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Which Sake to Buy: A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding Delightful Sake and Shochu

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Which Sake to Buy: A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding Delightful Sake and Shochu

Which Sake to Buy: A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding Sake & Shochu: Sake and shochu are two of Japan’s most well-known alcoholic beverages, with histories that date back centuries. While both of them have gained popularity around the world in recent years, they are still deeply rooted in Japanese culture and traditions. Despite their shared origin, there are significant differences between these two drinks, from the ingredients and production process to the flavors and serving suggestions.

In this blog post, we will explore the key differences Sake vs Shochu, providing insight into their unique characteristics to help you determine which one is best suited to your palate and sake set. Whether you are a seasoned sake or shochu drinker or simply curious about Japanese beverages, read on to discover the fascinating differences between these two iconic drinks and learn which sake to buy.

What is Sake?

Sake, also known as Japanese rice wine, is a fermented alcoholic beverage made from rice. It is the national drink of Japan and has been enjoyed for centuries. Sake is produced by fermenting polished rice with water and koji mold. Koji is a type of fungus that breaks down the starch in the rice into sugars, which are then converted into alcohol by yeast. The fermentation process takes about a month, after which the sake is usually aged for a few months before it is bottled and sold.

Sake has a light, smooth, and slightly sweet taste. It is typically served chilled or at room temperature, although some premium sake varieties can be served warm. Sake is often enjoyed with Japanese cuisine, particularly sushi, but it can also be paired with other types of food. For those that are not sure which sake to buy, this can be a good option as it is widely available.

What is Shochu?

Shochu is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from a variety of base ingredients, including rice, sweet potato, barley, and brown sugar. Unlike sake, shochu is not fermented but distilled, which means that the alcohol is extracted through a heating process. The resulting beverage is typically stronger than sake, with an alcohol content of around 25-30%.

Shochu has a subtle flavor that is influenced by the base ingredient used in its production. Sweet potato shochu, for example, has a sweet and earthy flavor, while barley shochu has a nutty and savory taste. Shochu is usually served on the rocks or mixed with cold water or soda. It can also be enjoyed warm or in cocktails.

Sake vs. Shochu: What’s the Difference?

Now that we know what sake and shochu are, let’s take a closer look at their differences so that you can understand which sake to buy. Although both beverages are Japanese in origin, they have distinct characteristics that set them apart. From their production processes to their flavors and alcohol content, there are many factors to consider when choosing between sake and shochu. Understanding these differences can help you make an informed decision about which beverage to choose based on your preferences and taste. Let’s delve deeper into the differences between these two popular drinks so that you get a better understanding on which sake to buy for your next tasting.

Sake Production Process

Production Process

The production process is one of the main differences between sake and shochu. Sake is a fermented rice beverage made from rice, water, yeast, and koji (a fungus that converts starch to sugar). The rice is first polished to remove the outer layer, and then it is steamed and mixed with koji and water. After the fermentation process, the mixture is filtered and pasteurized, and then it is bottled.

On the other hand, shochu is a distilled beverage made from a variety of ingredients, such as sweet potato, barley, rice, or wheat. The ingredients are first fermented, and then they are distilled to increase the alcohol content. Some shochu is aged in oak barrels, which gives it a distinct flavor.

Sake Flavour


Sake and shochu have different flavors due to their production processes. Sake has a mild and delicate flavour, and it can range from sweet to dry. The flavor is affected by the type of rice used, the water source, and the brewing process. Some sake has a fruity or floral aroma, while others have a nutty or earthy flavour.

On the other hand, shochu has a more robust flavour that is influenced by the ingredient used in the production process. Sweet potato shochu has a sweet and earthy flavour, while barley shochu has a nutty flavour. Rice shochu has a mild and clean taste, while wheat shochu has a sharp and crisp flavour. Some shochu also has a smoky or woody flavour, depending on the aging process.

Sake Alcohol Content

Alcohol Content

Alcohol content is a key factor that distinguishes sake from shochu. Sake, like wine, has an alcohol content of around 15-20% due to the brewing process that converts the starches in rice to alcohol through fermentation. The alcohol content is then regulated by adding water or alcohol during the brewing process.

In contrast, shochu’s alcohol content ranges from 25-40%, similar to spirits like vodka or gin, due to the distillation process used in production. This involves boiling and cooling the fermented ingredients to separate alcohol from the water and impurities, resulting in a higher concentration of alcohol. Some shochu types are distilled multiple times, increasing the alcohol content even further.

Sake Serving Suggestions

Serving Suggestions

Sake and shochu are typically served differently. Sake is traditionally served in small ceramic cups called sakazuki or in small glass cups. It is often served chilled, room temperature, or warm, depending on the type of sake and personal preference. Sake is also commonly used in Japanese cuisine, and it pairs well with sushi, sashimi, and other Japanese dishes.

On the other hand, shochu is usually served in a tall glass over ice, mixed with soda or juice, or diluted with water. Some shochu is also served warm or at room temperature. Shochu is a versatile drink that can be paired with a wide range of dishes, such as grilled meats, fried foods, and seafood.

Which One Should You Choose?

Choosing which sake to buy, sake vs shochu ultimately comes down to personal preference. If you enjoy a light and smooth alcoholic beverage with a slightly sweet taste, sake is a great choice. Sake is also a good option if you’re looking for a drink that pairs well with Japanese cuisine.

On the other hand, if you prefer a stronger and more subtle alcoholic beverage that can be enjoyed on the rocks or mixed with water or soda, shochu is a great choice. Shochu is also a versatile drink that can be paired with a variety of dishes, making it a great option for those who enjoy experimenting with different flavor combinations.

When deciding which sake to buy it’s important to consider your personal taste preferences, as well as the occasion. If you’re looking for a light and smooth beverage to enjoy with sushi or other delicate dishes, sake is a great choice. However, if you prefer a stronger and more versatile beverage that can be enjoyed on its own or mixed with other ingredients, shochu is the way to go.

Sake vs Shochu: What’s the Difference and Which One Should You Choose

Interesting Sake Fact

Did you know that during the Edo period in Japan, from the 17th to the 19th century, sake was a valuable commodity and played a crucial role in the economy. It was heavily taxed by the government and used as a form of currency to pay workers, settle debts, and even pay taxes. Sake breweries, known as “sakagura,” were highly regulated, with each region having its unique brewing techniques and flavors. Today, sake remains an essential part of Japanese culture and society, and it continues to be enjoyed worldwide.


We trust that you learned something new about this article on Which Sake to Buy: A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding Sake & Shochu. You can find more information here on Sake Sets, Japanese Cypress Masu Cups & Accessories or learn more about sake at

Sake Sets, Japanese Cypress Masu Cups & Accessories

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