Day 10: Kyoya Shuzo, Miyazaki
I’ve long been a fan of the deliciously aromatic and approachable Kappa No Sasoimizu, a 20% ABV shochu from Miyazaki’s Kyoya Shuzo. I may like their 25% kuro koji imo shochu, Heihachiro, even more. It’s uncompromising, but with excellent aromas and flavors. I’d met their shacho (president), Watanabe-san, several times when he was visiting New York, but we’d never really had a chance to talk.
He picked us up at the hotel at 7:30am for the hour long drive down the coast to his sakagura. The drive was stunning along a rocky coastline on the Pacific Ocean. The distillery itself is tucked into a little town – they bottle off-site in order not to disturb the neighbors. As we pulled into the parking lot we were greeted by old ladies peeling potatoes calling out a sing song “Ohayo gozaimas!” (good morning!).
The entire kura is made of wood and all fermentation is performed in traditional clay pots. There are a few compromises to modern efficiency, which is required for the volume of shochu they produce at this relatively small facility. However, the moromis are still stirred by hand in kame buried in the floor. Many larger distilleries have abandoned this traditional form of fermentation in favor of large steel tanks that allow for much larger batches of shochu to be produced. Kyoya gets around this by having rooms full of clay pots. All distillation is run through three different stills (2 genatsu, 1 joatsu) powered by a traditional gas furnace, which is more expensive to operate, but provides perfect steam for their shochus.
The tasting afterward was epic with 21 different shochus tried before lunch. The product line is quite diverse despite primarily making shiro koji imo shochu. There appears to be an almost singular focus on aroma – nearly every one of the shochus had a distinct scent and it was usually spot on delicious. I’m only sorry I didn’t get to try absolutely everything they make.
(1st moromi room)
(2nd moromi room)
(imo being loaded into the steamer)
(with Watanabe-san after the tour)
Lunch was at a local bonito specialty place where I had my first live whole lobster sashimi – an absolute delicacy that runs $80+ in NYC if you can find it. The bonito was tried 5 ways. Bonito sashimi was waiting on our table when we arrived, marinating in two different sauces. There were tried raw and small individual charcoal grills were also provided to grill these two styles. Finally, we were encouraged to keep a couple pieces for ojatsuke, which is rice and assorted pickles/veggies in a dashi (dried bonito) broth. The sashimi is placed on top as the broth is pour over, very lightly blanching the fish. All was delicious, especially paired with Kyoya’s local shochu, which was designed specifically to match food from this town.
(live lobster sashimi)
(the body returned at the end of the meal as a soup)
With a full belly and having tried 20+ different shocus, a nap was in order for the drive back to Miyazaki City. Mai-san had to head back to Fukuoka for a family event, but Watanabe-san picked me up for a casual Miyazaki izakaya dinner. This place was quite fun with families all around and waitresses dressed up for halloween (despite it being 3 weeks away).
Here we had Miyazaki style tori sashi (rare chicken this time, slightly seared), grilled kuro jidori (blackened chicken), chicken nanban, and strangely perhaps the highlight, cucumber and cabbage dipped in house made miso as the starter.
(“black” chicken – grilled in charcoal)
(black chicken oils were used to fry rice – this returned later. Watanabe-san said it was a special gift from the waitress, but I suspect he was kidding – Japanese humor is something I’m still learning.)
A short walk after dinner brought us to a traditional Miyazaki dance festival (the reason all of the hotels were booked and I ended up with an enormous room instead of the usual postage stamp). The dance was mesmerizing – telling a story more clearly than I’m used to seeing in American ballet or modern dance performances. Photos from my phone, unfortunately, were not very good.
Cultural experience over, we went to Watanabe-san’s friend’s restaurant where we sampled grilled mollusks and fish gelatin while enjoying Kame Shizuku, which Watanabe-san explained he actually developed when he became shacho in order to help save the company, which was in difficult times during Japan’s lost decade. A perfect end to a great day.