For the second year in a row, Zipangu partnered with several enthusiastic Kyushu distilleries to host a shochu tasting at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan in Tokyo’s Yurakucho District. The event served as a chance for some of Kyushu’s finest and most influential distilleries to communicate directly with the foreign-language press and non-Japanese residents of the capital city.
The FCCJ: an Exclusive Setting for an Evening of Good Food and Great Spirits
One of the oldest press clubs in the world, the FCCJ was born in 1945 and has continued to play a crucial role as a hub for both domestic and international journalism. This was especially true in 1995 when journalists flew in to Tokyo from all over the globe to cover the Great Hanshin Earthquake and sarin gas attacks, and again in 2011 after TEPCO’s nuclear power plants in Fukushima melted down following the giant earthquake and tsunami in March of that year.
FCCJ members enjoy a number of benefits including an event calendar packed with entertaining and artistic events in addition to having access to visiting celebrities, dignitaries, and thought leaders from Japan and overseas. Anchoring the weekend on September 22nd, 2017 was an event titled “The Best of Kyushu Shochu” hosted by Zipangu and emceed by Tokyo-based shochu expert, Christopher Pellegrini. The evening featured a catered buffet-style meal in the middle of a large banquet hall ringed by 10 tables. Those 10 tables functioned as the pouring stations for the participating Kyushu shochu distilleries, as well as meeting points for the makers and drinkers of Japan’s indigenous spirits.
Shochu as “Shokuchushu”
When looking at whether or not the people in a given country are open to drinking a spirit with their meals, rather obvious cultural and regional differences come into focus. Nations like South Korea and China have their own spirits that are often consumed with dinner, so selling the idea of Japanese shochu as “shokuchushu,” or a drink to have with food, is relatively easy. Switch the conversation to North America, however, and beer or wine is the tipple of choice. Spirits and liqueurs are generally reserved for cocktails before dinner, or digestifs afterwards.
Enter Marc Matsumoto, an accomplished chef and the featured guest at the FCCJ shochu event on September 22nd. Matsumoto has been toying with international culinary traditions for years and is adept at improving upon classic recipes. This creativity extends to cocktails as well, and he sees a Kyushu-sized opening for shochu and awamori to assert themselves in the world of cocktail mixing. He also sees no reason why Japan’s spirits can’t become a viable mealtime option, especially since the drink is so frequently cut with water or soda.
Helping to prove Matsumoto right were the Kyushu distilleries that provided several types of shochu to go along with the catered meal. Nishiyoshida Distillery from Fukuoka Prefecture and Sanwa Shurui Distillery from Oita Prefecture brought along several brands of barley shochu which Matsumoto says go well with vegetable dishes and chicken. Fukuoka Prefecture’s Beniotome Distillery is famous for its sesame shochu, a drink that complements noodle dishes such as soupless ramen. Takahashi Distillery from Kumamoto Prefecture presented several brands of its rice shochu, a type that Matsumoto urges people to try alongside rice dishes, pasta with cream sauce, and seafood.
Last but not least, there was a large contingent of sweet potato shochu makers from Miyazaki and Kagoshima Prefectures. Okuchi, Hamada, Hombo, and Taikai Distilleries, all Kagoshima stalwarts, were joined by Kyoya and Kirishima Distilleries from Miyazaki, and all six brought multiple brands of their shochu products. Chef Matsumoto recommends sweet potato shochu with fatty meats, spicy dishes, and even dessert. Two of the distilleries were also kind enough to bring along some after-dinner drinks as well. Kyoya and Hombo both poured their new gin products which were released earlier in 2017, and the latter also exhibited some of its MARS brand whiskey for guests to sample.
More than just a Shochu Tasting
The event also proved to be educational for those in attendance. Pellegrini and Matsumoto kicked the event off by introducing the 10 distilleries and talking about shochu’s potential overseas. Guests were also challenged to win a prize by guessing shochu types correctly in a blind tasting. But most importantly, those in attendance were able to interact and ask questions of the good people that make Japan’s best-selling spirits.
This also served as a useful barometer for distillery personnel who were able to witness firsthand how non-Japanese residents react to their products and talking points. Such opportunities are rare within Japan and almost non-existent abroad, so hopefully the FCCJ event helped to inspire increased outreach on the part of the distilleries moving forward.
The event concluded with a lottery for bottles of shochu and other industryrelated gifts which saw several guests leave with bags filled with gifts. Guests who had posted to social media using the #shochunight hashtag were also rewarded for helping to spread the word about the featured distilleries and the delicious drinks that they brought with them from Kyushu. By combining the efforts of the distilleries and various regional shochu associations it is hoped that similar events will take place around the world in the near future.