Ryukyu Ohcho Awamori

83 Points

Image Courtesy of Sake Expert

Image Courtesy of Sake Expert

Kanji:琉球王朝
Distillery: TARAGAWA SHUZO
Type: Awamori
Koji: Black Koji
Region: Miyakojima
Prefecture: Okinawa
Proof: 48
Available in USA: Yes

Ryukyu Ohcho Awamori is another name that doesn’t translate fantastically into English.  In Japanese, both u’s and o’s should be emphasized.  This is classically spelled in english by adding a u after the vowel.  In this case the distiller chose to use an h, and do so for only 1 of the 4 held vowels.  We’ll follow the distiller’s spelling, but be prepared for subtle variation when coming across this awamori online or in menus.

Like most brands of awamori, Ryukyu Ohcho is made from Thai style long grain rice and black koji.  The result is a flavor that is predictable for those who are familiar with awamori.  The one unique trait of Ryukyu Ohcho is the fact that it is aged at least 5 years in clay pots.  Though aging in other liquors tends to mellow the experience, the end result of Ryukyu Ohcho is a full flavor from start to finish.  At times I picked up a dash of Jagermeister and I could really taste the rice in the finish.  Taragawa Distillers recommends having Ryukyu with just water, but I found it enjoyable on the rocks.

Ryukyu Ohcho Awamori isn’t incredibly easy to find because outside of Zuisen, generally Awamori is even less common than shochu. It is carried by the large LA based distributor JFC.  I’ve not found this awamori in any retail locations, either online or in person.  The one location that does carry it is Shochu Bar Hatchan in Midtown Manhattan as they seem to carry almost all of the JFC brands.  For those who bring their shochu back from Japan and like their shochu, this bottle is well worth being 1 of the 2 bottles you can bring through customs.

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.

Shimizu Sushi and Shochu Bar

I’d like to start out by admitting that I went into this restaurant wanting to love it because it is located in New York City and it chooses to call itself a shochu bar and not a sake bar.  On top of this, Shimizu is located in Hell’s Kitchen.  Outside of Sushi of Gari on 46th, this is the only other great restaurant we’ve found in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood and deffinitely the best place to get Japanese shochu.

It I were to describe the experience of Shimizu Sushi and Shochu bar in one word, it would be “authentic”.  On a Saturday afternoon most tables were speaking Japanese.  The sushi is a great value being well portioned and not at the astronomical prices of other discerning sushi restaurants. That said, the dish that stood out on the menu was the katsu-curry that is served during lunch only.  It’s not the best piece of ton-katsu, nor is it the most flavorful curry in the world.  That said, those who have had this dish in business districts or curry houses in Japan will find their serving to be incredibly satisfying and nostalgic.  Note: anyone who is looking for the katsu-curry experience must go for lunch.  They do not server this dish at dinner time.

Their shochu selection is impressive coming in at two dozen different types of shochu for you to choose from.  Their staff is supportive and the their shochu selection is impressive at over 2 dozen to choose from.  Staff was attentive in both Japanese and English.  Suggestions were relevant and drinks were served in glasses with gravitas at portions that were fair.  If you have a preference amongst the types of shochu that are more common in New York, rest assured that Shimuzu probably carries it.

Shimizu is understatedly located off the lobby of the Washington Jefferson Hotel.  This is decent hotel that reflects the off Broadway atmosphere of the neighborhood more than the true Japanese nature of the restaurant inside.  This makes the restaurant hard to find.  If there is one warning that I need to explicitly state, its that they are not open on Sundays.  This is particularly important to us who want to try the katsu-curry, but do not work close enough during the work week to drop by on our lunch hour.  Shimizu Sushi and Shochu Bar lives up to it’s promises and delivers a tremendous value in a neighborhood that is not known for having a large variety of great Japanese locations. It’s a must try for those who love good shochu and like great Japanese food as well.

 

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.

Haamonii Shochu – MIA???

Image care of Tinou Bao

Image care of Tinou Bao

In covering shochu news we at Shochu Distilled take care to pay special attention to the American shochu distillers.  Potentially the most famous amongst these is Haamonii Smooth.  Haamonii Smooth is based in the Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco California.  They are best known for their Regular and lemon infused shochu.

Recently I made efforts to review their shochu, but came across some unexpected roadblocks.  Their websites http://haamoniismooth.com and http://shareharmony.com both now redirect to BlueHost’s default page.  In looking at their Facebook page it looks like the last post on what was a very active Facebook page was on September 22 of 2012.  In speaking with fellow blogger EveryDayDrinker, they seem to not know of Haamonii’s recent whereabouts either.  The one positive bit of news is that their shochu is still available at D & M Liquors, which is also based in Pacific Heights.  So the question is, does anyone know what happened to Haamonii Shochu?

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.

100 Types of Shochu in 100 Days – Day 8 Shochu 8

So this challenge has been as difficult as initially expected.  Every single shochu at my local Japanese restaurant has been reviewed, or was reviewed previously.  Though liquor stores are ubiquitous in Manhattan, most carry 0 to 1 different types of shochu.  From next week, I’ll be forced outside my normal commute in order to complete this mission.  Though not quite a hardship, that paired with the long work hours expected on Wall Street will make this challenge a worthy adversary.

I really expected to build a lead at this point, so as to have a buffer for future missed days.  The fact that I don’t speaks to how hit and miss it can be trying to find interesting shochu to drink.  Three discoveries stand out as saviors in this quest.  Shimizu Shochu and Sushi bar carries 25 different types of shochu to pick from.  They are open at lunch time and evenings, with the one exception of being closed on Sundays.   Shochu bar Hatchan also carries almost 30 different types of Shochu.  Though their location is quite small and seems jammed packed, the Izakaya East next door is quite large and the two places share a kitchen and shochu collection.  A block south of Shochu Bar Hatchan is Sakagura.  Though better known for their Sake collection, their shochu menu was unique and memorable.  Paired with a fantastic menu and surprisingly reasonable prices, it will deffinitely be the source of future reviews.

All in, the places mentioned above have about 60 unique types of shochu among them.  Though this is a good start, my concern is finding 40 types of shochu that wouldn’t be carried by one these places.  My goal will be to find one new place a week that is carrying a shochu that is not on the list.  If you have any suggestions on restaurants, Izakayas, or stores, please leave them in the comments section.

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.