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7 Things You Should Know About Okinawa's OneRum


OneRum is Okinawa's answer to the Caribbeans, similar in latitude and with its own island complex, the project was born from a desire by a local Master Distiller to showcase the unique terroir and microclimate of the Okinawan islands as distinctive profiles of their own. 

While Okinawa is best known for its Awamori rice spirits, sugarcane is actually the largest crop of the islands and have been used to produce Okinawan Black Sugar that is not only characterful but is also said to hold medicinal properties, and is prized in East Asian countries.

Here are 7 things you should know about Okinawa's OneRum.


Akira Nakazato at OneRum.

1. OneRum is a project created by Akira Nakazato, Master Distiller at a historic Awamori distillery in Okinawa.

Akira Nakazato is the Master Distiller of the historic Mizuho Shuzo (Shuzo being distillery), the oldest Awamori producer in Shuri, once the imperial capital of the Ryukyu Kingdom (today it is known as Naha), and second oldest across Okinawa. Mizuho Shuzo had been established in 1848 AD, the same year Ryukyu's new King Sho Tai had ascended the throne - and thus was a cherished part of the royal family. Today it remains one of only a handful of distilleries surviving from that era, and is particularly known for its aged Awamori known as Kusu.


Mizuho Shuzo's Tenryu-Kura, which translates as "storehouses of heavenly dragons", which tells you just how elevated the status of Awamori is in Okinawa.


As the Okinawan island is known for producing sugar - and in particular prized brown sugar from sugarcane, Nakazato had wanted to do something with the stockpiles of sugar that was being made and unsold as a result of the Covid pandemic, having also known that the brown sugar from each island had different flavour profiles as a result of differences in microclimate, terroir and methods of production. His OneRum project hopes to showcase the nuances between the various Okinawan islands from various angles - OneRum's Single Island Series has 8 white rums from eight Okinawan islands, each made using only the brown sugar produced in that particular island.


Nakazato has constantly found innovative ways to keep Awamori relevant.

2. OneRum founder is behind the incredibly popular Kokuto de Lequio Awamori liqueur by internationally acclaimed Japanese bartender Shingo Gokan.

Nakazato has also partnered with renown Japanese bartender Shingo Gokan, of award-winning cocktail bar SG Club and Sober Company, to produce an Awamori-base Kokuto liqueur (Kokuto being Okinawan Black Sugar) named Kokuto de Lequio (which we reviewed here!).

Nakazato has spearheaded multiple other new projects (which the distillery calls Frontier Spirits) under Mizuho as well, ranging from starting a gin lineup that has received positive feedback at international competitions, to starting a new distillery in Taiwan to help produce spirits for white label customers.

This has helped carve a reputation for Nakazato as being versatile in developing new Okinawan spirits and also constantly finding new ways to promote Awamori. OneRum is the new big project coming from Nakazato and Mizuho Shuzo!


Awamori is Okinawa if it were a spirit. (Image Source: Savvy Tokyo)

3. OneRum comes from Okinawa where Awamori reigns supreme.

Awamori is a rice spirit made from long grain indica rice, most commonly found in Thailand, that is then fermented once and uses black koji mold. This differs from another common Japanese spirit called Shochu, which can also be made using rice (along with a wide variety of other agricultural bases) but needs not be limited to only long grain indica rice as in the case of Awamori, and is fermented twice as opposed to once with Awamori. The koji used for Shochu can be black, white or yellow, whereas Awamori is only made using black koji.

The history of the spirit comes from the ancient trading ties between the Ryukyu Kingdom (what Okinawa was historically known as) and the Ayutthaya Kingdom (today Thailand). In Thailand, the equivalent drink is known a lao khao, and this exchange of cultures would have taken place in the 15th century when the Ryukyu Kingdom had served as a major trading point for Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, in the centuries since, Okinawans have tweaked the spirit making which has made it entirely unique to Okinawa.


Okinawa is known for its black sugar that is earthy, caramelly and toffee-like, even said to be medicinal.

4. Okinawa biggest crop is actually sugarcane and even shares a similar latitude as the Caribbean islands. 

Okinawa like many other islands around the world, harvest sugarcane to produce sugar. But aside from only producing the common table white sugar, Okinawa is also renowned for producing brown sugar that is made by hours of boiling down sugarcane juice until a black syrup forms, which is then left to cool and harden. Okinawan brown sugar  which is typically branded and sold as Okinawan Black Sugar (known locally as Kokuto) is deeply earthy, malty, toffee-like dense and darkly colour sugar that is also said to carry a myriad of health benefits, and is particularly popular with tourists.

And as a result, Okinawa's largest produce by acreage is actually sugarcane, as a result of the sugar trade and its unique brown sugar.



5. OneRum is an exploration of Okinawa's island terroir in more ways than one.

According to Nakazato, each island has its own sugarcane varieties and also uses different methods to produce its brown sugar, not to mention varying microclimates and terroir. Consequently, Nakazato had wanted to demonstrate the complexities and nuances of Okinawa's terroir by first producing a series of eight white rums, each made from the brown sugar from a single island, together forming OneRum's Single Island Series. Each bottle comes with gorgeous label art paying homage to an aspect about the island whose rum it contains - the Yonaguni rum features local horse herds grazing, whilst the Iheya rum features a devotee seeking enlightenment in the island's Kumaya Cave, which as legend has it is home to the gods.

Nakazato would source brown sugar from 8 islands making up Okinawa - Kohama, Ie, Iriomote, Tarama, Aguni, Hateruma, Yonaguni and Iheya. He would then dissolve them separately in water, ferment and then distill them. OneRum's Single Island series has been incredibly successful with most releases numbered in only the hundreds of bottles and were sold out almost instantly.

OneRum subsequently put out an Okinawa Islands Rum - Blended which is a blend of white rums from all eight islands, serving as a holistic representation of Okinawa's rum profile.


6. Aged Okinawan rums and an agricultural rum made from sugarcane juice is on the horizon.

Thus far, OneRum has only produced white rums in both single island bottlings and a multi-island blend, however, Nakazato has already begun ageing the white cane spirits, and has even teased having gotten oak barrels from an apparently well-known Japanese whisky distillery.

Another exciting endeavour from OneRum is the soon to be released agricultural rum that will hope to showcase closer to the source the character of Okinawa's sugarcane. As OneRum's Single Island series and Okinawa Islands Rum - Blended are produced from brown sugars, OneRum hopes to go a step closer to the cane by using the cane itself!


7. OneRum's Akira Nakazato has already begun growing his own sugarcane with the help of various local experts.

In the process of creating OneRum, Nakazato's conversations with sugarcane growers made him realise how much was left for him to learn about sugarcane and so he decided to jump into the deep end, enlisting the help of various local experts, agencies and academia, to grow his own sugarcane at Mizuho Shuzo.

Thus far Nakazato has grown three different varieties of sugarcane, all of which has been planted and harvested by hand, with Nakazato himself keeping a watchful eye. 

From this, he hopes to produce an agricultural rum closer to that of the French-style Rhum Agricole that is notably made in Martinique. This will be the basis for OneRum's next launch of its One Island Series.