Brand: Hakutake Shiro
Distillery: Takahashi Shuzo Co, Ltd.
Location: Hitoyoshi City, Kumamoto Prefecture, Kyushu Island, Japan
Grain: junmai kome (polished rice)
Koji: white (shiro)
Distillation: low pressure (genatsu)
Alcohol: 25% (50 proof)
There are not many junmai kuma-shochus available in the U.S. market. These are shochus made with polished Japanese rice, the same polishing process used in sake (nihon-shu) production. “Junmai” refers to rice that’s been polished at least 70% (30% of the outer grain removed). Hakutake Shiro is made with rice polished to 60%. Only kome shochus produced in the Kuma River Valley can be designated as “kuma-shochu” (sounds closer to kumajochu). The pure, clean river water and fertile valley provides ideal conditions for production of rice shochus. The Japanese government goes so far as to designate “kumajochu” as a geographic designation similar to “champagne” in France or “bourbon” in the U.S. This is the only area with a geographic designation for kome shochu.
That’s all great, but what is it like? Well, Hakutake Shiro has a very light, clean aroma. Not overpowering, not much alcohol note. It has a vaguely sake-like nose, though sake tends to have a stronger, more present aroma from the abundant fatty acids. Shiro has a lighter scent than that.
The taste begins semi-sweet with a smooth transition into a buttery, umami middle, then lingering into a fresh, dry finish. Hakutake Shiro proved to be particularly difficult to describe using English so I enlisted my friend and the NY Shochu Tasting Contest champion, Seikai Ishizuka, to help me with the description. True to his championship status, he sniffed the glass, took a sip, and said, “Rice. Steamed rice. Do you ever steam rice? At home?Japanese rice? This is what it smells like. Tastes like after you steam and let it cool.” So there you have it. A kumajochu that tastes like steamed rice. It may seem like I’m poking fun of Seikai for his seemingly obvious description, but I was actually in awe, because the answer was so simple.
The Verdict: Highly Recommended
Hakutake Shiro is a lovely, balanced kumajochu in the best tradition of the style. While smooth enough to drink straight, on the rocks really smooths out the alcohol and makes this something to drink with any light meat or fish dish. Making mizuwari (blended with ice water) will lighten it further while Takahashi-san assures me that it is deliciously aromatic when made oyuwari (with hot water). I’ll be trying that come winter.