The Pittsburgh Japanese Cultural Society hosted an event this past Saturday called the Taste of Japan (+21). The +21 part is kind of obvious to of all us who grew up and live in the US; this taste of japan is focused on alcohol. A selection of of Sake and Shochu was available for consumption and we and the other guests sure did consume.
The first treat to placate our palates was the most identifiable of Japanese alcoholic drinks, Sake (sa-Key). It’s a drink created by the fermentation of rice, but the process is a little different than the one at your local vineyard. The fermentation of grapes uses the sugar present in the grape to create the alcohol, whereas the process for rice requires another step. The rice has to go through a process to converting its starch into sugars before it can be made into alcohol. The Sake eventually ends up with 18% alcohol content. It’s then served in a small ceramic cup that often has been warmed before drinking. Sake can have many flavors ranging from sweet to dry, such as fruits, flowers, herbs, and spices all depending on the way it was brewed.
The second taste-test was Shochu, a lesser-known but far more potent cousin to Sake. Shochu is a distilled treat made with rice, barley, sweet potatoes, buckwheat, brown sugar, or other convertibles like chestnuts, sesame seeds and potatoes. The general strength after one distilling is about 25% alcohol by volume. Shochu can be distilled multiple times for a stronger 35% alcohol by volume.
Shochu has what can be described as an earthy taste. The Japanese use this beverage as the base for many mixed drinks, but it can also be served straight, on the rocks, or sparkling by adding a flavored water or soda. A most interesting iteration is mixing it with beer and calling it a hoppy.
I don’t think that Shochu is going to lure me away from my favorite alcohol (scotch on the rocks). Nor do I think Sake will come to replace my love of red wine, or the loyalty of drinking our own label (my parents own a small vineyard). But we always encourage everyone to expand their horizons, and sometimes that requires a stiff drink.