Brand: Tsukushi Kuro
Distillery: Nishi Yoshida Shuzo Co, Ltd.
Location: Fukuoka Prefecture, Kyushu Island, Japan
Grain: Australian barley (mugi)
Distillation: atmospheric (joatsu)
Alcohol: 25% (50 proof)
Tsukushi Kuro is one of four barley shochu available in the U.S. from Nishi Yoshida Shuzo, a premium barley shochu maker from Fukuoka. All of their U.S. products are made with barley koji, resulting in a 100% barley shcohu. Typically, barley shochus such as iichiko or Yufuin, take a light, clean approach using white rice koji and low pressure distillation. The lightest of Nishi Yoshida’s U.S. products, Tsukushi Shiro, takes this low pressure approach, but still manages a much richer flavor profile than other barley shochu thanks to the barley koji. Tsukushi Kuro takes this a step further by using atmospheric distillation. Often “shiro” (white) or “kuro” (black) denote the koji type to distinguish brands such as Ginza no Suzume Shiro and Kuro, but in this case, the color more denotes the richness of the blend with white reflecting “light and clean” and black conveying “rich and deep”.
The result is a rich, flavorful shochu with faint roasted aromas and a warm mouthfeel. The sweetness maintains throughout the sip, but the roasted flavor lingers. Unlike roasted grain shochus such as Nisho Yoshida’s Kintaro or the roasted soba Towari, Tsukushi Kuro has more of an essence or hint or roastedness.
The Verdict: Highly Recommended
Tsukushi Kuro is unique among barley shochu available in the U.S., sitting between the light, clean versions and the rich, earthy versions at the other end of the spectrum such as Yamanomori or Nishi Yoshida’s own Ark Jakuunbaku (not yet reviewed). As a result, Tsukushi Kuro can be paired with lighter foods or richer foods, but where it shines is with foods native to the Fukuoka region from where it is made. Gyoza, pork-based “tonkotsu” ramen, “motsu nabe” (pork intestine stew), and other rich, meaty foods. I personally prefer Tsukushi Kuro on the rocks, partly so the coolness of the shochu can balance the hot broth or sizzling gyoza, but, as always, you should find our own preference for drinking style.