WSET Edcators' Kagoshima Honkaku Shochu Visit Report
In January 2020, 10 educators came to Japan to teach at the Spirits Course offered by WSET. Their destination was Kagoshima, which is located on the island of Kyushu. It is the Land of shochu that boasts over 100 breweries and over 2,000 brands of Honkaku shochu.
Their objective was to get a clear understanding of the potential of the Honkaku shochu being produced in this region. Not only did they inspect the factories where the sake brewing companies of Kagoshima prefecture carry out the process of distillation, they also traveled to the Amami Islands to observe the fields where millet, one of the ingredients of shochu, is cultivated.
Shochu, which is a type of alcohol that is unique to Japan, is produced using koji. All of the WSET educators agreed that they were repeatedly amazed during their stay by this type of alcohol, which has a completely different background from the distilled spirits that are part of European and American culture.
Even within the category of authentic shochu, there are a wide variety of ingredients used, such as potatoes, rice, barley, brown sugar, buckwheat, and millet, which is used to make awamori. Another element that apparently deviated from European and American customs is the fact that this type of alcohol allows you to enjoy a rich taste, as these ingredients are used liberally. For people who are used to drinking shochu, it is not surprising for a single category of alcohol to have such a wide range of flavors, but the instructors said that they took in this fact with amazement and joy.
Also, regardless of which ingredients are used, there is an insistence on avoiding the use of additives, as the focus for shochu is firmly rooted in the enjoyment of its flavors. This is an important factor that supports the idea that “shochu is the only distilled spirit in the world that can be enjoyed with a meal.”
The relationship between food and shochu, in which they complement each other without getting in the way of each other, is considered to be an important characteristic for the spread of shochu across the globe that represents latent potential in a variety of ways.
Although Japanese food has long been popular, some consider Japanese alcohol to still be underdeveloped. Given these circumstances, some educators showed their desire to conduct research on sake and food pairings and how they match with each other.
Finally, it is also worth mentioning that Honkaku shochu has a relatively low alcohol content that is no more than 45%, despite the fact that distilled spirits tend to have high alcohol content. Furthermore, the drinker can adjust the flavor or alcohol content of their drink to their taste by mixing the shochu with other drinks, such as cold or hot water.
Being able to drink diluted shochu is another fact that would be unthinkable for European and American distilled spirits, which would lose their flavor when diluted. Honkaku shochu is still delicious when diluted, as the point is to enjoy the natural flavors of its ingredients.
The educators marveled at the significant potential of shochu, which they had not known about before and apparently started discussions in earnest about how to share its flavors with the world.
“The number of European and American people who are familiar with shochu is extremely low. Anybody would surely be interested in shochu if they learn about its truly unique production process, and its story. I am confident that many students will enjoy it.”
Honkaku shochu has high quality, individuality, and unparalleled potential. Perhaps shochu has the potential to shatter common beliefs regarding distilled spirits.