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Hachi Shochu's Ultimate Aged Shochu Masterclass: From Barley, Sweet Potato, Kokuto & Komekasu


As a non-Japanese person, learning about shochu is like discovering a hidden gem in a place you thought you knew well. Imagine stumbling into a secret garden in your favourite neighbourhood haunt that has always existed since before you were born, but you’ve only just noticed it. That’s kind of how shochu has existed alongside sake in Japan’s 500-year drinking tradition – a fascinating spirit made from all sorts of things like barley, sweet potatoes, rice, and even brown sugar, which means it comes in a fascinating array of flavours.


The earliest base ingredient of shochu in the 1500s was rice and sake lees. Over time, the base ingredients diversified to more readily available local products such as sweet potato, sugarcane and barley. (Source: JSS)


Shochu has in fact consistently outsold both sake and Japanese whisky for the past decade in Japan. And yet people outside of Japan are much less familiar with shochu than sakes or Japanese whisky. Why?



We have speculated this is partly because the shochu industry was only focused on the Japanese domestic market, and have been slow to adopt English labelling for export.



In terms of brand prestige, shochu has also historically been an underdog compared to sake, and was less conspicuously consumed. Sake has deep roots in ceremonies and celebrations, while shochu was the inexpensive drink of the common folk. Shochu also originates from Kyushu and the southern regions of Japan which are more agricultural and less affluent compared to the political and cultural centers of Japan, where sake was more popular, and widely consumed by the nobility and Samurai class.




At a shochu masterclass I recently attended at the venue of Japanese spirits retailer Mizunara: The Shop, the founder, Chandrakant Mohanty, described shochu as a low brow blue-collar drink in Japan until the 1970s. But then something interesting happened around the 1980s. Producers began experimenting with different base ingredients and more advanced vacuum distillation techniques, making it possible to make pure barley (mugi) shochu that was lighter and much easier to drink. And guess what? People loved it. According to Chandrakant, this really set off the first shochu boom in Japan.



The rise of cocktail culture also saw shochu being used as an alcoholic base for mixed drinks, making the accessible chu-hi (shochu highballs) a fashionable beverage. More recently, there was also a growing trend of people becoming more health-conscious. Unlike sake, shochu had zero sugar and fit right into that with its lower calorie count.

Interest in shochu has recently begun to pick up around the world. The world’s love for Japanese whisky and sake – domestic competitors of shochu back home – have ironically translated to a lot of curiosity around Japan’s native spirit. Spirits bars have began acquiring bottles while cocktail bars around the world are increasingly featuring shochu-based cocktails. The promotional efforts of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association (JSS) has played a significant role.

Barrel Aged Shochu

Given the typical drinker’s love for barrel-aged spirits like whisky and rums, barrel-aged shochus have been a very appealing gateway for introducing spirits enthusiasts to the shochu category. Historically, shochu was stored and aged in ceramic pots or stainless steel tanks, which don't impart the same flavour complexities as wooden barrels.


Aging shochu in wooden barrels, the way we do whisky, rums and brand, has become more popular in recent years. (Source: JSS)


The introduction of barrel-aging to shochu is a relatively modern development that came up around the 1950s. However, the use of barrel aging caught on with more experimental Japanese shochu distillers who wish to explore the possibilities of more innovative and unique shochu flavours.

The Hachi Shochu: Bringing barrel aged shochu to a global audience

This leads us to talk about the up-and-coming Hachi Shochu launched by Mizunara: The Shop, a brand created to introduce a large range of shochu made accessible to a broad international audience.



Hachi only bottles honkaku shochu in partnership with various Japanese shochu distillers that the brand has a personal connection with. “Honkaku” in Japanese means “authentic” or “genuine”, and Japanese law has very strict standards for what constitutes “honkaku shochu”, from the ingredients that could be used, to the specific method of distillation – all to preserve the character of the base materials in the resulting spirit.


(Source: Hachi Shochu)


About 50 different ingredients are permitted for making honkaku shochu – this permitted list includes grains and tubers like barley, sweet potatoes, rice and buckwheat. Koji mold must be used to kickstart the fermentation process and convert the starches into fermentable sugars. Finally, honkaku shochu is distilled once, thus allowing the spirit to retain most of the rich, nuanced flavour compounds of its base ingredients.

A week ago, I attended a Hachi Shochu masterclass which featured a range of 5 different shochu expressions bottled by Hachi, conducted by Brandon Lee at the office bar of Mizunara: The Shop in Singapore.

Here’s my experience with this colourful range.

Hachi Shochu, Brown Sugar (Kokuto), Virgin Oak Matured, 30% ABV

First up, we tasted Hachi’s brown sugar (kokuto) shochu, made in collaboration with Yayoi Shochu Brewery – a family-owned craft distillery on the Amami Oshima Islands of Kagoshima.

This is made from brown sugar sourced from Okinawa and blended from several batches of 3 to 5 year old brown sugar shochu aged in refill and recharred American white oak casks.

I find the aroma is incredibly similar to a rhum agricole.



Tasting notes

Nose: Super expressive. Opens with the richness akin to demerara rums, with an enveloping molasses note and smooth vanilla undertones. A gentle hint of pear, while mint brings a refreshing contrast. This bouquet is finely woven together with subtle notes of salted caramel and a whisper of oak spices.

Palate: The palate is a markedly lighter experience than the nose. It unfolds with savoury and umami layers complimented by light sweetness of brown sugar, delicate notes of Fuji pears and a drying sensation best described as a mild karakuchione gets in very dry sakes.

Finish: Long, with an enduring dryness, with light, leafy accents reminiscent of pandan.

My Thoughts:

Super unique, super intruding and surprisingly expressive on the nose. The palate takes a turn towards subtlety, presenting an unexpectedly light character that contrasts with the initial expectations set by the aroma.

This is a solid expression that provides an exploration of balance and contrast, while the dry qualities at the end offers a satisfying tasting experience that would make it compliment hearty foods.

My Rating: 7/10

Hachi Shochu, Barley (Mugi), White Oak Cask Matured, 30% ABV

Next up, we have Hachi’s Barley (mugi) shochu that was bottled in collaboration with Miroku Shuzo, a family-owned craft distillery in Oita, Japan. This is made from local barley grown near the distillery in Oita before being matured for about 3-4 years in a refill white oak cask.



Tasting notes

Nose: Opens with a comforting blend of creamy, biscuity notes, vanilla and honey. Some light peach syrup adds a candied and sweet note, with a grassy freshness underpinning the profile.

Palate: True to a barley shochu, the palate is an incredibly gentle and light experience. I mostly receive cereal flavours that closely mimic the grain-forward character of whisky, a maltiness and caramel note that reminds me of whisky.

Finish: A bitterness of grapefruit rind, fading notes of vanilla and some roasted nuts.

My Thoughts:

This Hachi mugi shochu is the epitome of subtlety and elegance. It’s got a strikingly rich, candied and creamy nose, with a really memorable delicate palate experience.

I’m thoroughly impressed that its able to maintain a delicate profile and still be able to convey depth.

My Rating: 7/10

Hachi Shochu, Sweet Potato (Imo), Brandy Cask Matured, 30% ABV

Next up, we have a funky one. This is a Hachi imo shochu made from Japanese sweet potato in collaboration with Ookubo Shuzo. The spirit was then mostly matured for 2 years in ex-brandy cask, with 10% of it maturing just 2 months in virgin oak for some spice and complexity.



Tasting notes

Nose: Rich and fruity with red fruits and fresh green Kyoho grapes for such a strong resemblance to Cognac or Armagnac with its vibrant sweet and lush character. It’s got a fresh, very slightly citric note that reminds me of Prosecco, and it’s got tons of fresh lychees, all rounded off with a hint of mint.

Palate: First sip immediately brings out the immediate sweetness reminiscent of a French brandy. This sweetness is beautifully balanced with the exotic taste of luscious lychees, with a gradually growing dryness emerges.

Finish: Ice cream soda with a blend of honey, oak, and a touch of dark chocolate that lingers pleasantly.

My Thoughts:

This Hachi imo shochu is fun, vibrant and very flavour-forward. The brandy cask maturation asserts a rather dominant influence, making this very perfumed and luscious. And despite its sweet potato base ingredient, I couldn’t detect any of the herbaceous notes I tend to get in other imo shochus. The dominant brandy cask pretty much steals the show and makes me wonder how much proportion of this shochu’s flavour actually comes from the base spirit.

Overall, this is best described as a tasty, friendly, low ABV grape brandy.

My Rating: 8/10

Hachi Shochu, Sake rice lees (Komekasu), Refill Virgin Oak Matured, 30% ABV

Moving on the blue label. This one is made from sake lees or “kasu” in Japanese. Sake lees are a dense, cream-colored paste rich in nutrients that is a residue left over from sake production. They have a light, fruity taste similar to sake itself and contains about 8% alcohol.

Hachi’s komekasu shochu is made in collaboration with the Nakamoto Sake Brewery located in Nara, Japan, which is close to 300 years old. The residual komekasu from sake production at the brewery is single distilled and then matured for about 7 years in a refill oak cask.

I should add that this is the longest-aged shochu of Hachi’s range.



Tasting notes

Nose: Bright, perfumed and floral. Opens with vivid floral and perfumed notes that smells almost exactly like gentle baby shampoo, with Johnson & Johnson’s or Sebamed coming to mind. Woven together with the fresh, crisp essence of apples and melons, alongside the unmistakable sweetness of bananas. Beneath this bouquet, there’s a rich, aromatic foundation of rice and mochi complimented by an unusual mineral and slightly soapy accent.

Palate: Luxurious and velvety. Initial sweetness is closely followed by a robust vanilla presence and comforting warmth of honey. A succulent fruitiness of fresh peaches and apricots in the background that gradually leads up to the creamy vanilla-influenced note of refill oak casks. There’s also a distinctive underlying mineral quality, akin to spring water, throughout.

Finish: Turns towards some sweet herbal nuances. Woods and Hacks candy with a minty sensation, along with a faint hint of woodiness and lightly toasted coconut flakes.

My Thoughts

This Hachi komekasu shochu the funkiest and most memorable of the set. The moment you notice its baby soap aromatics, I suspect you wouldn’t be able to shake that thought out of your head.

It’s got this interplay between ginjo sake flavours and the nuanced depth of oak maturation within the glass which would make it enjoyable and slightly intriguing to both sake enthusiasts and Scotch lovers.

My Rating: 8/10

Hachi Shochu, Limited Edition Sweet Potato (Imo), Mizunara Cask Matured, 30% ABV

Finally, we have the limited edition Hachi imo shochu made from Japanese sweet potato in collaboration with Ookubo Shuzo. This is pretty much the same as the standard Hachi imo shochu with a twist – it is matured for about 2 years and 7 months in famous Mizunara oak.

If you haven’t heard of Mizunara, it is a highly valuable oak type native to Japan that is incredibly difficult to fashion into liquor casks, very prone to leakages, but imparts very distinctive flavours not found in traditional “Western-style ”bourbon and sherry barrels, such as sandalwood, coconut and temple incense – aromas that evoke the feeling of being in a Zen Buddhist temple.

Due to the challenge of working with Mizunara and the distinctive notes it imparts, Japanese whisky matured in Mizunara are generally very coveted by collectors and could fetch very handsome prices at retail and auctions.



Let’s give this a taste.

Tasting notes

Nose: Rich with sweetness, with tons of dried trail mix fruits. Dried lychees, apricots, intertwined with fresh coconut cream and a medley of indistinct tropical fruit nuances. An aromatic temple incense smokiness weaves through the bouquet, along with a caramelised baked sweet potato note in the backdrop.

Palate: Very fruity and multifaceted – and wow – this tastes just like peach tea and then apricot brandy, followed closely by the sweetness of dried mango. It’s also got a just-as-present blend of vanilla and custard slowly unfolding, complemented by a gentle warmth that builds steadily at the back of the palate.

Finish: Sweet, but transitions seamlessly into cooler tones, reminiscent of minty Woods and Hacks candies, entwined with the dry sweetness of dried bananas and pineapples. There is a faint, yet distinctly recognisable note of sandalwood, giving a nice exotic aromatic depth to it.

My thoughts

This Mizunara cask-matured Hachi Imo shochu stands out as the most intricate and bold expression within the Hachi shochu collection. I feel it’s akin to a Scotch whisky in its complexity and robustness, but much, much fruitier with a harmonious integration of fruit, peach, vanilla, custard and herbal notes.

Really exceptional stuff!

My Rating: 9/10

Overall Thoughts

Honestly, each Hachi shochu is distinctive and warrants a tasting in its own right. It would be unfair of me to declare any of them as better than others because they are all of very decent quality, but are made of very different ingredients. It would be as meaningless as comparing apples and oranges.


The dazzling cabinet of spirits seen at Mizunara: The Shop.

What I could talk about is how a drinker’s preference might shift based on the occasion. For instance, during a hearty meal, the rich and fruity notes of the brandy-cask matured Hachi Imo expression, with the brandy-like depth and vibrant character, would probably be a fantastic accompaniment. On the other hand, if I were enjoying a lighter Japanese meal, the bright and floral notes of the Hachi Komekasu or the more neutral, gentle character of the Hachi Mugi expression would be very delightful, adding an elegant, boozy touch without overwhelming the meal's subtleties.

After dinner, when the time comes for a digestif to be savoured on its own, I would suggest the complex and full-bodied Hachi Mizunara cask-matured expression. Its intricate layers and robust profile make it a very appealing drink to sit back and unwind while you savour it neat.


A Hachi mugi shochu Negroni made at Mizunara the Library bar in Hong Kong (Source: Mizunara the Library)


All these shochus come with a very approachable 30% ABV, striking a very good balance between flavour and a moderate ABV. And although barrel aging is a relatively new innovation for shochu that began in the 1950s, Hachi’s decision to focus on barrel aged shochu makes sense for an international audience – allowing drinkers to benchmark their profiles against familiar "Western" liquors such as Scotch or brandy. For those new to shochu, these barrel-aged Hachi expressions are a very appealing gateway that offers a bridge to learn about traditional shochu.

Check out the dazzling range of Hachi Shochus at Mizunara: The Shop's official site here!