In terms of ingredients, shochu may well be the most diverse spirit on the planet. Japan’s best kept secret can be made from lots of unusual substances. I’ve gravitated to more niche varieties of shochu and Tantakatan shiso comfortably sits in that camp.
A shochu with a fishy tale behind it, there’s a lot to enjoy about this delightful drink.
Tantakatan comes from the Godo Shusei Co and is made in Asahikawa in Hokkaido. There’s a great story attached to this non-honkaku shochu based on the Ainu legend of Tan Taka. This name translates to flat fish and there’s even a video that explains the story of Tan Taka.
The story begins near Shiranuka in Hokkaido in the sea where the fish lived peacefully. One day, the sea became polluted and the fish struggled to survive. Tan Taka lived at the bottom of the sea and had the energy to swim. He decided to help the other fish and was persuaded by a wise turtle to fetch a purple herb from the foot of the nearby mountain that could heal the fish.
Tan Taka swam up waterfalls and rivers until he found the herbs. The healing properties cured his fatigue, but he was unable to get the herbs because they were on land. The local animals decided to help Tan Taka and dropped the herbs into the water for him.
Mission accomplished, Tan Taka returned to the sea and cured his friends. The mountain became known as Tantaka mountain and the herbs that had been gathered were shiso perilla leaves.
Tantakatan is made from a possible mixture of grain alcohol or barely or rice ferment, as pointed out by Stephen Lyman. The main ingredient is shiso, a ubiquitous plant in Japan and is cultivated in Hokkaido.
Distilled at low pressure, this shochu comes in at 20% ABV. It also stands out thanks to the colourful label that depicts the story of Tan Taka.
Delicate. That’s the first word that comes to mind with Tantakatan. Followed by fruity, floral, herbal and light. The shiso is the star flavour, backed by notes of blueberry, anise and ginger that leave behind a spicy aftertaste.
I tried added some cold water to see how my tasting experience would change. Preferred it straight because the water muted out the gentle flavours and the mellowness should be savoured.
Tantakatan is an epic introductory shochu for anyone who’s new to the category. It may not fall into the most common grades (barley, rice etc) and I think that’s an advantage. It’s a great surprise, a shochu that can be enjoyed in multiple ways.