Brand: The SG Shochu MUGI
[Editor’s note: The all-caps ‘KOME’ indicates the importance and quality of the main ingredients.]
Distillery: Sanwa Shurui
Location: Usa-shi, Oita Prefecture, Japan
Ingredients: barley (mugi), barley koji
Koji: white (shiro) koji
Alcohol: 40% ABV (80 proof)
The SG Shochu MUGI (rhymes with boogie) is the right flank of a brand new Japanese shochu trio when the bottles are placed side-by-side. But even though it’s off to the side, it’s definitely not a sidecar or afterthought to the other brands. The SG Shochu MUGI is a carefully crafted blend of distillates that the good people at Sanwa Shurui labored to get right.
And while barley shochu, much like The SG Shochu KOME (rice), was never going to be as challenging to turn into a cocktail-ready ingredient as The SG Shochu IMO (sweet potato), it’s still a shochu sub-category that is known for relatively understated flavor profiles. But decorated bartender Shingo Gokan hit the right notes with this barley shochu, and the result is a multi-faceted spirit that won’t get lost or overwhelmed by other parts of a cocktail recipe.
If you took a moment to watch the video of Shingo Gokan himself mixing a cocktail with The SG Shochu MUGI, you’ll notice he spent a lot of time talking about the inspiration behind his new three-brand shochu lineup. He wants to help “Japan’s best-kept secret” become a “new classic that’s enjoyed in bars all around the world.” Sound familiar? Yes, this is exactly what we’ve been talking about here at Kanpai.us for the better part of a decade. And while we’re excited about all three brands, we’re particularly smitten with MUGI.
Tasting Notes for The SG Shochu MUGI
One of the distillates blended into The SG Shochu MUGI is cask-aged, so there’s a soft, straw-colored tint to the drink and a little vanilla on the nose. There are some chocolate notes and a readily apparent banana accent along with some woodiness and even a bit of peanut brittle. In short, there’s plenty of sweeter notes to balance the oak.
With a splash of water (choimizu) there was a faint soapiness at first, but more sweetness towards the back. We also noticed an intriguing hint of kasu (sake lees) that played nicely with the vanilla and cherry notes. Poured over ice the drink loses a little bit of depth and focuses more on the flavors enabled by the wood, but mixing The SG Shochu MUGI with sparkling water (shochu 2:3 sparkling) ushered in an almost saline umami quality. At a similar ratio, mixing it oyuwari (hot water) maintains the sweet notes while highlighting the toasty, bready, and nutty characteristics of some of the other distillates blended into The SG Shochu MUGI.
The Verdict: Highly Recommended
This barley shochu somehow captures many of the ingredient’s finer qualities all in one drink, and we really enjoyed sipping it neat. With its layered flavor profile, it’s a refreshing and welcome diversion for those who have grown accustomed to lighter and less character-driven barley shochu brands. But what we’re most excited to see is how bartenders around the world react to it and pair it with complimentary local ingredients. If you’d like some ideas on how to mix it yourself, be sure to check back tomorrow for a few recipes cooked up by The SG Shochu Team using this delicious line of cocktail-inclined products.