The Kyushu Advantage: Shochu Education for the World (video)

If something is big in Japan, then it’s bound to catch on overseas. Japan’s national cuisine, Washoku, and sushi are regaled internationally, and nihonshu is a given at Japanese restaurants and bars worldwide. Likewise, artists and designers of varied stripes regularly check in on the creativity and quality that is native to Japan.
But one major part of life in Japan has thus far managed to stay put. We’re talking about none other than Kyushu Island’s gift to Japanese culinary culture, honkaku shochu. Shochu is ubiquitous in Japan, outselling nihonshu every year since 2003, yet this 500-year-old traditional spirit is still largely an unknown quantity elsewhere. Enter “The Kyushu Advantage,” an outfit with designs on telling the world about Japan’s national liquor. Through a series of publications and tastings, including a kickoff event featuring 12 Kyushu shochu distilleries at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan on September 23rd, 2016, “The Kyushu Advantage” plans to create opportunities for global enjoyment, knowledge, and appreciation of Japan’s indigenous spirit.

 
OMOYA DISTILLERY/Barley/Nagasaki Prefecture
One of only seven distilleries that makes the WTO-protected geographical indication, Iki Shochu, Omoya Distillery makes barley shochu using the traditional mash ratio of one part rice koji to two parts barley. Located on tiny Iki Island, this distillery brings us a taste of old school distilling. 【WEB】

MUNEMASA DISTILLERY/Barley/Saga Prefecture
Munemasa is a relatively new distillery working closely with local farmers in Arita, Saga Prefecture to create delicious and unique products. In addition to its own delicious rice and barley beverages, Munemasa makes “Mizunomai,” a 35% ABV barley shochu that is currently only available in Canada and the United States. 【WEB】

BENIOTOME DISTILLERY/Sesame/Fukuoka Prefecture
Beniotome Distillery is best known for its sesame shochu and the company has been around in one form or another since 1699. Their shochu distilling operations were formalized in 1978, and the namesake sesame product, “Beniotome,” is a flavorful spirit that strikes a memorable figure in its square green bottle.  【WEB】

NISHIYOSHIDA DISTILLERY/Barley/Fukuoka Prefecture
Established in 1893, Nishiyoshida Distillery has been making barley shochu for generations. Their famous “Tsukushi” line of shochu has devoted fans all over the world thanks to the smooth and balanced flavors enabled by careful blending of five year aged distillate. Enjoy them on the rocks or mixed with soda water.  【WEB】

SANWA SHURUI DISTELLERY/Barley/Oita Prefecture
The most successful barley shochu maker in Oita Prefecture, Sanwa Shurui has been producing the best-selling “iichiko” line of Oita Barley Shochu for nearly 40 years. If you’re looking for a mild and refreshing shochu, look no further than Sanwa Shurui. The company also makes a variety of tasty nihonshu and wine at their various breweries.  【WEB】

TAKAHASHI DISTILLERY/Rice/Kumamoto Prefecture
Takahashi produces the Hakutake line, including the ubiquitous and easy-sipping “Shiro,” all made with the water from the pure subterranean pools beneath the fast-flowing Kuma River in Hitoyoshi City, Kumamoto Prefecture. The company also makes a couple of different liqueur labels (umeshu) that are lovely on the rocks.  【WEB】

KIRISHIMA DISTILLERY/Sweet Potato/Miyazaki Prefecture
“Kuro Kirishima” is currently the best-selling shochu brand in the world, and it’s made in Miyazaki Prefecture by Kirishima Distillery. The Kirishima line of sweet potato shochu has taken the honkaku market by storm over the past decade and now includes other favorites such as “Aka,” “Akane,” and “Shiro Kirishima.”  【WEB】

KYOYA DISTILLERY/Sweet Potato/Miyazaki Prefecture
In business since 1834, Kyoya features a lot of beni potatoes in their shochu and focuses on sourcing the best ingredients possible. Kyoya grows many of its own spuds and works closely with the farmers that supply the rest. It has its eyes firmly fixed on the North American market and presented at “Tales of the Cocktail” this July.  【WEB】

HOMBO TSUNUKI DISTILLERY/Sweet Potato/Kagoshima Prefecture
Nestled in the mountains of sweet potato country, Hombo makes several award-winning shochu brands. The special thing about the Tsunuki Distillery is that they also make whiskey (and soon gin, too). Dating from the late 1870s, Hombo makes a variety of smooth and expressive alcoholic beverages that are available all across the country.  【WEB】

OKUCHI DISTILLERY/Sweet Potato/Kagoshima Prefecture
Situated just a stone’s throw from Kōriyama Hachiman Shrine, home of the earliest known written reference to “shochu,” Okuchi maintains the sweet potato tradition created by the 11 small distilleries that merged in 1970. Its flagship shochu, “Kuro Isanishiki,” is the best-selling sweet potato shochu in Kagoshima City.  【WEB】

TAIKAI DISTILLERY/Sweet Potato/Kagoshima Prefecture
The product of nine distilleries which merged in the 1970s, Taikai’s easy-sipping “Umi” has helped attract many new people to the sweet potato category. Taikai has focused its product creation and marketing efforts on women for more than a decade, and in 2012 the distillery’s shochu was served alongside the Paris Haute Couture Collection in France.  【WEB】

TENSEI DISTILLERY/Sweet Potato/Kagoshima Prefecture
This small but prolific distillery in eastern Kagoshima Prefecture loves to chart new territory when creating its brands. Tensei isn’t afraid to experiment with unorthodox mash practices or limit how much of the “hearts” of the distillation run they use in their final product, as in their wonderfully balanced “Hayatare.”  【WEB】