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.
If you're lucky enough to find a bottle of Kawabe in New York, grab it and enjoy. It's been consistently out of stock at every liquor store and izakaya that carries it due to unexpected demand thanks to capturing the attention of several prominent izakaya bartenders and their customers. Some bar have resorted to shipping cases from California to assure uninterrupted supply.
Hee no Tori, the "Firebird", has been sitting on my shelf for almost a year. This bottle is likely the only bottle I'll ever have since it's not imported to the US and was made as an experiment by a sake brewery from a non-shochu making region of Japan. As a testament to how popular shochu has become, many sake breweries have been doing this.
Jidai Kurahachi, with its lovely rice paper label, is an uncompromising rice shochu, foregoing the smooth light taste that many kome shochu strive for while attempting to deliver a robust, rich taste using black koji and clay pot aging. It was worth the effort.
There are not many junmai kuma-shochus available in the U.S. market. These are shochus made with polished Japanese rice, the same polishing process used in sake (nihon-shu) production. "Junmai" refers to rice that's been polished at least 70% (30% of the outer grain removed). Hakutake Shiro is made with rice polished to 60%. Only kome shochus produced in the Kuma River Valley can be designated as "kuma-shochu".
Beniotome claims to be the only spirit in the world distilled from sesame seeds. This is probably true, because, of course, sesame seeds don't hold a lot of sugar. Fortunately for us, the seeds are not the primary distillate - barley and rice in the mash provide the sugars (and alcohol) while the roasted sesame seeds provide a completely unique drinking experience.