When I moved to Japan one of my hopes was to start secondary aging Okinawan awamori at home. While it is nearly impossible to source these ceramic pots in the US, it is not that difficult in Japan so long as you are willing to pay. These are typically reserved for long-aged, or kusu awamori (古酒泡盛), which can run hundreds of dollars per liter especially in the traditional decorative ceramic jars, or "kame" (甕).
I arrived in Amami still jet lagged and confused on where to go. My phone wasn't working. I had no place to stay. No English translations to rely on. No idea which bus to catch (there are no trains in Amami).
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.
I've decided to take a pilgrimage. This isn't easy for me since I don't speak much Japanese outside of restaurants and my “real” career is busier than ever, but I booked a trip to Japan this summer. In fact, I'm on Japan Airlines (JAL) flight #5 from JFK to Tokyo Narita as I write this. Planning this trip has been so daunting, I've only been able to tweet about it. I realized on my way to the airport that many of my friends didn't even realize I was going. A text from our graphic designer read, “Hey man, plans today?” I replied, “Heading to Japan.” He replied, “Hot damn. When you back?”
Kumesen was our first Awamori. We'd read about these unique Okinawan spirits and were drawn to the artfully drawn lion-god on the stout bottle. As our first, it still stands up as what we expect from the style, though we've come to learn that Awamori can be as diverse and complex as single malt scotch. There is no one flavor that captures the essence of these full bodied, traditionally distilled spirits.
Kusu, or old spirit, is an Okinawan Awamori aged at least 3 years. According to Japanese law the youngest spirit in the bottle must be at least 3 years old - Awamori producers have a long history of mixing older spirits with younger spirits as the older spirits are consumed.