Awamori is one of the most unique Japanese beverages in the world. Made in Okinawa, awamori shares similarities with nihonshu and shochu, but it only uses black koji mould and Thai indica rice in the production process. The result is a powerful distilled spirit that can go as high as a 43% ABV.
I recently had the pleasure of trying my first awamori at a Japan House London event that featured a tasting session of rare Japanese drinks. The Higa Zanpa White, created by the Higa Shuzo brewery, ranks among the most memorable tipple that I’ve drank so far!
A type of Ryukyu awamori, the Higa Zanpa has been crafted with a high level of care. Founded in 1948, the Higa Brewery have employed a technique that celebrates the centuries old tradition of awamori production. With an ABV of 25%, the Zanpa is one of the brewery’s most popular drinks, having won the Monde Selection Gold Award from the International Taste & Quality Institute and the Okinawan Governor’s award.
A fragrant, floral aroma is the first thing I noticed. On the first sip, a creamy mouthfeel took hold in a manner that reminded me of imo (sweet potato) shochu. Savoury notes of pine nut and chili pepper gathered at the back of my throat, showcasing the unique qualities of the black koji mould that gives awamori extra kick.
In between the spice and heat, a vibrant toffee sweetness cut through, creating a well-rounded drink that left me wanting more. I’d recommend drinking the Higa Zanpa on the rocks because the ice can help to mute some of the overpowering notes that awamori is known for.
A ballsy and elegant drink, the Higa Zanpa is well worth trying as an introductory drink into the world of Okinawan booze.
Rice: Long-grained indica