Brand: iichiko silhouette (いいちこ)
Distillery: Sanwa Shurui Co., Ltd.
Location: Oita Prefecture, Kyushu Island, Japan
Grain: mugi (barley)
koji: white (shiro)
distillation: low pressure (genatsu)
alcohol content: 25%
I preform all of my shochu tastings straight followed by mizuwari (with cold water). If there are other characteristics I’d like to define I might also try it “roku” or “on the rocks” or oyuwari (with hot water).
This iichiko (‘ee-chee-ko’) silhouette is probably the most common Japanese shochu currently available in the United States. In NYC I’ve seen it in random mom & pop liquor stores as the only shochu among a shelf of sake options. It’s most commonly available in 750ml bottles, though I’ve seen other sizes in other countries.
This is a great starter shochu, which is why I’ve chosen it for my first tasting note. It was my introduction to shochu back in 2008. I’d had Korean soju before, but Japanese shochu is a strikingly different (and better) experience.
This is a crystal clear shochu – some can be various shades of gold – thanks to their single distillation process in which the barley grains are polished to remove the outer layer and then blended with pure spring water. The resulting product has a higher alcohol content, but is then cut with more spring water before bottling.
This is a very light, easy drinking spirit with no strong mouth feel or aftertaste. The relatively low alcohol content makes it much smoother than you might get from a stronger shochu (they can range up to around 45% in my experience). It is also smoother than other barley shochus I’ve tried, which may be explained by the spring water they use, or perhaps they polish their barley to a greater degree.
This is also a great shochu for mixing into cocktails since it doesn’t have a strong flavor. I’ve had it with both Japanese plums and calpico (a yogurt drink), but I still prefer my shochu on the rocks.
If you’re interested in trying something stronger than sake with a Japanese meal it’s hard to go wrong with this solid, light shochu. If you’ve already had shochu, it’s very likely you’ve already had iichiko silhouette so keep an eye out for my next installment or go find a bottle and experiment with some cocktails using iichiko as a vodka replacement. Your liver will thank you.
(May 2020): This was the first shochu review I ever wrote and I have left the above virtually unedited for your enjoyment. I have since visited Sanwa Shurui several times and understand this product much more than I did in 2011.
It is a propriety blend of several different 100% barley distillates incorporating different kōji and yeast strains, both vacuum and atmospheric distillate, and various aging techniques. The number of different styles in the blend and their percentages are a corporate secret on par with the Coca Cola formula or Colonel Sanders’ 11 secret herbs and spices.
Even today it remains one of my go-to shochu if only because the taste is so familiar. My current way of describing iichiko is as “The Johnny Walker of shochu” due to the impeccable blending. Still prefer it on the rocks, though mixed with soda is also a summer refresher.