Japanese Drinks – Shochu!

Vodka. Whiskey. Gin. Tequila. Rum. Shochu.

Some of the most famous liquors in the world are the distilled alcohols of fermented grains, vegetables and herbs.

And Japan’s shochu is easily one of the most enjoyable and drinkable of the list.

Shochu is a distilled beverage made from water, koji, yeast and other ingredients such as rice, barley, sweet potatoes, brown sugar or buckwheat. Enjoyed throughout Japan, shochu, like sake, has become increasingly popular all over the world. And while shochu is a quintessentially Japanese drink, its origins are international.

The production of shochu in Japan has been documented to the 16th century. Historical information indicates that shochu was introduced to the area known as Ryukyu, or modern-day Okinawa, by traders from Siam, or modern-day Thailand. That drink was called arrack, the origin of which has been traced to ancient Middle Eastern and Mediterranean civilizations where an anise-flavored liquor called arak was made from the distillation of fermented cereal grains.

Rice mold, or koji

The Okinawan style of shochu, called awamori, is still made today, although the more popular honkaku shochu is considered the most authentic Japanese shochu and is primarily produced in Kyushu region. Honkaku shochu production became varied and robust during the Meiji Period (1868-1912) in Japan. The process begins similar to sake production, in that steamed short-grain japonica variety rice is inoculated with black or white aspergillius oryzae mold, or koji. Once the rice has been broken down into starch, amino acids and citric acid, yeast and water is added to complete the koji. Left to ferment for approximately one week, the resulting mixture, or moromi mash, is the initial source of alcohol for the shochu. A base ingredient, such as more rice, sweet potatoes, brown sugar, barley or buckwheat, is added to the mix. The base ingredient gives the final shochu its distinctive flavor. This mixture produces the second moromi mash, which is let to ferment for two weeks before it is heated and cooled in a traditional distillation apparatus. The distillation process retains the characteristic flavor of the base ingredient, which is mellowed and refined while the shochu is aged from several months to a few years in stainless steel, wooden or ceramic vessels. Once the shochu is aged, it is diluted with water to the appropriate alcohol content of either 20%, 25% or 30% and then bottled and shipped.

Honkaku shochu

Awamori shochu is produced using long-grain Thai indica variety rice and only black koji. While honkaku shochu goes through two mixing stages, awamori is made using only one mixing stage, going quickly into the fermentation step and after distillation, it is aged for a minimum of three years. Awamori shochu, because of its long ageing stage, has a characteristic vanilla flavor and much higher alcohol content – 43%!

Drinking shochu is a pleasure, especially at Japanese bars called izakaya in southern Japan. Beginners typically drink a rice-based shochu, called kome shochu, or a fruity cocktail called chuhai. The simplest way to drink shochu is neat, simply poured into a glass at room temperature. But shochu can be enjoyed over ice or mizuwari-style, that is, diluted with a small amount of cool water to round out the edges of the alcohol. Oyuwari-style, or diluted with warm water, is ideal during cold weather and enhances the depth, flavor and aromas of the shochu and purists often enjoy shochu warm, without any added water.

With the cold winter months coming up, we hope you’ll try some shochu at your local Japanese izakaya or restaurant. And as always, don’t forget to share your favorites with us!

Zojirushi’s Fresh Brew Plus 12-Cup Coffee Maker (EC-YGC120)

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Is one of your favorite experiences waking up to the aroma of freshly brewed coffee? Or sharing a glass of iced coffee with a friend on a hot afternoon? We love our coffee here at Zojirushi, and are excited to share the new Fresh Brew Plus 12-Cup Coffee Maker (EC-YGC120) with special features for brewing iced coffee with you!

This stylish coffee maker brews up to 12 cups of hot coffee, or up to  6 cups of iced coffee! Ideally, coffee should be brewed at 200°F, and our coffee maker quickly heats water to this temperature to maximize the flavor of your coffee. For hot coffee, open the easy-access swing basket and fill the filter basket with your desired amount of ground coffee.  Then, fill the removable water tank with fresh water corresponding to the amount of coffee you’re brewing using the clearly-marked ‘HOT’ water measure lines as a guide. Press START. Your coffee is all set to brew!

The heating plate that the glass carafe sits on has four keep warm settings–HI, MED, LOW, OFF–and keeps the brewed coffee warm at the temperature you like. When the carafe is removed, the machine inhibits messes with the drip prevention mechanism, and the clean spout design of the glass carafe makes pouring smooth and easy, helping to avoid dribbles and dripping.

If you prefer your brew iced, the Fresh Brew Plus makes brewing complex and bright iced coffee a cinch. Fill the Ice Basket in the glass carafe with ice, add water to the water to the level line on the water tank marked “ICED”, put your ground coffee into the filter basket, then turn the heating plate keep warm setting to OFF. Press START to brew your coffee. The coffee is instantly chilled as it brews, locking in delicious flavor and aroma… ready to drink!

Our Fresh Brew Plus 12-Cup Coffee Maker is easy to clean and maintain, just like our other products. A Clean Indicator illuminates when cleaning is recommended, and the filter basket and swing basket are easily removed for washing in the sink.

We’ve even added a few other great features to this new coffee maker:  a convenient clock timer that can be set at night so you can wake up to the enticing aroma of freshly brewed coffee, a measuring spoon that works perfectly with our coffee maker to make filling the filter basket easy, and sample filters, so you know exactly what fits!  All food contact zones are BPA-free.

We know you’ll love this new coffee maker as much as we do, and you’ll be able to purchase it from our great retail partners this month! As always, we’d love to hear from you, so be sure to leave a comment below.

Zojirushi’s Travel Mug (SM-YAE48)

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We’re all searching for a way to be stylish, save money and still enjoy our favorite foods and drinks… and one of the best ways to do that is to make your favorite coffee or tea at home and take it with you when you’re on the go. We love our Travel Mug (SM-YAE48) for just these reasons: convenience, savings and style.

This mug is a new addition to our other taller, thinner models. It rests much more securely in car cup holders, and fits better under a pod brewer. The same wonderful features you find in Zojirushi vacuum-insulated bottles can be found in this travel mug: an easy to clean electro-polished SlickSteel® interior, wide mouth opening, and superior heat/cold retention. The Travel Mug also has a solid locking mechanism that makes it leak-proof when used according to the instruction manual, and the lid is a snap to clean, thanks to its larger surface area and removable gaskets. The flip-open top is designed to be comfortable while drinking, fitting the contours of your face. Best of all, the mug has a unique vent that allows liquid to pour out smoothly, which is great if you’re on the move and don’t want a huge mouthful of liquid splashing down your chin!

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Since launching our Travel Mug last July, we’ve gotten great feedback on Amazon.com from our owners. One of our favorite 5-star reviews is from Tygr, who posted this review on March 3, 2016:

How did they improve on near perfection? They did with this new mug model!

I love it. I had one of the previous models that I loved but this one is even better. Since they’ve widened the bottle the overall height was reduced so it not only fits perfectly in my cup holder but it also fits perfectly into my coffee maker so I can now have it brew directly into the mug — something I couldn’t do with previous versions! I love the chocolate color and the fact that the lid locks in place when open so it won’t fall forward when drinking out of it. Same unbelievable super long time for keeping things hot or cold. Who would have thought that they could improve on such an awesome product? — But they DID!”

The Travel Mug (SM-YAE48) comes in four beautiful colors: Lime Green, Cherry Red, Dark Cocoa and Stainless. Check out our product video and our website. We know you’ll love it as much as we do, and as always, be sure to share your comments with us! And don’t forget to pin a photo of your travel mug with #ZoGo!