I am an amateur of fine Japanese alcohol. I am just beginning so I've tasted a few, but not too many. I like sake, but not all sake are equal. So far, the best I've tasted was brought to me from Japan by a friend and I couldn't read the label, so it would be hard to tell what brand it was. The Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ) offers a few brand of sake, most of them rather average.
For a while, I've been looking for some Shōchū, a Japanese alcohol distilled from grain, mostly barley. I am just curious to taste it, but so far the SAQ has just one brand and it is pretty expensive (it's Premium Rice Shōchū), not to mention located only in a few stores not easily accessible for me. I am patient, so I'm sure I'll find it eventually. I might be able to find some at Miyamoto (if I can find the time to go there, it's near metro Vendome).
Last week, I went to the SAQ to get some sake, any brand, preferably cheap. In such circumstances, my preference goes to the Hakutsuru. It's an old classic at the SAQ. It doesn't taste much, but for a 720 ml it's really cheap at $11.15. Because, sometimes, you don't want to taste the best, you just want some damn sake without spending too much. Unfortunately, I visited two stores and both were out of it, and in the case of the second store, out of any sake. Sad.
The lady at the store suggested me an alternative. “Try this,” she said. “It's similar to sake, but it is Korean”. It was cheap enough ($6.00 for 375 ml), so I said “wine not”. However, since it was called Soju (in fact, Jinro Chamisul Soju -- my bottle was slightly different from the illustration), I was doubtful it would taste like sake. First, it had 20.1 % of alcohol while sake usually goes around 15%. A higher percentage indicate the alcohol is distilled and sake is brewed. Soju (note the similarity of the name to Shōchū) is in fact an alcohol distilled from grain (usually rice, but also potatoes, wheat, or barley -- but here the bottle just says “grain”). Tonight, I tasted it and it was tasting definitely more like vodka (not surprisingly, the Russian or Polish alcohol distilled from grain or potatoes) than sake.
However, the experience is not wasted since Soju is similar to Shōchū (or Shocchu, like it is spelled on the SAQ's web site), it gives me an idea of that Shōchū would taste. I'm not disappointed, since I am already an amateur of vodka. It also taught me that the SAQ people don't know shit about their alcohol.
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