Shochu is a type of distilled spirits, much like whisky and tequila. What’s quite unique about Shochu that sets it apart from any other distilled spirits in the world, is the base ingredients, fermentation method, distillation process, and the fermented liquid, all of which contribute to the finesse of the final brew.
To the consumer, however, no matter how highly educated on the subject the person may be, the ultimate decision on whether a particular Shochu is appealing or not doesn’t occur until the moment the Shochu drink is poured and after the first sip. And since taste preferences are subjective, whether a drink is delicious or not depends entirely on a person’s preference. That decision may be easy for a solo drinker, however, reaching a consensus may be difficult when in a social group gathering.
Among a group of friends when a person eats or drinks something delicious, it’s human nature to share that joy with those around him. However, with Shochu, conveying that joy might be challenging due to varying taste experiences and the subjective nature in interpreting individuals’ taste buds. For a more systematic and therefore more accurate evaluation, the Shochu Flavor Wheel on the below used routinely by many seasoned professionals is a useful reference tool, also used for assessing awamori.
This Shochu Flavor Wheel broadly divides the evaluation process into two steps: flavor and aroma. Start by carefully smelling to describe the Uwadachika or the aroma. Broadly speaking, it could be fruity, flowery, fresh, or rich.
Next, after noting the aroma, take a tiny sip and let the Shochu roll around in the mouth. Here, before swallowing, focus on the Shochu aroma emanating from within the mouth, softer on the vapors and more towards fragrances of spices, vanilla, meatiness, or even sweat. With the next sip, consider how the Shochu “ feels”: sweetness, acidity, bitterness, minerality, mouth-feel, and after-taste. Upon getting accustomed to this tasting routine, explore beyond the after-taste stage to identify sharpness, spiciness, texture, thickness, and oiliness.
It’s not necessary to always go through all the flavors and aromas on the Flavor Wheel. You’ll find that it’s very unlikely for a Shochu with fresh fruit and flower at first aroma assessment, to later smell like soy sauce, dried fruit or burnt. Routine training with keen consideration is necessary before a person can pinpoint these subtle flavors and aromas, and while this may sound a bit silly, going through the produce section at a supermarket to smell fruits and vegetables is a recommended form of training the senses. When starting a meal, taking a minute to analyze the flavors and aromas while keeping the Shochu Flavor Wheel in mind, will also improve the level of Shochu expertise.
Lastly, it’s a good idea to check if an individual’s review is “in line” by contrasting with other consumers’ popular vote. Generally, popular Shochu brands tend to show well-balanced characteristics: aroma to flavor, sweetness, acidity, bitterness, minerality, and mouthfeel. And the very highly rated Shochu harness harmonized attributes in impact, flavor, and aftertaste. Familiarizing and mindfully using the Shochu Flavor Wheel will set a good starting point toward educated Shochu drinking and joyful sharing.