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.
Unique to the US market, Shima Senryo is a blend of white koji and black koji sweet potato shochu. While this blending style can be found more commonly in Japan, this is the only brand currently in the US that uses this unique approach. Blending has an interesting, but incompletely understood history in shochu production, but more and more distilleries are blending intentionally rather than as a way to cover up some off batches.
I’m beginning my exploration of “The Thee M’s” with Maou. For those unfamiliar, the 3 M’s are the 3 most famous shochu brands in Japan. They are, Maou, Mori Izo, and Muraou, and I’m going to tackle them in this order.
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.
In the US, Satoh Kuro is simply known as "Satoh" as none of the distillery's other product lines reach our shores. In Japan, their national premium labels are Satoh Kuro (black koji sweet potato, Satoh Shiro (white koji sweet potato), and Satoh Mugi (barley). All are delicious, but only Kuro comes Stateside.
Yamanomori is as old school as they come among shochus imported to the U.S. Made using the traditional atmospheric (unpressurized) pot still, black koji to impart a rich earthy undertone, little if any filtration, and the very traditional 2:1 ratio of barley to rice, Yamanomori is a taste from the past. Much richer, bolder, and more exotic than most any other barley shochu that comes to our shores, Yamanomori is unapologetically an "old man's" (oji-san) shochu.