When I need information on shochu, I turn to Christopher Pellegrini. He has been a resident of Japan for twenty years, has authored a book on the spirit, and has just lately established a firm called Honkaku Spirits with the intention of bringing the product to the United States. During a recent, boisterous Zoom tasting from Japan, when we sampled eight of his company’s products, Pellegrini mentioned that there is more shochu produced in Japan each year than there is tequila produced in Mexico. Furthermore, although more than sixty percent of tequila is sold, less than one percent of shochu is exported.
This is something that Pellegrini wants to address, but given the limited number of distilleries in this nation, it is going to be a time-consuming process. Without a doubt, education is where it all begins. Shochu, in contrast to the majority of spirits, may be made using 53 different basis components. Shochu is always distilled in a single pot and is often bottled at a proof level of between 50 and 60. This ensures that the distinctive flavour of the base mash is preserved throughout the production process, which in turn gives each shochu its own distinctive texture and flavour.
One of the other significant differences in the manufacturing of shochu is the utilisation of koji mould, which is used to convert the starch of the raw ingredients into sugar. Shochu is not malted in the same way that a whisky mash is, and this, as you can guess, has a significant impact on the final product. There are three distinct varieties of koji, some of which will be touched on in the following paragraphs.
During the tasting, we tried eight of Honkaku’s items, four of which we had purchased in the past (these are denoted by an asterisk; more in-depth assessments of these products can be read on this page). Having said that, the following are some notes on everything that was sampled.
Selephant Shochu offered by Honkaku Spirits, produced by Nishihira Distillery
Distilled from sugar made from kokuto. Very delicate and sweet, with a hint of bubblegum and a subtle earthiness to it. The finish of the melon should be clear.
[Nishihira Distillery] is the producer of Honkaku Spirits Kana Shochu.
Made with kokuto sugar that has been kept in wood for at least a year, giving it a very pale yellow colour during the distillation process. Its harshness has been pleasantly mellowed, which is a departure from my tasting notes from the summer. Additionally, there is a hint of vanilla that has emerged in the blend, which has the effect of sweetening the finish a little bit and giving it a somewhat milky character.
The Jikuya Distillery is the source of Honkaku Spirits Jikuya Black Shochu.
Derived from black koji and sweet potato, this was distilled. There is a soy sauce note and a peppery aspect that develops over time in the glass. The wine is interesting and rather earthy throughout. The flavour is sweet in the end, and there are even undertones of sweet potato and cloves late in the game. Notes of mushrooms are a wonderful complement to the fruit that develops during the journey.
The Jikuya Distillery is the source of Honkaku Spirits Jikuya White Shochu.
Derived from white koji and sweet potato, this was distilled. A touch lighter and a great deal more flowery, with hints of coconut and white flowers interspersed with a mushroom and earthy note, this fragrance is a bit more floral. In general, there is a little bit less to explore into here than there is in the Black, but one gets the impression that it is more ideal for combining. When it comes to the finish, the earthier flavour is combined with orange blossoms and a little bit of sesame.
The Shoro Distillery is the source of Honkaku Spirits’ Colourful Shochu.
The mix is created using a Thai rice starting and consists of two sweet potato distillates, one of which was harvested in 2016 and the other in 2019. At first, the aroma is quite fruity, almost like bubblegum, and then the taste is characterised by flavours of mushroom and yam. Much less savoury than I had recalled, with hints of tea leaf, white pepper, and bay leaf all making an appearance within a body of peaches and sweetened grains that lingered in the background. Although confusing, it was enjoyable.
The Tensei Distillery is the source of Honkaku Spirits Mugi Hokka Shochu.
distilled from barley that has been dark-roasted. Pungent and forceful, like sesame seeds that have been overdone and bread that has been burned. This whisky possesses the characteristic flavour of a new-make whisky, despite the fact that it has been watered down. Particularly funky and mushroomy on the end, with bubblegum notes contributing a sugary aspect to the overall flavour.
The Furusawa Distillery is the source of Honkaku Spirits Motoko Shochu.
In ceramic and neutral tanks, the product was distilled from white koji and long grain rice that had been matured for eight years or more (really ten years owing to delays in label printing). The overall impression is that this is a really excellent introduction to shochu. It is quite mild in compared to the rest of the field, and it does not have a great deal of funk or subtlety. With umami-driven mushroom lingering on the finish, the comparatively high alcohol by volume (ABV) suggests a comparison to white whisky or cachaca. The slight bite is driven by the relatively high abv. I find this to be more to my liking than it was the previous time I tried it; overall, it is rather neutral.
There is a Chuko distillery known as Honkaku Spirits Yokka Koji Awamori.
Composed of Thai rice koji and distilled. Since the majority of shochu is only partially kojified, awamori is a spirit that predates shochu and can only be produced from rice that has been kojified in its whole (and only with black koji). This makes it a one-of-a-kind spirit. It is very distinctive due to the fact that it has a double-length koji propagation and an abv of 43%, and you will detect this aspect immediately away. On the other hand, in contrast to gentle shochu, this one strikes you like a tonne of bricks right away, with a very subtle aroma that hints at lemon and green grass before disappearing. Yokka Koji, more than anything else on this list, has a taste that is bright and lemon-dusted, and it has a finish that is accessible and gently earthy. All of these characteristics make it easy to mistake Yokka Koji for vodka. This is without a doubt my favourite item in this collection.