If there’s one thing that Okinawa is known for, it’s the richness of its local produce and foods. In particular, Okinawan black sugar, called kokuto, stands out for its uniquely malty, slightly salty, deeper and richer flavors – which some even claim that this special brown sugar contains medicinal properties.
It’s incidentally also, as I recently found out, the perfect ingredient for a liqueur.
Who better than the SG Group to come up with the idea of the world’s first awamori brown sugar liqueur: Kokuto de Lequio.
Creating The World's First Awamori Brown Sugar Liqueur: Kokuto de Lequio
The creators, Shingo Gokan and Akira Nakasato (Image source: Kokuto de Lequio)
For the uninitiated, SG Group is a renowned bar management company helmed by Shingo Gokan and responsible for more than a few preeminent bars in Shanghai and Tokyo. To develop Kokuto de Lequio, Shingo and his team collaborated with Akira Nakasato from Mizuho Brewery.
There’s a huge degree of intentionality that has gone into the process of developing Kokuto de Lequio.
Kokuto being added into the Awamori (Image credit: Kokuto de Lequio)
For starters, you might think that all Okinawan brown sugar tastes the same, however, depending on where the brown sugar is produced, it can take on different flavors depending on the local terroir of the eight different islands that make up Okinawa. Consequently, to best achieve a deeper, richer flavor, the brand used a combination of two different types of brown sugar: one from Iriomote Island known for its richer, creamier profile, and one from Yonaguni Island known for a slightly bitter accent.
For the spirit in this liqueur, the brand used a fruity Ryukyu Awamori, a type of single-distilled Japanese liquor made from water, rice, yeast and a black mould called kuro koji. The yeast of this Awamori was said to be harvested from cherry blossoms. The distillery even blends in a tiny amount of rum distilled from kokuto to further accentuate the flavor of the brown sugar.
Shingo enjoying a fresh batch of Kukuto de Lequio. (Image source: Kokuto de Lequio)
To my knowledge, Kokuto de Lequio was just released in April 2023 in Japan, and the brand may be exploring opportunities for distribution outside of Japan. So keep your eyes peeled!
Kokuto De Lequio – Review & Tasting Notes
I tried this during a recent SG Club guest shift at Atlas Bar in Singapore.
Nose: The aroma is full of deep and sticky-sweet notes of molasses and licorice. There’s also an earthy herbality to it that reminds me of Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa’s thick honeyed sweetness or of Brown Sugared Grass Jelly.
Palate: Really creamy, syrupy and thick! It’s sweet for sure, but the sweetness is very layered. You first get a sticky-sweet note of brown sugar and caramel, that evolves into a more subtle vegetal quality of sweet dark soy sauce. There’s also a slight nutty note of hazelnut. It’s really complex and I give kudos to how the flavor evolves.
Finish: Long. There’s a certain oiliness that clings to the roof of your mouth. There lingering sweetness of brown sugar is now joined by a subtle hints of licorice, tobacco and light menthol notes.
Dark, elegant and full of complexity.
This liqueur shined on its own, but I could just as easily see it impressing as a flavor accent in a cocktail. The bartender that I was speaking to shared that he thinks this goes well even in a simple glass of milk. And I gotta say, I believe him.