Shochu is sake distilled, not brewed

Amy Sheehan and her husband, K.C., are the owners of Sodo Spirits, a shochu distillery in Seattle, the only one in the United States. The drink is a traditional Japanese alcohol. - Brita Moore/Staff Photo
Amy Sheehan and her husband, K.C., are the owners of Sodo Spirits, a shochu distillery in Seattle, the only one in the United States. The drink is a traditional Japanese alcohol.
— image credit: Brita Moore/Staff Photo

Amy and K.C. Sheehan of Mercer Island are doing something no one else in the United States has — they are distilling traditionally handmade mugi shochu, a Japanese spirit, from scratch. Not only that, but they are making it from barley grown in the Palouse region in Eastern Washington.

The Sheehans are part of an “exploding” industry across the state, that of craft distilleries, which require 51 percent of ingredients to be locally grown.

“It was a Japanese friend, who runs a distillery in Japan, who suggested we should look into it,” K.C. Sheehan said.

Shochu is unique from other alcohols in that it uses koji, a fungus, to break down the sugars in the barley that creates the alcohol. It can also be made from sweet potatoes, rice or wheat.

“We actually went over [to Japan] and found out the process,” Amy Sheehan said. “Distilleries were just starting to get their licenses then, and most were doing gins and vodkas, so this was something different. It’s a really versatile, palatable, easy spirit.”

The distillery, Sodo Spirits, opened in 2009 and was Seattle’s first licensed distillery.

“K.C. had heard about [shochu] because he’d been to Japan, and in the world, it’s a very popular alcohol, but here, it hasn’t been known and used so much,” Amy Sheehan said. “It’s gotten more of a scene recently in the last 10 or so years.”

While the overall process of making shochu is similar to making other alcohols, it requires a longer period of fermentation, about 9-11 days, and has about 25-30 percent alcohol in the finished product.

“It doesn’t have the burn that typical alcohols have,” K.C. Sheehan said, “so you can have it with food. The Japanese usually drink it over long dinners, and it doesn’t burn out your taste buds.”

Another appealing factor about shochu is its health benefits.

“It’s an extremely low-calorie alcohol without having to do anything else to it,” Amy Sheehan said. “It’s got 35 calories, approximately.”

Her husband also noted that some Japanese studies show that it is good for the heart and circulatory system.

After the fermentation and distillation process, the Sheehans age the distillate in wine barrels from California, which add flavor and color to create the signature EvenStar Premium Cocktail Shochu. To add a western touch, they include fresh rosemary in the mixture. They are also working with adding ginger, mint and chili pepper.

Currently, the Sheehans are working hard on selling their product.

“We’re doing every little thing we can,” Amy Sheehan said. “If we can teach people about it, if they’ll let us come in and show it to them and have them try it, they’re so much more likely to sell it.”

Shochu can be consumed neat (on its own) or in a cocktail.

The Sheehans plan to have a tasting sometime at the end of July.

EvenStar is available at Thriftway, Uwajimaya, Wine World, Esquin and Metro Markets.

For more information, email


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