The English language has hundreds of words to describe colors. Japanese has just a few. Contrarily, Japanese has hundreds of words to describe taste or aromas while English has relatively few. This reflects a profound cultural difference in which senses dominate the human experience. Westerners tend to concentrate very much on visual stimuli and rely less on aroma and taste in making decisions. On the contrary, Japanese culture is essentially obsessed with the aromas, tastes, and textures of food. And this applies to shochu tasting as well.
As I immersed myself in this world of shochu I gradually gained an appreciation for the aromas, and even later the textures, associated with drinking honkaku shochu. And only very recently have I come to the conclusion that aromas are essential to the shochu tasting experience – and something that many people never stop to examine prior to drinking the spirit.
Apart from oenophiles (wine drinkers), who clearly spend some time with their nose in a glass, and the whisky connoisseur, it’s the rare American drinker who takes some time savoring the scents of their alcohol prior to indulging. The more time I spend with shochu, the more I’ve discovered those aromas are often the best part of the shochu tasting experience.
As I’ve begun to discuss the aromas and textures associated with specific shochu, I’ve found Japanese to be highly appreciative of these subtleties. With Americans I often get blank stares or furrowed brows as they try to figure out why I spend 5 minutes with my nose in a glass of Satoh Kuro prior to taking my first sip. But I’ll tell you why. Satoh Kuro has the most interesting and complex aroma of any shochu available in the United States. I wish I had the vocabulary to describe it and when I finally write up this delectable spirit, I’ll do my very best to come up with appropriate adjectives. For the time being I’ll just say that I can’t stop sniffing that glass.
And once you take that first sip, the aroma dilutes. You’ve now engaged two other senses in experiencing the spirit so you nasal stimuli can no longer dominate your sensory experience. So take your time. Put your nose deep down in the glass and enjoy the aromas. Savor that.