Hard to explain why I haven’t reviewed Kozuru Kuro sooner. Perhaps in some way I wanted to keep it secret. It’s an affordable, luscious black koji imo shochu from Kagoshima. It’s the basic product from Komasa Shuzo, which I visited this summer.
Brand: Kiccho Hozan
Distillery: Nishi Shuzo Co, Ltd.
Location: Kagoshima Prefecture, Kyushu Island, Japan
Grain: 83% Kogane Sengan sweet potato (imo) & 17% rice (kome)
Koji: black (kuro)
Distillation: atmospheric (joatsu)
Alcohol: 24% (48 proof)
The Hozan line-up from Nishi Shuzo is a collection of sweet potato shochus across a variety of styles. The three main brands are Satsuma Hozan, Tomino Hozan, and Kiccho Hozan, made with white, yellow, and black koji respectively. These three are all made with Kogane Sengan sweet potatoes while the seasonal specialty shochus in the Hozan line-up are made from a variety of other, less common sweet potatoes. Nishi Shuzo may be best known stateside for Tenshi no Yuwaku, or Angel’s Temptation, a full strength sweet potato shochu aged for 8 years in sherry casks.
Kiccho Hozan, the black koji version, is very popular in NYC among shochu aficionados thanks to the influence of Aya Otaka, the bartender-owner of Shochu + Tapas Aya, who always recommended Kiccho to her customers when she was holding court at the late, great Shochu Bar Hatchan. To this day regular Aya customers still prefer Kiccho Hozan. And her successor at Hatchan, Sayaka Takahashi, now at Soba Totto, made New York’s first “maewari” shochu with Kiccho Hozan. The rich earthiness of the black koji is mellowed and rounded with the secondary water aging.
But back to Kiccho Hozan itself. Thanks to that rich, earthy black koji and full pressure distillation, and clay pot (kame) aging, this is a medium bodied sweet potato shochu that manages at the same time not to be overpowering in its aroma. On the nose I find hints of pound cake of all things. The flavor has a nice balance, unlike some of the more wild black koji sweet potato shochus. Nishi Shuzo seems to have made a concerted effort to balance out this spirit. I look forward to a future chat with the toji to understand their philosophy, because this balance pervades their Hozan line-up.
The Verdict: Recommended
The balances make this a sessionable shochu whether mixed with water, on the rocks, or “oyuwari” (I’d recommend a 6:4 shochu-hot water blend). It goes well with rich meats, particularly tare seasoned yakitori and braised pork belly. Perhaps thanks to Aya I find myself returning to Kiccho Hozan regularly myself. I particularly like the maewari version at Soba Totto.