Brand: Kougin No Sasayaki
Distillery: Bungo Meijyo Shuzo Co, Ltd.
Location: Oita Prefecture, Kyushu Island, Japan
Grain: polished barley (ginjyo mugi)
Koji: white (shiro)
Distillation: low pressure (genatsu)
Alcohol: 28% (56 proof)
“Made with pure water long loved by the fireflies.” This is the statement Kougin No Sasayaki uses to try to draw you in. For me it evokes a riverside on a summer evening with fireflies flitting about as children chase them and adults clean up after the picnic. Hard to imagine shochu at a picnic, but I suppose on the banks of the Bansho River in Kyushu (where 90% of shochu is made and consumed), that’s exactly what you’d find.
Kougin No Sasayaki is a ginjo mugi shochu. You’re probably more familiar with “ginjo” being used to describe sake (nihon-shu), which is the term referring to a sake polished to at least 60% of the original grain size. This shochu claims to polish to 50% of the original size, which would qualify it as a daiginjo under sake designations. However, shochu does not actually have these requirements so the polishing of the barely, presumably to get to a cleaner, more pure part of the grain, is simply a choice by the distillery to lighten up the flavors you’ll often find in barley shochu.
What further makes Kougin No Sasayaki unique in the US market is that it is a 28% ABV barley shochu, a few degrees higher than virtually all other mugis around, though still not a true genshu (undiluted shochu). This higher alcohol yield likely arises from the barley polishing, which would leave a high percentage of starches to break into sugars and subsequently into alcohol. The shochu is still cut with water prior to bottling – in this case from the famous Bansho River in Oita Prefecture.
The low pressure distillation coupled with the polishing leaves this shochu with virtually no nose other than a light hint of alcohol masking an even slighter hint of fresh barley. As expected, undiluted this is an alcohol forward shochu. Opening it up with a splash of water releases the true character. The alcohol recedes and an mellow balanced barley shochu emerges. There is the faintest hint of roasted barley on the finish, but you have to look very closely … seeking fireflies at dusk.
The Verdict: Highly Recommended
This is a higher proof mugi shochu than you’ll find most of the time, though the white koji and low pressure distillation keep it clean and smooth. I enjoyed it with water, but it’s a nice and refreshing on the rocks as well. Oyuwari (mixed with hot water) really dries out the flavors but is not nearly as aromatic as you’d get with black koji or atmospheric distilled shochus.