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

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

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Billy Abbott
A Beginner’s Guide to Awamori
The Untamed Spirit of Okinawa
Contents
• An introduction to Japanese spirits

• The history of awamori

• What is awamori?

• Tasting awamori

• Drinking awamori
Japanese Spirits
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
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
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

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

  • 1. Billy Abbott A Beginner’s Guide to Awamori The Untamed Spirit of Okinawa
  • 2. Contents • An introduction to Japanese spirits • The history of awamori • What is awamori? • Tasting awamori • Drinking awamori
  • 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. 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. 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. 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
  • 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. 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
  • 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. 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. 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
  • 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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?
  • 25. Flavours • Awamori fl avours span a wide range of categories • Commonly found: • Vanilla • Fruit • Caramel • Mushrooms • Soy sauce/pickles Tasting awamori
  • 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. 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. 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
  • 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. Availability • Increasingly available around the world • Ryukyu 1429 (Europe) • Chuko (Europe) • Miyazato (Europe) • Ishikawa (USA) • Kumesen (USA) Drinking Awamori