Japan produces some of the most unique spirits in the world, namely shochu and awamori. The production of western spirits such as gin has increased rapidly and it’s also worth keeping an eye out for Japanese rum.
I recently tried my first Japanese rum in the form of Santa Maria gold and found it to be a revelation. Soft and delicate, the Santa Maria gold is unlike any kind of rum I’ve tasted before.
Produced in Okinawa on Ie Island by the Iejima brewery, Santa Maria gold is an agricole rum made from sugar cane. What’s fascinating about this rum is that it’s aged in Nikka whisky oak barrels for two to three years, giving it an elegant smoothness and light finish.
The Ieijma Distillery formerly produced awamori and stepped beyond the world of Japanese spirits to be more experimental.
Ie Island is rich in sugarcane and has been cultivated since 1630. The distillery’s ethos is to mix traditional Japanese distillation techniques with a respect for the environment, intervening as little as possible in the steps before distillation i.e. not refrigerating any fermentation tanks.
There’s a pleasant woody scent that enters the nose and becomes stronger on the first sip. Delectable notes of peach and pineapple sweep it, transitioning into a subtle spiciness. Flavours of cocoa and pepper build steadily without overpowering the fruitiness.
As the rum has been aged in Nikki barrels, there’s an underlying whisky quality that lingers in the aftertaste. It reminded me of the sweet burn of Nikka Coffey grain.
The Santa Maria gold is the kind of drink that opens a gateway into the world of Japanese rum and all its intricacies. Light, gentle and so easy to drink, it embodies the nature of Japan in that it doesn’t have to be loud and punchy to be memorable.