In the UK, sake is experiencing a steady increase in popularity and consumers are starting to seek more information about it. And as the interest grows, it’s creating the opportunity for lesser known Japanese drinks to be discovered like shochu. And a venue that’s the perfect setting for showcasing the brilliance of shochu is Japan House London.
I recently attended Shochu And Awamori: The Spirits Of Japan, an event which served as an introduction into the wonderful world of Japanese spirits. A collaboration between Japan London House, the Kagoshima Shochu Makers Association (KSMA) and Japan’s National Tax Agency (NTA), the event was truly enlightening.
A gathering of shochu experts
The expo featured a star-studded line up of Japanese alcohol experts, which included the knowledgeable Satomi Dosseur of Enshu Ltd, Ono Yutaro from Akari Japanese Kitchen & Bar and the entertaining Vice-President of KSMA, Inui Shinichiro.
The evening began with an introduction to the state of the sake and shochu market in the UK. Interestingly, there is far more awareness of sake, with it dominating by 90%, but 70% of all Japanese cuisine providers are focusing on as many Japanese alcoholic beverages as possible.
Some of the common challenges of promoting sake and shochu were discussed, such as the high price of importing and temperature control for sake. Education is also and important factor, since shochu can often be grouped in with sake, when they are completely different.
Inui Shinichiro was happy to explain the differences and talk about what makes shochu so unique. With a plethora of base ingredients like barley, sweet potato, brown sugar and rice, Japan’s national spirit is extremely versatile. Shinichiro-san explained the different types of koji used for shochu production, while also setting it apart from the Okinawan awamori. Shinichiro-san spoke with the vigor of a man half his age, which he attributed to the rejuvenating effects that shochu has had on him over the years.
Satomi Dosseur also gave an insightful sampling session and invited audience members up to sample different types of shochu, awamori and sake. She went through alternative serving styles like oyuwari (drinking shochu with hot water) and sipping it with soda.
An awesome tasting experience
When there’s an opportunity to try new types of shochu and sake, I’m going to take it. And that’s exactly what happened at the end of the event. The night was capped off by a tasting session and I was finally able to get my hands on some awamori and brown sugar shochu. I tried the glorious Higa Zanpa White awamori, which had a smooth, fruity taste with undercurrents of chestnut. This was followed by the potent Zuisen 3-day koji awamori, a heady drink of fiery, tropical goodness that punched me in the mouth and made me go back for more.
Some rare shochus that I had the pleasure of tasting included the Hamada Syuzou Daiyame sweet potato and Kaido Yaki sweet potato. The Daiyame had a sweet aroma and silky taste, which is the result of an ageing method called kojuku-imo and was launched to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Hamada Syuzou brewery. The Kaido Yaki had a toasted, wholesome quality to it and carried a mellow flavour that lingered on the tongue for several minutes.
By the end of the event, I’d developed a greater appreciation for shochu and awamori. It’s made me optimistic that both beverages will become popular in the UK in the years to come.