Brand: Soba Shochu Unkai
Distillery: Unkai Shuzo Co, Ltd.
Location: Miyazaki, Kyushu Island, Japan
Grain: 50% buckwheat (soba), 33% barley (mugi), 17% rice (kome)
Koji: white (shiro)
Alcohol: 25% (50 proof)
Buckwheat, or soba shochu, is not particularly common in Japan and even less so in the US with only three available currently. Unkai is the most affordable of these and at just around $15 a bottle retail in New York City it is one of the most affordable honkaku (authentic) shochus available anywhere. Don’t let the low price tag fool you. Unkai is an interesting, flavorful, and enjoyable shochu.
It all starts with a bright, yeasty, vegetal nose. It’s dry, refreshing, and crisp on the tongue with a faintly sweet, round palate. Slightly alkaline, soft water pervades. It all finishes lightly bitter – like watercress. With all of these aroma and flavor characteristics going on you’d expect a higher price tag, but Unkai manages to be a bargain. The flavors may not be for everyone, but this is just as drinkable as an unaged barley shochu, which seems to be most popular among many new shochu drinkers.
The Verdict: Worth Drinking
Imminently drinkable soba shochu. Straightforward. Enjoyable. Reliable. It’s hard to complain about Unkai. In fact, I’m surprised it’s not available more places, usually relegated to the down and dirty college izakayas in the East Village, but this could be right at home in a nice place as well.