In the world of Japanese drinking, sake tends to get all the attention—love ‘em or hate ‘em, sake bombs did wonders for its name recognition. But often in Japan, particularly in Kyushu, the country’s southernmost island, the drink of choice is shochu.
This distilled spirit, with centuries of history behind it, can be made from sweet potato, rice, barley, or dozens of other ingredients. Generally it’s an easy-drinking clear spirit, around 20-25% alcohol — much less than most other liquors, which tend to be 40%. As a result, it’s smooth and likable even when you sip it straight, and pairs nicely with food.
But lest you imagine Japanese folks quietly sipping little cups of shochu in sedate, hushed sushi bars — think again. Drinking in Japan is about having a good time. Izakayas, popular joints that serve booze and bar snacks to go with it, are high-energy places where beer and shochu flow freely. In fact, some izakayas even operate on an all-you-can-drink basis: often a two-hour period where you and your friends put back all the shochu and accompanying edibles you can handle.