Distillery: Godo Shusei Co, Ltd.
Location: Asahikawa, Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan
Grain: unknown + Red Perilla (shiso)
Distillation: low pressure (genatsu)
Alcohol: 20% (40 proof)
I don’t usually do this. I’m reviewing both a non-authentic (not honkaku) shochu and one for which I am unsure exactly how the main grain sugars are extracted. Nevertheless, Tantakatan is a famous shochu both in Japan and among Westerners who have formerly lived in Japan. It’s a shiso shochu, though it’s production methods are opaque.
The base is either a grain alcohol, akin to Juhyo Suntory or Korean soju, or it’s a barley (mugi) or rice (kome) ferment. Given the price point and the flavor, I’m leaning toward the grain alcohol theory at this point, though I’m happy to be corrected. Either way, red shiso ( known in the West as perilla) is added during fermentation and before distillation. The reason for my speculation is that it does not qualify as honkaku shochu, but shiso is an accepted ingredient. So either it’s made using a patent still rather than a pot still, goes through a pot still more than once, or is made using an enzyme rather than koji to convert starches to sugars. I suspect more than one of these may be true.
Nevertheless, Tantakatan is an easy drinking shochu with distinct shiso notes and aromas, though it also carries a bit of seaweed funk in the nose. It’s not as strongly shiso-flavored as you get form a shiso-infused shochu (Uminoie in NYC makes it in-house if you’re ever hoping to try).
This is only 20% ABV, which is standard among Hokkaido shochu. Hokkaido is relatively new to shochu production, but has begun to grow a reputation for both jaga imo (white potato) and konbu (kelp) shochu. It’s unclear why 20% is favored over the usual 25% ABV of Kyushu shochu outside Oita.
The Verdict: Recommended
Not available in the U.S., but available in Canada, Tantakatan has a bit of a legendary reputation among American shochu lovers who haven’t spent much time in Japan. Nevertheless, it’s a convenience store shochu with a big reputation. There are authentic shiso shochu available, though harder to find, which will leave Tantakatan with its reputation intact for years to come. Certainly worth trying if you can get your hands on a bottle. Drink it on the rocks or brighten it with a splash of soda. Definitely not a shochu to drink warm.