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We are thrilled to spotlight Saga prefecture this month, with extra special bottles from this region in southern Japan. Located in Kyushu, Saga is well known for its porcelain ceramics, beef, and green tea. And of course, shochu and sake! Yoko and I visited the city of Karatsu in Saga in 2016, and between the seafood, pine trees, and seaside onsen, it was heavenly. 

In partnership with Saga Sake Saga (an organization promoting sakes and shochus from Saga) and Sake Discoveries, we are delving into the world of aged mugi (barley) shochus this month – both featured bottles use mugi grown in Saga, and have been aged in wood casks. Saga is known as one of the largest producers of barley in Japan. Both bottles use locally grown barley, that are specifically cultivated for shochu production. 

Shochu was first made in Saga during the Edo period in 1800. The history of aging shochu in wood casks goes back 30+ years in Saga, and Mizu Sakura Cask is the first shochu to ever be aged in 100% sakura wood casks. Our second bottle, Kase, has been aged in sherry barrels from French Oak for 15 years! 

Speaking of wood, you’ll be getting a lovely gift of coasters from the district of Nao in Saga, famous for washi (paper). These coasters are made from kaji (mulberry), by a company with a 300 year history of making washi by hand. Also, a limited number of Saga Sake Saga bottle totes will be given to members on a first-come, first-served basis!

We’ll be co-hosting a Zoom event, Aging Shochus in Saga on March 23, where we will visit both distilleries in Saga, discuss aging techniques, and ending with a guided tasting. Please RSVP to shochu@umamimart.com! These are both such incredible bottles and we are so excited to share them with you. A special thanks to Saga Sake Saga and Sake Discoveries for making this possible for our club this quarter!

Kanpai,

Kayoko 
Co-Founder and Shochu Director 

 

Mizu Sakura Cask Shochu
Munemasa Shuzo (Saga, Kyushu)
Distilled from 67% Kirameki Nijo Omugi barley and 33% black koji rice 
ABV 35% / Koji: Black / Distillation: Vacuum
Barrels: 100% sakura casks by renowned Ariake Sangyo in Kyoto
Age: 9 months
Limited production: 720 bottles

Munemasa began aging their shochus in wood barrels 33 years ago. And now, behold, the very first shochu to be aged in sakura (cherry) wood casks! After resting for nine months in these barrels, this mugi shochu is bright, with creamy cherry notes and weighty texture of butterscotch. This shochu uses an extra step in its production of pressing the grain, which enhances the fruitful, smooth flavor profile. I loved this on the rocks with pasta bolognese or karaage (Japanese fried chicken), and as an after sipper, neat, with Marou 70% Chocolate from Vietnam. 

Kirameki Nijo Omugi barley for Mizu Sakura Cask Shochu

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Kase Shochu
Madonoume Brewery (Saga, Kyushu)
Distilled from 100% Nishihoshi barley
ABV 25% / Koji: White / Distillation: Vacuum 
Barrels: 
Charred French oak, ex-Sherry casks
Limited production: 10,000 bottles

Founded in 1688 as a sake brewery, Madonoume began making barley shochu in 1965. Aged for 15 years in charred, former sherry barrels, this exceptional shochu is made with local water from the Kase River, with Nijo Omugi (two-rowed barley). Madonoume began aging their shochus in wood barrels 25 years ago. Get earthy notes of honeysuckle, green grass, and apricot. It’s the perfect accompaniment with Oakland Soba Ichi’s Gyu Maki (beef rolls) or with Cow Girl Creamery Mt. Tam cheese and a tin of Crown Prince smoked oysters. Enjoy on the rocks or oyuwari (with warm water). 

 
Aging shochu in barrels at Madanoume Brewery

Madonoume Brewery owner Joji Koga with casks