On Mar. 23, 2016, Fukuoka’s “shochu otaku” (“shochu nerds”, the shochu equivalent of “beer freaks”) gathered at Buzz Live Hall to hear Christopher Pellegrini, the author of The Shochu Handbook and a leading international expert on shochu and awamori, give a talk in both English and Japanese.
The shochu was flowing as the attendees made full use of the unlimited tasting bar, prepping their tastebuds for the coming talk. The organisers had thoughtfully provided a range of snacks so that patrons could line their stomachs and thus soften the blow of this 50-60 proof drink. As the shochu-lovers mingled, you heard expressions like “no shochu, no life” and “shochu style, shochu smile” being laughingly bandied about. Shochu clearly attracts some dedicated followers!
When Christopher got up to speak, his passion for shochu was as clear as the spirit itself. Back in his native Vermont, Christopher was an ardent beer brewer, and entered the world of professional beer brewing before he was even old enough to legally drink alcohol. This zeal and experience mean that he can truly appreciate the care and almost excruciatingly intense attention to detail the shochu distilleries apply to the brewing process. Christopher studied hard to pass the shochu sommelier certification exam offered by the Sake Service Institution; an exam made all the harder by the fact that there was almost no English information available on shochu at the time (there was certainly no Wikipedia page on the subject). Now he’s one of the few licensed, non-Japanese sommeliers living in shochu’s native land, with a book under his belt, two more in the offing, and a busy schedule of events around the world at which he presents shochu (from art shows to gigs). He’s also in the process of creating a website, which will help consumers learn about shochu and producers about distribution potential (the basic site is already online: shochu.pro).
Christopher’s ambition is to put the word “shochu” in everyone’s heads, much like “wine” or “beer”. As he points out, there are many advantages to shochu: it’s very low in calories, it can be paired with pretty much any food, and it can be served a number of ways (including with water, which is very unusual for a spirit). But shochu is not just versatile, it is varied: from barley to tomato to pepper, the list of officially recognised raw ingredients for shochu is huge. And even within a certain category of shochu, such as barley, you’ll find different regional types. The tiny Iki Island, just off Nagasaki, has seven barley shochu breweries!
According to all who attended (though, being shochu-lovers at a shochu-lover meet-up, they may be a little biased) shochu is a social drink, so once the talk was over there was time for networking and, of course, more shochu tasting. Everyone began mingling, discussing their own experiences of shochu in both English and Japanese, as well as their hopes for the future of shochu.
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