The Oji-san Shochu
Distillery: Yamanomori Shuzo Co, Ltd.
Location: Iki Island, Nagasaki Prefecture, Kyushu, Japan
Grain: 67% barley (mugi) and 33% rice (kome)
Koji: black (kuro)
Distillation: atmospheric (joatsu)
Alcohol: 25% (50 proof)
Yamanomori is as old school as they come among shochus imported to the U.S. Made using the traditional atmospheric (unpressurized) pot still, black koji to impart a rich earthy undertone, little if any filtration, and the very traditional 2:1 ratio of barley to rice, Yamanomori is a taste from the past. Much richer, bolder, and more exotic than most any other barley shochu that comes to our shores, Yamanomori is unapologetically an “old man’s” (oji-san) shochu.
Yamanomori hails from Iki Island off the coast of Nagasaki Prefecture. Iki Island barley shochus have earned appellation of origin status from the World Trade Organization. Just as champagne must come from Champagne, France, and Cognac from Cognac, France, “ikijochu” must be made from come from Iki Island and be made from barley. The distillery makes the eponymous Iki brand as well, though that’s much closer to what we’ve come to expect from barley shochus (light and refreshing) while Yamanomori is nothing short of a kick in the tastebuds.
The nose is pleasantly rich and earthy with the overt barley sweetness you find in some American whiskeys, minus the wood as Yamanomori is aged in clay, not oak. There’s a luscious griminess to the aroma and I mean that in the nicest possible way. There aren’t many shochus this rich and dirty and raw, at least not available to drinkers outside of Japan. Flavor wise, the nose doesn’t lie this time as the rich, earthy sweetness of barley pervades a buttery mouthfeel. Hints of honey and an underlying raisin flavor fill the sweet middle. The sweet end fades forever thanks to the residual oils.
When I’m feeling like a rich mouthful of mugi shochu it’s rare I look anywhere other than Yamanomori. The first time I tried it, I didn’t understand it (or appreciate it), but over time it has become one of the few shochus available in the US that I stock in my home bar. After a long day at work I will often pour myself a glass, oyuwari (hot water blend) 6:4. It’s really a shame more shochus like this aren’t available over here, but I suppose once a market grows for these kinds of flavors, the brands will follow.