Japanese shochu has quickly developed into one of my favourite spirits for its versatility and cornucopia of base ingredients. One of the best I’ve tried lately is Iichiko, a refreshing mugi (barely) shochu produced by the Sanwa Shurui Company in Oita Prefecture. Light, airy and aromatic, it’s not hard to see why Iichiko is one of the leading honkaku (authentic) shochus in the world.
With a name that translates to ‘it’s great’ in English, Iichiko has a high level of craftsmanship involved in the distillation process. Created with soft, geothermal rich water, two-row barley and koji, the shochu is a true expression of Oita Prefecture’s impressive natural resources.
The barley is polished to remove impurities and steeped in the water. Then, the barley is steamed and prepared for the starch-to-sugar conversion process that’s necessary for producing alcohol. This process is kickstarted by the koji and the mould is essential for preserving the barley’s natural flavour through the release of citric acid.
The Sanwa brewery then distills the Iichiko moromi (mash) using a combination of low pressure and atmospheric techniques. The raw mass is then blended together to create the unique profile of Iichiko.
An attractive, fruity aroma escapes from the bottle, setting the stage for what’s to come. A mild, pleasant burn builds on the tongue and is accompanied by notes of lychee, walnut and oat. This contrast of sweet and savoury hits on the first sip and grows stronger at the back of the mouth.
The next wave of flavour comes in a refreshing tartness that cleans the palate, making way for herbal, astringent qualities. Given shochu’s versatility, I experimented with a couple of different serving styles and drank the first glass neat and the second with cold water added. I found the water muted the punchier, savoury notes and let the sweetness cut through.
Shochu also makes for a great drink to pair with food and I’d recommend pairing Iichiko with a savoury dish like a cheese and onion quiche. The umami qualities are glorious and really elevate the drink and food together!
With awesome flavours and a smooth body, iichiko makes it into my list of top shochus to try.
Type: Honkaku (authentic)
Ingredients: Mugi (barley)