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Meet husband and wife Okinawan Awamori sake masters! Find your bliss at Karakara to Chibuguwaa in Kumoji, Naha
post : 2017.08.25 07:00
Awamori’s flavor may seem like an acquired taste to some, but maybe "some" just haven’t found the right kind. For those people, I encourage them to find the perfect awamori during their stay in Okinawa.
I would like to introduce Tetsunari and Yoko Nagamine, a married couple who hold awamori master licenses. They have been in Kumoji, Naha for 11 years as owners of Karakara to Chibuguwaa. The word, “karakara” refers to a traditional awamori decanter while “chibuguwaa” is a tiny awamori cup.
Tetsunari was chief editor of an awamori magazine until 2008. Now he is a director at the Ryukyu Awamori Club. He is well known in awamori circles. For myself, I sometimes drink awamori socially but I'm not very knowledgable, so at first, I hesitated to come to this place. But, the dual masters turned out to be patient teachers so even a beginner like me was able to learn something.
Awamori selections include koshu (aged awamori, also called kuusu), matured in a special ceramic barrel as well as offerings from all 48 local awamori breweries. You might want to sample them in 20 milliliter shots to compare different kinds before ordering a full glass.
Awamori aged for at least three years, it is called as kuusu. A unique sweet flavor appears after ten years. “How to drink is the key to enjoy awamori,” said Tetsunari. “Try it first straight and undiluted. Sip it slowly, almost like you’re licking the liquid little by little so you can enjoy the flavor coming through nose. Afterward, even the after-scent left on the cup is very pleasant.”
Awamori has been gaining popularity since around 1980. Before that, quality was very inconsistent because few people took quality control seriously. Awamori had a reputation back then as an odd-smelling beverage. At the time, whiskey was very popular and so very few people bothered with awamori. After Okinawa Prefecture was retuned to Japan, both the quality and the flavor improved dramatically. People made a concerted effort to change awamori’s negative image. Better awamori in square green bottles appeared on the market, and people in Okinawa started drinking awamori more and more.
I asked Tetsunari to recommend best three (non-kuusu) awamoris for beginners. He recommended Zappa, Ryukyu and Ender. I tried the Ryukyu with ice and water so that the 30 percent alcohol content was diluted to around 15%. It was mild and easy to drink, also enjoyable with food. Ryukyu was fruity in my mouth and the sharp aftertaste was enjoyable.
One of their best dishes, Ikasumi Nigiri, is a rice dish seasoned with vinegar and squid ink. All foods are supposed to go with awamori and the food served here is made with mainly local ingredients.
Island Pork Aguu no Teppanyaki has great flavor. The savory taste from the meat and sweetness of the fat were perfect with the awamori. Goya Champuru (stir fried bitter melon), Okinawan Tempura, Stir Fried Shrimp with Ishigaki Island Chili Oil, Deep Fried Gurukun (a local fish) and more are available and make great accompaniments to awamori.
I tasted three-year-old Ryukyu Ouchou and 24-year-old Chukou before leaving. I was amazed by the complex charm of awamori and impressed with the difference in flavor, sweetness and the aftertastes of each brand. The 24-yearold Chukou has a profound, rich flavor. Still, as a beginner, the Ryukyu Ouchou was easy to enjoy. The flavor left on the cup was like suzuran or white lily, and I wish I could have enjoyed the scent for a little longer. I am so glad that I found my favorite. I would like to try some different ones too, then try the Chukou again – just to see if that is still my favorite.
Without any knowledge of awamori, you can relax and enjoy your time here because Mr. and Mrs. Nagamine are warm and welcoming. Soon, perhaps, many people will start having an interest in awamori, more so when they find their favorite one – as I did.
Find your favorite awamori at Karakara to Chibuguwaa.
Kuusu Bar and Ryukyu Dining Karakara to Chibuguwaa
Address: 3-15-15-1F Kumoji, Naha City, Okinawa
Hours: 18:00-24:00 (last order 23:00)
Okinawa CLIP photo writer: Sachiko