It’s no secret that Asian spirits are on the rise. And the growing presence and popularity of AAPI-owned and -operated bars and restaurants have introduced many American palates to spirits like Korea’s native soju and Japan’s shochu and sake. But despite their rising prominence stateside, the three spirits are still often confused.

But these centuries-old beverages are worth getting to know. Not only do they originate from vastly different countries, but they’re each made through their own distinct distillation methods and carry their own flavor profiles. What’s the difference between sake and shochu? And how does soju play into things? Here’s a breakdown of all the differences among sake, soju, and shochu.

What is soju?

Soju is a clear, neutral spirit that’s been produced in Korea since the 13th century. While it’s traditionally distilled with rice, there are actually no laws dictating what base ingredient is used to produce it. In fact, using rice to distill soju was outlawed in Korea during the Korean War, prompting distillers to adopt sweet potatoes, wheat, and tapioca as their star ingredients. While this ban is no longer in place, many distillers still choose to eschew rice in favor of other agricultural products, resulting in new flavor profiles. Bottles usually range from 20 to 34 percent ABV.

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While soju is mostly incorporated into cocktails in the U.S., the spirit is traditionally consumed neat alongside food in Korea. During meal service, soju serves as a communal drink that’s traditionally never poured by one’s own hand. Instead, an older member of the group or family will pour the drink into small shot glasses and distribute them around the table. There’s usually no sipping soju, either; guests typically shoot theirs using both hands.

Despite soju’s relatively small presence in the U.S., the No. 1 spirits brand consumed worldwide is actually a soju brand: Jinro Soju, which sells upwards of 100 million 9-liter cases per year. Other popular brands include Charm, which is distilled from rice, barley, sweet potatoes, and tapioca; rice-based Tokki; and grape-based Yobo.

If you’re keen on picking up a bottle, the base ingredient on the label can help steer you toward your ideal soju. For a neutral palate, reach for a soju produced from rice, which will highlight subtle notes of charred rice or crisp apple. Sojus produced from sweet potatoes tend to be sweeter and offer a more viscous texture. And similarly to vodka, soju is available in many flavors alongside its unflavored form; some of the most popular include green grape, peach, and apple.

What is shochu?

A hard liquor distilled from grains and vegetables, shochu originated in Japan around the 15th century. Similarly to soju, shochu can be made from a variety of base ingredients such as rice (kome-jochu), sweet potato (imo-jochu), and barley (mugi-jochu). Shochu, though, is produced using a fermentation process through which its base ingredient is saccharified to produce koji mold. This mash is then distilled to produce the spirit, which is typically bottled between 25 and 30 percent ABV. Legally, shochu is not permitted to have an alcohol content over 45 percent.

There are two categories of Japanese shochu: the more-premium osturu shochu (also known more colloquially as honkaku shochu) and korui shochu. Distilled only once, honkaku shochu has a strict set of guidelines producers must follow to preserve the base ingredient’s flavor. These guidelines have fostered the development of several different types of honkaku shochu, including awamori, a long-grain rice shochu made exclusively in Okinawa with a special type of black koji.

Korui shochu, on the other hand, can be distilled multiple times. This process tends to mask the flavors of the base ingredients and results in a colorless, borderline-aromaless spirit. Flavor additives are expressly prohibited by the Japanese government in shochu production.

There are a few ways to properly enjoy shochu, and they’re usually dictated by the quality of the spirit itself. High-end honkaku shochu is often consumed straight-up so that drinkers can thoroughly enjoy its aromas and nuances, but both honkaku and korui can also be served over ice, warmed, or mixed with hot or cold water. The latter two methods are the most common when serving shochu with food, as it lowers the ABV to 12 to 15 percent — perfect for sipping over the course of a meal.

Some of the largest shochu producers include Kirishima Shuzō (Japan’s highest-grossing shochu distiller), Sanwa Shurui, and Unkai Shuzō.

What is sake?

Let’s get this out of the way: Sake is not rice wine. Nor is it Japanese vodka, or a distilled spirit of any kind. Sake has more in common with beer than any other alcoholic beverage. Like beer, it’s made with steeped grain and is brewed and fermented with yeast. In sake’s case, it is then fermented a second time with koji mold.

Flavor-wise, sake can range from dry to sweet, measured by the Sake Meter Value (SMV), a numerical scale ranging from -15 to +15, with dryness increasing with number. You’ll often see these numbers on sake menus or on sake bottle labels. It is usually clear and still; but unfiltered sake is milky white, and some sakes are carbonated.

Sake is best served room temperature. It can also be served cold or warm, though the latter is often reserved for cheaper, less refined sake.

Finally, though Americans are often taught or tempted to pair their sake with sushi — or, shudder, as part of a sake bomb — neither practice is common in Japan. There, it is seen more as a palate cleanser, best enjoyed between meals or on its own.

Sake quality and cost are all about the level of polish, or the amount the rice grains have been milled before brewing. All rice grains are polished about 10 percent before they reach a sake brewery. To make premium sake, brewers polish it further, to varying degrees.

In his book “The Year of Drinking Adventurously: 52 Ways to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone,” Jeff Cioletti breaks it down as follows: Sake brewed with rice polished to 70 percent its original size is generally referred to as either junmai or honjozo. Junmai means “pure,” and the alcohol content of these sakes comes solely from the fermentation of the rice. If alcohol is added to boost ABV, that’s honjozo sake.

Ginjo refers to sake whose rice grains are polished to 60 percent or less; and daiginjo, to 50 percent or less. The more polished the rice, the cleaner and more elegant the flavor, ranging from rich and nutty, to light and fruity. You can learn more about sake styles here.