Shochu I Have Known and Loved
焼酎 (shouchuu or shochu) - a distilled alcoholic beverage that the Japanese probably ripped off from the Koreans and Okinawans. Usually around 25% alcohol (50 proof). Shochu can be made from a variety of ingredients such as barley, potato, rice, brown sugar, and many others. Shochu is traditionally served in these ways:
ロック (rokku) - on the rocks
水割り (mizuwari) - mixed with water
ウーロン茶割り (uuronchawari) - mixed with oolong tea
お湯割り (oyuwari) - mixed with hot water
There's also chu-hi - short for "Shochu Highball". These are usually a concoction containing fruit juice, shochu, and other mystery ingredients. Popular with women for their mild, fruity taste. Chu-hi is usually cheaper than beer and ranges from 3% to 7% alcohol.
BOOZE HOUND TIP: I'm not sure if this is standard practice. At the bar I worked at, all shochu drinks (on the rocks or -wari) cost the same. On the rocks orders would get 60ml of shochu, -wari would get 45ml. If you want more hooch for your money, get it on the rocks!
Shochu is usually less than 1500 yen a bottle, and you get old-man-cool points for drinking it. Try walking around with a flask of Iichiko instead of a beer at the next gathering you attend.
And now, Shochu I Have Known and Loved.
Not even Olde English 800 is gangsta enough to proclaim itself "King of the Ghetto" right on the bottle! Iichiko is mugi (barley) shochu made in Beppu, a hot spring town in Kyushu. Despite its low price and claim to royalty, Iichiko is pretty tasty even when compared to some more expensive varieties of shochu. There's also a slightly more expensive version, and you can get it in a sweet glass flask for 500 yen. May be a little strong on the rocks. Mixes very nicely with green tea, especially Soukenbicha.Noroma no Kame
"The Slow Turtle". Kome (rice) shochu that's nice and smooth - a good one to try on the rocks. Not very common - I've only seen it at a cow tongue place near my apartment.Tantakatan
And they say English words are difficult to pronounce! Shiso (a minty leaf, sometimes served with sushi and sashimi) shochu that's heavy on the shiso taste. If you don't like shiso, give this one a miss. I've only tried it on the rocks. When my bottle of Iichiko runs out, I'm going to get a bottle of Tantakatan and try mixing it with other things.Konkanetan
Konbu (seaweed) shochu. It doesn't sound like it would be very good, but it is. Kunesen 43度
Mean old fire-breathing 86 proof Okinawan Awamori. I don't remember if this is the one with the snake in the bottle. Truth be told, I usually don't remember much after I start hitting the Kunesen.