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Christopher Pellegrini is my go-to skilled on shochu. He’s lived in Japan for 20 years, has written a ebook in regards to the spirit, and just lately began an organization, Honkaku Spirits, to export the stuff to the U.S. As Pellegrini famous throughout a current, vigorous Zoom tasting from Japan, the place we tasted 8 of his firm’s merchandise, he famous that there’s extra shochu made in Japan yearly than there’s tequila made in Mexico — and whereas greater than 60% of tequila is exported, lower than 0.1% of shochu is.
Pellegrini desires to alter that — although given the tiny manufacturing of distilleries on this nation, it’s sluggish going. It begins, in fact, with training. In contrast to most spirits, 53 base substances can be utilized to make shochu, which is at all times single pot distilled and is usually bottled at simply 50 to 60 proof, guaranteeing that the distinct character of the bottom mash invariably makes it by to the bottle — and provides each shochu a singular taste.
One of many different key distinctions round shochu manufacturing is using koji mildew to interrupt down the uncooked supplies’ starch into sugar — shochu isn’t malted the best way a whiskey mash is — and which as you may think about has an enormous affect on the completed product. There are three several types of koji, just a few of which we’ll dip into beneath.
Within the tasting, we sampled eight of Honkaku’s merchandise — 4 of which we’ve seen prior to now (these are indicated with an asterisk; longer opinions for these merchandise will be discovered here). With that as preface, notes on all the pieces tasted comply with.
*Honkaku Spirits Selephant Shochu (Nishihira Distillery) – Distilled from kokuto sugar. Very delicate and candy, touched with bubblegum and a delicate earthiness. Melon is evident on the end. 60 proof. B+ / $60
*Honkaku Spirits Kana Shochu (Nishihira Distillery) – Distilled from kokuto sugar, aged in oak for not less than one 12 months, so it has a really mild yellow colour. Its sharpness is mellowed apparently (diverging from my tasting notes from the summer time), with some vanilla rising within the combine, sweetening up the end only a bit and giving it a flippantly milky character. 60 proof. B+ / $68
Honkaku Spirits Jikuya Black Shochu (Jikuya Distillery) – Distilled from black koji and candy potato. Fascinating, fairly earthy, with a soy sauce be aware and a peppery high quality that builds with time in glass. Candy on the end, with, certainly, hints of candy potato plus cloves late within the sport. Mushroom notes pair properly with the fruit that builds alongside the best way. 50 proof. A- / $46
Honkaku Spirits Jikuya White Shochu (Jikuya Distillery) – Distilled from white koji and candy potato. A bit lighter and much more floral, providing touches of coconut and white flowers combined in with a mushroom and earthy be aware. There’s typically slightly bit much less to delve into right here than within the Black, however it feels extra appropriate for mixing. The end sees orange flowers and a few sesame mixing with the earthier character. 50 proof. A- / $46
*Honkaku Spirits Colourful Shochu (Shoro Distillery) – A mix of two candy potato distillates, one grown in 2016, one in 2019, made with a Thai rice starter. Wildly fruity on the nostril — nearly like bubblegum — then mushroom and yam notes on the palate. A lot much less savory than I remembered, with notes of tea leaf, white pepper, and bay leaf all making an look amidst a lingering physique of peaches and sweetened grains. Muddled, however enjoyable. 60 proof. B / $55
Honkaku Spirits Mugi Hokka Shochu (Tensei Distillery) – Distilled from darkish roasted barley. Pungent and pushy, like overcooked sesame seeds and burnt toast. This has the distinct expression of a new-make whiskey, albeit watered down. Very funky and mushroomy on the end, with notes of bubblegum including a saccharine high quality. Not my fave. 50 proof. B- / $35
*Honkaku Spirits Motoko Shochu (Furusawa Distillery) – Distilled from white koji and lengthy grain rice, aged 8-plus years (truly 10, as a result of label printing delays) in ceramic and impartial tanks. This can be a fairly good introduction to shochu on the entire, pretty mild compared to the sector, with out a complete lot of funk — or nuance. The gentle chew pushed by the comparatively excessive abv evokes a white whiskey or cachaca comparability, with umami-driven mushroom lingering on the end. Pretty impartial on the entire; I like this higher now than final time round. 70 proof. B+ / $49
Honkaku Spirits Yokka Koji Awamori (Chuko Distillery) – Distilled from Thai rice koji. Awamori is a spirit that predates shochu and may solely be constructed from 100% rice which is kojified (and solely with black koji) — making it distinctive, as most shochu is simply partly kojified. A double-length koji propagation and a 43% abv make this particularly distinctive — and also you’ll discover it immediately. In contrast to delicate shochu, this instantly hits sharply, providing a really gentle nostril that hints at lemon and inexperienced grass, then fades away. Greater than the rest on this checklist, Yokka Koji could possibly be readily mistaken for a vodka, with its shiny, lemon-dusted palate and approachable, flippantly earthy end. Positively my favourite on this assortment. 86 proof. A- / $45