says Yoshiyuki Omure, Taikai Shuzo’s toji, the master distiller

There is a unique sweet potato shochu distillery in Kanoya city of Kagoshima prefecture. Nearly 50 years ago, in 1967, 9 local distilleries banded together and created Taikai Shuzo. Presently, it is a manufacturing company, but also has an associated Taikai sales company. The shochu the company makes, “Umi,” is targeted towards women, and has become a hot topic since it became a hit.

In order to see how sweet potato shochu is made from beginning to end, I visited the Taikai Shuzo in Kanoya city, located in the central part of Osumi peninsula, opposite the Satsuma peninsula of Kagoshima city. The person who came to greet me was none other than toji, the master distiller and company director, Yoshiyuki Omure. Taikai Shuzo currently employs 37 people, and produces 7,000 koku (1,260,000 liters) of sweet potato shochu per year.

“To make sweet potato shochu, you need to make the rice mould, make the main fermenting mash, and then distil it. Our company takes the utmost care in each of these three steps,” Omure said to get the ball rolling. The rice mould is made with koji mould and rice that is treated with enzymes to change the starch into sugars. On top of that, to keep the main fermenting mash from spoiling, it is important to have it produce citric acid. First, the main fermenting mash is prepared by allowing yeast to grow using the Koji mould starch for nutrition; afterwards the yeast will make that into alcohol. In order for the yeast to make alcohol, heat and a specific environment is necessary. Distillation is the step in which the alcohol made by the main fermenting mash is collected; the product of this step is refined the raw shouchu. The refined shouchu preserves and ripens over time, which creates a variety of flavors and aromas.

“Sweet potato shochu distilleries require temperature regulation even at night, so I sleep at the factory in order to maintain the best environment for brewing. Last year we switched from waiting for the yeast heat up on its own to the right temperature to controlling the heat of the yeast. Due to this, the body of the shochu is fuller, which is valued at shochu competitive shows,” Omure explained.

“Our distillery has many machines, but the most important part of the process is the people. As the chief distiller, I believe that having a circle of professional people who individually have the desire to create good shochu is the most important thing to ensure success.” Yoshiyuki Omure finished.