Shidax Hall in Shibuya played host once again to one of the biggest annual honkaku shochu events held in Tokyo, Shochu Renaissance.
This year’s event, the 18th iteration in its history, showcased products from nearly three dozen shochu and awamori distilleries on the afternoon of April 10th. And the makers were eager to show off the versatility of the drinks they brought with them. Many tables poured their drinks straight, but there was no shortage of oyuwari available, and one distiller was even force carbonating his own soda water to make light sweet potato spritzers with only 8% alcohol.
Sweet potato shochu was in the majority in terms of labels available for tasting, but there was also plenty of barley, brown sugar, and rice product on offer. Hundreds of people roamed the large ballroom tasting as they went.
Tekkan Wakamatsu of Yamato Zakura Distillery in Nishiki Kushikino City, Kagoshima Prefecture, served as the MC for much of the afternoon, and he started the festivities off with local shochu expert and author, Christopher Pellegrini, on stage.
It was actually the second shochu event in as many days for Wakamatsu. He headlined a sold out sweet potato tasting event alongside Shinya Nakamura at OnJapan Cafe the previous evening.
The two talked about shochu’s international appeal and how being open to different ways of enjoying the drink is important. To demonstrate that point, Wakamatsu invited Tekefumi Hoshina, honcho of Heiando Bar (JP link) in Roppongi, onto the stage to talk about the three cocktails that he was serving.
Hoshina’s cocktails were all handmade, the first a barley shochu and fresh lemonade mixture. It was joined on Hoshina’s mixing table by a sweet potato martini that included macerated cinnamon sticks, and a brown sugar shochu with espresso.
As usual, there was also an a la carte food station for folks feeling a bit peckish, but the clear draw of the afternoon was the long list of high quality shochu available to sample. A good number of distilleries even brought limited run and seasonal labels with them to try out on the lucky guests.
Other distillers made their way onto the stage throughout the afternoon. Shinya Nakamura of Nakamura Distillery, and Shinsaku Kuroki of Kuroki Honten both talked about what they’ve been doing internationally over the past year. Kentaro Yagi of Yachiyoden Distillery spoke of his excitement about the challenges that lie ahead for the next generation of shochu and awamori makers, many of whom were present and serving thirsty guests.
An intriguing change from last year’s event was the uptick in the number of non-Japanese guests. Arranged by a handful of liquor shops, the Shochu Renaissance was formerly a way to introduce Tokyo izakaya to new brands that they could then begin ordering. But the event has slowly evolved to be more inclusive of regular drinkers, and that change was made clear by the more than 30 international guests hailing from Europe, North America, and Asia.
“I really enjoyed getting a taste of the whole spectrum of shochu. I didn’t even really know of oyuwari until I was offered it,” remarked James Simpson of the UK.
“There were so many representatives from all over Japan, each with their own tastes. It was fantastic. I hope I get a chance to go to a similar event in the future.”
Another important diversion from the norm of this type of industry tasting was the proliferation of patrons who were completely new to shochu and awamori. Several the distillers commented that they didn’t expect to be able to talk to so many shochu novices, both Japanese and international. This was a welcome change for them as they so often feel like they’re preaching to the choir at these events. It’s very rare for a distiller to be able to tailor their drink recommendations to the palate of a beer, wine, whiskey, or nihonshu drinker.
Admission was just ￥2,000 for the three hour afternoon event, and next year’s event will likely be an even bigger draw. Bookmark Shochu Pro’s Events calendar to get a heads up on future shochu and awamori events.