This bar is sandwiched between a coffee stand and a soba shop. The cluster of tables in front of the bar are meant to be shared by customers from all three establishments. When we arrived, about 11:30 or noon on a weekday, we were quickly left as the only customers in the Shinkansen waiting area - most travelers, of course, leave the station upon arrival. Not us. We stood in awe of the 250 brands of Kagoshima-made shochu that awaited us at the unexpected Satsuma Bar.
Shochu Tour 2012
This is the first in a series of shochu reviews that will review products that we tried or obtained while in Japan in July on our Shochu Tour 2012. This particular bottle was a gift from my guide and translator's partner, who is from Kumamoto Prefecture and is justifiably proud of this local shochu.
Sometimes it is best to rely on good luck than preparation. On our third night in Fukuoka, after visiting Kitaya Shuzo & Nishi Yoshida during the day, we met up with Seikai's friends from school for dinner at an organ meat izakaya (story on that experience coming soon). Afterward a few of us decided to have one more drink - shochu of course.
A yatai is a small, mobile food stand with a few seats around the outdoor kitchen. In Fukuoka there were dozens of these stands lining sidewalks late night near popular drinking areas. After a full night of izakaya hoping and a bar or two you'll stumble to one of these stands for a meal to top it all off. This helps fight off the potential hangover and the food just tastes so good.
Obviously, as lovers of shochu and Awamori, we are enthusiastic about this entire class of spirits, not any particular brand or style. However, a strange thing happened on our recent trip to Japan. Seikai & I discovered a shochu that we both agree is far and away the most delicious shochu we've ever experienced. Among the 250+ shochu and Awamori we tried on the trip (in addition to the 120 or so available in the US), one stood out among the rest.
95% of Nishi Yoshida's production is barley shochu. They also make small runs of some niche products such as chestnut and carrot, but barley predominates. In the past they made sweet potato and rice shochu, but switched to barley in the 1980s, distilling for their own labels and for other shochu makers. Their production facility is also substantially smaller than Kitaya, producing approximately 1,200 kilo-liters per year.