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Traditional Liquor Establishes a Loyal Following (September 24, 2003)

A shopper examines a bottle of shochu. (Jiji)
While the overall consumption of alcoholic beverages in Japan has remained relatively flat over the past 10 years, the consumption of shochu has been rising steadily. Shochu is a traditional Japanese distilled liquor. Though it is not as well-known internationally as China's mao-tai, Scotland's whiskey, or France's cognac, it is a firm favorite among Japanese.

Healing "100 Years of Loneliness"?
There are two types of shochu: ko and otsu. Ko is made mainly from molasses and is distilled several times, while otsu can be made from sweet potatoes, barley, rice, or brown sugar and is distilled only once. Ko-type shochu is flavorless and odorless, while the flavor of the ingredients remains in otsu-type shochu. Both types are popular and quite affordable, but as the flavor of otsu reflects the characteristics of the region where the drink is produced and the method of production, this is the type generally favored by shochu aficionados. There is even one brand with the somewhat philosophical name "100 Years of Loneliness."

According to the National Tax Agency, consumption of ko grew from 358,000 kiloliters to 410,000 kiloliters (an increase of 14%) between brewing years 1994 (July 1994 to June 1995) and 2001. During the same period, shipments of otsu rose from 249,000 kiloliters to 324,000 kiloliters (an increase of 30%). Consumption has risen steadily every year. This contrasts with the consumption of beer, which has remained stable over the same time period if sales of happoshu (an inexpensive low-malt, beer-like beverage) are included.

What has fueled the rising popularity of shochu? According to the analyses of many shochu makers and people in the medical field, shochu offers a variety of benefits. In comparison with sake, shochu is said to be less likely to make people drunk, give them hangovers, or cause them to gain weight. Some have also said that drinking shochu increases the production of enzymes that break down blood clots in the veins and arteries, reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. And of course many people say that they enjoy the aroma of sweet potatoes or the other ingredients used in otsu.

Low Alcohol Content Goes Down Well with Women
The Shiodome area of Tokyo has recently been transformed by a major redevelopment project, and the resulting Caretta Shiodome complex has become one of the city's newest hotspots. Inside this multifunctional commercial facility is a specialty bar called Sho-Chu Authority that stocks around 2,500 varieties of shochu. Interestingly, about 60% of the clientele are women. Up until around the 1960s, shochu had the image of being cheap, potent, and the preferred drink of lower-class laborers. This image has been completely turned around in recent years, thanks to such factors as improved flavor and fashionable bottle designs.

By law, the alcohol content of ko-type shochu is limited to 36% or less, while otsu-type shochu must be 45% alcohol or less. The majority of shochu sold on the market, however, comes in at 25%. This is quite low for a distilled alcoholic beverage; most of the world's liquor is 40% alcohol or higher. In addition, Japanese people usually mix shochu, especially ko, with something else. Popular mixers include water, cold oolong or green tea, and grapefruit juice. With its low alcohol content, distinctive flavor, and health benefits, it is no surprise that shochu has gained such a loyal following among Japanese drinkers.

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Related Web Sites
National Tax Agency
Caretta Shiodome (Japanese only)
Sho-Chu Authority (Japanese only)

Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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