Originating over 600 years ago, awamori predates shochu and is the original zenkoji spirit. This refers to a style where the entire moromi (mash) is made of koji - the kanji for zenkoji 全麹 quite literally means all koji. As you may know, koji is Japan’s unique mold which is used to create staple ingredients like soy sauce, miso, and mirin. For sake and shochu, koji not only helps turn starch into sugar and alcohol simultaneously with yeast, but also creates the underlying umami quotient, evident from the high amino content in the drinks.
Ryukyu Awamori is a geographical indication and it is required that awamori is made in the zenkoji style – it gets so hot down there in Okinawa that using an entire black koji mash was the only way the moromi would not spoil. Genius! Ryukyu Awamori must also be made with all-koji rice, black koji, and must be produced and bottled in Okinawa using a pot still. Black koji (Aspergillus luchuensis) was first discovered in Okinawa (formerly called the Ryukyu Kingdom) and is their national fungi – where would shochu be without it?? Possibly non-existent and certainly not as dynamic. I am pleased to oer a Ryukyu Awamori that has just landed in the States, using an exciting open-fire boil method of distillation called jikabi.
Jikabi-style open fire pot stills at Seifuku Shuzo
When we first tasted Tsukushi Zenkoji over two years ago, a 100% barley shochu made with all koji – we were totally floored. Ever since, I’ve rallied super hard to get it for our club, and finally it is here! And worth the wait. I was fortunate enough to visit Nishiyoshida Brewery earlier this year (where Tsukushi is made), and got to see all the action IRL. Don’t miss all the photos and details on our blog – their barley soaking apparatus is insane!
Tsukushi Zenkoji Barley Shochu
Nishiyoshida Brewery (Chikugo, Fukuoka)
Distilled from 100% barley koji from Japan and Australia
ABV 25% / Koji: Black / Distillation: Atmospheric
Aged in enamel tanks for six months
As shochu on the mainland of Kyushu evolves, distilleries are experimenting more and more these days, and few have developed zenkoji-style shochus. At Nishiyoshida, they usually make shochu in a 4 dan odori-kake style, a four-tiered process where steamed barley is added to a one-week old moromi (koji, yeast, water), which is then fermented for an additional two weeks. Then, this process is repeated four times. For the zenkoji method, koji-fied barley is made three times and added to the moromi every three days. It is then fermented for about two weeks before being put through the distillation process.
Koji-fied barley at Nishiyoshida
Inspired by awamori production and the zenkoji method, Managing Director Tadafumi Yoshida created this shochu in 2005. Mr. Yoshida said, “By making shochu with all koji brewing, it is possible to bring out the maximum sweetness and flavor of the raw koji, resulting in a deeper flavor.” Get notes of roasted nuts and chocolate with rich vanilla accents. For a refreshing drink, I love this shochu with soda and ice, but the aroma comes out brightest with hot water. Enjoy with saucy barbecued pork ribs or a plate of pasta carbonara.
Seifuku Shuzo (Ishigaki, Okinawa)
Distilled from 100% rice koji from Thailand / ABV 30% Koji: Black / Distillation: Direct-fire pot distillation (jikabi)
Aged in stainless steel for six months Seifuku is located on the picturesque island of Ishigaki, known for its beef and crystal waters for diving. There are several awamori makers on the island and Seifuku was founded here in 1949. Seifuku’s unique open-fire pot still, called jikabi, is handcrafted by chairman Norihito Kanna (the president's father). This open-fire pot is an ancient method of distilling awamori, and is said to create a better flavor profile for the drink that also ages well. Awamori to me is dessert in a glass. The rich mouthfeel with ripe banana and vanilla notes are so distinct to this Okinawan spirit – it’s the tropics in every sip. What is particular about awamori is that the ABV is quite high compared to shochu, so it really packs a punch with all the malty flavors of the rice and black koji. Great in cocktails or a hot cup of coee bring a bottle of this to the next yakitori party and serve over lotsa ice and some soda with an orange garnish. I also love sipping on this with a big bowl of anchovy-filled olives.
Drink awamori every day on Ishigaki Island. Photo by Seifuku Shuzo