Hee no Tori, the "Firebird", has been sitting on my shelf for almost a year. This bottle is likely the only bottle I'll ever have since it's not imported to the US and was made as an experiment by a sake brewery from a non-shochu making region of Japan. As a testament to how popular shochu has become, many sake breweries have been doing this.
Satsuma Hozan is the white koji sweet potato shochu from Nishi Shuzo, which also makes such premium products as Tomi No Hozan, Kiccho Hozan, and the ultra-premium Tenshi No Yuwaku. Besides these year round products, Nishi Shuzo also produces a line of seasonal limited edition sweet potato shochus including Ayamurasaki, Beniazuma, and Shiroyukata.
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.