Tenpai is an unexpected treat. A mugi shochu, which from previous experience we’d expect a light, neutral flavor like Yokaichi or a rich, sweetly whiskey note like Kannoko if aged in oak barrels. Tenpai defies both of those expectations.
Brand: Kumejima’s Kumesen
Distillery: Kumejima’s Kumesen Co, Ltd.
Location: Okinawa Prefecture, Japan
grain: 100% aged Thai (indica) rice
koji: Okinawa black
alcohol: 24% (48 proof)
Kumesen was our first Awamori. We’d read about these unique Okinawan spirits and were drawn to the artfully drawn lion-god on the stout bottle. As our first, it still stands up as what we expect from the style, though we’ve come to learn that Awamori can be as diverse and complex as single malt scotch. There is no one flavor that captures the essence of these full bodied, traditionally distilled spirits.
Kumesen hits the senses as something different from shochu at first sniff. The smell is unfamiliar to westerners. It’s earthy, herbal, fungal – the sweet odor of overripe fruit. If that doesn’t sound appealing, don’t worry. It’s not, though that’s only because it’s such an unfamiliar scent. That comes from the high fatty acid content, which is captured in the glass bottle. Awamori is traditionally stored and sold in clay pots – the clay helps release the fatty acids and mellows the scent and flavor. Bottling doesn’t allow that to happen so we end up with these exotic
The initial mouth is almost exactly as it smells, but this quickly dissipates into a pleasant sweet and umami blend. Mushrooms come to mind, which would explain the fungal nose. The finish lingers with a warm, oily sensation – the fatty acids in play again – that begs for another sip.
The Verdict: Recommended
As with every Awamori we’ve reviewed, Kumesen isn’t for everyone, but given repeated tastings I find this one of the most enjoyable, interesting examples of the style available in the U.S. The rich, full bodied flavor full of sweet and savory provides a unique experience. If you’re feeling adventurous, you could do much worse than Kumesen.