Brand: The SG Shochu KOME
[Editor’s note: The all-caps ‘KOME’ indicates the importance and quality of the main ingredients.]
Distillery: Takahashi Distillery
Location: Hitoyoshi, Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan
Ingredients: Japanese rice (kome)
Koji: white (shiro) rice
Alcohol: 40% (80 proof)
The SG Shochu KOME is the brainchild of Shingo Gokan and Joshin Atone, who recently opened The SG Club in Tokyo. Shochu has long had a hard time making inroads into cocktails in the west due to the traditionally low alcohol percentage. The SG Shochu seeks to change that perception with their new line of high proof shochu which includes a sweet potato shochu and a barley shochu as well.
The packaging is striking and fits beautifully with the resolutely traditional early 20th century motif of seemingly all of Shingo Gokan’s projects. The apothecary bottle coupled with a label reminiscent of the inner workings of a clock speak to the traditional craftsmanship behind the entire project.
While Takahashi Distillery in Kumamoto is the largest rice shochu producer in Japan, accounting for a full half of all domestic rice shochu sales, they only make authentic honkaku shochu with koji ferments and pot distillation. They have just worked out how to do it at scale.
Their most popular brand, Hakutake Shiro, is an easy drinking vacuum distilled rice shochu, but you should not mistake The SG Shochu KOME as simply a higher proof version. Rather, Shingo, Joshin, and the team at Takahashi created a proprietary formula that expresses itself exquisitely.
Tasting Notes for The SG Shochu KOME
Putting your nose in a glass of The SG Shochu KOME shows you just how complex a vacuum distilled rice shochu can be. Ginjo sake aromas from the yeast, pineapple, melon, and a faint hint of dairy-like lactic acidity are all present. That is a lot of complexity for something made this way.
While the nose would suggest something dry and crisp, it is surprisingly sweet on the palate with tropical fruit flavors, a bit of star anise from the ginjo yeast, and a slightly lactic finish. A very interesting experience when tried straight.
When moving to on-the-rocks, we recommend one of those classic Japanese admonitions to stir the drink 14.5 times to allow for the ice to melt and mix a little water into the spirit. Without this trick, the first impression is alcohol forward and a touch bitter. However, if you stir as instructed, you will end up with a bitter-free mellow, sweet, lactic sipper.
As seems to be the case with a lot of shochu we have reviewed recently, where this really shines is with soda. As a highball (perhaps 2.5 parts shochu to 7.5 parts soda), you get bright citric flavors almost like a light (read: less sugary) gin sonic.
The Verdict: Highly Recommended
I am personally a big fan of vacuum distilled shochu, especially when you want something light and refreshing. These shochu styles are perfect for the summer heat and go so well with sparkling water to make a very low calorie highball. While I have not done a rigorous scientific evaluation of the hangover risk between atmospheric and vacuum distilled shochu, I have a feeling vacuum is less hangover prone. On a hot summer afternoon, hand me a buck of ice, a bottle of soda, and The SG Shochu KOME.