Brand: The SG Shochu IMO
[Editor’s note: The all-caps ‘KOME’ indicates the importance and quality of the main ingredients.]
Distillery: Satsuma Distillery
Location: Makurazaki, Kagoshima, Japan
Ingredients: sweet potatoes (imo), rice koji
Koji: white (shiro) koji
Alcohol: 38% ABV (76 proof)
The team here at Kanpai is still shocked that imo shochu hasn’t made its way onto more bar and restaurant menus. Given its flavor profile, there’s little (good) reason that it has remained cooped up in Japan. Granted, it is routinely argued that Japan’s most popular shochu style (by volume sold) is largely impervious to mixing–at least in the minds of inexperienced or unadventurous mixologists. Enter world-renowned bartender Shingo Gokan and his preternatural ability to make the time-consuming and complicated come off as manifest and utterly classic.
The SG Shochu IMO is the “middle” label of the trilogy released in early 2020, nestled right in between the KOME (rice) and MUGI (barley) brands. And when you see the three of them lined up side by side, you will understand just how considered this all is. I find myself particularly drawn to the use of the word ‘imo’ in all-caps (and the largest font on the bottle) towards the top of the label. It’s a remarkable and conscious decision that belies immense confidence in the drink’s inherent quality.
Translated literally, ‘imo’ means potato. But since we’re sipping imo shochu, the correct translation is actually sweet potato. And Gokan-san isn’t just preaching to the choir with this (and we must admit that we were incredibly gratified by IMO’s intentional prominence), he is instead inviting the rest of humanity to discover how an unknown 500+-year-old Japanese spirit made from imo is a very different experience from potato-based distillates made elsewhere.
Tasting Notes for The SG Shochu IMO
Nosing The SG Shochu IMO neat, there are clear purple sweet potato notes surrounded by candy corn, butterscotch, and caramel sweetness. For all the imo lovers out there, this brand is a smile-inducing reminder of how diverse the category can be. On the palate, there’s dried fruit (raisin) and spiciness that brings whisk(e)y to mind, before a strong and lasting finish. It’s a little hot going down, so sip slowly.
With a teaspoon of water (choimizu), the purple sweet potato notes take charge, and a similar effect is experienced on the rocks or in a highball. Outside of creating a proper cocktail with The SG Shochu IMO, I loved sipping it oyuwari (hot water mix). The nose becomes bready and develops a vinegared pomegranate accent. The earthy and musty notes play well with the heat, and this was easily my favorite way to drink it.
The Verdict: Highly Recommended
Shingo Gokan and brand manager Joshin Atone have created something that is peerless in its intent and execution. The SG Shochu IMO is a clear invitation to create the classic imo cocktail. If you get it right, it will resonate and cascade around the world until you can’t not have sweet potato shochu on your menu if you consider yourself a proper drinking establishment. As unapologetic and tireless imo enthusiasts, we couldn’t be happier that bartenders now have a formidable new tool in their arsenal to help make imo shochu go global.