Like most "kuro koji" versions of white (shiro) koji shochus, the black koji really opens up the flavor profile. While Ginza No Suzume, which we haven't yet profiled, has a nice light neutral mugi flavor, this Ginza Kuro is much bigger. A dirty, earthy, fatty nose opens up the promise of a large taste and unexpectedly for a non-barrel aged mugi shochu it delivers.
This is the first in a series of shochu reviews that will review products that we tried or obtained while in Japan in July on our Shochu Tour 2012. This particular bottle was a gift from my guide and translator's partner, who is from Kumamoto Prefecture and is justifiably proud of this local shochu.
It is difficult to differentiate the experience of drinking sweet potato shochu from drinking Satsuma Shiranami. This may be the definitive flavor profile for an authentic Kagoshima imo shochu. While white koji is used to mellow out the flavor, normal pressure distillation brings out everything it can from the kogane sengan sweet potatoes.
95% of Nishi Yoshida's production is barley shochu. They also make small runs of some niche products such as chestnut and carrot, but barley predominates. In the past they made sweet potato and rice shochu, but switched to barley in the 1980s, distilling for their own labels and for other shochu makers. Their production facility is also substantially smaller than Kitaya, producing approximately 1,200 kilo-liters per year.
Tenson Kourin is one of the more affordable sweet potato shochus available in the U.S. At less than $20 per bottle, it's a true bargin. While many of the lower priced shochus have less flavor or complexity, Tenson Kourin does not suffer this fate. This was a product developed in 2001 specifically for the export market, though it is also sold within Japan.
Kitaya Shuzo is a nihonshu (sake) and shochu producer in Fukuoka Prefecture and the first stop on our shochu distillery tour. Seikai Ishizuka and I traveled nearly an hour south of Hakata (main station in Fukouka City) on a commuter train to reach Yame, a city of less than 40,000 people in southern Fukuoka Prefecture. There we were met by a Kitaya representative who drove us to the distillery.