In episode 43, our hosts continue a 3 part exploration into the WTO Geographic Indications for shochu made in Kyushu and surrounding islands. For this episode, we dive into Iki Shochu in particular.
Theme Song: Begin Anywhere by Tomoko Miyata (http://tomokomiyata.net/)
Mixing and Editing: Rich Pav (https://www.uncannyrobotpodcast.com/)
CHRISTOPHER PELLEGRINI Vermont born and bred, long-time Tokyo resident and author of The Shochu Handbook, Christopher learned about delicious fermentations as a beer brewer at Otter Creek (Middlebury, VT). He now spends most of his waking hours convincing strangers that shochu and awamori are unlike anything they’ve ever tried before.
STEPHEN LYMAN discovered Japan’s indigenous spirits at an izakaya in New York City. He was so enthralled that he now lives in Japan and works in a tiny craft shochu distillery every autumn. His first book, The Complete Guide to Japanese Drinks, was nominated for a 2020 James Beard Award.
Stephen and Christopher love everything about Iki Island except leaving.
If you have any comments or questions about this episode, please reach out to Stephen or Christopher via Twitter. We would love to hear from you.
WTO Geographic Indications
WTO Geographical indications, or GIs, are “place names (in some countries also words associated with a place) used to identify the origin and quality, reputation or other characteristics of products” (for example, “Champagne”, “Tequila” or “Roquefort”). These are products that are so linked to a place that they become almost inseparable. You can make sparkling wine nearly anywhere, but you cannot call it champagne unless its made in Champagne, France. Same for Brandy made in Cognac. That’s Cognac. Everything else is Brandy.
Japanese sake has received GI status, but since were are interested in distilled spirits here on this podcast, we are focused on the shochu producing regions that have been granted GI status. These are Kuma Shochu (rice shochu produced in Kumamoto’s Kuma River Basin), Iki Shochu (barley shochu made on Iki Island in Nagasaki), and Satsuma Shochu (sweet potato shochu made in Kagoshima). Over the next 3 episodes we will explore each of these in turn.
Iki Shochu is barley shochu made on Iki Island in Nagsaski Prefecture. The koji must be propogated on rice with barley added to the 2nd fermentation. On top of that, the mash bill must consist of 1/3 rice and 2/3 barley. Despite these limitations, the style has a wide range of flavor and aroma thanks to decisions about yeast, koji variety, fermentation temperature and time, still design, and aging.
These are just 7 active distilleries on Iki Island, which as you can see from the map below (dark pink island) is quite far from the rest of Nagasaki Prefecture. It’s about 20km from north to south.
Iki Shochu Styles
Iki Shochu can probably be broken down into three primary styles. The most common is vacuum distilled using premium rice and white koji for fermentation. Another popular style would be that same distillate, but aged in oak. In fact, the best selling brand, Iki Super Gold, is made this way. However, unlike nearby Oita Prefecture, known primarily for making 100% barley shochu, many more Iki Shochu are traditional atmospheric distillates, which are full of grain, nut, and other rich flavors.
Select Iki Shochu Brands
Iki Super Gold – a 22% vacuum distilled barrel aged shochu that’s found all over Northern Kyushu. The ABV is an odd ball in the shochu world, but we can’t complain about the quality of the drink.
Chingu – Both vacuum (green bottle) and atmospheric (brown bottle) versions of this handmade shochu are produced as the smallest distillery in Iki. Probably the most famous Iki Shochu brand among shochu enthusiasts.
Yamanomori – a traditional, atmospheric distilled shochu that’s available in many overseas markets.
The Iki Shochu Mark
Iki Shochu recently revised their mark of excellence so if you see this on a bottle, you know you’ve got the real deal.
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