Several flavored shochus have entered the US market over the past several years, but these brands have taken two very different approaches to the American consumer.
"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.
Hard to explain why I haven't reviewed Kozuru Kuro sooner. Perhaps in some way I wanted to keep it secret. It's an affordable, luscious black koji imo shochu from Kagoshima. It's the basic product from Komasa Shuzo, which I visited this summer.
Kuro Godai, with the rich, dirty flavor so prevalent in black koji sweet potato shochus, adds a dimension to this richness by opting for an unfiltered approach. Nigori (unfiltered) sakes are cloudy, white, and sweet. Nigori shochus are still clear, but have a overtly rich, buttery mouthfeel not found in filtered shochus. The only telltale sign that this is a nigori are the droplets of spirit that cling to the walls of the bottle.
The first thing you notice about Window's Migaki and its sister shochu Window's Mugiichi is the "window" of the bottle with artwork by artist Ichiro Tsuruta. Our photo doesn't really do this artwork justice (her face isn't crooked). Don't let the pretty packaging fool you (with many wines the artistry of the label is directly inversely related to the quality of the product inside). Window's Migaki is a barrel aged barley shochu (Mugiichi is this same shochu unaged) of the highest quality.
This odd label includes a sketch of a Japanese man. It would be easy enough to mistake his rough, jowly visage for that of a sumo wrestler, but it is, in fact, the last samurai, Saigo Takamori. He wasn't truly the last samurai, but he was the leader of the Satsuma Rebellion, which was the last stand of the samurai class against the modern Japanese imperial army in 1877.