Christopher Pellegrini visits Satsuma Musou Distillery in Kagoshima City
Doing the research part of writing a book is arduous, especially when there aren’t any resources available in one’s own language. I’ve read nearly everything that exists on the subject written in Japanese, but there just really isn’t that much content out there in general.
So I decided to go straight to the source. Kyushu, that is. Because I’m writing a book about shochu.
About a 20 minute walk from Goino train station in Kagoshima City is Satsuma Musou Distillery. Partly supported by the prefectural government, this distillery is an ideal place for tourists as it has a well-planned tour and large gift shop/tasting area. Much to my surprise, I was treated to a tour of the facilities entirely in English by the knowledgeable Mai Miyauchi who has gone so far as to attend industry-related classes at Kagoshima University.
The distillery that we toured is a smaller operation set up for the benefit of tourists. They were still working on batches of imo shochu even though the season ended in February or March for most other distilleries in Kyushu. This meant that we were still able to see the workers unload check frozen potatoes before they were dropped into the steamer. We also had a chance to see the mash bubbling away at different stages of fermentation in open earthenware pots half submerged in the facility’s concrete floor.
And of course, we sampled several of the distillery’s liquid treats. Even if you can’t travel to Satsuma Musou in Kogoshima Prefecture, you can probably find their Satsuma Musou ‘Red Label’ (Aka Raberu) or Kuro Mugi at finer liquor shops around Japan.
Satsuma Musou is recommended as an introduction to the complex process of making Japan’s wonderful distilled drink, shochu.
Website (Japanese): http://www.satsumamusou.co.jp/
This bottle, Nakanaka, is a good place to start one’s exploration of honkaku mugi shochu. When drinking it straight, Nakanaka starts with a slight, honey sweetness on the tip of the tongue before giving way to an assertive barley-alcohol twinge at the back.
With an ice cube or two thrown in this shochu loses a bit of the sweetness up front and experiences a slight drop in alcoholic bite as well. Taking a good drag of air to mix with a mouthful of Nakanaka will help revive the sweetness that is easier to find when enjoying this drink neat.
Most industry folks recommend that this drink be enjoyed either on the rocks or with a bit of warm water (oyuwari in Japanese). The latter is advised especially if you want to get more out of the nose. Cold water (mizuwari) is also an option.
Drinking Nakanaka straight is not to be discouraged, even though I seem to be the only only openly recommending that it be consumed that way.
At around 1,050 yen for a 720 ml bottle the regular stuff (it’s usually found in a brown glass bottle), you can’t go wrong with a bottle of Nakanaka.