Following a launch year that exceeded expectations, importer Honkaku Spirits—which is devoted exclusively to koji-fermented spirits from Japan including Honkaku (authentic) Shochu, Ryukyu Awamori from Okinawa, and koji whiskey, only from family-run distilleries—is expanding its shochu portfolio, including adding another female toji (master brewer-distiller) as well as its first awamori.
Christopher Pellegrini, founder of Honkaku Spirits and author of The Shochu Handbook, says: “In our first year we expected our koji-fermented whiskey to be the easier sell; we were pleasantly surprised that the shochu actually won the race! From fine bars such as Bar Kumiko in Chicago, to Michelin starred restaurants such as River Café in Brooklyn, to discerning retailers such as Umami Mart in Oakland. The support has been amazing.”
Richard Driscoll, Executive Vice President of Winebow, the leading distributor of the Honkaku Spirits portfolio, adds: “Last year we set out to be a leading distributor of Japanese spirits, and our team dove right in. We’ve been gratified by the tremendous interest in this untapped and extremely interesting category, which is now trending upward.”
The new products to be imported are:
Jikuya White and Black Sweet Potato Shochu from Jikuya Distillery – Situated in the foothills of Mount Shibi (Satsuma, Kagoshima Prefecture), Jikuya Distillery (est. 1910) specializes in Satsuma Shochu, a designation for sweet potato shochu that are completely sourced and produced in Kagoshima, among other specifications. The 4th generation Master Brewer-Distiller, Ms. Maiko Jikuya, spent nearly 8 years studying and working in New York City before returning to Japan to begin her training as a shochu maker; she became the head brewer-distiller in 2011 and president of the company in 2016.
- Jikuya White Sweet Potato Shochu (25% ABV); SRP: $45.99/750mL: Made from anno imo (sweet potato), this white koji shochu has obvious herbaceous and floral notes with hints of red berries and black tea. Best served with sparkling water or on the rocks.
- Jikuya Black Sweet Potato Shochu (25% ABV); SRP: $45.99/750mL: Made from kogane sengan imo, this black koji shochu has stewed fruit, cherry bonbon, and earthy notes from front to back. Best served oyuwari (mixed 1:1 with hot water).
Yokka Koji Awamori from Chuko Distillery– Located south of Naha City on the main island of Okinawa, Chuko Distillery (est. 1949) makes traditional Ryukyu Awamori – a World Trade Organization-protected geographical indication for 100% black koji rice fermentations brewed and distilled in Okinawa. The distillery uses traditional ceramic aging vessels they make in their pottery studio adjacent to the wooden aging warehouse.
- Yokka Koji Awamori (43% ABV); SRP: $44.99/720mL: This rice-based spirit has a very long, four-day (“yokka” means “four” in Japanese) koji inoculation using the indigenous Okinawan strain of black koji. Distilled once in a stainless steel pot still and bottled at distillation proof, Yokka Koji is full-bodied with notes of pear, caramel, and grain. Try it on the rocks.
The balance of the Honkaku Spirits portfolio comprises:
The Honkaku Spirits portfolio is distributed predominantly by Winebow, a national leader in fine wine and spirits. These new selections are available for sale most of Winebow’s 15 states (CA, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IL, MD, MN, NJ, NY, PA, SC, WA, and WI), and will likely be picked up in Honkaku’s non-Winebow states, namely CO (Classic Beverage), LA (Uncorked), MA (Burke), MO and KS (Vintegrity), OK (Thirst), TN (Best Brands), and TX (Spec’s).