Distillery: Jikuya Shuzo Co, Ltd.
Location: Kagoshima, Kyushu Island, Japan
Grain: sweet potato (imo)
Koji: white (shiro)
Distillation: atmospheric (joatsu)
Alcohol: 24% (48 proof)
Part of what’s fascinating about exploring shochu is that each distiller has their own approach to reaching flavor. The general rule is that if you want a smooth, mellow shochu you look for a shochu made with low pressure distillation and white koji. That combination is going to give you a very mellow shochu no matter what base grain is used. Conversely, a black koji and atmospheric distillation shochu is going to maximize flavors, create all sorts of complexity that many drinkers either love or hate. Where things start to get very interesting are in the middle. When the distiller decides to combine white koji with atmospheric distillation or black koji with low pressure distillation. These mid-range flavored shochus can show a lot of unique characteristics.
Case in point is Shiroku-No-Gon. The first hint is in the name. “Shiro” means white – suggesting white koji just as “kuro” (black) koji shochus often have that word in the name. Shiroku-No-Gon, an imo shochu using white koji, also uses atmospheric distillation. This distillation choice brings out the richness of the sweet potatoes. Imo shochus are often partly rice – not this one. It’s all sweet potato, which adds more flavor. The rice mellows out the imo richness.
It starts with that dirty nose you expect from an imo. Drink enough shochu and you can tell the grain from the scent. Imos are always dirty. Fresh dirt. Not unpleasant. Just distinct. Imos often get a sweetness on the mouth, but Shiroku-No-Gon only hints at it. Never quite delivers. Instead, an herbal start carries hints of flowers before drying out resolutely into a light cinnamon finish. The extreme dryness is never unpleasant thanks to a very mellow mouthfeel thanks to the soft spring water mixed in prior to bottling.
The Verdict: Worth Drinking
Shiroku-No-Gon has a very interesting flavor profile. It may not be for everyone, but those who like a full flavored dry imo shochu, this is a very nice choice. The unique distillation process only adds to the allure. If you decide to try it, straight is a bit overwhelming. Cut with a bit of water or on the rocks mellows out the flavor and makes it quite drinkable.