Holiday Gift Guide

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Take a stroll with me, glass in hand, down the white sand beaches of... Barley Shochu Island! Every year for the summer Shochu Gumi drop we feature a tropical theme and I’m especially excited about this one.

Crystal clear seas on Tatsushima Island off of Iki Island

About an hour’s ferry ride from Fukuoka, Iki is a remote island about 10 miles long as it is wide. With clear turquoise waters against stark volcanic rock formations, Iki is known as Barley Shochu Island, holding a Geographic Indication (GI) for its shochu.

Saruiwa (Monkey Rock)

Our friend Bee used to live on Iki and here’s what it was like for them: “Everyone lives at their own pace on Iki – shops and restaurants opened and closed wherever they pleased, and parties always started late. The speed limits are agonizingly slow (about 30mph) which is helpful when there’s a ton of cows in the road. After work I’d often go for a swim or have a barbecue on the beach. I ate lots of fresh-caught squid and uni, home grown veggies, and Iki beef!”

Said to be the birthplace of barley shochu 500 years ago, there are only seven distilleries making Iki shochu today. We asked Tokyo-based shochu expert Christopher Pellegrini about the history of barley on Iki and shochu-making: "Iki Island is relatively flat and packed with arable land. As such, the island's farmers have long harvested grains such as rice and barley. Those grains were also used to make alcohol, with barley serving a historical preference due to rice being used for taxation centuries ago. Surplus barley yields were often used in alcohol production." Iki shochu must use a ratio of two parts barley to one part rice koji for their moromi, which results in a lush, rich drink that whisky fans would appreciate.

Rice paddies on Iki

When asking Executive Director Taiki Yoshida of Ikinokura Shuzo about the advantages of making shochu on Iki Island, he says, “When the environment is not in harmony, good product(s) can’t be made.” The barley and rice used for these shochus are often harvested locally from the island, and Yoshida-san adds, “we use very delicious water that is naturally filtered through the basalt layer on the island.”

White sand beaches of Tatsushima Island 

Certainly this magical beverage made on Barley Shochu Island could not be more hyperlocal.

Kanpai,

Kayoko
Co-Founder and Shochu Director, Umami Mart

Above photos of Iki Island by Bee Beardley

Taiso “Ancient Greatness” Barley Shochu
Ikinokura Distillery (Iki, Nagasaki)
Distilled from 67% mugi (barley) + 33% kome (rice)
ABV 25% / Koji: White / Distillation: Atmospheric / Age: 5 years in stainless steel

Ikinokura is a conglomerate of six breweries on the island that banded
together to start one distillery. Since 1984, they have been making this
crisp, yet smoky shochu which embodies the Iki shochu style. Due to the
2:1 ratio of barley to rice koji, what you get is an exuberant drink that is full 
of notes like toasted grain, cream, and licorice. Get honey and butter on the nose when enjoyed oyuwari. I liked this on the rocks alongside a simple panzanella salad or tatsuta- age (fried chicken). Yoshida-san also recommends a cocktail with Calpico and orange juice. Find the recipe on the blog!

Ikinokura Distillery

Barley steamer at Ikinokura 

Old shochu-making still at Ikinokura

Chingu Black Barley Shochu
Omoya Shuzo (Iki, Nagasaki)
Distilled from 67% mugi (barley) + 33% kome (rice)
ABV 24% / Koji: Black / Distillation: Atmospheric / Age: 2 years in enamel

Chingu means friend in local dialect, as well as in Korean – which makes sense as Iki Island served as an important trade hub between Japan and Korea historically. In fact, Busan is only a seven hour ferry ride away! Omoya Shuzo was founded in 1924, and in 2018 they scouted the island to find the best water source and rebuilt their brewery there to make sake and shochu. This bottle was the impetus for this theme – I love the rich texture and dynamic flavor profile. Get milk chocolate, panna cotta, and pink Mamba candy on the nose, and the complex palate is at-once smooth and earthy. Enjoy the minerality, maitake mushrooms, and honeydew profile with Beef Wellington or Korean BBQ. President Yuzo Yokoyama of Omoya recommends drinking this with tonic water or oyuwari style.

Omoya Shuzo

Yuzo Yokoyama of Omoya Shuzo checking the tanks 

Making Iki shochu at Omoya