Distillery: GENKAI SHUZO
Type: Mugi (Barley)
Available in USA: No
We came across Genkai Shuzo’s Japanese shochu while shopping at Hanshin Department Store in Osaka, Japan. They were handing out tastings of their new Route 382 mugi shochu (barley) in celebration of winning the Monde Selection award for 12 years in a row. Now I’ve mentioned that we do not put a ton of weight in the Monde Selection awards, but winning 12 years in a row caught my attention so I had to give it a try.
Route 382 is named after a scenic highway that bisects Iki Island from north to south. Iki Island is the home of Genkai Shuzo, and the name of their most popular lines of mugi shochu. Iki Island is the home of mugi shochu. They have been making it since the 16th century. In 1995 Iki mugi shochu, along with Kuma sweet potato shochu and awamori received the protection of a formal designation of origin by the World Trade Organization. This means that only alcohol from that region can carry the name Iki mugi shochu. This is similar to Champagne or Bordeaux wines only coming from those regions in France. In honor of winning a Monde Selection award for 12 years in a row, they came out with this special edition.
For those who are familiar with Iki shochu, Route 382 is similar but the 28 proof difference definitely does not go unnoticed. The distributor describes Iki shochu as having a pear flavor with hints of cinnamon. This description is accurate and holds true for Route 382. I also tasted nice lemongrass notes that spoke to both the complexity and lightness of this intriguing shochu. Mugi, which is barley, is only really present in the shochu bouquet. I also should note a flavor that was pleasantly absent. For some reason shochu above 70 proof often has a strong anise flavor. Anise is where the flavor of Jagermeister, Sambuca, Ouzo, or Absinthe comes from. Pleasantly Route 382 packs the flavor punch you would expect from a 76 proof alcohol, but lacks the anise flavor that often is an undesired side effect.
All the characteristics described above makes this a great alcohol for a hot summer day, or when you are out on a Saturday night after a morning workout. For scotch drinkers, it’s an interesting drink neat. I definitely preferred it with a dash of water so as to bring out a bit more of the flavor. Given its punch, it stands up nicely to being served on the rocks. I have mixed feelings about having Route 382 in a mixed drink. Given that it lacks the black licorice flavor and is of a similar alcohol level of vodka, it makes a great low calorie vodka replacement in mixed drinks. That said, given the exquisite flavors and rarity of the product, it’s definitely not the the best way to appreciate the effort that went into this shochu.
Route 382 is not available in the United States. In fact, on my next trip back to Japan, I have no hope of finding it again, as it is a limited edition shochu. Given its similarities to the standard Iki mugi shochu, those who are curious should definitely seek out this bottle. This is available at Sakaya Sake Shop for $39. Though this is a bit steep, for those who love mugi shochu, this is definitely worth a try at least once at this price.