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Beginners guide to awamori – The Shochu Lounge, ROKA Charlotte Street

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Billy Abbott
A Beginner’s Guide to Awamori
The Untamed Spirit of Okinawa

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Contents
• An introduction to Japanese spirits

• The history of awamori

• What is awamori?

• Tasting awamori

• Drinkin...

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Japanese Spirits

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Beginners guide to awamori – The Shochu Lounge, ROKA Charlotte Street

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An introduction to awamori, first presented at The Shochu Lounge during London Cocktail Month 2021

An introduction to awamori, first presented at The Shochu Lounge during London Cocktail Month 2021

Beginners guide to awamori – The Shochu Lounge, ROKA Charlotte Street

  1. 1. Billy Abbott A Beginner’s Guide to Awamori The Untamed Spirit of Okinawa
  2. 2. Contents • An introduction to Japanese spirits • The history of awamori • What is awamori? • Tasting awamori • Drinking awamori
  3. 3. Japanese Spirits
  4. 4. Lots of tasty things • Some Japanese drinks well- known outside of the country • Sake • Beer • Whisky • But traditional Japanese spirits are less exported and not known as well known Japanese Drinks
  5. 5. Shochu • Shochu is a traditional Japanese spirit made from a variety of raw materials • Sweet potato • Rice • Sake lees • Barley • Brown sugar • …more than 40 other permitted ingredients Japanese Spirits
  6. 6. Shochu Japanese Spirits • Two main types • Korui shochu: distilled to high strength using multiple distillations or column stills • Honkaku shochu: distilled once to lower strengths in pot stills
  7. 7. Awamori, 泡盛 • Made in Okinawa Prefecture • Series of islands in the south- west of Japan • Can be considered a type of shochu • Similar in production, but with some key di ff erences and restrictions • The predecessor to shochu Japanese Spirits
  8. 8. History of Awamori
  9. 9. The Ryukyu Kingdom • Okinawa and the surrounding islands were known as Ryukyu since the 7th century CE • Trading hub for south-east Asia • Ryukyu Kingdom was formed in 1429 • Spirits introduced into the islands in the mid-15th century • Distilling technology followed in the 16th and local production of spirits followed • First record of the name awamori: 1671 • Formerly became part of Japan in 1879 as Okinawa Prefecture History of Awamori
  10. 10. Okinawa • End of World War II led to occupation of islands by USA • Returned to Japan in 1972 • During the war, much of the old stocks of Awamori destroyed • New styles developed History of Awamori
  11. 11. Koji A diversion
  12. 12. Making a fermented alcoholic liquid with yeast What do we need? • For yeast to create alcohol we need • A suitable environment for yeast to live • Fermentable sugars • Nutrients • Fermentable sugars are obtained • Directly from raw materials • By converting other compounds in raw materials into them • Most raw materials used to create alcoholic liquids contain starch that needs to be converted
  13. 13. Making a fermented alcoholic liquid with yeast Conversion • To convert starch into sugar we need enzymes • To get the enzymes we can • Malt grain to produce them • Add them in a puri fi ed form • Use koji
  14. 14. Filamentous Fungus Koji – Aspergillus oryzae • Koji is a fungus that is grown on starchy materials • It feeds by producing enzymes that convert starch into sugars, which it then consumes • It grows fi laments into the starchy material, which produce the enzymes • Creates acidic and nitrogen compounds during the process • Provides a good environment and nutrition for yeast • The koji-innoculated material is used as the source of starch-converting enzymes in the alcohol-making process • Similar to the role of malt
  15. 15. What is awamori?
  16. 16. Raw material • Spirit made from a base of rice • Generally long-grain indica rice imported from Thailand • Rice grown in Okinawa is mostly short-grain table rice • Initiatives are being worked on to encourage more local indica production What is awamori?
  17. 17. Preparing the rice koji • The rice is steamed • Seed koji is added and the mixture is left to allow koji propagation • The seed koji will have been grown on rice – often short-grain • After several days enough koji will have grown to create the enzymes required for starch conversion • We don’t want too much koji, as it also consumes the converted sugars What is awamori?
  18. 18. Fermentation • Once the koji has propagated, the rice and koji are mixed with water • Yeast is added • Conversion of starch and fermentation happen in parallel • As the koji continues to convert the starches, the yeast consumes it • Fermentations take multiple weeks and end up with high strengths – 15%-20% ABV • Yeast must be selected to withstand not only high alcohol, but also Okinawa’s tropical climate What is awamori?
  19. 19. Distillation • Once the fermentation is completed, • The full semi-solid mash is distilled • Many di ff erent styles of pot still used • Mostly made of steel • Two main types • Atmospheric pressure • Low pressure • Spirit distilled to ~45% ABV What is awamori?
  20. 20. Maturation • The distilled spirit is usually rested before bottling • Varies from months to many years • Traditionally used earthenware jars, but now metal tanks are more common • Resting allows some o ff fl avours to evaporate and oily compounds to settle and be skimmed • Also allows further fl avour development • Rarely matured in wood • Rules on how deep the colour can be What is awamori?
  21. 21. Maturation • Aged character develops due to oxidation, esteri fi cation and other transformative processes • Common fl avours • Vanilla • Maple syrup • Fruit – esters • Awamori aged for more than three years can be labelled as kusu, 古酒 • Often aged for much longer What is awamori?
  22. 22. Maturation • Before World War II there was a strong tradition of long ageing • Shitsugi • Similar to a sherry solera • Some destroyed in the war had been running for up to 300 years • Home blending and ageing becoming popular again What is awamori?
  23. 23. Bottling • Spirit is often fi ltered before bottling • Legal maximum bottling strength of 45% ABV • Often diluted and bottled at ~25-30% ABV • Fits drinking traditions What is awamori?
  24. 24. Tasting awamori
  25. 25. Flavours • Awamori fl avours span a wide range of categories • Commonly found: • Vanilla • Fruit • Caramel • Mushrooms • Soy sauce/pickles Tasting awamori
  26. 26. Flavours • Vanilla • One of the most common fl avours found at all ages • Fresh fruit • Develops in older awamori through ester formation • Dried fruit • Develops over time as awamori oxidises • Brandy-like Tasting awamori
  27. 27. Flavours • Caramel/maple syrup • Found in kusu • Might develop through interaction with clay pots • Flavour compound: sotolon • Caramel at low strength, developing into curry spice Tasting awamori
  28. 28. Flavours • Mushrooms • Created by black koji • Other spirits use other koji so have less of this character • Soy sauce/pickles • Ampli fi ed during low temperature fermentation • Rich and savoury Tasting awamori Soy sauce image CC BY-SA 2.0 KR National Institute of Korean Language
  29. 29. Drinking awamori
  30. 30. Traditionally • Before WW2, most awamori bottled at high strength • Enjoyed in small cups, called chibugawa • ~10ml • Awamori poured from a jug called a Karakara • Digestif-style serve • Serve with intensely fl avoured nibbles Drinking Awamori
  31. 31. Highball • Aperitif-style – very popular drink • Best made with 30% ABV+ • Diluted to ~6% ABV • 1:4 ratio • Ampli fi es fl avours: • Wood-ageing character • Vacuum-distilled fruitiness • Non-standard yeasts Drinking Awamori
  32. 32. Mizuwari • Stirred with still water • Good with food • Diluted to ~10-15% ABV • 1:1/1:2 ratio • Wine strength • No sugar or salt, so pairs well with sweet and savoury Drinking Awamori
  33. 33. Cocktails • Increasingly popular • Di ff erent fl avour pro fi le to western spirits, so more di ffi cult to use in classic cocktails • Shô category of awamorei developed to have a lighter style that can work better in drinks inspired by classics • Triple distilled Drinking Awamori
  34. 34. Umami Mary • Terushima is umami rich, which adds to the savoury nature of a Bloody Mary • Mirin, wasabi and soy for traditional Japanese fl avour • Lemon juice for balance Drinking Awamori Cocktail by Shuzo Nagumo
  35. 35. Shopresso Fizz • Long Espresso Martini variation • Shô has lactic notes which work with the tonic to create an almost yoghurt-like character • Also works well with aged awamori • Maple/vanilla notes Drinking Awamori Cocktail by Shuzo Nagumo
  36. 36. Availability • Increasingly available around the world • Ryukyu 1429 (Europe) • Chuko (Europe) • Miyazato (Europe) • Ishikawa (USA) • Kumesen (USA) Drinking Awamori
  37. 37. Thank you https://bit.ly/jinbner billy@billyabbott.co.uk https://billyabbott.co.uk

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