Shochu: Japan’s Best Kept Secret
Tuesday, November 14 at 6:30 p.m.
Japan Society – 333 E. 47th Street (between First and Second Avenues)
Admission: $40/$35 Japan Society members (Must be 21 years or older)
New Yorkers are familiar with sake, but did you know that shochu, a distilled spirit, is Japan’s most popular liquor? Learn the fascinating, centuries-long history of shochu, following the journey of sweet potatoes, a common shochu ingredient, from South America through Portugal to Japan, and examining how the spirit transformed from a blue-collar drink to a luxury product at the Japan Society Talks+ Program’s lecture Shochu: Japan’s Best Kept Secret.
Shochu sommelier Stephen Lyman, founder and editor of kampai.us, traces shochu’s history from its humble beginnings in the farms of southern Japan to the award-winning drink celebrated in Japan and around the world today. Lyman will describe which shochu whiskey lovers should try versus rum aficionados, and provide tips on how best to enjoy this unique beverage, culminating in a tasting reception where guests can sample some twenty different varieties of shochu.
With more than 600 distilleries and some 500 years of tradition, shochu is a refreshing hard liquor that is extremely popular in Japan and quickly gaining popularity in the U.S. Unlike the more globally consumed Japanese export sake, which is brewed, shochu is distilled and made from a variety of raw ingredients, including barley, sweet potatoes, rice, or even brown sugar, resulting in a “staggering” range of flavors.
Here are some of the highlights of the shochu that guests will sample:
Kappa No Sasoimizu by Kyoya Shuzo: Mild and deep flavor, made with premium quality ingredients and great distilling process. Ingredients: sweet potato.
Satsuma Tekkan by Ogatama Shuzo: Traditional earthenware-distilled shochu. Tekkan shochu, which is made from selected Satsuma sweet potatoes, is fermented in traditional earthenware pots with two processes: “preliminary preparation” and “secondary preparation.”
Sastuma Godai byYamamoto Shuzo: Produced since the Meiji era, this traditional single-distilled shochu has a delightful smooth, mild, and sweet flavor.
Nadeshiko by Ikinokura Shuzo: “True Beauty” barley shochu is a variation on a 400-year tradition, delivering an authentic depth of distilled barley combined with a sweet flourish of cherry essence. Wonderful as an aperitif or served with fruits and chilled desserts such as sorbet and gelato; also great in mixed drinks.
Iichiko Kurobin by Sanwa Shurui: Soft and pleasant on the palate. Its simple flavor exudes subtly. Iichiko Kurobin is a genuine shochu that harmonizes exquisitely with all-koji raw spirits – the origin of barley koji drinks.
Mizu Saga Barley Shochu by Munemasa Shuzo: Delicate, earthy, lively, delicious. Floral, sake-like aroma with notes of banana bread and fresh grains. Buttery texture. Drinks like a young whisky with hints of ripe melon and vanilla custard.
Tenshi No Yuwaku by Munemasa Shuzo: A highly prized imo shochu aged in sherry barrels and made with premium sweet potatoes and white koji. Tenshi no Yuwaku has a thick and creamy texture and a sophisticated and elegant aroma. Shares brandy and sherry characteristics, while retaining all the richness of a sweet potato genshu.
Satsuma Kuradashi Genshu by Satsuma Shuzo: Satsuma Shuzo is located in the southernmost part of Satsuma Hanto (the Satsuma Peninsula), which is an area of clean water and ideal and fertile soil for growing sweet potatoes. Good ingredients and quality is a priority, and to that aim they do not freeze the potatoes they use.
Mugon by Sengetsu Shuzo: Sengetsu Shuzo’s premium Rice Shochu sleeps in barrels of Kokuji (Evergreen Oak) for over ten years, lending it a peculiar and addictive flavor, a mellow aroma, and an impossibly round character.
Umepon by Takahashi Shuzo: A puckering, refreshing and easy sweetness that could only come from a mixture of Japanese ume (plum) and juice of the dekopon fruit, which is a sweet variety of the mandarin orange. Takahashi Shuzo invites you to enjoy this novel and masterful umeshu.
Kintaro by Nishiyoshida Shuzo: Barley is roasted to perfection before being used to make this rare and special shochu. High aromatics, with an initially sweet, roasted flavor that rises and fades into a dry, grassy bite, with a tail of buttercream and chocolate.
Stephen Lyman first discovered shochu in a Manhattan izakaya and since then he’s made a dozen shochu pilgrimages to Kyushu, visited more than 60 distilleries, and has tried around 2,000 brands. In 2015, he was the first graduate of the Sake School of America’s Shochu Adviser Course. Since 2013 he has worked in a small distillery in Kagoshima Prefecture every fall, now splitting his time between Japan and New York. He’s co-owner of a shochu bar in Kumamoto City and is releasing his own brand of shochu in Japan next spring.
For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit Japan Society’s website.