Honkaku Spirits this summer announced the U.S. launch of its shochu portfolio, which highlights the spectrum of Japan’s traditional koji-fermented spirit. With SRPs ranging from $34.99 – $99.99/750mL, the portfolio is distributed by Winebow, a national leading distributor of fine wine and spirits, and is currently available for sale in fifteen states: NY, NJ, CT, PA, DC, DE, MD, SC, GA, FL, IL, WI, MN, CA, and WA.
“Earlier this year we began supporting Honkaku Spirits’ first product in the U.S., Takamine koji-fermented whiskey, which has already exceeded sales projections,” said Richard Driscoll, executive vice president of Spirits at Winebow, in a press release. “We are delighted to now offer the first part of Honkaku’s shochu portfolio. Honkaku — which means ‘authentic’ — shochu is an unknown category to the U.S., and our sales team is thrilled to support these complex, artisanal products. We have written first-in-category distributor support education, much like we pioneered with agave spirits, and look forward to a strong market response. The wine crowd will love them; they are fabulous on their own, and they make incredible cocktails, too.”
The first shipment of the shochu portfolio features distilleries that honor Japan’s process of koji fermentation, a tradition that has been used to make shochu, sake, miso, and other umami-driven Japanese specialties for more than 1,200 years. These small, family-run distilleries use traditional methods to create layered, aromatic, flavorful shochu. This first shipment includes shochu made from rice, barley, sweet potato, and kokuto sugar (a traditional dark sugar from the southern islands of Japan).
The portfolio currently offers three product lines:
The Obi Collection – Named for the traditional silk kimono belt, this collection debuts with five shochu made in Kyushu by female producers. Three of the expressions come from Furusawa Distillery, a 5th generation-owned distillery established in 1892 and overseen by master brewer-distiller and distillery president Ms. Masako Furusawa since 2007:
- Motoko (35% ABV); SRP: $48.99/750mL – This 100% rice shochu is distilled at normal atmospheric pressure to heighten its aromas, and then aged more than 8 years in ceramic pots and enamel tanks.
- Masako (35% ABV); SRP: $46.99/750mL – This atmospheric distilled 100% barley shochu was aged for more than 11 years, including time spent in ceramic pots and enamel tanks.
- Mahoko (35% ABV); SRP: $64.99/750mL – This atmospheric distilled sweet potato shochu was aged for more than 16 years, including time spent in ceramic pots and enamel tanks. This was made by Masako’s father to celebrate the birth of his granddaughter, Mahoko.
The two other expressions from the Obi Collection are from Nishihira Distillery on Amami Island. Established in 1927, the distillery makes ceramic pot fermented kokuto sugar shochu under the watch of master brewer-distiller Ms. Serena Nishihira, who is also a professional musician:
- Selephant (30% ABV); SRP $59.99/750mL: With a name inspired by Serena’s childhood nickname, the label of this export-only shochu features a photograph of her own hand to symbolize shochu’s handmade nature.
- Kana (30% ABV); SRP $67.99/750mL: Aged in oak for at least 1 year, this shochu is named after Kana, wife of Saigo Takamori, Japan’s last true samurai.
The Honkaku Harvest Reserve Collection exclusively features distilleries that either grow their own produce or work with local farmers to assure the highest quality ingredients. Like wine, the shochu featured in the collection are vintage dated. Poised for future growth, this portfolio currently features two shochu from Yachiyoden Distillery. Based in Japan’s Tarumizu region on the east side of the Sakurajima volcano, the distillery takes advantage of the area’s famous soil to grow the sweet potatoes used to make:
- Crio “Frozen Moon” 2020 (25% ABV); SRP: $99.99/750mL: This shochu is made exclusively with hand-harvested, site-grown sweet potatoes that have been frozen, resulting in a sweeter shochu expression. This expression is extremely limited even in Japan, where it is often sold at auction on the secondary market.
- Tsurushi “Floating Moon” 2020 (25% ABV); SRP: $99.99/750mL: This shochu exclusively features hand-harvested, site-grown sweet potatoes hung to dry in the distillery rafters prior to fermentation. Like Crio, this extremely limited expression is often sold at auction on the secondary market in Japan.
The “C&S Select” Collection will comprise many shochu. The first shipment includes two selections. The first is from Shoro Distillery; established in 1928, the distillery’s current master brewer-distiller — Mr. Hiroaki Yano — uses forward-thinking products and packaging to defy expectations commonly built around traditional shochu.
- Colorful (30% ABV); SRP: $54.99/750mL: A collaboration between Hiroaki and another of his master brewer-distillers, Mr. Koji Okayama, this is a blend of two distillates made three years apart (2016 and 2019) from locally grown sweet potatoes, with a Thai rice starter fermentation.
The second expression in the “C&S Select” Collection comes from Tensei Distillery. Established in 1901, this distillery uses the softest strike water in Kyushu to make their shochu, resulting in rounded, mouthwatering spirits.
- Mugi Hokka (25% ABV); SRP: $34.99/750mL: This shochu is made with 100% heirloom Schooner barley. Eight percent of the barley is roasted, a process that gives the shochu distinct notes of coffee and dark chocolate.