In Japan, shaochu is serious business. Ask someone about shochu and they will have an opinion. “My shochu has to be from Kagoshima”, “I prefer shochu made out of sweet potatoes”. Pretty much everyone’s got an opinion. For those of you that are unfamiliar with shochu, shochu is a Japanese distilled spirit. Confused with sake? The key difference lies in the alcohol content and the base ingredients. The alcohol content of shochu is usually around 25% whereas sake is somewhere around 15%. As for the base ingredients, sake is only made out of rice, the base ingredients for shochu is a bit more diverse. Shochu can be made out of rice, sugarcane, barley, sweet potatoes and more. Different base ingredients create different flavors and aroma, so take your time and experiment with shochu, after all, there’s more to Japanese booze than just sake. The best way to learn more about shochu is by drinking. Whether you’re already into shochu or new to shochu, here are 5 places to stop by for a drink.
As an Izakaya specializing in cuisine from Kyushu (the southern island of Japan). Hanazen’s got everything covered from Kyushu. Horse meat from Kumamoto? Check. Fresh local fish from Oita? Check.100 different types of shochu? You betcha. Kyushu is well-known for having top-notch shochu and that’s pretty much all you’ll be getting here. New to shochu? Don’t worry. Their friendly staff will help you navigate through the myriad of shochu. As for their food, this little gem serves up authentic wholehearted dishes you’d expect coming from an eccentric grandmother’s kitchen in Kyushu. With feel-good vibes, Hanazen is the perfect place to hit up with close friends for dinner.
- Address: 2 Chome-5-14 Nishigotanda, Shinagawa, Tokyo 141-0031
- Phone: +81-3-3495-2585
Ah, Havespi. One of the perks of living in a major city is that it never lacks quirky places to try out. Among the list of unique restaurants and bars in Tokyo, I’m sure Havespi is somewhere on the list. The sole concept of Havespi is simple: introducing a wide variety of shochu to their customers. For a fixed price of ¥3,240 (around $32), you can help yourself to as many shochu as you want for however long you want. Hungry? While Havespi doesn’t serve any food, if you have a stamp on your hand you can head out to nearby shops or convenience stores and bring back food to eat, making this place better than your average all-you-can-drink places. Obviously, this bar is a must-go for all those shochu-lovers, but even if you’re not particularly keen on shochu, Havespi is definitely worth a visit. With a variety of over 100 different types of shochu stocked at all times, you’re bound to stumble upon a shochu that hits you at the right spots.
- Address: 3-9-9, Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 160-0022
- Phone: +81 3-6457-7538
- Website: http://havespi.jp/
3. Shochu Bar Takayama Bettei
I admit, I never found shochu to be the cool grown-up alcohol. Unlike its counterparts, sake, and vodka, shochu is often linked with older men drinking alone at your not so stylish, very average izakaya. That being said, coming across this upscale joint was a breath of fresh air. While located in the vibrant and chic area of Ginza, shochu bar is carefully hidden in an alley, making this place the perfect hideaway in the city. With dim lights and a sleek looking counter, this venue is the epitome of a classy Japanese-style bar. Boasting over 300 brands of shochu, you can get your hands on exclusive shochu you won’t find anywhere else. The meal is equally exquisite. At this sophisticated nook, the dishes are created to compliment their shochus. Come here for its shochu, and stay here for the vibe. The ambiance in here is so good, you’ll be coming back sooner than you think.
- Address: 6 Chome-3-16 Ginza, Chūō, Tokyo 104-0061
- Phone: +81-3-6215-8446
- Website: http://ginza-bettei.com/
4. Shochu Zanmai
Nestled in the alley of Ikebukuro, this welcoming, homey spot is exactly what I’d imagine finding in the countryside of Japan. For the price of ¥1,500/1 hour, you can help yourself to their superb collection of over 300 varieties of shochu. Want more shochu? You can pay an additional fee of ¥500 for another hour. While Shochu Zanmai doesn’t offer a ton of food options, they make up for it by allowing their customers to bring their own food. So don’t forget to make a pit stop at the convenience store before arriving here. This cozy venue is a pretty casual place to stop by. If you’re new to the whole shochu game, feel free to ask questions. Their friendly staff and customers will be willing to help you navigate through their wide selection.
- Address: 1 Chome-23-5 Higashiikebukuro, Toshima, Tokyo, Japan
- Phone: +81 3-5956-0083
5. Bar Gen & Material
Now, this is what I call an authentic hole in the wall bar. Hidden in the basement of a building in Shibuya, from the outside you can’t possibly imagine all the good stuff that’s stocked behind these walls. Thought bars with 100 types of shochu was impressive? Think again. With a respectful collection of over 5,000 shochu and 1,000 umeshu (Japanese plum liquor), rumor has it that bar Gen & Material boasts the biggest selection of shochu in all of Japan, and most likely the world. The fine lineup at this bar can be overwhelming, but don’t fret. Bar Gen & Material offer starter sets that come in a smaller glass, meaning you can test out different shochu and umeshu by their base ingredients. If you’re a shochu lover, with no doubt, this is the ultimate place for you.
- Address: Aoyama-dai building B1F, 2 Chome−9−10, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan
- Phone: +81 3-5485-8316