When it comes to predicting the next big spirit, I believe shochu has the potential to take the world by storm and introduce consumers to a whole new range of flavours. There’s still a lot of education to be shared about Japan’s national spirit in the west and writing about it is my way of contributing to the shochu revolution!
One of the most unusual shochu that I’ve tasted recently is Majo no Itazura, a playful, potent drink that’s ideal for the colder months. Somewhere between a liquid roast dinner and a whisky lover’s dream, this is a drink that defies expectations and has plenty of backstory.
Produced by the Yamato Brewery of Saga prefecture, the Majo no Itazura shochu has something of an identity crisis because of its name. Roughly translating to ‘witch’s kiss’ in English, a quick Google search of the Japanese phrase reveals the kind of imagery that would look right at home in a hentai collection.
This was the kind of dilemma that sake expert and importer Kasia Hitchcock had when trying to market the shochu in the UK. Over coffee and crumpets at The Sparrows in Manchester, Kassia told me that she went with witch’s kiss because it worked with the label on the bottle and tapped into the image of a traditional witch.
The label has plenty of hex appeal, showing a witch riding her broomstick against a golden moon. Her ever faithful black cat clings to the top, looking out into the night sky.
In terms of the ingredients, Witch’s Kiss is distilled from roasted barley and bottled at 25% ABV.
‘What the hell am I smelling?’ was the first thought that came to mind when I poured the first cup. Pumpkins and roasted vegetables was the answer. A smoky, rich aroma that rushed in like an autumn breeze. Then I was blindsided by a powerful hit of pork scratchings in the mouth. Completely bizarre and completely awesome.
The savoury qualities built up until I was tasting stray notes of Yorkshire pudding and rye bread. They came at the back of the mouth, surrounded by a wall of whisky smoke courtesy of the roasted barley.
The Witch’s Kiss also proved to be versatile in how it can be served. I tested it out with a mix of cold water and noticed that the harsher flavours were tamed. I also tried it with hot water in the oyuwari style and noticed that the whisky flavours cut through.
Witch’s Kiss shochu is as off-the-wall as it is tasty. It’s brimming with character and contradiction, a great barley shochu suited for autumn and winter.
Type: Honkaku (single-distilled)
Ingredients: Roasted barley