While the origins of distillation in Japan remain shrouded in speculation, there is much that we do know about the history of Japanese shochu.
Kagoshima is the southernmost of the mainland prefectures, located on the south end of Kyushu Island, and about as far as you can get from Tokyo without being in Okinawa. How did this remote place known for Satsuma Imo become so central in the shochu world? Good question. Shochu has a history of about 500 years, so let’s start in the middle.
Until I tasted Kou-Itten (Kohitten on the box) I thought I understood the range of shochu flavors and impressions. Nothing like trying a different style for the first time to turn your entire impressions of the spirit on its head. Koiden is an imo shochu aged in oak barrels a minimum of 500 days.
Kurokame is a surprising imo shochu. Given the relatively modest price and the consistent imo shochu style, we expected another earthy, herbal imo. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – we enjoy imos of all types. This imo is made with “purple” Satsuma sweet potatoes. These potatoes have a robust reddish purple skin, but are a pale yellow inside.
Jinkoo, which means “perfect sky”, is a rich, lush imo shochu that has long been available on Japan Airlines (JAL) flights, at least for business class travelers. Which came first? The name or the JAL contract? This imo is distilled from Satsuma sweet potatoes from the Kagoshima Prefecture at the south end of Kyushu Island (Fukuoka is in the north of the island).