Unique to the US market, Shima Senryo is a blend of white koji and black koji sweet potato shochu. While this blending style can be found more commonly in Japan, this is the only brand currently in the US that uses this unique approach. Blending has an interesting, but incompletely understood history in shochu production, but more and more distilleries are blending intentionally rather than as a way to cover up some off batches.
Taiso, a relative newcomer to the US market, is a traditional barley shochu in the Iki Island style. Iki shochu is always made with a 2:1 ratio of barley to rice koji.
Arriving under threat of rain (June is rainy season in Japan), but not typhoon conditions, the first stop in Iki was the smallest distillery in Iki, Omoya Shuzo. Just 11 shochu producers currently exist in Iki and Omoya-san is the only tezukuri (handmade) distillery left on the island. Due to the demand for the light, clean flavors and aromas of barley shochu throughout Japan, handmade production is not always possible.
Yamanomori is as old school as they come among shochus imported to the U.S. Made using the traditional atmospheric (unpressurized) pot still, black koji to impart a rich earthy undertone, little if any filtration, and the very traditional 2:1 ratio of barley to rice, Yamanomori is a taste from the past. Much richer, bolder, and more exotic than most any other barley shochu that comes to our shores, Yamanomori is unapologetically an "old man's" (oji-san) shochu.
Kagura no Mai, with its plain black and white label with abstract drawings of village life, doesn't shout from you off the shelf. Nor does is grab you out of the glass. It's light and clean with the forward aromas of sake yeast. This leads me to believe it's a low pressure distillate and that the distillery has chosen to use a traditional sake yeast rather than one of the more neutral shochu yeasts.
The name Akamaoh, or Red Devil, coupled with the black label over black bottle would suggest a full bodied sweet potato shochu that would give you the deep funk that Japanese often refer to as "imo kusai" (smelly sweet potatoes). However, Akamaoh, may have a devilish name for a completely different reason. It's so easy drinking, it's dangerous in a "devil made me do it way."