In episode 67, Stephen delves into the origins of Mizu Shochu with founder, Jesse Falowitz. Believed to be the 1st shochu ever developed specifically for the export market, Mizu has been a trendsetter for over a decade now.
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 talking with entrepreneurs with a passion.
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.
Jesse Falowitz, Marketing Exec.
Jesse Falowitz grew up in south Florida before ending up in product marketing in Asia for nearly a decade. His travels to Japan brought him face to face with shochu and it was with his Japanese college buddy and now business partner, Jeremy Kono, that they decided to set out to create a shochu brand designed for the international market.
When people talk about starting an alcohol brand, they often think it will be easy. Jesse knows as well as anyone that starting an alcohol brand it hard and even harder when doing so in an unknown category. Mizu Shochu took several years to develop before it was even bottled. Once bottled, the packaging needed to change, and ultimately the entire sales strategy evolved out of necessity.
Jesse began as a man with a bag in New York City where he self-distributed Mizu Shochu in the early days. Jesse was soon joined by partner Taeko Ichioka who joined the brand as a partner to assist with sales, promotion, and marketing. After bouncing around a couple of smaller distributors, they’ve ended up in the Sazerac constellation of brands, which has resulted in a 30 state distribution network and the ability to ship direct to consumers in 40 US states.
Jesse’s partner in Mizu Shochu is the Munemasa Distillery. And it really is a partnership. They work together to create new expressions. Jesse’s marketing and branding sense coupled with Munemasa’s creativity and innovative passion has led to some very interesting new brands for Mizu Shochu.
One of only 12 distilleries in Saga Prefecture, Munemasa was an unlikely partner, but a lucky twist of fate brought Jesse face to face with a Munemasa salesman in a local liquor store in Karatsu City, Saga.
Jesse launched Mizu Shochu with a 35% ABV barley shochu built off of an Iki-style mashbill. 1/3 rice koji (black koji if you’re curious), 2/3 local Saga barley. Single pot distilled and then aged in an neutral vessel. Rather than going down to the Japan domestic standard 25% ABV, Jesse wanted a higher proof spirit. Vacuum distillation keeps the product clean, but the black koji, rice, and barley give it plenty of flavor.
Their 2nd product to release was made with locally grown organic lemongrass. Again, 35%, this is not an approved honkaku shochu ingredient, but still qualifies as an otsuri, or old-style shochu due to the use of koji and single pot distillation. Made with white koji and rice, this shochu lets the lemongrass shine through while the koji and rice play supporting roles.
The 3rd product release was the Green Tea expression made with green tea from Ureshino, Saga Prefecture. black rice koji, barley, and 10% green tea make up this mash bill. The green tea shines through while the other ingredients give the spirit excellent mouth feel and body.
The most recent release is a Sakura Cask finished barley shochu. Jesse claims this is the first Japanese spirit ever aged 100% in sakura casks and we have not yet found evidence to discount that claim.
How to Enjoy
All of the Mizu Shochu expressions are excellent on the rocks or with soda, but bartenders and the Mizu team have developed dozens of chu-hai and cocktail applications for these beautiful, flexible spirits. Given their national direct to consumer shipping in the US, it seems ordering a 4-pack may not be a bad idea.