It’s taken sake a few decades to move beyond Japanese restaurants and sushi bars in the U.S. and into backbars and cocktails. But I suspect Japan’s shochu will catch on faster here.
Why? Although most people here know little about shochu, experts say it’s an incredibly diverse spirit, thanks to the many types and the different fermentation and distillation processes.
Shochu can be made from a number of base ingredients, such as rice, sweet potatoes, barley, buckwheat and sugar. Depending on what it’s distilled from, shochu can take on the characteristics of other spirits, such as vodka and rum.
It’s also versatile with food—you can drink shochu throughout a meal, according to mixologist Brian Matthys, a Level II sake specialist. And it’s a great base for cocktails, though bartenders are just starting to experiment with incorporating shochu into unique drink recipes.
Matthys presented a shochu immersion education and tasting event last month at The Gander in New York, at which we tasted 18 shochus plus a few shochu cocktails. I found I preferred the imo (sweet potato) shochus, though they were all pretty interesting—in a good way.
I can’t quite say the same thing about baijiu just yet, though: China’s distilled spirit is definitely an acquired taste for most Westerners. But a few U.S. bartenders are embracing its funk, and making baijiu sing in cocktails.
The big story is our 2015 Growth Brands. Given the steady stream of imports from other countries and continents, whether it’s beer, wine or spirits, and the already stiff competition here, growing a brand is a major accomplishment.
We congratulate all of this year’s Growth Brands, which include 90 wine and 73 spirit brands. These brands were responsible for nearly 130 million cases sold in 2014, and accounted for a third of sales in the wine and spirits industries last year. That’s something to be proud of.