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Awamori 31/32; a Rare Awamori Brought Back to Life from Its Final Days and Available in Limited Quantities!
post : 2019.11.11 07:00
You may come across a certain type of exquisite liquor that you’ll want to enjoy not just to get drunk, but to take your time and thoroughly enjoy its characteristics. One of those such drinks is the Awamori that lay in wait for years at Chiyoizumi Shuzojo, a distillery that stood in the Karmata area of Miyako Island, an area boasting the longest history on the island. This Awamori was reborn in 2019 with a new name, 31/32 (San Ichi San Ni).
Chiyoizumi Distillery permanently closed its doors in 2018, following the death of its operator in 2013, and when no one came forward to take over the business. The Awamori produced by Chiyoizumi was cherished and enjoyed by the locals for many years. However, without anyone to manage the distillery, the Awamori that remained in the stored tanks awaited its fate of being eventually discarded…It was at that time when the Kosyu (pronounced Koshu) Project was founded to pass on the Awamori culture to the next generations.
The representative of the Project is Koji Higa, who also manages Awamori Souko, an Awamori specialty bar in Kume, Naha City. Higa-san says he’s always thinking of Awamori throughout his day. He shared his passion and thoughts on Awamori for this interview.
“Awamori, with its 600 years of history, is made up of dreams and hopes of our forefathers. I feel that it’s my calling in life to pass on the values and backgrounds that our forefathers painstakingly built to the future generations. Recently, many perceive alcohol simply as a tool to get drunk, or as a tool for communication. That isn’t a bad thing. But Awamori has always had a rich culture behind it, and during the time before the war, people enjoyed drinking the Awamori straight, without any mixers. In the period of the Ryukyu Dynasty, Awamori was served to welcome guests. It is a spirit that was passed along generations, and through its history, it has become a very refined type of alcohol. Awamori is the pride of Okinawa and its people. I hope to offer an opportunity for people to take a closer look at the Awamori culture, and see the value in its history.”
Higa-san was determined to “somehow protect and preserve the Awamori remaining in the storage tanks at Chiyoizumi Shuzojo.” He went on to bring life back to the approximately 20,000 liters of raw, unprocessed Awamori that awaited its fate.
Four varieties of Awamori were produced through the Koshu Project. Higa-san thought, “How can we pass on the history and taste of Chiyoizumi that will someday, inevitably see its final day.” So he went to three different Kuramoto or distilleries and presented his situation. It was these three distilleries: Sakiyama Shuzo Sho, Iheya Shuzojo, and Kamiya Shuzojo that decided to blend their own original Awamori with what remained from Chiyoizumi. “With the efforts of these three Kuramoto that are working hard to produce great Awamori, we can bring back Chiyoizumi back to life. Not just that, but many people will learn more about the three Kuramoto who generously agreed to blend their own proud Awamori. Chiyoizumi may not exist anymore, but it plays a big part in the future of the distilleries who blended their Awamori with that of Chiyoizumi,” says Higa-san.
After the three different blends that were produced with respect and in memory of Chiyoizumi came the fourth blend in the series, the Awamori 31/32. This Awamori is produced with the concept of “life” and is available in limited quantities.
There are two meanings to the name, 31/32. One is that the raw, unprocessed Awamori found at Chiyoizumi were stored in tanks that were numbered 31 and 32. The other comes from the time when Higa-san set foot into Chiyoizumi Distillery after it went out of business, and he saw a calendar hanging from a wall.
“The calendar on the wall at the distillery ended on December 31. Normally, it wouldn’t stop there. There will always be tomorrow, a day that follows today. Unfortunately, for Chiyoizumi, there wasn’t a tomorrow. That’s why we created a 32nd day for Chiyoizumi, a special day that would not normally arrive for anyone. Day 32. Through this special 32nd day, we hope that people will learn and enjoy the background of Awamori makers, about Miyako Island, and of course, about Chiyoizumi, and also about the history of Awamori and how to drink it.”
With his hopes for people to feel the preciousness of innocent lives and their losses, he decided to bottle the 31/32 Awamori in clear bottles. Through the transparent glass, he wanted people to clearly see it slowly decreasing, like a human lifespan. The unprocessed Awamori by Chiyoizumi is limited and once they’re gone, it can never be brought back. That is why he wanted to bottle them in clear bottles so that we can see and appreciate its life while it still existed.
The unprocessed alcohol from Chiyoizumi was hardly filtered before being bottled as 31/32 because “we wanted to deliver the last of this Awamori as it was left behind,” he says. The 31/32 Awamori is an aged Kusu, matured over approximately 10 years and has a sturdy, rounded sweetness. The recommended way to enjoy it is straight, little bit at a time in small Ochoko cups so as to fully enjoy the aroma and rich flavor.
Enjoy the Awamori with Kokuto brown sugar, dried fruits, or Toganzuke, the traditional confectionary from the time of the Ryukyu Dynasty. The sweet accompaniments will round off the high alcohol content of the Awamori and bring out the distinctive sweetness and gentle aromas.
The Awamori 31/32 is priced at over 10,000 yen and may not be a casual drink for many of us, but through this, we may rediscover the value and charm of Awamori. If you get a chance to try 31/32, a very special Awamori that’s limited in quantity, why not give it a try?
Okinawa CLIP photo writer, Sachiko Tachi