今日 (きょう/Today) I’d like to talk a little about my favorite Japanese alcoholic beverage, 焼酎 (しょうちゅう/Shochu)! This is not the traditional 酒 (さけ/sake) that many people order when they go to a 日本料理 (にほんりょうり/Japanese food) restaurant in another country. 酒 can be translated as rice wine, but the word is commonly used to describe any or all drinks that have アルコール (alcohol) in them. Note the identical kanji character in the japanese word for “liquor store”: 酒屋 (さかや/sakaya). 酒 is still a popular brewed drink, but for now, let’s talk about 焼酎.
Recently, this distilled drink of about 25% to 40% アルコール content has become more popular than 酒. The three most common types of 焼酎 are 麦焼酎 (むぎじょうちゅう/mugi jochu), 米焼酎 (こめじょうちゅう/kome jochu) and 芋焼酎 (いもじょうちゅう/imo jochu). They are all produced in the same general manner, but use different primary ingredients: 麦 (むぎ/barley), 米 (こめ/rice) or 薩摩芋 (さつまいも/sweet potato). Unsurprisingly, their tastes can be compared to drinks made with similar ingredients. I believe my favorite, 麦焼酎, has hints of ウイスキー (whiskey) in the taste and 芋焼酎 smells a bit like ウォッカ (vodka).
鹿児島 (かごしま/Kagoshima), where I live, is the largest producer of 薩摩芋 in Japan, and as a result it is also the largest producer of 芋焼酎 as well. Tell anyone in 東京 (とうきょう/Tokyo) that you are going to 鹿児島 on vacation and most people will tell you to try the 焼酎 or, better yet, bring back a 瓶 (びん/bottle) to share. The most popular ways to enjoy 焼酎 are to dilute it with お湯 (おゆ/hot water) or drink it ロック (literally “rocks”, a shortened form of “on the rocks”). Less common is to drink it straight, drink it diluted with cold 水 (みず/water), or have it in a mixed cocktail. Personally, I think ロック is the best, especially after given a minute to cool. Enjoy!