Nakanaka is the main brand of barley shochu from the very well respected Kuroki Honten in Miyzaki, which makes a wide range of delicious shochu across two different distilleries, but under the same ownership. Their premium barley shochu, Hyakunen no Kodoku, a 40% ABV barrel aged barley shochu, is arguably the most famous barley shochu in Japan. Nakanaka takes a more straightforward approach with atmospheric distillation and 100% barley.
On Monday, November 23, 2015, I had the distinct pleasure of appearing on the Japan Eats radio show with host Akiko Katayama on the Heritage Radio Network. If you're not familiar with Akiko's show, it's a beautiful exploration of Japanese food and beverage in an easily accessible format through interview with local New York chefs, restaurant owners, and experts in a variety of areas.
Taiso, a relative newcomer to the US market, is a traditional barley shochu in the Iki Island style. Iki shochu is always made with a 2:1 ratio of barley to rice koji.
Tsukushi Kuro is one of four barley shochus available in the U.S. from Nishi Yoshida Shuzo, a premium barley shochu maker from Fukuoka. All of their U.S. products are made with barley koji, resulting in a 100% barley shcohu. Typically, barley shochus such as iichiko or Yufuin, take a light, clean approach to their shochus usually using white rice koji and low pressure distillation.
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.
Arriving under threat of rain (June is rainy season in Japan), but not typhoon conditions, the first stop in Iki was the smallest distillery in Iki, Omoya Shuzo. Just 11 shochu producers currently exist in Iki and Omoya-san is the only tezukuri (handmade) distillery left on the island. Due to the demand for the light, clean flavors and aromas of barley shochu throughout Japan, handmade production is not always possible.