Shochu vs Sake : What is the difference?
There are 2 types of alcoholic beverages that represent Japan. As you may know, they are “Sake (酒)” and “Shochu (焼酎)”. The former is referred to as Japanese rice wine in English, while the latter can also be made from rice. Speaking of Sake, when we Japanese just say “Sake”, that can mean any kind of alcoholic drink. For referring to only Japanese rice wine, we usually use the word “Nihonshu (日本酒)”.
The Difference between Sake (Nihonshu) and Shochu
Actually, the main difference between Sake (Nihonshu) and Shochu comes from the producing method. In addition, they are also different in raw material and drinking manner, so today, I want to explain the differences.
The Producing Method
To get straight to the point, Sake, or Nihonshu is a liquor made by fermentation, whereas Shochu is a strong distilled beverage. Specifically, Sake is made converting the starch in rice into sugar, then fermenting the sugar into alcohol. On the other hand, Shochu is produced by distilling a fermented beverage like Nihonshu.
The raw material of Sake, or Nihonshu, is rice, while Shochu can be made from various ingredients, such as grains and potatoes, in addition to rice. Typical main ingredients for Shochu include rice, barley, sweet potatoes, and buckwheat. The ones made from rice, barley, sweet potatoes or buckwheat are called “Kome Shochu (米焼酎)”, “Mugi Shochu (麦焼酎)”, “Imo Shochu (芋焼酎)”, and “Soba Shochu (そば焼酎)” respectively.
The Drinking Manner
As Shochu is made by distilling a fermented beverage like Nihonshu, it has a high alcohol content as compared to Sake, or Nihonshu. Generally, Shochu contains 25 percents or so alcohol by volume, while the typical alcohol content of Japanese Sake rice wine is 15 to 16 percents. Because of that, Shochu can be enjoyed in various ways, say, on the rocks or mixed with cold water, hot water, soda or Japanese green tea. On the other hand, we usually drink Sake straight.