At the event, held in March 2015, buyers from the US, UK, Israel, China, South Korea, Thailand, and Cambodia met with sake and shochu producers from around Kumamoto. We toured Hitoyoshi, the center of the rice shochu universe. Hitoyoshi is nestled in the valley of the Kuma River, which has been voted the best river in Japan every year for years.
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.
Toyonaga, the "Land of Plenty" shochu, is made by toji Jiro Toyonaga with premium milled Yamada Nishiki rice in the Kuma Valley (aka, Shochu Valley) of Kumamoto Prefecture, which gives it the special designation of being a kumajochu, which is to kome shochu what Champagne is to sparkling wine.