Brand: Hee no Tori
Distillery: Yujyo Shuzo Co, Ltd.
Location: Nara Prefecture, Honshu, Japan
Grain: rice (kome)
Distillation: atmospheric (joatsu)
Alcohol: 25% (50 proof)
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. The trick for them is to find a market. In Japan, many Japanese still think of shochu as only made from sweet potato so these rice shochus face an uphill battle for market share and brand recognition. A shochu like Hee no Tori most likely ends up as a local product, only available in the community near the distillery.
Fortunately for me, I was able to acquire a bottle and have spent the past year exploring this unique shochu. The aroma is rich and inviting. The taste starts with a sweet yet grassy introduction followed by a sharp crisp difficult t0 describe middle, and a long dry finish as you’ll find with many rice shochus.
Hee no Tori may never see our shores. Only one sake brewer has successfully made the shift to shochu producer for export. However, Kitaya Shuzo has had the advantage of being around many other shochu producers in Fukuoka Prefecture. On the other hand, Hee no Tori comes from Nara Prefecture, which is not known for shochu. In fact, very few of the popular brands come from Honshu, Japan’s main island. Nevertheless, if you find yourself in Nara and find a bottle of Hee no Tori, and help me describe that middle taste.