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Japanese shochu sold in California under its own name for the first time

California state has passed a bill allowing Japanese shochu to be sold under its own name, after decades being mislabelled as Korean soju.

Japanese shochu sold in California under its own name for the first time

Governor Gavin Newsom signed California state legislature AB 416 into law on 10 October 2023, impacting the way Japanese shochu can be sold to Type 41 liquor license holders.

Type 41 liquor licensees are generally restaurants and bars where beer and wine is permitted to be sold and consumed.

Since the 1990s, before the passing of AB 416, Japanese shochu with an ABV of 24% or less could be sold to Type 41 licensees labelled as soju, a Korean distilled alcoholic beverage. This was a result of the prior passage of an exception for Korean Soju and guidance from the California ABC directing such labelling. This overlooked cultural distinctions between the two products, and was also confusing for consumers.

Soju, the Korean spirit, is distilled multiple times, while shochu is distilled only once. Shochu is also highly regulated by the Japanese government to uphold the quality of the distillate. Shochu can come in a range of flavours, but all shochu share a special method of fermentation — using Koji — that isn’t traditionally found in any other region.

The legislation now allows shochu with an ABV of 24% or less to be classified in the category of beer and wine, meaning it can be sold to Type 41 liquor licensees under its own name.

The bill was sponsored by Assembly members Al Muratsuchi and Miguel Santiago.

Chikako Ichihara, US liason officer for the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association (JSS), and its registered lobbyist John McCarthy lobbied for the change.

Hitoshi Utsunomiya, director of JSS, called the change “an incredible team effort from distillers, exporters, importers, and especially all members of the Japanese Restaurant Association of America”.

“Shochu has a long and celebrated history within the United States and we are delighted to be able to continue this legacy with our brands. Additionally, we are pleased that bar and restaurant owners are now allowed to sell and serve Japanese shochu under its proper name.”

California is following in the footsteps of New York, which passed a bill on 1 July 2022 amending the Beverage Control Act to allow shochu to be sold under its own name for the first time. Until then, New York held the same legislation which forced shochu to be sold and labelled under the name soju. Read more here.

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