Category Archives: Mugi Shochu

Route 382 Mugi Shochu – LIMITED EDITION

91 Points

Route382 Mugi Shochu

 

Kanji:国道382
Distillery: GENKAI SHUZO
Type: Mugi (Barley)
Koji: White
Region: Kyushu
Prefecture: Nagasaki
Proof: 76
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.

R382

Kintaro Baisen Mugi (Barley) Shochu

88 Points

Courtesy of NishiYoshidaShuzo

Courtesy of NishiYoshidaShuzo

Kanji:金太郎
Distillery: NISHIYOSHIDA SHUZO
Type: Mugi Shochu (Barley)
Koji: Taste like it should be black, but we’re guessing
Region: Kyushu
Prefecture: Fukuoka
Proof: 50
Available in USA: Yes

Kintaro Baisen Mugi Shochu (Barley) is produced by the Nishi Yoshida Distillery in Fukuoka prefecture.  Nishi Yoshida may have the most inspired company moto of all Japanese shochu distillers with the mtoto “Making a serving of shochu is making a smile”.  Though we at Shochu Distilled review many different types of mugi shochu what is unique about Kitaro is the fact that it is made with roasted mugi (barley).

Kintaro Baisen Mugi (barley) shochu is both a unique and interesting.  Nishi Yoshida’s website describes the flavor as roasted wheat.  Having never eaten roasted wheat, we can neither confirm or deny this description.  We did pick up notes of dark chocolate, and not unlike the Nishi Yoshida’s description we did taste the flavor of roasted peanut.  Many types of shochu do well as low calorie alternatives in mixed drinks that normally call for vodka.  This is not one of those types of shochu.  It has far too much personality to be used as such a neutral base.  This is a deep and flavorful shochu that is great either with a dash of water or on the rocks.  Nishi Yoshida recommends this shochu as a side to either grilled or fried chicken.  I would tend to agree with this recommendation.  I would also say that this is an appropriate drink for a whiskey drinker on a hot day, or great for a shochu drinker on a chilly evening.

Though not common Kintaro Baisen Mugi Shochu does technically exist in America.  Let me clarify, when I say “not common” I really mean “has absolutely no foot print online in english, period.”  This being said, I did try this at the fantastic Shigure Sake Bar.  This establishment will be reviewed in future posts.  In the meantime I’ll mention that as a shochu drinker, this is one more place where shochu is second to sake. That said, though having few types of shochu, what they have is quite unique.  It’s well worth the trip down to TriBeCa.

Tenpai Mugi Shochu

86 Points

TenPaiMugiShochu

Kanji:天盃
Distillery: TENPAI SHUZO
Type: Mugi Shochu (Barley)
Koji: White
Region: Kyushu
Prefecture: Fukuoka
Proof: 40
Available in USA: Yes

Tenpai Mugi Shochu (Barley) is produced by the Tenpai Distillery in Fukuoka prefecture.  What is unique about their distlling process is the fact that they age their Japanese shochu 1 year in ceramic casks.  In trying it, there were nothing that seemed apparently ceramic or earthy about it, but its hard to image that this doesn’t change the flavor given Tenpai Mugi Shochu’s very unique flavor.  Though hailing from Kyushu it is unique that Tenpai is based in Fukuoka.

Shochu like Tenpai Mugi shochu are both good and bad to review.  It’s good in the sense that the interesting flavor can be described accurately in just 1 word, but bad in the sense that using just this word to describe it feels like we’re oversimplifying its complex flavor.  For Tenpai Mugi shochu the word is buttermilk biscuits.  The beginning, middle, and end all taste like slightly undercooked fresh buttermilk biscuits.  For those who are not familiar with this flavor, it be additionally described as yeasty, slightly hoppy bread dough, potentially with a bland nutty flavor.  It’s unique flavor can be slightly surprising and off putting at first if you are not expecting such a unique flavor.  Once prepared for a shochu of this nature, pairing it can be fun and unique.  Great pairings include sausage, bratwurst, or chili.  Generally anything spicy that compliments tangy breads.  This shochu should also be considered when designing flights of shochu for friends to try.  It’s unique flavor provides a special contrast that drives the conversation and helps a drinker think critically about the experience.

I found Tenpai Mugi (barley) shochu at one retail liquor store.  What’s interesting is that this store only carries 3 types of shochu and online only displays 1 type under the sake selection in their online store.  Beyond this, none of my favorite shochu restaurants carry this brand.  I found it for $25, and I’ve come across it for $29 online.  It is considerably cheaper in Japan at roughly $10.  Given the price differential, unique flavor, and it’s rarity this makes for a great candidate to bring back on flights back from Japan.  It’s a good value at the domestic price and a great value at its price in Japan.

 

Bungo Taro Mugi Shochu

82 Points

Image care of SaikiBrand

Image care of SaikiBrand

Kanji:ぶんご太郎
Distillery: BUNGO MEIJYO Co.
Type: Mugi Shochu (Barley)
Koji: Black
Region: Kyushu
Prefecture: Oita
Proof: 40
Available in USA: No

Bungo Taro Mugi Shochu (Barley) is produced by the Bungo Meijyo Distillery in Oita prefecture as their entry level Japanese shochu.  Bungo Meijyo’s claim to fame is that their Mugi (Barley) shochu is made with all organic ingredients of the highest quality.  There is little coverage of this distillery, though their website notes their onsite nature preserver and golf course.  If one finds themselves in Oita, you could think of a worse way to spend a day than touring this distillery.

Bungo Taro Mugi shochu has a floral bouquet about it.  In fact, the flower I pick up most is petunia.  The flavor is a bit more interesting than your average mugi (barley) shochu, displaying faint notes of apricot and peach.  After the floral fruity start I could taste just a bit of pistachio.  All of these flavors, though present, are by no means strong.  Bungo Taro shochu would not be confused with a full flavored imo shochu or awamori.  Surprisingly, it finishes with a burn that is a bit stronger than is to be expected for a 40 proof mugi (barley) shochu.  If I had one critique of Bungo Taro Shochu, it would be that I would enjoy this shochu far more if the fruits and florals stood out a bit more and were not so subtle.

Bungo Taro Mugi Shochu is incredibly hard to find.  Oddly enough, there seems to be more stores selling it online in Germany as in Japan.  If you do find it in Japan, it should be priced around 1,000 yen, a little less than $10 USD.  If you are shopping to fill your 2 bottle custom’s quota, there may be more memorable bottles to bring back. If I find it state side, or I have a chance to try some of their more high end bottles, I’ll deffinitely make efforts to update this page.

Hitotsubu No Mugi Shochu

86 Points

Image courtesy of http://www.nishi-shuzo.co.jp/

Image courtesy of http://www.nishi-shuzo.co.jp/

Kanji: 一粒の麦
Distillery: NISHI SHUZO
Type: Mugi Shochu (Barley)
Koji: White
Region: Kyushu
Prefecture: Kagoshima
Proof: 48
Available in USA: Yes

You don’t realize how many great types of shochu come from Nishi Shuzo until you start reviewing them and taking note of who makes what.  Hitotsubu No Mugi is their award winning Barley Shochu, not to be confused with the other Nishi Shuzo shochu reviewed recently, Tomino Houzan. What’s great about Nishi Shuzo is that they deffinitely are not a one trick pony.  Their different types of Japanese use different ingredients and have unique flavors that stand on their own regard.  Hitotsubu No Mugi was awarded the Monde Selection Gold Award in 2011.  Monde Selection reviews a variety of food and drinks.  Though not necessarily a pillar to the shochu community in Japan, their award speaks to the overall quality and balance of the drink.

Hitotsubu No Mugi shochu embodies what Mugi (barley) shochu should be.  It has a light initial flavor.  It’s a bit sweet, a bit wheat like.  What is unique about Hitotsubu No Mugi is its creamy finish.  It ends with vanilla notes, with hints of caramel.  In fact, given these whiskey like characteristics, at the time I assumed that an aging process had taken place using oak or sherry casks.  To my surprise, none was mentioned on Nishi Shuzo’s website.  My opportunity to try Hitotsubu No Mugi was on the rocks.  If you like your shochu neat, and do not discover the flavors mentioned above, it may take a bit of water to open the drink up.

My opportunity to taste this shochu was at Shimizu in Hell’s Kitchen.  In the future, when I find Hitotsubu No Mugi available retail, I’ll be purchasing a full bottle in order to experiment trying it with different types of desserts, namely chocolate.  Having searched online for a store that carries it, it appears to be fairly rare.  Wally’s in LA seem to carry it, as well as Linwood in NJ.  Prices run in the mid $30 range, but if your local store is charging more, you may not have any alternative if your heart is set on trying this solid mugi shochu.

Iichiko Silhouette

81 points

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Kanji: いいちこ
Distillery: SANWA SHURUI SHUZO
Type: Mugi Shochu (barley)
Koji: White
Region: Kyushu
Prefecture: Oita
Proof: 50
Available in USA: Yes

Iichiko Silhouette shochu, from Oita prefecture, is a label that all Japanese shochu drinkers will get to know, simply because it is so ubiquitous.  Like every bar in America having Jack Daniels, every Izakaya in Japan carries Iichiko.  In fact, Sanwa Shurui claims that Iichiko is the number one selling line of shochu in Japan.  Like it or not, if you prefer shochu, you will definitely be having Iichiko sooner or later.

Short of Hakutake Shiro Shochu Iichiko Silhouette may be the cleanest, cleared shochu I’ve tried to date.  The scent of Iichiko reminded me of citrus and sake.  Recently we’ve been comparing shochu to standard western liquors such as vodka or Jameson whiskey.  Iichiko is so light and refreshing that it is more vodka like than vodka.  A shochu that could easily be used in place of vodka for simple mixers like vodka cranberry or vodka orange juice.  It also can be drank on the rocks, or even neat.  Though I do not prefer shochu warm, the distiller advertises Iichiko Silhouette as a being delicious warm.

Iichiko Silhouette is incredibly easy to find.  Astor Wines and Spirits and Linwood Liquors both carry it.  For those who do not live in the New York Metro area, there are plenty of other stores that carry it.  1000 Corks seems to have a variety of stores.  Prices seem to vary from $20 to $27.  Given that Sake is still far more popular in America, many Japanese restaurants may only carry 1 shochu.  Often this shochu is Iichiko Silhouette.  Though it’s not the most distint shochu, its a respectable shochu that can be drank in a variety of different ways.

Kannoko Mugi Shochu

89 Points

KannokoShochu

 

Kanji:神の河
Distillery: SATSUMA SHUZO
Type: Mugi Shochu (Barley)
Koji: White
Region: Kyushu
Prefecture: Kagoshima
Proof: 48
Available in USA: Yes

Kannoko Shochu is from Satsuma Distillery in Miyazaki Prefecture.  Kannoko, is also spelled Kan No Ko by some restaurants and stores.  It would seem that restaurants, stores, and trading companies seem to struggle with whether to include spaces in the names of the Japanese shochu they sell.  Kannoko is a good example of this.  It literally translates to ‘river of god’ and carries the meaning of ‘river protected by the gods’ in Kyushu.  This would suggest that it’s name should be broken into 3 words.  The flip side is that Kannoko takes its name from a river in the area where it is produced.  This would suggest that it’s name should be one word.  In this particular case, Satsuma Distillery has written the name in English on the bottle.  Right or wrong, that’s the spelling that the maker intended, so that’s the spelling we will use.  When shoping for shochu, if you see spelling that is randomly pushed together, or pulled apart, don’t fear, its most probably the same shochu.

When not able to enjoy shochu, I do enjoy a nice whiskey neat or on the rocks.  Kannoko shochu is a whiskey drinkers gateway to shochu.  I believe this unique flavor comes from the fact that it is aged in oak barrels for three years.  It is said that this aging process is where Kannoko shochu gets its golden color from.  It has been said that Kannoko is similar to that of a scotch whisky.  I find that the flavor more closely matches that of Jameson Irish Whiskey in so much that it lacks the complexity of most scotches and has the smoothness that is pleasant to drink.  Also in true whiskey fashion, the finish of Kannoko has notes of caramel.  If there was anything negative to say about Kannoko, it would be that it lacks a complex bouquet.  It smells like.. shochu.  If it were not for this, Kannoko would score well into the 90’s.  That being said, the complexity in flavors makes this well worth drinking.

Kannoko shochu, though not inexpensive, can be found at a reasonable price.  Here  in NY its price can vary greatly.  Hats off to Astor Wines and Spirits for selling it for $26.99 currently. For those who are looking to introduce shochu to their friends, Kannoko is a great choice if your friends happen to have a passion for whiskey.