Friday, June 8, 2007

Trader Joe's Shochu!

I'm a lush. I admit it. But I'm pretty particular about what I like to drink nowadays. Beer? Occasionally, but I don't dig it as much as I once did (and the headaches I get from it now... oof). Wine? Absolutely. In my family, if you didn't drink wine, you didn't sit at the table. Whiskey? Bourbon please; Scotch puts me to sleep.

These are all great, you know, but what I really love is Shochu and Sake-- and while certainly not interchangeable (there are certainly Sake times, like when you're eating an omakase course, and there are Shochu times which is whenever!) there are wonderful experiences waiting for the fan of either beverages.

Now, the main problem vexing the Shochu drinker who is no longer living in NYC (where there's been a recent discovery of the stuff and an explosion in fandom as a result) is that I can't find it that easily here in LA. And what I do fine is limited to a few paltry brands like Iichiko and Ginza no Suzume. Neither are bad, but PLEASE give me some more choices.

So imagine my shock when I walked into Trader Joe's a while back and saw their own brand of Shochu on display. "Wuh?! No way!!" I bought it and that night I cracked it open for my first taste.

Different people prefer to drink Shochu different ways: some like it straight up, some on the rocks with water and lemon, and some with a sliver of cucumber! I prefer mine on the rocks with a splash of water.

The Trader Joe's Shochu is a Rice Shochu and is unlike almost any other type of Shochu I've ever tasted (and that numbers into the hundreds, as my liver weeps...). It has a clean, almost Daiginjo taste to it that belongs more to Sake (nihon shu) than is typically found in a Shochu. My suspicion is that this was engineered for the export market, but rather than be a bad thing, it's wonderfully refreshing. I haven't tried it yet as a mizu-wari (mixed drink) but my guess is that it would go well with juices and oolong teas, essentially rendering it a very versatile mixer.

Specific information: The Trader Joe's Shochu is from Mie-ken, which is a bit unusual since most Shochu is produced in the Japanese southern islands, like Kyushu. Perhaps this also is what lends it the flowery bouquet? It costs $16.99 and like most things Trader Joe's is most likely NOT available at all markets.

Writing about this, got me thinking that I should blog a bit more about Shochu on this site. So in the coming months, I'm sure I will mention some of the good stuff I've had or am having. My hope is that you, gentle reader, will come to me with suggestions of Shochu that you've liked and maybe we can increase our general knowledge of this wonderful Japanese spirit.

More info on Shochu-- and specifically the Okinawan Awamori style at Sake-World.


Anonymous said...

I'll certainly ask about this at Trader Joe's! As I write this I am enjoying a 10 year aged awamori that's really a mind-blower I got in Shiodome, Tokyo at Shochu Authority (a shochu only store). I live in California, by the way, and my wife is Japanese. I love sake and in the last year have begun an apreciation for shochu.

Nicholas Rucka said...

Hi Tom,

Thanks for the comment! I too came to Shochu from Sake and found out about awamori from trying the different types of Shochu that are out there.

What's the name of the 10-year aged awamori? I had some wonderful ones while I was staying in Okinawa and found that the older the awamori the more rounded the flavor became-- some even taking on whiskey characteristics. Together with a little Tofuyo and it's just about the best way to spend an evening.

Are you in the LA area? Because I know that my two local Trader Joe's in West Hollywood stock the Shochu.


Anonymous said...


The Awamori I had is Uminokuni, 10 year old. It comes in a brown, rough finish, ceramic bottle. I finished it off last week with a client. I drank most of it at home but took the last little bit to my client's office and we drank it straight, cold. He was most appreciative and I certainly had to take it easy at the office for the next two hours! LOL.

I am in the Frenso area, by the way.


Nicholas Rucka said...

Hi Tom,

Sorry I didn't post a comment back sooner, I must have missed your follow up.

I don't think I know the Uminokuni Awamori, but it's an appropriate name for an Okinawan spirit! I'll definitely look for it the next time I'm in Okinawa!

I love the 10 year old Awamori-- there's something about the earthiness of the Awamori that's been aged that just feels both refreshing and somehow mellowing. It's easy to understand why the Awamori was so desired by the Chinese imperial family way back when. For them it was a prized item worthy of the travel to the Ryukyu kingdom.

BTW, where can you buy Awamori (or Shochu in general) in Fresno? I imagine that the Japanese community must be quite small.

Thanks for stopping by again!