What follows is a living and growing shochu glossary (and awamori glossary) which includes the basic expressions used in the world of shochu and awamori. While other spellings exist, the most common (read: modern) spelling is used at the beginning of each entry. Each (Japanese) vocabulary item is followed by kanji, hiragana, and English transliteration in parentheses.
*Bold words/phrases have their own entry in the Shochu & Awamori Glossary.
*Macrons indicate extended or elongated vowel sounds.
alcohol by volume. Most honkaku shochu is bottled at or around 25% ABV. Most awamori is bottled at or around 30% ABV.
awamori (泡盛 – あわもり – awamori)
a type of rice shochu produced in Okinawa Prefecture, the most southern part of Japan. The restrictions that make it unique within the shochu world include exclusive use of black koji; single fermentation; single distillation; and use of indica (long-grained) rice.
Geographical Indication. Sometimes referred to as an Appellation, GI’s are awarded by the WTO in order to protect traditional and culture-bound products from imitation in other parts of the world. This is necessary because, “A product’s quality, reputation or other characteristics can be determined by where it comes from.” Japan has four traditional spirit GI’s: Iki Shochu, Kuma Shochu, Ryukyu Awamori, and Satsuma Shochu.
honkaku (本格 – ほんかく – honkaku)
premium; authentic; genuine; original method; the real deal. This word is usually found at the beginning of the phrase “honkaku shochu,” and it refers to single-distilled shochu that uses only the ingredients allowed by current tax laws (and their koji). The word is used on labels, and occasionally in conversation, to differentiate from multiply-distilled and flavorless korui shochu. Honkaku shochu must be bottled at less than 45% ABV.
iki shochu (壱岐 焼酎 – いき しょうちゅう – iki shouchuu/shōchū)
a WTO-protected Geographical Indication (GI) reserved for barley shochu made on Iki Island in Nagasaki Prefecture which adheres to the traditional 2:1 barley to rice fermentation ratio by weight. There are only seven distilleries making this time-honored style on Iki Island.
imo shochu (芋 焼酎 – いも しょうちゅう – imo shouchuu/shōchū)
sweet potato shochu. Often reduced to simply imo in conversation, this type of shochu is made with dozens of potato varietals. By far the most common family of potatoes used, however, is sweet potato (satsuma imo).
koji (麹 – こうじ – kouji/kōji)
a starch source (rice, barley, etc.) that has a particular strain of mold (koji kin) living on and in it. Koji is necessary to assist with saccharification during fermentation. There are three main mold varieties used today: black, white, and yellow. Shochu uses all three types while awamori only uses black koji. Yellow koji happens to be the variety used to make nihonshu as well.
kokushu (国酒 – こくしゅ – kokushu)
beverage alcohol traditions that are indigenous to Japan. These include awamori, shochu, and nihonshu. They were recognized officially as kokushu by the Japanese government in 2012.
kome shochu (米 焼酎 – こめ しょうちゅう – kome shouchuu/shōchū)
rice shochu. Often reduced to simply kome in conversation.
konwa shochu (混和 焼酎 – こんわ しょうちゅう – konwa shouchuu/shōchū)
a blend of korui shochu and otsurui shochu. Whichever is more than 50% of the blend is listed first on the label. In other words, if there’s 75% korui shochu and 25% otsurui shochu in the product, then “korui-otsurui konwa shochu” (or some accepted variation) must appear on the label. “Korui” and “otsurui” will be switched if the latter makes up 51% or greater of the blend. However, it is more common for korui to be used in greater volume.
korui shochu (甲類 焼酎 – こうるい しょうちゅう – kourui shouchuu/kōrui shōchū)
multiply-distilled (in a column/patent still) product that has been watered down to 35% ABV or less. It is generally used as a low-calorie vodka substitute in cocktails because it has no aroma or flavor leftover from the fermentation. Korui shochu generally starts its life overseas (Brazil, etc.) where it is distilled and then sent to Japan. After further distillation in a column still, the nearly pure ethanol (roughly 96% ABV) is diluted to bottling proof.
kuma shochu (球磨 焼酎 – くま しょうちゅう – kuma shouchuu/shōchū)
a WTO-protect Geographical Indication (GI) protecting rice shochu made in Southern Kumamoto, specifically the Hitoyoshi City and Kuma-gun region of the Hitoyoshi Basin. In addition to location, the rice shochu must be made using water from the subterranean waters of the Kuma River, one of Japan’s three fastest-flowing.
kuramoto (蔵元 – くらもと – kuramoto)
synonym for shuzo. Often considered to be a respectful way to refer to the place where quality beverage alcohol products are made, unlike the businesslike/official-sounding ‘shuzo.’
mizuwari (水割り – みずわり – mizuwari)
shochu mixed with water. This type of mix usually includes ice.
mugi shochu (麦 焼酎 – むぎ しょうちゅう – mugi shouchuu/shōchū)
barley shochu. Often reduced to simply mugi in conversation.
nihonshu (日本酒 – にほんしゅ – nihonshu)
the correct word for saké. Saké actually means “alcohol” in Japanese, so shochu is also technically saké–as are tequila, beer, and wine. Nihonshu is a brewed alcoholic beverage made from rice, koji, yeast, and water. Nihonshu is also sometimes called seishu.
otsurui shochu (乙類 焼酎 – おつるい しょうちゅう – otsurui shouchuu/shōchū)
single-distilled shochu. This is a larger basket that comprises the more strictly-regulated and internationally-respected honkaku shochu category. Otsurui allows a wider variety of ingredients in the fermentation than honkaku shochu does. Maximum ABV for otsurui shochu is the same as that of honkaku, 45%.
oyuwari (お湯割り – おゆわり – oyuwari)
shochu mixed with hot water. The most popular ratio is 6:4 (six parts shochu to four parts hot water), but this should be adjusted to suit individual taste. Unlike when preparing a mizuwari mix, the shochu should be poured second when mixing it oyuwari.
ryukyu awamori (琉球 泡盛 – りゅうきゅう あわもり – ryuukyuu/ryūkyū awamori)
a WTO-protected Geographical Indication (GI) which is reserved for single-distilled rice (mostly long-grained rice from Thailand) spirit produced in Okinawa Prefecture. Ryukyu Awamori requires the exclusive use of black koji in an all-koji fermentation.
saké (酒 – さけ – sake)
the Japanese word for alcohol. The correct pronunciation is /sah-keh/. This word is routinely (and erroneously) used outside of Japan to refer to nihonshu.
satsuma shochu (薩摩 焼酎 – さつま しょうちゅう – satsuma shouchuu/shōchū)
a WTO-protected Geographical Indication (GI) which is reserved for sweet potato shochu made in Kagoshima Prefecture. All sweet potatoes must be sourced from within the prefecture, and all production performed in Kagoshima as well.
shochu (焼酎 – しょうちゅう – shouchuu/shōchū)
a distilled alcoholic beverage indigenous to Japan that can be made from dozens of base ingredients and their koji. There are two major types of shochu, honkaku and korui. Honkaku shochu is governed by stricter production regulations (ie. single distillation), boasts delicious aroma and flavor components, and is more expensive. Korui shochu can be made from most anything containing starch or sugar, is distilled repeatedly to shed its aroma and flavor profile, and is much cheaper. A third, in-between category known as konwa shochu is a blend of the two major types.
soju (소주 <– yes, that’s written in Korean)
Korea’s spirit of choice. The vast majority of soju is multiple-distilled (in a column) until it loses its flavor and aroma, diluted down to 18-22% ABV, and riddled with additives (sweeteners). It has its place alongside spicy Korean food, as do many light and sweet beverages. Korean soju is often erroneously conflated with honkaku shochu (especially in the United States). While Korean soju can be compared with korui shochu since both are made in a column still, it should not be confused with proper honkaku shochu. It is important to note that there are many relatively-new soju brands on the market that appear to focus more on quality and command far higher retail prices both in Korea and abroad.
shuzo (酒造 – しゅぞう – shuzou/shuzō)
umeshu (梅酒 – うめしゅ)
ume, or Japanese apricot/plum, macerated with rock sugar in korui shochu. Commonly made at home in Japan using large jars that can be purchased at supermarkets during ume season.