- “A Stroll in the Myths and History of Okinawa” at Sashiki Ui Gusuku and Tsukishiro
- Camp Talganie Artistic Farm (Itoman) Connects the Ordinary and Extraordinary, and Okinawa and the World at the Smallest Modern Art Museum in the World
[Okinawa CLIP Marche] Aged Kusu Awamori Proudly Produced by Yamakawa Shuzo (Distillery) in Yanbaru
post : 2018.12.08 06:00
Awamori is a distilled liquor that is the pride of the Okinawans. In the past, Awamori distillation was only permitted under the jurisdiction of the royal Ryukyu dynasty in Shuri. Majority of the distilleries were completely destroyed in the Battle of Okinawa, and Awamori, with its 600 years of history, was almost lost. After the war however, experienced distillers who had escaped the fires in Shuri got together to revive the Awamori production once again. Located in Motobu Town, in the lush northern regions of Okinawa Island, is Yamakawa Shuzo. In the production of their Awamori, Yamakawa Shuzo is particular about letting their Awamori “rest”. The first generation master of this distillery was Sodo Yamakawa, who had immigrated to Peru and made his living making soy sauce and other work there. While he was on a trip to visit his homeland, the war broke out and he was unable to return to Peru. In the chaos of the post-war period, he found a way to start a distillery in Yanbaru (another name for the northern region of Okinawa Island). Later, distillation licensing was established by the then Ryukyuan government and the full revival of Awamori production began. During a period where production and retail of Awamori was already tough to scrape by a living, Sodo Yamakawa already had his eye on the production of Kusu (written as “aged sake” in Japanese, referring to Awamori matured over a period of three years or more).
(Indica rice from Thailand is the main ingredient for Awamori. After steaming, it is left for black koji mold to propagate over approximately 40 hours.)
(Mixture of koji, water, and Awamori yeast is fermented in a tank.)
The distillery worked to produce their Kusu, based on the words of Sodo Yamakawa:” No matter what period in time, always work hard, and always let the Kusu rest. Eventually, everything will pass and the Kusu will see its time.” Their efforts in their Kusu production became widely known and loved by the locals. Three generations of the distillery’s masters have carefully preserved the Kusu which have been resting for 30, 40, and 50 years.
Over time, Awamori becomes more mellow and rounded in taste, and that is where the secret to the words of the founder, “Kusu will see its time,” can be seen. Carrying on the words of the original master, Yamakawa Shuzo continues to age their Awamori until time does its work, and delivers this proud taste of their Kusu to the customers. What I must note here also, is the water they use. Water is the foundation to producing liquor, and at Yamakawa, they use spring water that flows from the mountains of Motobu Town. The rich nature of Yanbaru gives its blessings and adds depth to the taste in the fine Awamori produced here.
Among the Awamori carefully produced by Yamakawa Shuzo, the one I hope you’ll try is their “Sangosho (meaning coral reef)”. This was named so because both the growth of the coral reefs and maturing of the Kusu take time. You can choose either the 43% or 30% alcohol content from this 10-year Kusu. The rich aroma will spread in your mouth with one sip from this Kusu that has been aged over a long period.
Another recommendation is their unique Awamori, the “Sakura Ichiban, Prepared with Sakura Cherry Yeast”. This special Awamori that features the uniqueness of Motobu Town is available just in time for the Cherry Blossom Festival held every year at the hills of Yaedake. It is prepared with cherry yeast collected from the blossoms of the Kanhi Zakura cherry trees that grow in Yaedake. This special Awamori, with a refreshing aroma from using the local cherry blossoms, was developed under the guidance of Hisayasu Nakata, a flower yeast expert, and professor emeritus of the Tokyo University of Agriculture.
Shown in the photo above is their limited Kusu, the Choju Densetsu, with only 100 bottles produced a year. This Awamori is produced using a method called Shitsugi, contained in a clay vase for liquor intended to be aged for a century. Shitsugi is a process in which younger aged Kusu is added to older Kusu, which allows the Kusu to maintain the original, matured aroma. The Choju Densetsu is aged for a long period using this traditional method, with two types available for purchase. The “Silver” offers a touch of youth and has a gentler flavor, while the “Gold” has a sweet, cacao-like aroma, and depth in its flavor. On the label, you’ll find proof to its limited production, and marked with a limited edition number.
As shown above, the bottles of Awamori produced by Yamakawa Distillery are proudly displayed at the retail area. Some of the eye-catching ones are those aged Awamori contained in wooden boxes made of paulownia wood (second shelf from the top, center). The age of the Kusu range from 15, 20, 40 years…and there was one labeled 1967! Here, you’ll find such “limited treasure” Awamori, aged for over 50 years.
To fully enjoy Awamori, pour about 1/3 of a glass, gently swirl and let the air bring out the aroma. The older the Kusu, the longer it takes for the aroma to be released, so take your time leisurely and enjoy the subtle changes of the scent. The more common, younger Awamori is best enjoyed as an aperitif, mixed with water, shikwasa citrus or acerola juice. To enjoy with your meals, choose an Awamori that has been aged for 10 years or more, recommended on the rocks or straight. For Awamori aged 15 years or more, enjoy it straight, after your meal. President Yamakawa says, “Slowly sip and let the Awamori roll on your palate to fully enjoy the taste.”
Awamori can be enjoyed with a wide variety of cuisine of different genre. In Motobu Town, where Yamakawa Distillery is located, bonito tuna fishing is bountiful and according to the locals, the ‘golden match’ with the local Awamori is Motobu’s bonito tuna sashimi, served not with soy sauce, but with vinegar-miso. This is a must-try. Kusu is great with flavorful dishes, like Okinawan stewed Oden. The tenderly cooked, melt-in-your-mouth Tebichi goes well with Kusu served in very small sake cups. Enjoy a long, delightful evening as you leisurely sip on fine Kusu, and when it starts hitting the spot, don’t forget to dance the Kachashi to the sounds of the Sanshin.
Yamakawa Shuzo Co., Ltd.
Address: 58 Namizato, Motobu Town, Kunigami, Okinawa
Business Hours: 8:00-12:00, 13:30-17:00
Okinawa CLIP photo writers, monobox (Tetsumasa & Kozue Kawano)