I’m beginning my exploration of “The Thee M’s” with Maou. For those unfamiliar, the 3 M’s are the 3 most famous shochu brands in Japan. They are, Maou, Mori Izo, and Muraou, and I’m going to tackle them in this order.
Brand: Tenpai (天盃)
Distillery: Tenpai Co, Ltd.
Location: Asakura, Fukuoka Prefecture, Kyushu, Japan
Grain: barley (mugi)
Distillation: atmospheric suspected (joatsu)
Alcohol: 2o% (48 proof)
Tenpai is an unexpected treat. A mugi shochu, which from previous experience we’d expect a light, neutral flavor like Yokaichi or a rich, sweetly whiskey note like Kannoko if aged in oak barrels. Tenpai defies both of those expectations.
Aged for one year in ceramic pots, Tenpai has a yeasty, nutty nose almost like rising bread dough. The soft, mellow mouthfeel is reminiscent of macadamia nuts. There’s never an overly strong flavor, but don’t mistake it for neutral or mellow. The faintly sweet, buttery, nutty flavor subsides into a distinct vanilla finish. Needless to say, there’s a lot going on in this mugi.
The Verdict: Highly Recommended
Upon first tasting Tenpai there’s an immediate inclination to dislike the spirit. That’s unfortunate, because it holds so much character. The yeasty, bread dough nose is shocking given the expectation of other shochus, particularly the mild mugis. However, given time and patience Tenpai turns into a favorite – so much so that as I was writing this review I got distracted searching the web for retailers.