We're proud to introduce Shochu Gumi! This is the first installment of what I hope will be a dynamic, exploratory, and ever-expanding club. My name is Kayoko Akabori, and I’m the Co-Founder and Shochu Director of Umami Mart. I first started drinking shochu with my mom 20 years ago, and have not stopped since – it’s a delicious beverage with incredible range and versatility.
Yoko (my Umami Mart partner and Sake Director) and I are fresh off the heels of writing our self-published zine, Sake + Shochu Talk, so the timing is perfect to launch Shochu Gumi. All members get a free zine! Since 2015, Yoko has been running Sake Gumi and has amassed a club that’s 200 members strong. I look forward to partnering with Sake Gumi on events and collaborations as one big happy family.
As a former bartender, I enjoy all beverages – cocktails, wine, sake, you name it. In the distilled spirit category, I especially enjoy grappa or mezcal. Shochu continues to blow my mind with the varied flavor profiles from all the different distillates – from imo (sweet potato) and mugi (barley), to soba (buckwheat) and kokuto (black sugar cane). Like sake or wine, shochu pairs wonderfully with rich, aromatic foods but it can also linger like a fine whisky or digestif. Shochu is relatively unknown in the States, while it has been around for over 500 years in Japan. It’s still one of Japan’s best kept secrets! With this club, I hope to discover new and exciting shochus from Japan and pass them along to clubmates first – before they hit our shelves at the shop. We’ll also have exclusive tasting events – I can’t wait to meet you all and geek out over shochu together!
Remember, Shochu Gumi members get 25% off on pick up days quarterly, on shochu, sake, and related wares. Get 10% off everyday in store and online with the code ShochuGumi10.
Co-Founder + Shochu Director
Nishi Shuzo Co. (Kagoshima, Japan)
Distilled from 83% Imo (Sweet Potato) + 17% Rice, ABV 34%
Produced only once a year, this limited edition muroka (no charcoal filtration) shochu is made with a sweet potato variety called Beniazuma. Made with black koji, Hozan Beniazuma has a wild, tropical nose. It’s super juicy! Get black pepper and vegetal notes in the front and burnt toast on the tailend. This paired really well with isobe-age fried fish cake and chicken tikka masala! I enjoyed drinking this on the rocks with equal parts water – this is a genshu (undiluted) shochu so the extra splash of water mellows out the heat. Nishi Shuzo was founded in 1845 in Kagoshima, a lush, volcanic area that is home to sweet potato shochu. I dream of retiring there!
Tenpai Mugi Shochu
Tenpai Co. (Fukuoka, Japan)
Distilled from 100% Mugi (Barley), ABV 20%
Yoko and I tasted this at Ototo, a sake bar in LA and when we came home I ordered it for Shochu Gumi right away. Despite its low ABV, it packs so much flavor! Get notes of milk chocolate, with a licorice-like ending. The buttery mouthfeel is velvety, and for a with a bit of hot water, or straight you’ll want to enjoy this with a on the rocks cozy nightcap. I drank many glasses of this with a bucket of KFC (Korean Fried Chicken).
What makes this shochu special is how they make this using sake techniques: with the popular Ginjo Yeast #9 (the theme for Sake Gumi this month!), with barley that is milled to 35%. Tenpai was founded in 1898 in Fukuoka, and was the first distillery to make shochu with 100% barley – that means they inoculate the koji on barley as well! Tenpai Mugi is distilled shochu, which honkaku twice (so it can technically NOT be considered a method (no charcoal filtration), and muroka must be single distilled), in the aged for at least one year.