In the 4th episode of the Japan Distilled podcast, your hosts Christopher Pellegrini & Stephen Lyman tackle a completely unexpected and underappreciated Japanese spirit – rum. Japan has a more than 400-year history of commercial sugar cane production thanks to the semi-tropical regions of southern Japan. Yet, Japanese rum as we understand rum did not appear in Japan until the 20th century.
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 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 has been a rum fan since his days listening to live reggae at Skipper’s Smokehouse in Tampa, Florida in the 1990s. Christopher since last year.
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.
Japanese rums differ in several ways from their western counterparts just as rums from other parts of the world have a unique terroir.
Japanese Sugar Cane Japanese cane has been cultivated in the archipelago for centuries, particularly in the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa and Amami) and Shikoku. Cane is also grown in subtropical Kyushu and outlying coastal islands but is not typically grown in Honshu (the banana of Japan). There is also some cane grown in the Osagawara Island Chain of Tokyo.
Kokuto Sugar Japanese kokuto sugar is an unrefined sugar source used to make candies, desserts, and kokuto sugar shochu. Kokuto can also be used to make rum, which we believe is the base for Rurikakesu.
Open Fermentation While some other rum traditions used closed fermentation vats, Japanese rum production often follows traditional shochu production methods, which are invariably open tank fermentations.
Japanese Rum Brands
Rurikakesu (Amami Islands, Kagoshima) claims to be the first Japanese rum, made in the Amami Islands. This is the first rum we try on the podcast episode.
CorCor (Okinawa) Grace Distillery specializes in rum. The red label is made with molasses (traditional rum) while the green label is made with cane juice.
Helios (Okinawa) rums made by a large awamori producer.
Kikusui (Kochi) rums made by Kikusui in Kochi Prefecture, Shikoku Island. Note, this is not the famed sake producer, but another outfit sharing the same romanized name. These rums appear to be hit and miss based on these reviews of Ryoma 7 Year and Seven Seas from The Lone Caner.
Makugan (Okinawa) made by noted awamori supplier, Taragawa, this is a brand new product we cannot wait to try.
Nine Leaves (Shiga) the only rum we have found so far made on Honshu, the main island of Japan. All others are made on outlying islands. Nine Leaves also appears to be the most reserved and balanced rum currently made in Japan. This is the 2nd rum we tried on the podcast.
Ogasawara This distillery produces rums made of local cane grown on the Bonin Islands, which are technically part of the Tokyo municipality, but are more than 1,000 km due south in the Pacific. Perhaps most known to westerners, Iwo Jima is part of the Ogasawara island chain.
Santa Maria (Okinawa) bottled at 37%, this is still rum by the ABV has us put off a bit.
If you know of other Japanese rum brands that we have not mentioned, please let us know!
The Lone Caner – our new go to source for information about rum.
Rum: the manual by Dave Broom
The Rum Diary by none other than Hunter S. Thompson