Nankai Group in California is currently the leading importer of honkaku kokuto shochu in the United States. Founded by Paul and Mai Nakayama, the company imports two kokuto shochu expressions produced by Machida Shuzo on Amami Oshima in Southern Japan.
While the standard expression, Nankai Shochu, has had its fair share of success on the spirits competition circuit, it’s the 86-proof Nankai Gold that’s making the biggest waves with a combination of koji-based umami, careful blending, and cask-aging. With gold medals at San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2019, Nankai Gold established itself as a force to be reckoned with in America’s nascent Japanese shochu market.
The shochu itself exhibits vanilla and tropical aromas (banana and mango) with a hint of raisin. On the palate there’s also a bit of Japanese sakuranbo plus the expected kokuto sugar mixed with a hint of a kelp-like umami.
2020 has forced the reorganization or cancellation of most international competitions, but look for Nankai to again represent shochu at future editions of these taste-making events.
Japanese government restrictions on extensive barrel-aging for kokuto shochu means that the spirit spends a relatively short amount of time in the cask (a few years, tops). This limited cask-aging enables a comparably complex spectrum of aromas.
For a list of all active shochu distilleries in the Amami Islands, please check this list.