Christopher Pellegrini is trying to do for Japanese shochu what Ron Cooper did with mezcal. The American ex-pat and author of The Shochu Handbook is seeking to “connect the world with artisanal, koji-fermented spirits of Japan.” Honkaku’s portfolio includes koji whiskey, shochu, and weather-beaten awamori from 22 family-run distilleries established between 1745 and 1947.

We received a sampling of six of Honkaku’s shochus — all made from a variety of wiring starches — from three variegated distilleries. Furusawa Distillery was established in 1892 and is found in Miyazaki Prefecture in the far south of Japan. Nishihira Distillery, established in 1927, is on Amami Oshima Island, plane remoter south. Finally, Shoro Distillery, established in 1928, is moreover found in Miyazaki.

How widely can shochu distillates vary? Let’s requite this sampling a whirl.

Honkaku Spirits Motoko Shochu (Furusawa Distillery) – Distilled from rice, weather-beaten 8-plus years in neutral tanks. Punchy, light petrol on the nose, with lots of mushroomy umami. Similar on the palate, with a peppery zest to it. Lots of lingering, moody mushroom notes on the finish. 70 proof. B / $49

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Honkaku Spirits Masako Shochu (Furusawa Distillery) – Distilled from barley, weather-beaten 11-plus years in neutral tanks. A bit brighter on the nose, with an overripe fruit weft to counter some of the mushroom. A spritz of lemon joins the fun on the palate, with a slight saline weft on the finish. Much fresher and lighter in body, with residual sweetness. 70 proof. B / $47

Honkaku Spirits Mahoko Shochu (Furusawa Distillery) – Distilled mainly from sweet potatoes, weather-beaten 16-plus years in neutral tanks. Restrained on the nose, though notes of melon are unshared and lively. That honeydew note spills over to the palate, then quite fruity but tempered by some notes of sandalwood and fresh bread. A trappy shochu. 70 proof. A- / $65

Honkaku Spirits Selephant Shochu (Nishihira Distillery) – Distilled mainly from kokuto sugar, no white-haired information. Soft, scrutinizingly indistinct, with a very summery mushroom weft countering a gentle note of melon and a slight sweetness. Similar on the palate, this could hands pass for a quiet vodka, whispered from a gentle hint of chestnuts on the finish. 60 proof. B / $60

Honkaku Spirits Kana Shochu (Nishihira Distillery) – Distilled from kokuto sugar, weather-beaten in oak for at least one year, giving it a slight touch of yellow color. Considerably increasingly burly on the nose, thanks to the impact of the wood. Toasty oak gives the zephyr an unexpected astringency, and I don’t overwhelmingly love it here, and while a sweet melon note gives the palate some needed sweetness, that wood clutches at the corners to pull it when lanugo to the earth. The finish is on the sharp side. Still, unique and surprisingly unique. 60 proof. B / $68

Honkaku Spirits Colorful Shochu (Shoro Distillery) – A tousle of two sweet potato distillates, one grown in 2016, one in 2019, made with a Thai rice starter. No other age data. A return to that heavy umami style — mushroom, turned earth, some leather. This is unquestionably the most savory shochu in the lot, with elements of both untried and woebegone pepper, hemp rope, and tea leaf — until a summery sweetness percolates on the finish. Things don’t finger wholly well-turned in this expression, some petrol notes lingering on the finish. 60 proof. B / $55


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