Discovering Shochu: Episode 9 – Awamori & Kokuto Shochu

Awamori shochu of Okinawa is the oldest form of distilled liquor in Japan, and is known to be the origin of shochu. Among all shochu, Awamori is rather unique.  It uses Thai-harvested long grain rice, and through adding black koji, it converts the entire ingredient base into an all-koji base.  Furthermore, Awamori goes through a unique method of aging called “shitsugi”, which develops its signature characteristics with deep aroma and flavor.


As for Kokuto shochu, the base utilizes fresh sugarcanes harvested from Amami Island that results in its distinctive rich aroma and elegant sweetness.  Some breweries take the extra step of processing molasses into brown sugar before brewing.  Both Awamori and Kokuto shochu are tropical brewed liquors that suit paring with a wide range of foods.


Characteristics & Varieties of Awamori


Thai rice, the raw ingredient in Awamori is the Indica strain.  It’s ideal for sake making due to its low levels of water, starch and protein.  The whole Thai rice comes in an enlongated and slender form, however, broken rice is used because (1) it has better water absorption, and (2) it promotes better propagation of koji due to its larger exposed surface area, both of which helps stabilize the brewing process.

Okinawa has year-round humidity in high-temperature conditions.  Awamori utilizes black koji to produce an extremely acidic moromi, which becomes highly resistant to deterioration and contamination.  This is especially important for being produced in such a warm climatic environment where quality control is more difficult than in colder surroundings.  In addition, black koji adds a flavor that’s distinctly Awamori.

What is “shitsugi” aging method?


Shitsugi refers to a fraction blending technique applied to making aged shochu called kuus.  Jars containing shochu are arranged in chronological order according to their age, and as portions of the older brew are tapped for bottling, that jar is filled with the contents from the next succeeding jar in a “flavor-tempering” method.  This technique is base for the uniquely rich aroma associated to Awamori.


Flavor Styles & Recommendations


  1. Light & Refreshing (new sake):

Refreshing with sweet aroma and dry mouth feel.  Easy to drink.  Best enjoyed on the rocks or mixed with water.  Pairs well with wide range of foods and can be enjoyed before, during and after meals.  Great for Shochu beginners.


  1. Savoy & Full-body (old sake):

This has aroma of grains, nuts, mushrooms, spices and Moromi, with a well-balanced bitter taste and sweet taste. Can be enjoyed on the rocks, straight or mixed with hot water.


Awamori Shochu Food Pairing Picks


1) Compliments grilled, boiled and deep fried dishes.

2) Pairs well with sweet, bitter and savory flavored dishes.

3) Can stand up to densely seasoned and rich flavored dishes.

4) Great with tuna fish, pork and dark meat chicken.

5) Compliments Okinawan cuisine, Soki and Chanpurū.


Characteristics of Kokuto Shochu


  • Shochu made with sugarcane harvested in Amami Island.
  • Also called “shima zake” or “island sake” by the locals.  Gorgeously sweet aroma with full, well-rounded flavor.
  • Must strictly follow 3 guidelines:

(1) use koji, (2) use sugarcane grown and harvested in Amami Island, and (3) brewing limited within Amami Island.

Flavor Styles & Recommendations


  1. Sweet & Gorgeous:

Sweet and brisk aroma of sugarcane, quite similar to rum.  Can be enjoyed on the rocks or mixed with water.  Recommended for novice shochu drinkers or those who prefer sweet cocktails.  Pairs well with western cuisines.


  1. Savory & Full-Body:

Kokuto shochu made with a high proportion of rice koji, aged sugar cane, and through atmospheric distillation belong to this type.  Carries dense aroma and flavor of grilled apple, caramel sauce and honey. Best enjoyed on the rocks, straight or mixed with warm water. Pairs wells with stewed pork and spicy dishes.


Kokuto Shochu Food Pairing Picks


1) Compliments grilled, boiled and deep fried dishes.

2) Delicious with sweet, bitter and savory flavored dishes.

3) Pairs well with condiments such as sweet soy sauce.

4) Excellent when paired with dishes using brown sugar.

5) Highlights the natural sweetness and flavor of shrimp and crab.

6) Excellent when paired with Tori Meshi, a chicken rice dishes famous in Amami Island.