SakéOne Blog

The Differences between Saké, Shochu, and Soju

Jan 16th, 2023 by Gwyn Bjordammen

If you’re wondering what the differences between saké, shochu, and soju are, you’re not alone. From Japan to Korea, these traditional drinks have been around for centuries and have unique flavors and nuances that make them stand out. Though they may be similar in some ways, there are also some key differences that set them apart.


Saké, our specialty at SakéOne, is a traditional Japanese beverage brewed from fermenting rice. During the brewing process, only four ingredients are used to make saké: rice, water, yeast, and koji.

Saké’s alcohol by volume (ABV) hovers at about 15 or 16 percent, making it slightly stronger than beer or wine. The flavor profile of saké can range from sweet to umami-forward, depending on the style. A Nigori saké, such as Momokawa Pearl, has a sweeter taste than a Junmai style saké such as Hakutsuru Excellent. Due to the variety of flavors in this category, saké easily pairs with many cuisines. If you usually drink saké with sushi, try enjoying a glass with an American favorite or even your dessert.

While many people sip saké as is, it makes a fantastic liquor replacement in cocktails because of its lower alcohol by volume (ABV).

A common question about saké is “should I drink it hot or cold?”

Our recommendation is that premium saké is best enjoyed chilled because the cooler temperature brings out the subtle notes and aromas of the beverage. On the other hand, some umami forward sakés are often consumed warm.


When comparing saké and shochu, it’s important to note that they are both traditional Japanese alcoholic beverages. One key difference is that shochu is a distilled spirit made from grains. Because shochu is distilled, it has a higher alcohol by volume (ABV) than sake between 20 and 30 percent.

Shochu is often enjoyed neat but can also be served chilled on the rocks or with other mixers. Also, shochu pairs easily with many types of cuisines. But, the type of shochu you choose will be the determining factor in which foods to consume with the beverage.


Similarly, to shochu, soju is a distilled alcohol. It is made from grains, such as rice, wheat, and barley and the alcohol by volume (ABV) ranges from 16.7% to 45%.

Another difference between the three beverages is that rather than originating in Japan, soju is a traditional Korean alcoholic beverage.

Soju has a neutral flavor, but can also be slightly sweet or fruity depending on the variety. It is usually served chilled and is often sipped neat or in a cocktail. When deciding how to pair this beverage, it is recommended to pair it with foods that are heavier or oil-based. Soju’s clean finish aids in cleansing the palate when eating bolder flavors.

The next time you’re in the mood for a drink, remember to consider the differences between these three popular varieties to make sure you get exactly what you’re looking for.

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