What the Experts Say We asked three experts to tell us their views on Amami Kokuto Shochu: a well-known Chef-Sommelier and "Sake Samurai" from Paris, a Honkaku Shochu evangelist who is spreading the word globally, and a mixologist who creates next-generation cocktails.

Chef-Sommelier Xavier Thuizat on the brilliance of Amami Kokuto Shochu

Xavier Thuizat is the Chef-Sommelier (Head Sommelier) of the prestigious and storied Hôtel de Crillon in Paris. He is also the Chief Juror of the Kura Master Competition that French sommeliers begun in France in 2017 to educate the European market on Japanese sake. His recent interest is Honkaku Shochu, Japan's other "National Drink" that encapsulates each region's history and environment, and has a broad range of rich flavors and variations. He believes in the potential of Honkaku Shochu and is very involved in popularizing it. We asked him to try 7 Amami Kokuto Shochu brands.

Amami Kokuto Shochu’s Global Potential

Honkaku Shochu is in an exclusive position between brewed and distilled drinks

“First and foremost, I want to make it abundantly clear that Japanese Honkaku Shochus are fundamentally different from the distilled drinks in Europe and America. Distilled drinks in the west are distilled several times, but Honkaku Shochu and one of its types, Amami Kokuto Shochu, are distilled only once (pot distillation). That is how the tastes from raw materials and the production process which are similar to those for brewed, fermented drinks are retained and re-emerge as each brand’s unique flavors and scents. So, for me, Honkaku Shochu and Amami Kokuto Shochu are exceptional drinks that have the best qualities of both brewed and distilled liquors, rather than a conventional distilled liquor.”

Amami Kokuto Shochu as a drink to dine with

“Because Honkaku Shochu has the qualities of brewed fermented drinks such as wine, beer, or sake, restaurants can proudly serve them to accompany meals. With Amami Kokuto Shochu, the hard work each distillery puts into the production result in unique flavors and aromas that are a combination of the characteristics of rice malt and brown sugar. I had the honor of trying 7 types of Amami Kokuto Shochu, and all of them were quite interesting and of excellent quality.”

“People often imagine having ‘distilled’ drinks with something such as soda or ice, but when you’re having an Amami Kokuto Shochu, I would suggest trying it neat as you would a brewed drink like wine. Of course, the originality of Amami Kokuto Shochu can inspire bartenders to create cocktails and explore new universes in a glass. If positioning Amami Kokuto Shochu as a ‘contemporary distilled drink’ allows them to do so, that is a splendid twist.”

  “As a sommelier, however, I believe the characteristics that each distiller is rightly so proud of can be most appreciated when it is served straight, as brewed drinks are in western restaurants.”

Xavier Thuizat's Tasting Notes

Lento 25% ABV


Amami Oshima Kaiun Shuzo Co., Ltd.
Production Method & Uniqueness Vacuum distillation, white koji
Classic symphonies are played to vibrate the storage tanks that hold Lento.  The fine vibrations are a part of the maturing process, called “acoustic aging.”


Clear, silver glow, reflections


Delicate, elegant, exotic, fruity, pineapples and mangoes, vegetable scents after airing, fresh, not alcoholic
Palate Fresh, minerals such as calcium or seashells, dewy, vanilla scent in the middle.
Finishing scents are delicate, fresh with a lasting flavor.
Serving Suggestions At quality establishments, sophisticated Lento is served in a wine glass at 12 ℃ and served with ripe pineapples and desserts, under a summertime image.  The bright blue bottle hints the mineral flavors, while the soft hiraganagraphic of the brand name fits with the light touch of the shochu.
Pairing Suggestions

French toast with very ripe pineapples


Inenotsuyu 30% ABV

Distillery Okinoerabu-shuzo. Co., Ltd.
Production Method & Uniqueness Atmospheric distillation, white koji
The flagship brand of this distillery, Inenotsuyu has a rich aroma, smooth taste, and a thickness that is not too sweet.  The flavor lasts, enough to enjoy the quietly receding aroma.
Appearance Clear, silver glow, elegant
Aroma The aromas exceed expectations from how this shochu appears.  It presents spice flavors such as pepper, as well as yellow fruits such as bananas and peaches.  Complex flavors with a nuance of soil.  The 30% strength is unobtrusive.
Palate Strong, powerful flavors; obvious brown sugar tastes; unique and strong; after a certain time, the scent of smoking wood rises.  It tastes like colored, aged shochu (when tasted with eyes closed).  Has nuances of rum from Martinique.
Serving Suggestions Consider it as a digestif and pair it with a slice of baba au rhum.  Presenting this as the “Rum of Japan” will offer pleasant discoveries.
Pairing Suggestions

Baba au Rhum


Ruri-ironosora 30% ABV

Distillery Amami Shurui
Production Method & Uniqueness Atmospheric distillation, black koji
Ruri-ironosora blends unprocessed kokuto shochu from 5 distilleries in Tokunoshima, one of the southern islands within the Amami archipelago.
Appearance Clear, reflects light, bright.
Aroma Has hints of the ocean from the scent of iodine, as well as spices, subdued scents of brown sugar, and nuances of plants.  Very delicate.
Palate At first, it is fresh with minerals, and elegant.  The power follows, then finishing with a salty taste, triggering an appetite.
Serving Suggestions The salinity makes this a nice aperitif.  Chill to about 8-10 ℃, serve straight up, paired with blini canapés topped with 1 cm thick slice of smoked salmon.
Pairing Suggestions

Smoked Salmon Blini Canapés

Hamachidorinouta Genshu 38% ABV 

Distillery Amami Oshima Shuzo Co., Ltd.
Production Method & Uniqueness Atmospheric distillation, white koji
Water is sourced from a natural underground water source in the mountains of Tatsugouchou, called “Jougo No Mizu,” known as the most delicious water source in Amami Oshima.  It is an unprocessed-type shochu that is not diluted by a single drop of water and is stored for over 7 years in tanks to mature.
Appearance It has a thickish texture that leaves trails as it trickles down the side of the glass
Aroma Masculine; scents of moist forests and soil; substantial fragrances like black pepper; once aired, it exudes a vanilla scent
Palate A powerful appeal; concentrated flavors; brown sugar, but somehow also caramel flavors; a surprisingly fresh finish
Serving Suggestions Use this instead of cachaca to make a caipirinha cocktail, for an interesting twist when serving in bars. Similarly, the standard mojito is rum-based, but switching to this type of kokuto shochu can be eye opening  Serve with jamón ibérico de bellota ham.
Pairing Suggestions


Jamón Ibérico De Bellota

He-izurushimano Se 2003 43% ABV

Distillery Kokuto Shochu Asahi Distillery Co., Ltd.
Production Method & Uniqueness Atmospheric distillation, white koji
This is a matured unprocessed shochu, made with pure brown sugar produced in-house, made from organically grown sugar canes from their own fields. It is a vintage shochu that only uses brown sugar processed that year.  The diverse flavors according to the year they were made, with the complex aroma of brown sugar and lingering flavors make this an enjoyable mature shochu.
Appearance Concentrated; weighty; oils; thickness;
Aroma Five different flavors come rushing in: 1) exotic and fruity, 2) oils, 3) roasted grains, 4) animal skin or roasted game and 5) mushroom when aired.
Palate One can enjoy strong, powerful flavors; brown sugar; the essence of alcohol; roasted black sesame, all the fun of distilled drinks, making this a good fit for experienced distilled drink lovers.  It also has the nuances of a “resident yeast,” the natural yeast that thrives in each distillery.
Serving Suggestions This shochu goes well with bitter-type chocolates and cacao flavors.  It also hints of soil.  Serve at a relatively tepid 17 to 18 ℃ as a drink for winter, accompanied by the story of how sugar canes are harvested and processed in the winter.
Pairing Suggestions

Mocha Truffles

Yayoi 40% ABV

Distillery Yayoi Shochu Brewery LPC
Production Method & Uniqueness Atmospheric distillation, white koji
This is exclusively made for international sales and is not sold in Japan.  It is gentle but powerful and aromatic.  High-quality brown sugar from Okinawa is used, and lipids from rice malt bring out the umami flavors.
Appearance Clear, reflects light, bright.
Aroma Fresh and elegant aroma; tastes like springtime, eclipsing the strong alcohol level; images of white flowers such as acacia; fresh greenery; nuances of vegetables; hints of the ocean from the scent of iodine; spices; brown sugar scents are subdued; very delicate, pure.
Palate Compared to the aroma, the flavors are clear and integrated.  Strong brown sugar tastes at the end, well balanced.
Serving Suggestions In restaurants, serve chilled (10-12 ℃) alongside carpaccio of freshwater prawns and caviar, or squid sashimi.  As flavors of chewed foods spread sideways, the crisp taste of this shochu cuts through vertically, and the combined effect broadens the experience. This shochu also has high potential as a cocktail base, because the substantial aftertaste presents an interesting challenge to the creativity of bartenders.
Pairing Suggestions

Carpaccio of freshwater prawns and caviar

Sato No Akebono Gold (‘Nankai Gold’ in the US) 43% ABV

Distillery Machida Shuzo Co., Ltd.
Production Method & Uniqueness Blend of vacuum and atmospheric distillation, white koji
The matured shochu brand Sato no Akebono (vacuum distillation) and another shochu made by atmospheric distillation are each matured in oak barrels separately, then exquisitely blended.
Appearance A beautiful yellow-gold glow.
Aroma Delicate, grains such as barley; bourbon barrels; vanilla fragrances; scents that Europeans are used to; a freshness that eclipses the 43% ABV.
Palate Tastes of vanilla; rich; cream; confectionery-like sweetness; clear aftertaste
Serving Suggestions

A full bodied immersion, understanding the story of this shochu and its universe, cradled in a couch at a cigar bar with a Cuban Hoyo de Monterrey in your hands.

Also works well with cheeses such as Roquefort.

Pairing Suggestions

Hoyo de Monterrey