With the Japan-European Union Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), shochu stands to find its place in the world market

Shochu bottles from three makers. Bottle shapes and sizes differ by product, and when the EPA goes into effect, relaxing restrictions on bottle quantities, makers can use their original bottles that were designed for individual products.

 Japanese sake. In the Western world, it usually refers to nihonshu. In Japan, however, sake means alcohol, and shochu is another traditional Japanese sake for the world to explore.
 The distilled spirit with a five-hundred-year history is fermented with a koji mold (Aspergillus oryzae) before distillation. Its medley of ingredients gives it distinctive characteristics, including complex flavors and aromas.
 Made from sweet potatoes, soba, barley, rice, or brown sugar, shochu brings a new proposition to the table as a spirit (alcohol content between 25% and 45%) that can be served with food. A new category in the beverage world.
 Nihonshu, as a form of wine, is easier to pair with food from a Western perspective, making it easier to market. However, shochu stands to hold its own on the global gourmet scene.

Pairing TAKAHASHI SHUZO rice shochu with sushi at the Expo Milan 2015. This new category of alcoholic beverage captivated Italian bartenders.

 Japan’s southern island of Kyushu is home to many distilleries, including TAKAHASHI SHUZO CO., LTD, which introduced its rice shochu at the Expo Milan 2015. The company president Mitsuhiro Takahashi said, “Our main product is rice shochu. At the World Fair, we introduced nihonshu as a brewed beverage and rice shochu as distilled. Both are made from rice—Japan’s principal crop. We offered a tasting of rice shochu with sushi to show visitors how well it pairs. It was quite a hit.”


 After the positive response in 2015, TAKAHASHI SHUZO’s European exports increased 112.5% the following year. In 2017, the year-over-year growth rate rose to 268.5% and continues upward. In Europe, they currently export to the U.K., the Netherlands, Belgium, and Sweden, and the number of countries is increasing.
 Distillers are exploring new ways to bring shochu to the Western world, including a craft gin using sweet potato shochu as its base called Yuzugin from Kyoya Distiller and Brewer Co., Ltd.
 “We wanted to propose a new spirit that one could enjoy like whiskey or brandy at a bar. Yuzugin offers a clear, fresh flavor with a balance between sweet potato and citrusy yuzu both sourced from Kyushu. Perfect before, during, or after meals. Yuzugin has gained popularity in the U.K. After trying the shochu-based gin, many have shown interest in shochu.”—Shinichiro Watanabe, President of Kyoya Distiller and Brewer Co., Ltd.
 Negotiations for the EPA started in 2013 and were finalized in 2017. Once in effect, lower tariffs will promote trade, facilitate investment, create new jobs, and bring a sense of competition to the market while boosting the overall economy.

Presidents of three shochu makers.
Mitsuhiro Takahashi, president of TAKAHASHI SHUZO CO., LTD.


Presidents of three shochu makers.
Shinichiro Watanabe, president of Kyoya Distiller and Brewer Co., Ltd.


Presidents of three shochu makers.
Kazuto Hombo, president of Hombo Shuzo Co., Ltd. 

 The EPA protects Geographical Indications (GI) as intellectual property, using a distinct sign to indicate a product as originating from a particular country, region, or locality to preserve quality, reputation, and other valuable characteristics. This agreement will help prevent imitations from appearing on the world market—which is good news for the shochu makers of Japan.
 “The EPA will improve recognition of the Kyushu brand as Shochu Island. Under GI protection, Japanese shochu makers can unite their efforts to bring the real taste of Japanese shochu to Europe. Also, the relaxed restrictions on quantity per bottle will allow us to export original bottles and caps that we carefully designed for each product, providing consumers with a wide variety of options to enjoy.”—Kazuto Hombo, President of Hombo Shuzo Co., Ltd. Now, for a toast…