The Enchanted Island – Shima Senryo
Brand: Shima Senryo
Distillery: Takasaki Shuzo, Co Ltd.
Location: Tanegashima, Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan
Grain: 83% Kogane Sengan (sweet potato) & 17% rice (kome)
Koji: black (kuro) & white (shiro)
Distillation: atmospheric (joatsu)
Alcohol: 24% (48 proof)
Unique to the US market, Shima Senryo is a blend of white koji and black koji sweet potato shochu. While this blending style can be found more commonly in Japan, this is the only brand currently in the US that uses this unique approach. Blending has an interesting, but incompletely understood history in shochu production, but more and more distilleries are blending intentionally rather than as a way to cover up some off batches.
Shima Senryo, made on the island of Tanegashima, picks up the brininess often apparent in sweet potato shochu made near the ocean. Faint hints of pepper on the nose give way to the rich aroma of steamed sweet potatoes. The blended koji flavors make this very balanced with both the rich earthiness of the black koji and the light sweetness of the white koji. The brine adds an almost citrus/acidic quality to the final taste.
Interestingly, Tanegashima, often overlooked for its more famous neighbor, Yakushima (a world heritage site), has two claims to fame. It was the place where firearms were introduced to Japan, and it is also the Japanese Cape Canaveral, with a rocket launch pad at the southern tip of the island. Travel there is available via ferry from Kagoshima City. 1.5 hours on a jetfoil if you don’t have a car, 3.5 hours on a slower car ferry if you do.
The Verdict: Highly Recommended
Shima Senryo has one of the coolest labels of all import shochu. Despite being only 24% alcohol for the US market, they decided not to put “SOJU” on the label, likely because they were focused on East Coast distribution and didn’t need to comply with California’s silly laws. Sadly, Shima Senryo is “currently in the US”, but not available. The importer/distributor has given up their hard liquor distribution license so if you find a bottle, buy it! Hopefully, another importer/distributor will pick up the slack.
With the white/black koji blend, this goes equally well on the rocks or oyuwari (mixed with hot water). Goes great with steak, rich foods, and sauteed vegetables. This is one of a handful of imo shochu available in the US that I always try to have available in my home bar. I’m going to be sad when this bottle is finished.