We’re celebrating two years of Shochu Gumi this month! Thank you members for all your support of our little club, now with nearly 70 members nationwide. This is an exciting drop for Shochu Gumi, as it’s the first time we’re featuring bottles that are not the most common types like imo (sweet potato), mugi (barley), or kome (rice). These types make up most of the Japan’s shochu sales, but did you know that shochu can be made with over 50 other ingredients? The list is exhaustive and even weird – like aloe, water chestnuts, tomatoes, and silvervine. And that’s just the “approved” list of ingredients. There are countless other foodstuffs that shochu can be made from, like ginger, that never seemed to make it to the big leagues (but we sell a lot of the Rihei Ginger Shochu by Ochiai Distillery!). And yes, I’ve had milk shochu when visiting Kagoshima – it was surprisingly really delicious.
A field of soba for Touge shochu
This diverse category of shochu reminds me of the aquavits of Scandinavia or schnapps of Germany, which are spirits that are made with different spices, fruits, and aromatics, like dill, cardamom, and these days, even wasabi. However, these spirits are mostly infusions – so the aromatics are added after distillation. With shochu, the ingredients must be used within the main mash for fermentation before distillation, not afterwards, which I believe makes for a much more robust and umamiful drink.
One of the shochus this month uses green tea from Saga as its main ingredient.
I’m happy to present shochus this month made from soba (buckwheat) and green tea, which will surely fit right in with your holiday spread – from turkey or ham, to mac and cheese, then dessert! Wishing you a joyous and abundant end to 2021.
Touge “Ridge” Soba Shochu
Kitsukura Brewery (Saku, Nagano)
Distilled from 79% soba (buckwheat), 21% rice
ABV 21% / Koji: Yellow / Distillation: Atmospheric / Age: 1 year in stainless steel
Nagano prefecture is well known for their soba, so it is no surprise that they would make shochu out of this rain-like seed. While the soba is not milled like sake rice, they do hand wash it to extract as much of the husks from the seeds as possible. The soba is then steamed. Touge is made using 20% koji in its main moromi (mash) and soba is added in the secondary fermentation.
Yoko and I visited Nagano in 2011, and it is a mountainous region with heavy snowfall. It is known for wild game, and thus, soba shochu is a wonderful accompaniment to duck or venison. I also loved it with homemade ravioli with porcini mushrooms! Get earthy notes of nuts, cocoa, and obo (burdock root) in this shochu, that I loved mizuwari style, which made it taste like a Tootsie Roll! Also try adding into a warm cup of sobacha (soba tea) for a rich post-dinner digestif.
Kitsukura Brewery, a sake brewery for 300+ years, ca.1910. Super cool! Photos courtesy of the brewery:
Mizu Green Tea Shochu
Munemasa Brewery (Arita, Saga)
Distilled from 61% 2 Row Kirameki Nijo barley, 29% rice, 10% Ureshino Yabukita green tea leaves
ABV 35% / Koji: Black / Distillation: Vacuum / Age: 3 months in stainless steel
I promise, you have never had anything like this before. The green tea flavor in this shochu is so intense and full of umami, it tastes like you are biting into a piece of matcha-dusted seaweed. You’re gonna love it! Munemasa Shuzo, maker of the Mizu line of shochus, created at a higher ABV as a homage the shochus of long ago. Local Yabukita tea is freshly picked, steamed, and added to the moromi 24 hours prior to distillation, making up 10% of the entire mash. The sauce is then single distilled to produce this lush and flavor-packed spirit.
Get blueberries and green earth and minerals on the nose. It smells like a shot of wheatrass that was all the rage at Juice Club in the 90s. The palate is deep matcha and konbu dashi. This is a perfect pairing for sweets like creme brulee or hoshigaki, but I also loved it with grilled lamb chops. Drink this oyuwari style for a hot matcha ice cream experience. Taeko Ichioka of Mizu recommends making a Hot Toddy or Highball with this, both with an orange peel.
Yabukita green tea leaves in Saga