Kagoshima is the southernmost of the mainland prefectures, located on the south end of Kyushu Island, and about as far as you can get from Tokyo without being in Okinawa. How did this remote place known for Satsuma Imo become so central in the shochu world? Good question. Shochu has a history of about 500 years, so let’s start in the middle.
On Monday, November 23, 2015, I had the distinct pleasure of appearing on the Japan Eats radio show with host Akiko Katayama on the Heritage Radio Network. If you're not familiar with Akiko's show, it's a beautiful exploration of Japanese food and beverage in an easily accessible format through interview with local New York chefs, restaurant owners, and experts in a variety of areas.
Kiccho Hozan, the black koji version, is very popular in NYC among shochu aficionados thanks to the influence of Aya Otaka, the bartender-owner of Shochu + Tapas Aya, who always recommended Kiccho to her customers when she was holding court at the late, great Shochu Bar Hatchan.
I’m beginning my exploration of “The Thee M’s” with Maou. For those unfamiliar, the 3 M’s are the 3 most famous shochu brands in Japan. They are, Maou, Mori Izo, and Muraou, and I’m going to tackle them in this order.
In the US, Satoh Kuro is simply known as "Satoh" as none of the distillery's other product lines reach our shores. In Japan, their national premium labels are Satoh Kuro (black koji sweet potato, Satoh Shiro (white koji sweet potato), and Satoh Mugi (barley). All are delicious, but only Kuro comes Stateside.
During my stay in Kagoshima in October 2013, Tekkan Wakamatsu, the toji at Yamato Zakura Shuzo, where I did my internship, told me about a legendary izakaya in downtown Kagoshima City where the owners was an "ancient magician" (Tekkan-san may have said "a yoda", as he's fond of Star Wars references) in the art of "maewari" shochu.