The floods in the Hitoyoshi region are believed to have killed more than 50 people and damaged or destroyed thousands of homes and businesses. This is deeply personal to us a www.kanpai.us since we count several Hitoyoshi shochu makers as our friends. The damage has spread further over the past week as Kyushu floods continue around the region.
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.
We drove about 45 minutes on rural roads to Toyonaga Shuzo, which makes Toyonaga, available in the US market. This was the first rice shochu that made me realize what kumajochu was. It's dry, crisp, and has surprising character for something so clean. Toyonaga-san was very glad to meet us and once he learned I liked joatsu muroka shochus he broke out a bottle of Jigaden, which immediately set a new standard for what a rice shochu could be.
Waking up at 7:30am for an 8am pick-up left us with no time for breakfast before our drive to Kumamoto's Hitoyoshi, home of 28 rice shochu distillers that collectively make "kumajochu", the WTO Appellation of Origin that can only be given to rice shochus that are made with local spring water and that are fermented, distilled, and bottled in the Hitoyoshi area.