Distillery: Sengetsu Shuzo Co, Ltd.
Location: Kumamoto Prefecture, Kyushu Island, Japan
Grain: rice (kome)
Koji: white (shiro)
Distillation: atmospheric distillation (joatsu)
Alcohol: 25% (50 proof)
Just as champagne must come from the Champagne region of France, kumajochus must be made in Kumamoto Prefecture. These delicious rice shochus have earned World Trade Organization Appellation of Origin status, which is reserved for particularly culturally important agricultural products. Kawabe is one such shochu and may reflect the epitome of the style, at least among kumajochus currently available in the US.
Kawabe is a muroka kome shochu, meaning it was not pasteurized after distillation, leaving rich fatty acids to leave telltale droplets in the neck of the bottle. This unfiltered approach leaves the shochu with a rich nose and palate not found if charcoal filtration is used.
The nose in this case is bright with banana and hints of honey dew. The first sip leaves your mouth coated in a delicious buttered banana flavor that lingers on the tongue. The sweet middle is followed by the clean, crisp, dry finish expected from kome shochus. Yet this dry finish is not sharp like so many others of this style thanks to the luscious mouthfeel that leaves you wanting another sip.
I consider myself primarily an imo shochu drinker with a soft spot for Awamori, but Kawabe has opened up my mind to the possibilities of kome shochu. I have a feeling there’s a trip to Kumamoto in my future to explore these delicate spirits.
If you’re lucky enough to find a bottle of Kawabe in New York, grab it and enjoy. It’s been consistently out of stock at every liquor store and izakaya that carries it due to unexpected demand thanks to capturing the attention of several prominent izakaya bartenders and their customers. Some bars have resorted to shipping cases from California to assure uninterrupted supply.
I prefer Kawabe mixed with a bit of cold water, but it’s lovely on the rocks as well. If you insist on drinking it neat, use a splash of water to open it up a touch. It pairs extremely well with seafood and vegetable dishes, yet holds its own with light meat dishes. Consider Kawabe as an alternative to sake as its got plenty in common with that delicious brew.