In the 17th episode of the Japan Distilled podcast, your hosts Christopher Pellegrini and Stephen Lyman take a look at an environmentally and historically important, but uncommon style of shochu. That is kasutori shochu made from the sake lees, or the solids remaining after sake production.
Mixing and Editing: Rich Pav (https://www.uncannyjapan.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 both have their sake certifications, but spend almost all of their time thinking about spirits instead.
If you have any comments or questions about this episode of Japan Distilled, please reach out to Stephen or Christopher via Twitter. We would love to hear from you.
As you may remember from episode 10, there are clear differences between sake and shochu even though both are native to Japan and both use koji for saccharification. The finished sake fermentation is pressed to extract the alcoholic beverage and the solids that remain are predominantly rice that was not completely dissolved during the fermentation.
These lees have high nutritional value and can be used as fertilizer. However, the lees contain residual alcohol that would be damaging to soil and the root systems of crops. As such, the alcohol needs to be removed prior to use as fertilizer.
Sake Lees Shochu
Fortunately, the residual alcohol can be extracted through distillation. This is most often done today by rehydrating the lees with additional water. Some sake breweries will restart the fermentation at this point adding fresh rice koji and yeast to the rehydrated lees. This creates a fresher, brighter kasutori shochu.
An old style kasutori shochu is known as sanaburi shochu, which was traditionally made at rice harvest festivals. The farmers would bring their rice to town to get it polished and the sake brewers would bring out their lees. The lees and rice bran would be mixed and distilled in an old seiryo mushi, or wooden steam still.
These unctuous styles require long term aging. In fact, Morinokura ages their sanaburi shochu for 13 years before bottling.
OTHER KASUTORI SHOCHU MENTIONED ON THE EPISODE
Dassai has taken the sake world by storm with their simple, elegant packaging and simplified numbering system replacing the complicated premium sake labeling standards. They’ve now begun making kasutori shochu in high enough quantities to start selling outside of Yamaguchi Prefecture where Dassai is made. For a long time you could only get the bottles at the brewery or nearby sake shops.
Hakkaisan in northern Niigata Prefecture makes some beautiful sake and as one of the largest sake producers in the prefecture they have plenty of sake lees to bring out a variety of kasutori shochu. Timothy Sullivan of UrbanSake.com and the Sake Revolution Podcast spent a year working at Hakkaisan. He has wealth of knowledge about sake in general and the Niigata region where Hakkaisan is made.
This uncommon 35% alcohol kasutori shochu is made in Saga Prefecture by Gochida Brewery. The high alcohol makes for a rich mouthfeel and the label is resolutely targeting Chinese tourists as its named after a popular erotic novel in China.
NIHON NO KOKORO
The only kasutori shochu we can confirm has US distribution is Nihon no Kokoro from Kitaya Berwery and Distillery in Yame, Fukuoka. This excellent example is made from daiginjo sake lees and aged for 5 years after vacuum distillation.
As we mentioned on the show, there are not many kasutori shochu available with wide distribution so we do not have too many brands to specifically recommend.