Several flavored shochus have entered the US market over the past several years, but these brands have taken two very different approaches to the American consumer.
Beniotome, a roasted sesame flavored shochu, has been popular in Japan for a long time. Roasted sesame seeds are added during the fermentation process to a rice and barley mash. The resulting shochu is rich with toasted sesame flavors, completely masking the other grains. It’s popular as a dessert shochu.
Gyokuro from Kitaya Shuzo takes a similar approach with green tea. Leaves are added to a rice and barely mix during the fermentation process to create a green tea flavored shochu. While this one is not as rich as Beniotome, it tastes almost just like green tea when warmed with hot water.
Both of these products have relied on traditional distillation processes while a third company, Kai Spirits, out of Hawaii, has used a decidedly different approach. Kai currently offers two low alcohol flavored 100% rice shochus. Young Coconut and Lemongrass Ginger.
Both are extremely sweet thanks to the added sugars and flavorings. The Young Coconut shochu tastes distinctly of vanilla-coconut frosting, which might excite some people – you know who you are. Lemongrass Ginger is an interesting blend of these flavors, giving a decidedly Asian fusion flavor to the spirit. Both are clearly designed for cocktails rather than drinking straight.
Believe it or not when I procured the bottle of Young Coconut, the spirit was clear. It turned darker over the intervening months. Apparently coconut water is susceptible to discoloration due to sunlight. That’s why it’s always sold in those tetra-paks or opaque plastic bottles – to protect the product from discoloration. Turns out the change in color is completely neutral – no change in taste and safe as ever to drink. Who knew?
If you’re interested in flavored shochus for enjoying the flavors they’ve been blessed with, I’d recommend the Beniotome or Gyukuro approach to traditionally distilled spirits. If you’ve got a sweet tooth or a want to play with some cocktails, the Kai approach may be the winner. Me? I’ll take Beniotome Gold. A 5 year aged genshu (38% ABV, undiluted) roasted sesame shochu not available in the US.