Experiencing a new culture through the lens of food and drink is a great way to connect to a different part of the world without having to hop on a plane. If you ever plan to travel to Okinawa, it’s worth knowing about the island’s indigenous spirit awamori and its importance to local history.
But what exactly is awamori and how does it differ from other Japanese drinks like nihonshu and shochu? Sake On Air recently released an awamori episode that reveals why it’s worth trying this little known spirit.
A drink that’s defined a culture
Regular hosts Christopher Pellegrini, Justin Potts and Sebastien Lemoine kicked the episode off by discussing awamori’s rich history in the Ryukyu islands. The spirit has come to define Okinawan culture for the past 600 years, with it being considered a royal drink, a beverage that needed to be honoured by everyone in the community.
Fast forward to the modern era and the awamori industry is in decline. There are only 46 distillers producing it and the crucial ingredients necessary to make awamori have been put through the wringer. This was especially severe during World War II, when Okinawa was bombed repeatedly and stocks of koji spores were destroyed alongside ancient stores of aged awamori.
But even through all the difficulty, awamori producers have stayed resilient. It’s interesting to note that while Ryukyu awamori is its own specific category, the drink can still be made outside of Okinawa.
Defining what awamori is
Chris gave a helpful explanation of the ingredients needed to make awamori and how it differs from other Japanese drinks in the following ways:
- Awamori can only be made with rice and black koji, whereas a drink like shochu has more diverse base ingredients.
- Awamori is made with indica Thai rice, while nihonshu and shochu use Japonica rice.
- The production of awamori is more straightforward than shochu. It’s distilled in one stage, while shochu has two steps.
- Awamori shouldn’t be confused with habushu i.e. the drink that has a drowned pit viper in a bottle.
Rich in history and diverse in taste, Okinawa’s national spirit has yet to have its moment on the world stage. But it deserves to be and Sake On Air does a brilliant job of capturing what makes awamori so awesome.