Brewery Incited the Kuro Koji Shochu Boom (Saturday, February 1st, 2014)
Okuchi Shuzo Co., Ltd.
Okuchi Shuzo Co., Ltd. was born in 1970 by integrating 11 individual shochu breweries long operated in Isa City, Kagoshima Prefecture. It was no easy task to make all the brewers with different techniques and philosophies come together as one, but the dedication and the cooperative spirit in which this was accomplished is still very much alive and carried down through generations today.
Brewing methods at Okuchi Shuzo still mostly follow the traditional ways, which are to work closely with nature, and using locally grown Satsuma-imo (sweet potato). Although Kagoshima is a tropical region, Isa region, due to being surrounded by mountains has a very unique climate with a drastic temperature difference between summer and winter months, but this makes it ideal for shochu making as it creates pristine water.
There is a variety of shochu released from Okuchi Shuzo in Japan, and each shochu boasts distinct characteristics. The brewers know the features of each ingredient and different types of koji and strive to maximize them when crafting their shochu.
Kuro Isanishiki is the only shochu from Okuchi Shuzo available in the U.S. This sweet potato shochu is particularly noteworthy because it is the shochu that rediscovered kuro (black) koji and led the growing popularity of “kuro koji” shochu in Japan. While working with shiro (white) koji was still the norm, Okuchi Shuzo made this shochu out of kuro koji in 1987. Customers soon fell in love with the beautiful aroma coming from the kuro koji, and Kuro Isanishiki quickly became the most popular shochu in Kagoshima, triggering the start of the kuro koji shochu boom in Japan.
Kuro Isanishiki features many of the traits found in kuro koji shochu which are sweetness, depth, and a gorgeous aroma. It is especially great with white fish carpaccio as the sweetness of the shochu and the simple taste of the fish enhance each other. There are so many ways to enjoy shochu like mizuwari (cut with cold water), and oyuwari (cut with hot water), but the best way to drink this king of kuro koji shochu is how the locals do it, which is maewari (blend shochu and water one day in advance).
Okuchi Shuzo Co., Ltd.
643 Okuchi Harada, Isa City, Kagoshima, JAPAN 895-2506
3 things you should know about Okuchi Shuzo Co., Ltd.
Isa is where the oldest document mentioning shochu was found. This document from 1559 found in Koriyama Hachiman Shrine stated—presumably written by a carpenter who built the shrine—“The master here is too cheap and will not even give us a sip of shochu”. This indicated shochu was already a popular drink by this time.
The brewery was the instigator of the black koji boom. Kuro koji was used traditionally, but once shiro koji was discovered via mutation in the kuro koji strain in 1923, the use of black koji died out for a time. In 1987 when Okuchi Shuzo released the Kuro Isanishiki, sweet potato shochu made using black koji, people fell in love with its aroma and taste. This led to the growth in popularity of kuro koji once more.
Dedicated to protecting its local environment, a new system, Eco-action 21, which measures the environmental impact the brewery has on its surroundings, makes sure they keep their production environmentally sustainable. They have also ceased the use of 900ml disposable bottles and replaced them with reusable ones, and lees left from production are being used to feed pigs at local farms.