People have often asked me if I hope to make my own shochu brand in the U.S. Truth is, the idea never crossed my mind until people started asking and even after that I had no such interest. I’m fascinated by shochu and love to experience the process, but I have no illusions that I could make a shochu in the U.S. that would approach the quality and complexity of what’s available from Japan already. Fortunately, not all Americans think the same way, which brings us to Sodo Spirits.
Enter KC Sheehan, a strapping gen-Xer who has decided to go into the shochu business in Washington State’s booming craft distillery industry. KC admits he had no particular love for shochu over other spirits when he began the process, but was enticed by the idea of making America’s first shochu and making it using traditional Japanese distilling processes. He and his wife opened a 2 “man” operation, Sodo Spirits, in an industrial park near the Seattle Mariners’ Safeco Field.
Using all Washington state local ingredients save koji imported from Japan and ginger from warmer climes, Mr. and Mrs. Sheehan have begun making small batch, hand-crafted barley shochu in a beautiful copper still. To save on man power and elbow grease the still is elevated on a platform above the distillery floor to make cleaning easier, letting gravity do much of the work.
Quickly realizing that shochu is a completely unrecognized class of spirits in the U.S., Sodo Spirits established the Even Star brand intended to provide flavored shochu cocktail mixers rather than traditional barley shochu. The main brand is made with fresh rosemary from the Sheehan’s garden, which is added to the still just before distillation. The resulting product is almost a shochu genever (herbed distillate from the Netherlands). Quite flavorful and aromatic on its own or on the rocks, but adding an interesting depth to any cocktail.
Realizing this 25% ABV shochu may be a little light for an American cocktail drinker’s palate, subsequent varieties have bumped up the alcohol to 30%. Ginger, chile, and mint flavored shochus are now also available. The mint is also grown in the Sheehan’s garden. It would be hard to pick a favorite among these 3 as they’re all so different. The mint has a minty nose, but mild flavor. The ginger is strongly scented and flavored. The chile pepper hits the nose with force, but gives just the barest hint of chiles in the finish without the heat you might get from a chile infused shochu. The unique distillation process, which avoids infusion, results in these interesting combinations.
Mr. Sheehan was kind enough to let me try a sample of their barley shochu without the rosemary or other added ingredients and it tastes every bit the part of a classic barley shochu in the spirit of Tenpai. It didn’t have the richness or depth of a Yamanomori, or the clean crisp flavor of iichiko, but all in all it was a nice example of the style given the fact that it’s being produced by Americans in urban Seattle.
If you have a chance to visit Seattle, the distillery is definitely worth the time. Distillery tours are conducted daily noon to 4pm on the hour. To schedule, send KC an email at email@example.com. Address is 2228 Occidental Avenue South, Seattle, WA, 98134.