I would not be exaggerating if I said there were chickens clucking in the yard with a 4x4 up on blocks, but this isn't the U.S., this is Japan, so instead there was a decrepit k-truck tucked under a tarp and a lithe cat warming itself in the sun. There was no activity, though I spied a middle aged man through a 2nd floor window of the old home. He quickly turned and disappeared from sight.
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.
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.
The afternoon's work was broken up by a visit to the Tengu Sakura Shuzo, a 5 minute walk from Yamato Zakura. This is another tezukuri (handmade) distillery in Ichiki, but it's a much larger operation, making two to three times more shochu each day and having many more brands. The telltale Tengu (a god-like creature with a long nose) bottle appears throughout Japan in any respectable shochu bar.
I was up at 6am to wash the sweet potatoes – all 900 kg this time. Each basket of imo are put into a washing machine for 90 seconds. The timer will tell you how long it takes for you to load your next basket. When I first started I was hovering around 60 seconds to make the transition – get the washed imo out and put the next basket of dirty imo in. Today I managed to get this down to 45 or so seconds on average and as low as 39 seconds.
I was up at 5am to wash 900 kg of sweet potatoes before taking an early morning train (6:42am departure) to Kirishima in northern Kagoshima. This is an area near where Kumamoto, Miyazaki, and Kagoshima meet. Not far from Hitoyoshi where I visited early in my trip or from Kirishima Shuzo in Miyazaki, this is a shochu haven.