Distillery: Amami Shurui, Co Ltd.
Location: Amamijima, Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan
Grain: 65% black sugar (kokuto) & 35% rice (kome)
Koji: white rice (shiro kome)
Distillation: atmospheric pressure (joatsu)
Alcohol: 25% (50 proof)
If you haven’t had black sugar (kokuto), it’s difficult to place the flavor of Amami. Black sugar is a rich, pungent sugar derived from sugar cane in a uniquely Asian way. The sugar has a lot more richness to it than our refined or brown sugars. There is the unmistakable hint of molasses as black sugar retains the character of the original raw sugar cane. Amami delivers the full kokuto flavor beautifully. It’s nearly a liquid version of the base sugar, though without as much sweetness.
Like other kokuto shochus, Amami lacks the distinct scents of some other styles of shochu, but a delicate scent of molasses does appear with patience. Overt molasses flavors hit the palate immediately, though this is better described as a black sugar flavor. The full richness of the black sugar is present before the sweetness invades followed by an unexpected dryness, likely thanks to the mineral rich aquifer in the Amami islands. The Amami islands are the only region in Japan authorized to make kokuto shochu, or amamijochu as it is more correctly called. The eponymous Amami is a fine example of the style.
The Verdict: Recommended
Amami is arguably the finest kokuto shochu available in the U.S. The rich flavor is more pronounced than the lighter styles offered by other kokuto products on our shores. Unlike rum, this sugar-based spirit is smooth, light and easy to drink without being overly sweet. Unlike many other shochus I prefer to drink kokuto shochus straight, because the delicate richness of the black sugar is masked by ice or water mixes.