Okinawa Tourism Information:UsingNoto’sHigh-QualityBrandofRice,theMikohara-Mai,ChukoAwamoriDistilleryCompanyUtilizestheirOwnUniqueDistillingTechniquestotheFullesttoCreate[CKR1],aNewDimensionofAwamori

Using Noto’s High-Quality Brand of Rice, the Mikohara-Mai, Chuko Awamori Distillery Company Utilizes their Own Unique Distilling Techniques to the Fullest to Create [CKR1], a New Dimension of Awamori

post : 2020.03.17 07:00

With their concept of “handing down and creating the Awamori culture”, Chuko Awamori Distillery Company welcomes their 70th year since their founding. The company has continued to engage in various research and innovative challenges based on their belief that “Awamori can be even more delicious” and has led the way in uncovering new and further potential of Awamori.

What’s particularly notable is that Chuko Distillery Company is a Kuramoto or a distiller, but is also a Kamamoto, or a potter. Amazingly, they produce their own Kame or earthenware pots in which the Awamori matures over time to produce high-quality aged Kusu, a first among the Awamori producers in Okinawa. Behind this challenge is their idea, “placing particular care into the Kame pots will lead to mastering the taste”. They established their Chuko Gama (kiln) in 1989 and launched their research into the Kama earthenware used for maturing Awamori to produce Kusu. Over countless trials and errors, they finally created their original Kame, the Ryukyu Gusuku Yaki, which is made all by hand, one by one.

Chairman Hajime Oshiro of Chuko Awamori Distillery Company, took to the potter’s wheel himself to study the Kame earthenware pots.
Photo Courtesy of Chuko Awamori Distillery Company

From such a remarkable company that is Chuko Distillery, we received news about the introduction of their proud “Awamori of a new dimension” which they’ve named CKR1! To quench my curiosity and experience this new Awamori, I immediately paid a visit to their Kusu-no Mori Chuko Gura. It’s located in Tomigusuku City, about 10 minutes away from Naha Airport, and here at Kusu-no Mori Chuko Gura, visitors can tour the Awamori factory where they produce their Awamori by hand, just like how it was in the past. You can also tour one of the largest wooden cellars in Okinawa, where their Kusu lay in waiting for their time. And finally, you can see their Chuko Gama, where craftsmen make the Kame earthenware pots. What’s also great is that you can taste a variety of Awamori produced at Chuko Distillery, too. Awamori masters and knowledgeable staff are at hand to give you detailed explanations on the different Awamori that you can taste, and you can take your time to find the one that suits your taste.


“Welcome! To a new world of Awamori!”

That was the greeting I got from the president of the company, Tsutomu Oshiro. At the taste-testing counter that they had set up especially for the interview, we tasted different Awamori together and the president himself introduced to me about the appeal of Chuko Distillery and their new product, CKR1.

He asked, “Do you often drink Awamori?” I replied, “Actually, I rarely drink Awamori.” To that, Mr. Oshiro pointed to the three different glasses placed in front of me and said, “Then, let’s start with a drink before I get into explanations.” Underneath each of the glasses were labels that read, “Green Apple Scent”, “Pear Scent”, and “Vanilla Scent”. Hmm, I wonder what they mean? Mr. Oshiro began, “At our distillery, we have developed our very own production techniques, and according to different production methods, the flavors are colorfully different. Let’s have you go ahead and experience the three different scents, and I’ll explain each of their production methods.”

I picked up the ‘green apple’ glass. As the liquid was poured into the glass, a refreshing scent arose. I was shocked. I had no idea Awamori can have a scent like this! It was sharp, but not the sharpness of alcohol, but a refreshing aroma, and the aftertaste was gentle and soft.

“This is made with the old method called Shi-jiru Shinshi method. Today’s Awamori production mainly involves washing the rice, the raw ingredient, before soaking it in water, but long ago, they used a method where they didn’t wash the rice. Instead, the rice was left to soak in its own broth, called Shi-jiru. Why did the people of the past use Shi-jiru? We didn’t know the reason behind it. But there has to be a reason why they chose to do it this way. So, at Chuko distillery, we revived this method which was lost about 40 years before, and set out to study this distillation method to solve the mystery. This was a joint research project with Tokyo University of Agriculture, my alma mater. As a result, we found that Shi-jiru Shinshi (Shi-jiru immersion) was a fermentation process through lactic acid bacteria and microorganisms. It was the fermentation that was effective in changing the quality of Awamori, and created the gentle flavors and the sweetness with depth. In other words, the green apple scent is made through the effects of lactic acid bacteria and microorganisms.” 


For their research and findings, they were awarded the technical award by the Brewing Society of Japan in 2006, a remarkable accomplishment and another first in Okinawa Prefecture.

Next came the pear scent. As I brought the glass closer to my face, my nose was tickled by the fruity, flowery scent. It had a slightly sweet taste and was delightfully mellow going down, and almost too easy to drink.

“Regular Awamori takes two days to make the Koji mold, but this takes four days (yokka, in Japanese), double the amount of time. This method is called the Yokka Koji method. It requires thorough temperature control, and by adding Kuro Koji or black mold spores, the mycelium or the spawn goes firmly into the inner part of the rice grains. This increases the enzymatic activity of the black Koji and creates a richer composition that is the base for flavor and aroma. The rich, aromatic composition of this Awamori is reminiscent of La France, a highly aromatic variety of pears.”

The Yokka Koji method uses Kuro Koji to bring about the effects of “Shiro Koji”
Photo Courtesy of Chuko Awamori Distillery Company


Now, for the third glass, the vanilla. “Vanilla-scented Awamori?” I was filled with questions as I took a sip. How sweet it tasted! This was definitely vanilla (LOL). It wasn’t overly sweet, but it melted away on the palate with a definite sweetness. Just as I was thinking, “This isn’t like any Awamori I’ve tasted,” Mr. Oshiro said with a smile, “Drinking our Kusu, your preconceptions of Awamori will change drastically.”

“Doesn’t it remind you of the sweet scent of whiskey that’s been aged for a few years? The secret to the sweet aroma of our Awamori is the yeast we’ve extracted from Okinawan mangoes. It’s a new type of yeast that we uncovered in our joint research with Tropical Techno Center and National Institute of Technology, Okinawa College in 2007. The vanilla scent is created as the substance called 4-VG matures, but we’ve learned that this yeast can produce over ten times more 4-VG than normal (ratio at Chuko Distillery during distillation). The longer we let the Awamori rest, the scent of vanilla gets stronger. The Awamori made with this yeast tuns into a Kusu with a rich, sweet aroma, the longer it matures.”

After experiencing the three different glasses, we went on to compare the tastes of Shinshu (younger and new Awamori), aged Kusu stored in stainless steel tanks, and aged Kusu matured in Kame earthenware. We used traditional Awamori containers, pouring the liquor into tiny cups called Chibugwa, from a bigger container called Kara Kara. First, I took a sip of the aged Kusu stored in a stainless-steel tank. Then the Kusu from Kame earthenware. The taste was clearly different. The Kusu from the Kame had surprising depth and roundness. This is so, I was told, because the minerals and magnesium from the clay of the Kame promotes the aging process. As for the Shinshu, I couldn’t help but to exclaim, “So young!” from its freshness. Kusu is only called Kusu after it’s been aged for three years or more, but it was amazing to taste and experience their differences and characteristics according to the number of years in their aging, and the container used to store them.


Finally, the awaited CKR1, their new product.

“The reason why I presented the three different scents and briefed you on each of their appeals, and had you experience the wonderful characteristics of the Awamori stored in Kame earthenware beforehand, is because our CKR1 is produced with all of the technologies from the others. Both the Shi-jiru immersion method and Yokka Koji method are used, and also is prepared with Okinawan mango yeast, and finally, it is thoroughly aged in our original vintage Kame earthenware. It’s a compilation of all our very own technology and knowledge we have gained at Chuko Distillery through our years of hard work. That is our CKR1, meaning “Chuko Reiwa 1.” (*Reiwa is the name of Japan’s newest era which began May 1, 2019.)

Photo Courtesy of Chuko Awamori Distillery Company

“Here you go!” He poured me a glass, and I took a sip. The first thing I exclaimed was, “It’s sweet!” The aroma and the flavor were both really sweet and well-rounded. I completely understood why they called it a new dimension of Awamori. It was packed with fresh and new surprises.

“The champion of the Ryukyu Awamori Cocktail Competition 2019 that was held in Iceland said, “it reminds me of a cake” and that made us very happy. It has a full, rounded aroma, but maintains the sharpness and isn’t heavy at all. We feel that we’ve achieved the height of Awamori with a very clean and beautiful taste.”

The CKR1 is prepared with their very own skills, knowledge and experience that Chuko Distillery is very proud of, but there’s actually another big factor that is notable about this new product. The rice that is used as a raw ingredient for the Awamori is Mikohara-Mai, a brand of rice grown in Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture. Usually, Awamori is made with Thai rice, but for the CKR1, Chuko Distillery chose to use rice grown in Japan.

Golden-colored terraced rice fields growing Mikohara-Mai rice
Photo Courtesy of Chuko Awamori Distillery Company

“In talking about how the CKR1 came to be produced, it all began with our encounter with Mikohara-Mai. The strain of this rice is Koshi Hikari, and the Mikohara-Mai is grown in the beautiful terrace fields of Noto, which is registered as a World Heritage Site. Mr. Josen Takano was a civil servant who worked hard in the regional revitalization of the Mikohara area, and through his efforts, the region created their Mikohara-Mai, the finest quality of rice, and sold it across Japan as a high-brand of rice. Mr. Takano and Mikohara-Mai came to be well-known when it was announced that the rice was presented to the Pope. The event garnered so much attention that Mr. Takano and his work was turned to a television drama. When Mr. Takano came to Okinawa to speak, I had the opportunity to meet and talk with him in person through introduction from an acquaintance. According to my acquaintance, Mikohara-Mai was used to produce fine Japanese sake, and we spoke about how great it would be to use the same rice to make fine Awamori. And that’s how our journey to produce the CKR1 all began.”


Mikohara-Mai production is limited, at just 30 tons of harvest a year, making this special rice even more precious. Chuko Distillery produces their CKR1 with one ton from their harvest, and began their development and production in 2016.

“We already had the technology in producing Awamori using Japanese rice. But still, there were things we still needed to see and learn upon actual production. We thought, if that’s the case, then let’s gather all the technology and knowledge we’ve acquired over the years at Chuko Distillery, and give it our best go! So, from our initial start, we aged the Awamori for three years, and in 2019, we came up with our first Kusu using the Mikohara-Mai. We tasted it, and wow! It was just amazing. We were confident that we entered a new era of Awamori.”

After confirming the taste of the first test batch, Chuko Awamori Distillery began preparations for the new product in 2019, limiting the number of bottles for sale to 1,000. The CKR1 is only available by order in advance, and after three years of aging in their Kame, customers will receive their order in January of 2023. That’s right, the CKR1 is nestled in the cellars, quietly sleeping in the vintage Kame pots, even as we speak.


During the three years that we wait, there’s also something that will make us smile. In November 2020, customers will receive a three-bottle set of Awamori, with vanilla, green apple, and pear aromas. In November 2021, another set of Shinshu (new Awamori), Kusu that’s been aged for 15 years in a stainless-steel tank, and another 15-year-old Kusu, aged in a Kame pot will be delivered. So, if you place your order, you can enjoy the Awamori set that I introduced in this article.

The CKR1 is the crowning work of Chuko Awamori Distillery, and Mr. Oshiro proudly says, “This is the very best of Awamori!” You can taste it at Kusu-no Mori Chuko Gura, so if you get a chance, try this ultimate Awamori. And while there, why don’t you place your order for “a delivery of great joy, three years from now”, and receive that very special Awamori that will arrive from Okinawa

*To reserve your order of CKR1, visit the official website for Kusu-no Mori Chuko Gura.  (in Japanese)

Kusu-no Mori Chuko Gura (Awamori Cellar)
Address: 556-2 Iraha, Tomigusuku City, Naha
Telephone: 098-851-8813
Hours: 9:00 to 17:30
Closed: New Year’s Day 

*Last reception for their cellar observation tour is 16:30.

Okinawa CLIP photo writer, Norie Okabe