Brand: Mizunomai (“Mizu Shochu”)
Distillery: Munemasa Shuzo Co, Ltd.
Location: Saga Prefecture, Kyushu Island, Japan
Grain: 67% polished barley (mugi) & 33% polished rice (kome)
Koji: black (kuro)
Distillation: low pressure (genatsu)
Alcohol: 35% (70 proof)
Mizunomai (Mizu for short) is a high proof barley shochu that was developed for the global market. Extensive taste testing with customers and bartenders throughout Japan, the US, and other Asian countries yielded this blend as the most popular all without compromising the artisinal qualities that make this class of spirits so unique.
The first thing that strikes you about Mizu is the higher alcohol content. Most shochu in the US market is 24-25% ABV. Mizu clocks in at 35% primarily because, according to the American partner of the brand, Jesse Falowitz, tasted better than lower proof versions of the same blend of kuro koji and barley. It also was designed with cocktails in mind so a higher proof alcohol allows the drink to pack more punch than a lower proof cocktails using the same measures.
The packaging was also intended for the international premium spirits market with elegant bottle design, modern labeling, and a corked rather than screw top finish. This combination shouts premium liquor and looks great behind a bar, drawing consistent attention from both my American and Japanese friends. The bottle itself is a hit, but it’s what’s inside that matters.
Like many unaged barley shochus, this is a light, clean drink. The aromas are banana and cantaloupe, which promises a sweetness that’s delivered nicely. The initial taste is fresh grains (dare I say “fresh barley”?) followed by a sweet mellow middle coupled with a warm mouthfeel thanks to the high proof. The finish is lingering vanilla with a faint grassy undertone. All in all there’s quite a bit going on in this shochu, which will appeal to Scotch and whiskey drinkers while still being light enough for vodka drinkers. The clean flavors also lend themselves very well to cocktails if that’s your thing.
Mizu has hit the US market squarely where it needed to be hit. With a proactive move into American bars while still appealing to Japanese izakayas around NYC, Mizu is quickly appearing on shelves in some unexpected places including Experimental Cocktail Club (aka “ECC”) in the Lower East Side, Back Forty in the East Village, and Japan Shalom in Williamsburg. I prefer it on the rocks to get the full flavor of the black koji and barley, but beware – it packs a punch. While imo shochu drinkers may consider it a bit light for their tastes, this is the shochu industry’s best chance yet to break into the shelves of American bars and restaurants that wouldn’t dream of making their customers eat with chopsticks.