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.
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."
Kuratake surprised me as soon as I opened the bottle. The rich sweet potato aroma and flavor I expect from imo shochus is largely absent from this spirit until you pay attention. It's got a subtle presence, but not the overwhelming sensation you'll get from a traditional Kagoshima style black koji imo shochu like Shiranami Kuro. This shochu takes the experience in a completely different direction.