Category Archives: Shochu Reviews

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.

Sango Sho Awamori

81 Points

SangoSho

Kanji: さんご礁
Distillery: YAMAKAWA SHUZO
Type: Awamori
Koji: Black
Region: Ryukyu Islands
Prefecture: Okinawa
Proof: 60
Available in USA: No

Sango Sho Awamori is produced by Yamakawa Shuzo.  It’s located near wherethe Minna river empties into the East China Sea, in the town of Motobu Okinawa.  This bucolic setting is the reason why Sango Sho Awamori is named after the Japanese term for coral reef.

Sango Sho Awamori is made using the classic ingredients of thai style long grain rice and black koji.  Given this, it doesn’t venture far from classic awamori flavors.  As Awamori goes, I would consider Sango Sho to be fairly smooth and easy to drink.  This is due to it being aged 3 years.  Normally aging for years can add additional nuances that are picked up from different types of wooden barrels.  In this case Yamakawa chose to age Sango Sho in stainless steel, so the result is a relatively mild awamori.  On Yamakawa Distillery’s website they describe Sango Sho as being ideal for people who are new to Awamori and popular with women in Japan.  All this mildness being said, it should be realized that Sango Sho is 60 proof, which is significantly stronger than many types of shochu.

Sango Sho Awamori unfortunately seems to  be unavailable in the United States.  It seems to run about $19 in Japan.  One thing to note, Yamakawa Distillery does offer tours of the their distilling house and they have many types of Awamori that have been aged far longer and far more premium than Sango Sho.  I’ll deffinitely consider stopping here the next time I find myself in Okinanwa.  Though a decent value at this price, given the 2 bottle limit to the number of bottles one can bring back from Japan on the airplane, there are probably other bottles more deserving of being in your top two.  That said, if you are spending time in Japan, and are in the mood for Awamori, you could do far worse than Sango Sho Awamori.

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.

Sudachi Chu Shochu

88 Points

SudachiChu                sudachi

Kanji: いいちこ
Distillery: NISSHIN SAKERUI
Type: Sudachi Shochu
Koji: –
Region: Shikoku
Prefecture: Tokushima
Proof: 40
Available in USA: Yes

Sudachi Chu is such a great Japanese shochu.  Hailing from Shikoku, its great to see distillers outside of Kyushu succeed.  Sudachi Chu is made with the fruit Sudachi.  This fruit is native to Tokushima, which is just across the bay from Osaka Japan.  Sudachi tastes like a cross between lemon and lime with a bit of orange.  It is often used in yuzu, or as a garnish for fresh dishes such as fish or soba.

It’s fairly possible to describe Sudachi Chu in just 2 words.  “Mellow Yellow”.  In 5 words, we can increase the accuracy. “Mellow Yellow with a dash of vodka.”  Sudachi Chu  is much sweeter than other shochu, to the point where it is hard to compare.  In Japan there is a drink called Chu-Hi.  This is a wine cooler like drink that tastes like shochu that is mixed with sweet fruit flavors.  Sudachi Chu sits between normal shochu and these Chu-Hi drinks.  Being made with fruit, it retains its citrus aroma.  This is closest described as being grapefruit like in nature.  For those who are health conscious about their drinks, not only is Sudachi Chu low in calories, but also contains vitamin C.

Though I’ve occasionally seen Sudachi Chu Shochu in restaurants, I’ve not found it for sale online.  If we come across it in an online store, we’ll update this post.  In restaurants, it is moderately priced, so it should reflect this if available in a store near you.  For those who like their drinks on sweeter side, say someone who prefers vodka gimlets, Sudachi Chu Shochu packs most of the flavor without the powdered sugar necessary to sweeten it up.

 

Iichiko Silhouette

81 points

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Lento Brown Sugar Shochu

83 Points

Lento

 

Kanji: 白岳しろ
Distillery: AMAMI OSHIMA KAIUN SHUZO
Type: Kokuto Shochu (Brown Sugar)
Koji: White
Region: Ryukyu Archipelago
Prefecture: Kagoshima
Proof: 50
Available in USA: Yes

Lento Kokuto Shochu is a brown sugar shochu that comes from Amami Oshima Island.  Amami Oshima is an island that sits between Kyushu and Okinawa.  The maker, Amami Oshima Kaiun Shuzo, is a company that takes a unique view of the distilling process.  Historically women made Japanese shochu in their homes, and Amami Oshima Kaiun takes this seriously, even using the tag line “made by women, for women”.  Beyond this they go to great lengths to care for the shochu, even playing classical music during the 3 month aging process.  In fact, this is where the shochu gets it’s name, lento being an italian musical term for a slow tempo.

Lento definitely is a lighter shochu.  It has more complexity than Hakutake Shiro, but is relatively delicate in nature.  Being made with brown sugar, it surprisingly lacked a sweet syrupy flavor that I was expecting.  In its place was a hint of what can only be described as cough medicine.  Interestingly, this actually works and was a welcome edition.  Lento Shochu ends with cedar notes that make this more interesting than your standard Kome Shochu.  Though I tried it on the rocks tonight, something tells me that this make be better served neat, with a dash of water to open it up.  This may draw out the flavor while not diluting the experience.  The combination of these interesting flavors makes this worth a try.

I would have said that Lento Kokuto Shochu was not available in the United States if I had not bought a glass of it tonight.  After much searching, I finally found it sold online by a company name Linwood Wine and Liquors.  Though I’ve never ordered anything from them, their price of $23.00 seems reasonable.  Given its obscurity, for those interested in partaking in a unique shochu should not miss the opportunity.

 

Hakutake Shiro Shochu

85 Points

HakutakeShiro

 

Kanji: 白岳しろ
Distillery: TAKAHASHI SHUZO
Type: Rice Shochu
Koji: White
Region: Kyushu
Prefecture: Kumamoto
Proof: 50
Available in USA: Yes

Hakutake Shiro shochu hails from an area in Kumamoto that is thought to be the oldest Japanese shochu distilling region because it has gliphs that date back to the 16th century.  The Kome shochu  made with rice from this region has been given the distinct name of Kuma-shochu.  Essentially it means that the terrior of this region is distinct such that only shochu made from rice of this region can bear the name.  This is not unlike scotch whisky from Scotland or Champagne from that region of France.

Hakutake Shiro makes an interesting juxtaposition to yesterday’s review of Kannoko mugi shochu.  While Kannoko is a whiskey drinker’s gateway to shochu, the same could be said of Hakutake Shiro being the vodka’s drinkers gateway to shochu.  It is incredibly clean and refreshing to drink.  Much like expensive vodka Hakutake Shiro seems to strive to be as pure as possible, without the complexity of more robust spirits.  It has a hint of pear, a hint of vanilla but neither were overwhelming.  Being like a fine vodka in nature, Hakutake Shiro, it would make a fine low calorie, lower alcohol replacement in classic vodka drinks such as a Cape Cod or Vodka Gimlet.  Equally, it’s a solid choice on days when the weather gets warm.

Interestingly, Shiro is either easy or hard to find, it depends on where you look.  Having been to many shochu bars and restaurants around NYC, its rare to not find it as one of the choices on the menu.  It’s almost always there, and almost always at a reason able price.  That being said, the opposite is true when searching for a bottle at a liquor store.  To date I’ve not found it at a single establishment.  It we find an online store who picks this up, we’ll be sure to update the post with the new information.

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.