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.
Distillery: Kuroki Honten, Co Ltd.
Location: Takanabe, Miyazaki Prefecture, Japan
Grain: barley (mugi)
Koji: black (kuro)
Distillation: atmospheric (joatsu)
Alcohol: 25% (50 proof)
Nakanaka is the main brand of barley shochu from the very well respected Kuroki Honten in Miyzaki, which makes a wide range of delicious shochu across two different distilleries, but under the same ownership. Their premium barley shochu, Hyakunen no Kodoku, a 40% ABV barrel aged barley shochu, is arguably the most famous barley shochu in Japan.
The name, Nakanaka, is an adverb meaning “better than expected”, and likely reflects the distiller’s humility. They assume people who try this shochu will have modest expectations given the distillery’s reputation, but be pleasantly surprised by the aromas and flavors they experience the first time they try Nakanaka.
Nakanaka takes a straightforward production approach with 100% barley and traditional atmospheric distillation. Neighboring Oita Prefecture is known for 100% barley shochu, but usually accompanied with a vacuum distillation process, giving those shochu a light, clean flavor and aroma. With normal pressure distillation, Nakanaka is a much more full bodied shochu with distinct notes of chocolate and a rich sweetness on the palate.
The Verdict: Highly Recommended
Nakanaka has a richness of aroma and flavor that’s just begging for being drunk oyuwari. The hot water opens up the aromas even further and the chocolate notes linger on the tongue. On the rocks, Nakanaka becomes much sharper and more bitter, but if you really want to drink it cold, I’d recommend mizuwari, add some cold water to the shochu over ice and the sweetness and mellow aromas return, but in a much more delicate form than when you drink it hot. This is also the rare shochu I would recommend atsukan – heated directly rather than adding to hot water. Going even deeper, drop it into a cappuccino or cafe au lait for a Miyazaki Coffee (spin on Irish Coffee).
Ultimately, Nakanaka is a shochu that leaves you pleasantly surprised.