Second Draft

Now This is Research!

Posted in Drink,Research by Michael Skeet on Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sometimes I have more fun than others when researching the background of Demon Gate.

When Lorna, Jill and I visited Japan in 2007 we were amazed at the selection of shochu/shoju available in the liquor shop down the road from our guest house in Kyoto. At the time it was difficult to find any shochu in Canada, much less a selection (shochu is distilled from an impressive variety of starches). I had liked the shochu I’d had up until then; after trying buckwheat and sweet potato shochu I was pretty much hooked.

So it came as a pleasant surprise to discover that, contrary to my guesses, distillation was not introduced to Japan by the Portuguese. None of the sources I’ve been able to check has been in agreement on precisely where the art of alcohol distillation came from (one source claims Thailand by way of Okinawa, another says China, and Wikipedia opts for Korea as the conduit through which distillation techniques came to Japan), but that doesn’t matter so much to me.

What matters is that most of the sources agree that shochu was being made in Japan by the end of the fifteenth century, though the first recorded reference to the drink was in 1549. That puts shochu into the realm of possible drinks for our characters to consume, with the proviso that the only shochu being distilled in the early sixteenth century was rice-based.

This was good news for us, because we had had our characters in “Beneath the Skin” merrily quaffing shochu—without our ever having gone to the trouble of checking to see whether or not we were being anachronistic. I hate being anachronistic in my fiction.

I will celebrate this discovery in a couple of days, when our annual winter cocktail party will feature at least one shochu-based cocktail. (Normally I drink mine straight, the way it was intended to be, but the shochu-based cocktails served at Momofuku Noodle Bar inspired me.)

As for anachronism, there is still the matter of futon and tatami to be dealt with…


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