Japanese Shochu Distilleries Branch Out Into Absinthe, Gin
On the island of Kyushu, the center of production for Japan's shochu distilled liquor, long-established breweries have started to branch out into the Western spirits of absinthe and gin, making use of the rich variety of local fruits, herbs, and other potential ingredients to produce carefully crafted drinks.
Photo Insert: Editions of Sata Souji Shoten's Absinthe Kusushiki in Takanabe, Miyazaki Prefecture
While honoring traditional production techniques, the challenge has been to adapt distilling equipment to reach the required level of purity for the alcohol and to select the right raw materials, Jun Ozaki and Asako Sugiyama reported for Kyodo News.
Munehiro Sata, 51, president of Sata Souji Shoten, a brewery founded in 1908 in Minamikyushu, Kagoshima Prefecture, has developed a fascination with absinthe, which was once banned in a number of European countries and the United States due to rumors, which proved unfounded, about its hallucinogenic properties.
Meanwhile, the Osuzuyama Distillery, which sits on a site surrounded by forest in the town of Kijo in Miyazaki Prefecture, also in Kyushu, began selling Osuzu Gin last summer.
The craft gin, which is made by further distilling the company's Yamaneko shochu made from sweet potatoes, is infused with local farm botanicals such as kumquat and "hyuganatsu" citrus fruit as well as shiitake mushrooms. The fragrant gin can be enjoyed as a mixed drink with carbonated water.
"The complex herbal aroma (of absinthe) attracted many cultural figures, such as (Vincent) Van Gogh and others," Sata said, referring to the Dutch 19th-century painter, as well the French poet Rimbaud and his nemesis, Verlaine. An aniseed-flavored drink, absinthe's main ingredient is wormwood.
Sata Souji uses sweet-potato shochu as the base while infusing the drink with a total of more than 40 botanicals in all, also including Sakurajima tangerines, kelp, and Japanese "ume" apricots.
The company boasts that it produces its wormwood without fertilizers or pesticides. Reflecting the fact that aniseed was traditionally used as a medicinal herb, Sata Souji's brand takes the name "Absinthe Kusushiki," with "Kusushiki" coming from the roots of the Japanese words for "medicine" and "mysterious."