Category Archives: Imo Shochu

Kameshizuku Imo Shochu (Sweet Potato)

87 Points

Kameshizuku

Kanji: 甕雫
Distillery: KYOYA SHUZO
Type: Imo (Sweet Potato)
Koji: White
Region: Kyushu
Prefecture: Miyazaki
Proof: 40
Available in USA: No

Kameshizuku is the second Japanese shochu we’ve come across from the Kyoya distillery, the first being Kappa No Sasoimizu. One of the most amazing things about Kyoka distillery is the fact that they have been existence for more than 180 years, despite having a market capitalization of $50,000.  Yes, that’s right, they’ve been making alcohol for generations with a capitalization that is less than the price of a luxury car, truly amazing.

What sets Kameshizuku apart is the fact that they use Beni Kotobuki sweet potato.  Beni Kotobuki is native to Miyazaki prefecture and it is what gives Kameshizuku its mellow earthy flavor.  As you can tell from the photo, it is served in a ceramic pot.  Kyoya recommends that you drink the entire pot in a timely manner once open, and if it must sit, it should neither be in direct sunlight or refrigerated.

Though Kyoka several times uses the term “fruity” to describe this shochu, the closest thing to fruit I could pick up was a citrus nose.  Other flavors that were present were hints of smokey bacon, as well as subtle notes of oak and leather.   In our review of Kappa No Sasoimizu we picked up a bit of anise flavor.  For those of us who do not like licorice in our drink, this was noticeably absent in Kameshizuku shochu.

Kameshizuku is not available in the United States.  Though Kyoya Distillery does sell another shochu here, the flavor is different enough that it is not really a substitute.  Additionally, given the clay pot, I’m not sure how confident I would be bringing this back from Japan in my suitcase.  Potentially this is a shochu best left to be enjoyed while out at an izakaya in Japan.  If presented with such a situation, definitely make sure at least one round is Kameshizuku imo shochu.

If you can tolerate the 80’s anime techno music, the video below shows a lot of interesting images of Kyoya’s shochu creation process.  If it’s not tolerable, the video probably is just as good on mute, given the amount of English subtitles. Enjoy!

 

Kuro Yokaichi Imo Shochu

81 Points

KuroYokaichiImo

 

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.

Kin Kirishima Imo Shochu

91 Points

KinKirishima

Kanji:黒 霧島
Distillery: KIRISHIMA SHUZO
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.

 

Kappa No Sasoimizu Imo Shochu

84 Points

Image Courtesy of Kappa Distillery

Image Courtesy of Kyoya Distillery

Kanji:河童の誘い水
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
Distillery: KIRISHIMA SHUZO
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.

Shima Senryo Imo Shochu

85 Points

Image courtesy of Joto Sake

Image courtesy of Joto Sake

Kanji:しま甘露
Distillery: TAKASAKI SHUZO
Type: Imo Shochu (Sweet Potato)
Koji: Both Black and White Koji is used
Region: Kyushu
Prefecture: Kagoshima
Proof: 50
Available in USA: Yes

Shima Senryo Imo (Sweet Potato) Shochu is produced by the Takasaki Distillery in Kagoshima prefecture. Though they have been around for 100 years, Takasaki Distillery seems to be a boutique Japanese shochu distllery that has a small following and a small footprint on the web.  That said, this just makes the enjoyable experience that much more rewarding.

Shima Senryo Imo (sweet potato) shochu is made in a unique manner.  First, it uses both white koji and black koji in the distilling process.  Second, the end product is a blend that mixes shochu that has aged for 1 year with shochu that has aged for 5 years.  The idea behind this approach is that the shochu that is aged 1 year brings interesting flavor to the product while the shochu that is aged 5 years brings a smoothness that makes it easy to drink.  The result is an experience is unlike most other imo shochu.  It’s initial flavor is reminiscent of an un-aged awamori, but then it has a smooth finish that is similar to a kome (rice) shochu.  This makes Shima Senryo Imo shochu interesting yet quite easy to drink.

Kuro Kirishima Imo Shochu

86 Points

KuroKirishima

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

Kuro Kirishima Japanese shochu is the standard bearer shochu from the power house distillery Kirishima Shuzo.  During this past decade’s shochu boom in Japan, Kirishima Shuzo has had 8 years of double digit growth and has recently finished their 4th distillery.  Located in Miyazaki prefecture, they are located in the heart of shochu country.  They pride themselves on their unique water source and their superior sweet potatoes.

Having recently reviewed Tomino Houzan, another Imo Shochu, one thing that struck me was how straightforward  Kuro Kirishima is.  It’s an easy starting shochu that builds to a nice body and the final crescendo is a satisfying finish.  This hearty finish is a product of both the sweet potato base, called imo in Japan, and the usage of black koji.  One note though I prefer my shochu on the rocks, for those who prefer their shochu neat, a dash of water does much to open up Kuro Kirishima resulting in better character and a more satiating experience.

Thinking critically about Kuro Kirishima, if you like imo shochu, there is very little to draw umbrage with.  It provides the oak like flavor and subtle burn that is more pronounced than in rice or barley based shochu and less pronounced than a big awamori.  That said, there are very few flavors that stand out that make this truly note worthy.  For those of us who pursue a unique experience, then other more complex types of shochu may better fit the bill.

Aka Kirishima (red) can be a bit rare, and is Kin Kirishima (gold) impossible to find in the United States.  That said, if you drink shochu in NYC, then you will have ample opportunity to try Kuro Kirishima.  Deffinitely take the opportunity to try this solid, reasonable shochu.

 

Tomino Houzan Imo Shochu

90 Points

Tomino Houzan

Kanji: 富乃宝山
Distillery: Nishi Shuzo
Type: Imo Shochu
Koji: Yellow
Region: Kyushu
Prefecture: Kagoshima
Proof: 50
Available in USA: Yes

It’s taken me 3 attempts to write this review due to the nature of Tomino Houzan.  In retrospect, I believe that it’s from the combination of sweet potato (Imo) and yellow koji.  Generally Japanese shochu made of sweet potato have a smoky flavor that’s not unlike certain types of whiskey.  What’s unique is the pairing of this base with yellow koji.   Yellow koji tends to be used in shochu to produce a flavor that is fruity and smooth.  These two in combination provides a lot of contradicting flavors, but this complexity works in the case of Tomino Houzan.

In drinking this shochu over the span of a week, I noticed that the balance of these flavors changes greatly with the amount of rocks you pair it with, and the amount of time you give the rocks to melt.  Drinkers who prefer the earthy or leathery overtones should use less ice, or potentially just a bit of water like a single malt scotch.  Drinkers who prefer the citrus or cherry notes should be prepared to let their drink sit a bit to get the full experience.

On top of being popular in Japan, it also appears to be fairly easy to find in America too.  During recent trips to Sakagura and Shochu Bar Hatchan it was available, and it appears that it is available for purchase at Sakaya.  For those of you who can’t find Tomino Houzan near your home, Sakaya delivers.  If you are looking to experience your first imo shochu, you could do far worse than Tomino Houzan. It’s definitely not the cheapest imo shochu, but its complexity and flexibility make it a very agreeable experience.  We give Tomino Houzan 90 points.