Kusu, or old spirit, is an Okinawan Awamori aged at least 3 years. According to Japanese law the youngest spirit in the bottle must be at least 3 years old – Awamori producers have a long history of mixing older spirits with younger spirits as the older spirits are consumed. If the distiller labels the bottle as older than 3 years then all of the spirit in the bottle has to be at least the age stated. Some Kusu Awamori, prior to World War II, was said to have been well over 150 years old. Unfortunately, American bombardment of Okinawa destroyed those stocks. In fact, the entire Awamori industry was nearly wiped out until some residue of Okinawan koji was found on a straw matt under the rubble. This single strain of koji is now used for all Awamori production.
Unfortunately for American spirits connaisseurs Kusu Awamori is not available in the U.S. except the youngest designation (3 years). Fortunately, not all is lost. Bottled Awamori can be secondary aged. And that’s the experiment that we’re beginning today.
We were able to acquire a traditional clay pot from the fine distillers of Ryukyu Ohcho, Tarawaga Co, Ltd. We also got a bottle of Kuon, an 8 year old Kusu Awamori. Now it would take us about 5 years to secondary age Ryukyu Ohcho into something approaching Kuon and we don’t have that kind of patience, but we’re still curious about what will happen as the spirit ages in a pot.
The pot holds 1.8 liters of spirit, but we only had a partial bottle of Ryukyu Ohcho left in the liquor cabinet so we’ll need to take a trip to the store. Once we’ve filled the pot, we’ll cover the opening with a layer of plastic wrap, insert the cork, cover with another layer of plastic wrap, and finally tie on the decorative grass cover. We’ll store it in a cool dry place and give it a gentle shake each month. I’m not sure how long we’ll be able to ignore it, but once we’ve had enough of waiting we’ll get a fresh bottle of Ryukyu Ohcho and do a comparison test of the aromas and flavors. In fact, we’ll do a 3 way tasting: bottle, pot, and Kuon. As a gold medal winning Awamori, I doubt we’ll reach the perfection of Kuon, but it will still be interesting to see how it changes.
If you’d like to do this at home you’ll need to find a clay pot and make sure you keep it in moderate temperatures. The plastic wrap is necessary to prevent both excessive evaporation and to keep dust and whatnot out of the pot. Gently shaking every month keeps things moving. If you manage to keep it in the pot for a year you may want to open it up to have a look (and a taste) – a bit of fresh air will do the spirit good. Then close it back up and keep going. It’ll be worth the wait. We’re cheating a little. We’ve had some Awamori aged just a few weeks in clay and it completely changes the character. Can’t wait to see what a few months to a year bring!