Brand: Aka Kirishima
Distillery: Kirishima Shuzo Co, Ltd.
Location: Miyazaki Prefecture, Kyushu Island, Japan
Grain: murasaki masari sweet potatoes (beni imo)
Koji: black (kuro)
Distillation: atmospheric (joatsu)
Alcohol: 24% (48 proof)
Aka Kirishima is a seasonal sweet potato shochu from Kirishima Shuzo, the producer of the best selling shochu in Japan, Kuro Kirishima. Much as iichiko put Oita on the map as a producer of barley shochu to rival Iki Island (more barley shochu is now produced in Oita than in the traditional home of barley shochu), Kirishima’s products put Miyazaki on the map as a rival to Kagoshima’s dominance as the home of sweet potato shochus.
Of course, best selling doesn’t always mean highest quality. Kuro Kirishima became immensely popular in Japan thanks to a celebrity endorsement and while it’s a nice sweet potato shochu, it’s as much about branding as it is about flavor. This left me somewhat skeptical about Aka Kirishima, one of the few sweet potato shochus made with a red (aka) or purple (murasaki) potato.
The aroma immediately sets this shochu apart from others in the class as it smells faintly of red wine. This tannic nose follows with a similar acidity on the palate. It remains vaguely reminiscent of red wine, but only if you don’t think of it that way. The flavor mellows throughout the sip and finishes with a sweet finish, which is unexpected after the sharp start.
Aka Kirishima provides an uncommon drinking experience among sweet potato shochus available in the US. Unlike Kuro Kirishima, which struggles to separate itself from other black koji imo shochus, Aka has very few competitors and those it has tend to be more expensive. It’s become an almost iconic shochu among Japanese since its seasonal. It usually arrives in New York sometimes in early spring and the US allotment is usually sold out by early to mid fall, so try it before its gone. It’ll stay on menus, but will be perpetually out of stock until the distillery makes another batch. Oh, and impress your bartender or waitress by ordering it as “Aka Kiri” … as with many Japanese words, abbreviation is encouraged. The same goes for “Kuro Kiri”, but you can order that any time.