Reading is primary, as my writing teachers used to say, and that is especially true for anyone wishing to spread Japan’s best-kept secrets to drinkers far and wide. So if you’re the type of nerd (like us) who really likes to dig into new subject areas, then this article is for you.
What follows is a list of publications that should greatly enhance your understanding of what makes awamori and shochu special and unique. I’ve included references and articles that are not necessarily about Japan’s indigenous spirits but will buttress your comprehensive mastery of all things booze.
This list will be expanded from time to time, so don’t be surprised to find a new reference during your next visit. If you have any additions that you think should be listed here, then please leave a comment.
Awamori- and Shochu-Specific References
The Complete Guide to Japanese Drinks
by Stephen Lyman and Chris Bunting
This is just a stellar reference. It covers major types of alcohol brewed and distilled in Japan with awamori and shochu getting a whole chapter (pgs. 42-77). They knocked it out of the park with this one and earned a 2020 James Beard nomination for their efforts.
The Shochu Handbook: An Introduction to Japan’s Indigenous Distilled Drink
by Christopher Pellegrini
This is a somewhat nerdy yet reasonably accessible introduction to the category (awamori gets a little love, too).
Books about Alcohol
by David Wondrich
If you consider yourself to be a cocktail drinker or mixer, yet you haven’t read this highly enjoyable book on the category’s history and genesis, get thee to a library or bookstore post haste!
Proof: The Science of Booze
by Adam Rogers
I’m a huge fan of this book. I’ve read the entire thing twice and certain chapters five or six times. It covers the building blocks of alcohol, everything from sugar to yeast to maturation, and you should absolutely, 100% own a copy of it.
The Drinkable Globe
by Jeff Cioletti
Shochu gets several mentions in this ode to world alcohol traditions. Jeff has visited Japan several times and clearly enjoyed himself. Check the index at the back for quick access.
Specific Alcohol Traditions
Baijiu: The Essential Guide to Chinese Spirits
by Derek Sandhaus
This is hands-down the best introduction written about the world’s top-selling category (by volume) of spirit.
Mezcal: The History, Craft & Cocktails of the World’s Ultimate Artisanal Spirit
by Emma Janzen
If you’re looking for a spirit tradition that is as terroir-driven and (until recently) under the radar as shochu and awamori, then this Beard Award-nominated reference is for.
Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla: A Guide to the Traditional Wines of Andalucia
by Peter Liem and Jesus Barquin
Aside from the fact that sherry is wildly underrated, you should read this book because awamori has a fractional aging tradition, not at all dissimilar from sherry’s solera system.
The Sake Handbook: All the information you need to become a sake expert!
by John Gauntner
I can’t believe that this essential reference is nearly 20 years old. Let me assure you that if you find yourself falling down the awamori and shochu rabbit hole, you’re going to have to talk about sake at some point. This is a very good starting point.
What is “Traditional” Soju?: A Spirited Debate
by Joshua Shenkkan
This well-researched article gives a good introduction to how undefined Korean soju is in general, and how recent and unregulated “craft” soju is in particular.
Koji Alchemy: Rediscovering the Magic of Mold-Based Fermentation
by Rich Shih and Jeremy Umansky
Without koji, you wouldn’t have much of Japanese cuisine or any of its alcohol. This is a thorough starting point for learning about the magic of koji fungus.
by Harry Rosenblum
An accessible introduction to the whats, hows, and whys of vinegar. Includes recipes for homemade vinegar and details adding vinegar’s acidic touch to cocktails.
Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation
by Chris White (with Jamil Zainasheff)
This book is for beer brewers, both at home and commercial, but the book packs crazy amounts of information into its 300+ pages that will help educate anyone who needs to understand how yeast is so much more than a tool for converting sugar to alcohol.