actually, in Japan, the native alcoholic beverages can be divided roughly into two groups, seishu, more popularly called Nihon-shu, and shochu.
Seishu is actually what to non- Japanese is known as Japanese sake. Just "sake2, or, "go-sake"h, to us, means most of the time, alcohol in general. When we talk about seishu, we usually say, "Nihon-shu."

Seishu is made only from rice, fermented and brewed, while shochu is made from a variety of materials, ranging from rice to sweet potatoes to sugar or wheat, just about anything that includes starch can be the main material. Shochu is a kind of distilled liquor, and is generally stronger than seishu, the alcohol ranging from roughly 25-45% while with seishu, the alcohol is around 13-15%. Which is why, when the owner's missus came in for the "After Glow", saying she'd downed a bottle of shochu with her friend, we all thought, oh-oh. Sure enough, she was complaining of a hangover the next day when I saw her.

Seishu is generally drunk by "o-kan", warmed by placing the bottle in hot water, and warming the entire bottle. These days, though, some very finely refined sheishu are drunk "hiya", or, cooled.

The proper way to drink shochu is "o-yu-wari", or, diluted with hot water, the correct ratio being 6:4, with the shochu 4, and the hot water just short of boiling. Some times, we drink it on the rock. Shochu is also used as bases for cocktails, and for making homemade fruit liquor, the most popular being plum liquor. Shochu often has a relatively strong scent to it, depending on the original material it is made of, and there are those who dislike this drink because of the scent, while others say that shochu wouldnft be shochu without this smell.

Seishu is made mostly in Honshu, the main Japanese island, while shochu is a popular product of the more southern areas of Japan like Kyushu Island and Okinawa.
"Awamori" is Okinawa's shochu, very strong, 45% alcohol, and though the material is rice now, it is thought that it was named so because the material that was originally used was "awa" or, millet.

Why do I know all this? My paternal great-grandfather started a shochu distillery that now is run by one of my second cousins, in Kagoshima, the southern-most prefecture in Kyshu. I used to play in the distillery yard with her when we were kids and I went visiting with my grandparents who lived across the street from the distillery. Our shochu is made from sweet potatoes, and is well known locally as one of the best shochus in Kyushu, so, if ever you travel through Kagoshima, and want to try a local drink, then, don't forget to ask for "Ishigura".

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