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Kiku-Masamune Lees Shochu

 90 Points


Type: Sake Kasu (lees of sake)
Koji: –
Region: Kansai
Prefecture: Hyogo
Proof: 70
Available in USA: No

We’ve done 20 reviews of Japanese shochu here at Shochu Distilled, but this may have the most storied history.  Kiku Masamune Winery has taken the byproduct of their sake production and distilled shochu with it.  To put the importance of Kiku Masamune in perspective, it should be realized that they have been around since 1659.  That’s 117 years before the United States was a country.  That’s 218 years before the last Samurai.  That’s 344 years before Lost In Translation!!!

To put this in perspective, it may help to think British.  When a prince or a duke has certified a product worthy of their usage they give it a royal warrant.  Much in the same way, the current Emperor has chose Kiku Masamune as his sake of choice.  The shochu reviewed today is made with the lees left over from the Kiku Masamune sake.  Lees is the solid rice based by product left over from fermenting process of wine.  In Japanese you’ll hear this by product called “kasu” or “sake Kasu”.  Sake very much traces its roots to the outskirts of Kobe where there is a small neighborhood where many of the oldest sake wineries still exist today.

I know I have referred to Kappa No Sasoimizu or Ryukyu Ohcho Awamori as being black licorice or Jagermeister like.  These need to prefaced with a “somewhat” after today.  Kiku Masamune Lees shochu tastes like Jagermeister.  It’s so close that I currently am hunting for a recent college graduate that I can Pepsi challenge Kiku Masmune shochu with Jagermeister and find out if they can tell the difference.  The one contradiction to all of this is the fact that I truly dislike Jager, but find I enjoy this shochu after it settles a bit on the rocks.

For those who are more used to shochu than western liquor, it should be acknowledged that Kiku Masamune is 70 proof.  It’s far and away the strongest shochu I’ve had.  Iced down a bit, as I prefer, it’s still stronger than most other types of shochu neat.  Given it’s unique flavor, it works better with strong meat such as lamb or barbecue.

Unfortunately, this shochu is not available in the United States.  In fact, you can only buy it at the Kiku Masamune sake winery in Kobe.  It costs less than $30 from the winery, and if you have the opportunity to bring it back, it should be at the top of you list.  A side note, this is not a shochu for beginners.  A year ago I gave a bottle of this away to a friend of mine.  It has sat on their shelf since because they know not what to do with it, nor are they ready for a drink of this nature.  I’ve thought for 6 months about how to convince them to re-gift it back to me.

Japan Block Party



Nascar Driver Akinori Ogata


Akinori Ogata’s car

So the confusion as to how big the Japan Block party was stemmed from the fact that this was two separate block parties in 1.  There was a 1 block fair focused specifically on Japanese restaurants, products and charities like Table for 2.  Continuing on for another 6 blocks was the standard NY street fair.  Think Canoli, Mozzarepas, NY Times subscriptions, and discount rugs.  Not sure why these two fairs were held together, but it definitely diluted the Japan block fair experience.  The food was amazing, with the perfect combination of street fair with Japanese food going to Japadog.  In a nod to the pre-Bloomberg, pre-Giuliani New York, many vendors even served beer, though it was Kirin Free so as to keep with local ordinance banning alcohol from these types of public events.

Beyond all of the great food, NASCAR driver Akinori Ogata was on hand.  I have to admit, when I first read that he was coming, my reaction was “he’s coming to do what?”  He actually hung out with everyone and was incredibly accessible.  The entire time I attended the event, he was out among the crowd talking about both NASCAR and racing in general.  In a New York where celebrities either at worst have an attitude, or at best simply prefer being left alone, a NASCAR driver spending his afternoon chatting with people off the street was a refreshing experience.

Kuro Yokaichi Imo Shochu

81 Points



Kanji:黒 よかいち
Distillery: TAKARA SHUZO
Type: Imo 63% 27% Kome Shochu (Sweet Potato & Rice)
Koji: Black
Region: Kansai
Prefecture: Kyoto
Proof: 48
Available in USA: Yes

For the second shochu from Takara Distillery we’re taking a look at Kuro Yokaichi Imo shochu, the first being Yokaichi kome shochu.  Takara Distillery is a relatively large maker of different types of alcohol from the city of Kyoto, Yokaichi is a city across Biwa Lake fro Kyoto, in Shiga prefecture.  Takara’s size allows them to setup their own companies around the globe and import their products without the help of Japanese trading companies.  Their background and model is unique in the Japanese shochu industry.

Kuro Yokaichi Imo shochu is a relatively new shochu, introduced in the United States towards the end of 2012.  Though Takara Distillery is located in the Kansai region of Japan, they’ve used sweet potatoes from Kyushu as the main ingredient for this product along with black koji.

Kuro Yokaichi is a shochu with an identity crisis.  Two thirds of the shochu is in the traditional Kyushu style of combining Imo (sweet potato) and black koji.  Potentially its the blending in of 1/3 Kome that mellows the flavor.  The initial sharp flavor is deffinitely reminiscent of other Imo shochu, but it mellows quickly as the rice flavor starts to come into play. It presents a combination that is almost medicinal in nature.  The combination is not unlike comparing single malt scotches to a blended American whiskey.  Though the American whiskey is a pleasant and consistent experience, it tends to lack the complexity and character of a single malt scotch.  Of the different ways to drink Kuro Yokaichi, I enjoyed it most on the rocks after the ice has had 10 minutes to melt some.  At this point the initial flavor mellows and the it picks up almost a buttery finish.  In this form its very enjoyable though best had when in the mood for a kome shochu as opposed to an imo shochu.

Like Yokaichi Kome, Kuro Yokaichi Imo shochu can be found at a great value, selling in Japan for less than $10.  The one thing I’ve found is that Kuro Yokaichi is far less common than Yokaichi Kome or Yokaichi Mugi shochu.  This has resulted in the price varying far more than normal.  I found it at a local wine shop for $21 for a 750 ml bottle.  A good example of this is that 36th Avenue in Long Island City sells it for $17, while Marukai eStore in California has it for $27.  As a New Yorker, I feel like there is a required joke about California somewhere in there.  Kuro Yokaichi a good value at $17, but less so at $27.  For $30, there are other bottles that I would prefer.

Japan Block Party – June 15th in the East Village **UPDATE**

Image Courtesy of TableFor2.

Image Courtesy of TableFor2.

So this week information about the East Village Japan Block Party was finally posted.  Starting with the bad news, it looks like there are no vendors selling shochu.  The good news is that this street fair looks far more interesting than the Mozarella Arepas, NY Times subscription, 3 dollar socks booths that I normally experience at street fairs in New York.  The event starts at 12pm and lasts until 5pm.  The location is on 3rd avenue from 7th street to St. Marks Place.

There will be a stage for Japanese singers and dancing acts.  What’s a bit odd is that the stage is supposedly setup on 3rd Avenue between 13th and 14th street.  It taken literally this would put the stage 5 blocks away from the food.  Potentially the street fair is a 7 block party instead of a 1 block party.  I think if you make it to St. Marks Place, it should be easy to see where the party is at.  Once you find the stage, note that acts will be performing only from 12-4pm.  If you arrive too late, you’ll miss the entertainment.  Beyond the singers and dancers, NASCAR driver Akinori Ogata will be in attendance.  It’s not really stated what he’ll be doing or how accessible he’ll be for the Japanese NASCAR fans out there.

The biggest plus is the food.  There are over 25 vendors signed up providing food and drink.  Classics such as okonomiyaki, yakisoba, Japanese curry, sushi, and tea are to be had.  It’s supposed to almost 80 degrees tomorrow, so if you need to cool off, do it with tea from Table for Two.  Not only will it re-hydrate you, but you’ll also be contributing to a good cause.



Kin Kirishima Imo Shochu

91 Points


Kanji:黒 霧島
Type: Imo Shochu (Sweet Potato)
Koji: Gold
Region: Kyushu
Prefecture: Miyazaki
Proof: 50
Available in USA: Yes

Kin Kirishima is the highest among the three standard Japanese shochu from Kirishima Distillery, Kuro Kirishima (black), Aka Kirishima (red), and Kin Kirishima (gold).  I say among the “standard” shochu because I realized tonight that Kirishima Distillery carries a line of even higher quality, the “Tama Kin Kirishima” series of shochu.  The middle school child in me chuckled at this name because “tama kin” means “ball of gold”.  “Gold ball” is a Japanese nickname for a particularly masculine part of the male anatomy.  I am heading to Japan next month, I’ll be both finding out if I can find the “Tama Kin” series and I’ll be asking my friends if Japanese people find this name as funny as I do.

The first thing that should be mentioned about Kin Kirishima is the fact that it is made with  cordyceps instead of the normal black or white koji.  This fungus in nature grows from dead insects and looks like orange grass.  Before you object to ever trying Kin Kirishima, Kirishima distillery has found a way to grow this artificially from brown rice.  According to webMD cordyceps can be used to treat coughs, chronic bronchitis, respiratory disorders, kidneydisorders, nighttime urination, male sexual problems, anemia, irregular heartbeat,high cholesterol, liver disorders, dizziness, weakness, ringing in the ears, unwantedweight loss, and opiumaddiction.  Wow! Cordyceps have been mentioned as an aphrodisiac and the head of one of the Chinese women’s Olympic distance running teams even prescribed the usage of cordyceps and turtle blood to their athletes in order to perform better.  Little is proven about this fungus in western medicine, your mileage may vary.

Given the interesting background of Kin Kirishima, the flavor is actually surprisingly similar to that of  other Imo Shochu.  It has an incredibly light and buttery initial flavor.  It’s finish is a bit sweet  with a tinge of evergreen, but has that unmistakeable imo shochu finish.  Part of me thinks that this shochu would be great in a summer cocktail, but feel that a shochu with such an interesting background shouldn’t be covered up with overpowering mixers.  If I ever inherit several bottles at once, I may explore this more due to it’s delicate shelf life.  Kirishima Distillery recommends drinking this with a large portion of hot water, acknowledges that it is also delicious on the rocks.

Kin Kirishima Imo Shochu is not available in the United States.  If you do get your hands on a bottle, and plan to save it for a special occasion, do not throw the box away.  The distiller mentions that it is sensitive to light, and should kept hidden from the sun until you are ready to drink it.  The distiller sells this for 3,000 yen, or about $30 US Dollars.  If you are bringing bottles back from Japan by hand, this bottle is highly recommended.


Yokaichi Kome Shochu

82 Points


Kanji: よかいち 米
Distillery: TAKARA SHUZO
Type: Rice Shochu
Koji: Yellow
Region: Kansai
Prefecture: Kyoto
Proof: 50
Available in USA: Yes

With the number of Japanese shochu distilleries coming from the south west region of Kyushu in Japan, it’s a pleasant surprise to be reviewing a shochu from Kansai.  Takara Distillery is a relatively large maker of different types of alcohol from the city of Kyoto.  This allows them to setup their own companies around the globe and import their products without the help of Japanese trading companies.  Their background and model is unique in the shochu industry and I look forward to trying more of their products.

Yokaichi Kome shochu is made with a the same type of rice that is used in the production of sake.  Takara Distillery polishes the rice 30 percent before using it in the distilling process.  It’s fermented at lower tempratures using yellow koji instead of black or white koji.  Yellow koji is used in sake production and results in a light taste.

The flavor of Yokaichi Kome is fairly light thought not quite as smooth as Hakutake Shiro shochu.  Both taste similar to a vodka, though it is a bit like comparing Grey Goose vodka with Stolichnaya. Similar to those vodka brands, both of these brands of shochu are acceptable but Hakutake Shiro is deffinitely the smoother shochu that is easier to drink if you prefer your shochu neat. One note, my first couple of sips were quite strong with a personality that was more remeniscent of an imo shochu. This was the only time I realized I was drinking a 50 proof alcohol.  It quickly mellowed and remained smooth and easy to drink after breathing and mixing with water for a few minutes.

The one notable positive of Yokaichi Kome is that it is a great value.  I found it at a local wine shop for $21 for a 750 ml bottle.  Its a good value at this price.  It’s a tremendous value at Linwood’s price of $11.98.  I plan to be experimenting with shochu in mixed drinks that involve more that my current repertoire of shochu, water, and ice.  At these prices it is a acceptable drink on the rocks but yet not so expensive that you feel bad about mixing it with juices or other sweet mixers.


Kappa No Sasoimizu Imo Shochu

84 Points

Image Courtesy of Kappa Distillery

Image Courtesy of Kyoya Distillery

Distillery: KYOYA SHUZO
Type: Imo Shochu (Sweet Potato)
Koji: White
Region: Kyushu
Prefecture: Miyazaki
Proof: 40
Available in USA: Yes

This is another Japanese shochu where the distiller took liberty with the English translation of the name of their shochu.  Though I much prefer the translation of ‘Kappa No Sasoi mizu’, the translation ‘Kappa No Sasoimizu’ is what appears on the bottle, so that is what we will use.  Kappa No Sasoimizu is made by Kyoka Distillery in Miyazaki prefecture.  Koyoka Distillery, despite having just $50,000 in market capital according to their website, has been around for 180 years.  It should also be mentioned that Kappa No Sasoimizu was awarded the Monde Selection award for 2013.  Though this french review body is the not considered the authority on Japanese shochu, their award does represent an excellence in consistency and quality.

Kyoka Distillery describes their shochu as light and smooth.  This is an accurate description, though not the most striking aspect of the flavor.  This shochu strongly resembles a light vodka-like Jagermeister.  The challenge of this review is that I tend to not love the licorice flavor that stands out most.  I recognize that plenty of people go for this given the existence of Pernod, Jager, Absinthe, Ouzo and Sambucca.  If this is a flavor that appeals to you, then definitely move this shochu to the top of your list as the remaining flavors tend to be subtle and easy on the pallet.

One thing of note, most shochu distilleries have a pretty poor website in Japanese and an even poorer website in English.  Kyoka Distillery has 2 websites in English and both are better than most Japanese websites for other shochu distilleries.  These are kyo-ya and kappa shochu. These websites have things ranging from clear and accurate descriptions of the products to live webcams showing their sweet potato fields growing.

Though I’ve seen the product on several menus I have since learned that this shochu is relatively rare.  Besides retailing at Mitsuwa Market in New Jersey, it’s available at Greenwich Grill, Japonica Restaurant, Nippon, the East chain (including bar Hatchan), Robataya, Serafina, and Uminoie in New York City.  At shochu bar Hatchan it is $9 for a relatively modest sized glass.

Aka Kirishima Imo Shochu

88 Points

Image courtesy of ZZZZ.

Image courtesy of Kazuya Yokoyama.

Kanji:赤 霧島
Type: Imo Shochu (Sweet Potato)
Koji: Black
Region: Kyushu
Prefecture: Miyazaki
Proof: 48
Available in USA: Yes

Somewhat like Johnny Walker, Aka (Red) Kirishima is the middle bottle of the color coordinated black, red, and gold Imo shochu from the power house distillery Kirishima Shuzo.  I’ve been looking forward to reviewing this Japanese shochu because though it is not uncommon, very little is written about it online.  Beyond the fact that little has been written, I also have in my possession a bottle of Kin (Gold) Kirishima in my possession.  I’ve vowed to not crack this until I’ve had a chance to reflect upon the Aka Kirishima Experience so this is the next step in the journey.

Aka Kirishima’s claim to fame is the fact that it is made with murasaki masari sweet potato.  This indigenous to Japan sweet potato is unique in so much that it is purple in color.  In a shochu shop in Osaka I’ve been told that the thing that gives murasaki masari sweet potatoes their pigment also indicates the presence of resveratrol.  Resveratrol is what is present in red wine that prevents damage to blood vessels, reduces bad cholesterol and prevents blood clots.  Checking online all day I was not able to find any medical website willing to back this up.  Your mileage may vary.

Drinking Aka Kirishima seemed to reflect traits of western alcohol.  The flavor of Aka Kirishima is best decribed as being smoky like a mellow scotch.  The finish has grass like notes a bit like a carmenere red wine.  I was lucky enough to try this at an Izakaya with a lot of pairings.  My favorite was with Yakitori.  I think the smokiness would compliment many grilled meats, but chicken seemed to work best.

Aka Kirishima (red) is a bit rare to find in the United States. That said, it is available at many upscale shochu bars and online as well.  Given that it is a bit more obscure, it’s prices tend to vary.  This is a great shochu and well worth trying it if you have the chance.

Japan Block Party – June 15th in the East Village

Image Courtesy of TableFor2.

Image Courtesy of TableFor2.

Our friends at Table For 2 brought to our attention a Japan Block Party that is coming on Saturday, June 15th.  It’s on 3rd Avenue between 7th street and St. Mark’s Place.  Details of the event are extremely scarce, so much so that I almost didn’t submit this post for lack of anything to say.  The presenter’s website only promise to have “Products, Food, and Performances.”  Not only do they not mention what the exhibitors are, they do not even mention start and finish times.  The one saving grace of this block party is the fact that if the event is a total bust, at least you are around the corner from St. Mark’s Place.  Given the location, I think the attendees alone will make this worth stopping by.  As specifics reach the web, I’ll update the post.  If you do attend, do stop by the stand for Table for 2 and buy a drink.  It’s a great Tokyo based charity that is doing a lot of good.

Roka Akor Chicago – Shochu and Sushi Wednesdays

Image courtesy or Roka Akor.

Image courtesy or Roka Akor.

This news comes to us from our friends at Second City Style.  As a big fan of shochu, punch bowls, and the city of Chicago, I couldn’t help but pass this along.  The restaurant Roka Akor, located in the River North neighborhood of chicago, has a new special starting this week.  On Wednesdays, from 5-7pm, For $25 per person you can enjoy sushi trays created by executive sushi chef Brett Vibber.  Shochu based fruit infused punches are created by mixologist Jason Huffman.  The initial review by Second City Style was quite positive. If you find yourself in the river north neighborhood of Chicago on a Wednesday, this looks worth trying out.

456 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60654
Neighborhood: River North

(312) 477-7652