TOP > WHAT IS SHOCHU?
There are two classifications of Shochu in Japan.
The first One is Honkaku Shochu (Single distillation Shochu) and the other is Korui Shochu (Consecutive distillation shochu ).
They are categorized by Japanese taxation law based on the ingredients and manufacturing method. The word Honkaku is translated as traditional, authentic or genuine.
Honkaku Shochu has restrictions on the ingredients and it has to be made by single distillation, which allows Honkaku Shochu to retain the rich flavor and aroma of its main ingredients.
Kourui Shochu is made by consecutive distillation, which creates a clear taste with no aroma suited for use with cocktail mixers. Their ingredients are varied like molasses, alcohol, and grains. Even though both Honkaku Shochu and Korui Shochu are both called Shochu, they have different qualities and charactors.
Here at Satsuma Shuzo, we make only Honkaku Shochu to provide the best and most delicious traditional Shochu.
Even though shochu has long been a part of people's life in Satsuma, the shochu of 500 years ago was made from rice and grain. Satsuma Imo didn't exist in Japan at that time. The modern day Kagoshima product, Satsuma Imo Shochu, however, is made from Satsuma Imo (Japanese Sweet Potato). This sweet potato is not native to Japan. Originally it came from Central South America. Then in 1605, it came to Ryukyu island (Modern day Okinawa ) from Philippines by way of the China. About 100 years later, in 1705, it started to spread widely in Kagoshima.
Even though the Satsuma Imo only arrived about 300 years ago, it was so well suited to Kagoshima's climate and environment that it spread extremely quickly. Because it grew so quickly, during a famine in 1732, Satsuma Imo saved many people from starvation and it was so valued.
The people so identified with the newly introduced crop that they began to call it the Satsuma Imo. Even though it is given one name, the Satsuma Imo varies greatly in color, flavor, and starch content. Because shochu is made from the fermentation of the starch in the base ingredient, the flavors of the final product vary as different base ingredients are used.
Historically, archaeological evidence dates distillation techniques from 3000 BC in Mesopotamia. From Mesopotamia, the technique spread to the western countries like Arab and the eastern countries like India. Distillation techniques were originally used for the production of medicines and perfumes. It was not until the 13th century in China that distillation came to be used for the production of alcoholic beverages.
There are three strong theories about the route of the Shochu's distillation technique's arrival in Japan.
a) From the China continent coastline, it came to the Northern part of the Island of Kyushu in Japan by way of the Korean peninsula.
b) From the inland of the China continent, by the Silk Road, it came to the northern part of the Island of Kyushu by way of the Korean peninsula.
c) It came from South Asia to the Ryukyu Islands (modern day Okinawa) by the way of Siam (Thailand) then it spread to Amami Oshima Island and went northward in Japan.
In old days, people were allowed to produce Shochu at home without any government permission. But in 1899, the production of shochu came under government regulation by Meiji shogunate. Shochu manufacturers needed to hire professionals and the demand for skillful master brewers called 'Toji' in Japan grew. Here in Kagoshima, the town called Kurose is home to so many of these high skilled Toji master brewers. At the beginning of Meiji era, three artisans learned the skill of making shochu with Kuro Koji (Black Koji) from the Ryukyu craftsman. This is the foundation of the modern Imo shochu. After that, they brushed up their skills more and built their own traditions. From generation to generation, the Toji brew masters pass their knowledge only onto those trustworthy apprenticing with them.
Because of their training and expertise, these Kurose Toji came to be in demand throughout Japan wherever shochu was made. They would go and oversee the seasonal production of shochu in other prefectures, and then return to their hometown of Kurose. Thus Kurose became known as "the hometown of Toji".
Following in that tradition here at Satsuma Shuzo, our own Toji brew master, Hatsuo Yadori, is of course a Kurose Toji.