Being a WSET educator, I was invited in January 2020 to Japan, to fully Japanese spirit where they are actually made. Before this I didn’t really have much experience but like everyone else on the trip, it has had a profound effect on me. Here I saw great tradition and innovation intertwined. The distilleries were varied in both style and scale, but all run by passionate people and I came away with a desire to inform others of what I had witnessed.
Awamori and Shochu are diverse spirits. Shochu specifically has many raw materials, with both having several different styles and lots of different flavours. Being made through a koji process, it is different to the spirits of Europe and the Americas, but the aromas are still familiar and the spirits are mostly not too challenging in flavour. I believe it has great potential in bars and restaurants when served with food, especially Awamori. Being so diverse, not having a single expression is problematic, so I believe more needs to be done to help export markets, particularly with Shochu, to identify the raw material. Also many bottles are very difficult to understand from English speakers, when they are almost entirely in the traditional kanji. A mixture of the two, for example with Yamazaki whisky, is much clearer for us but retains the desirable Japanese aesthetic.
There is a big appetite for Japanese alcohol products, particularly in the UK, which has seen a huge rise in sales of Japanese whisky and latterly gin. These categories are familiar to our audiences though, so I feel Awamori and Shochu have not yet been able to fully capitalise on this and as such are still unknown to many. I do feel that the potential is certainly there, it just needs to find a presence, similar to Mezcal a few years ago, with the best way for exposure I feel being through bars. Creating a demand in this area will lead to increased sales through wholesalers and finally retailers.
Richard Legg / WSET educator