The Asian Invasion
Joe Camm, General Manager of Gordon’s Fine Wines & Liquors in Waltham, MA (outside Boston), notes that the Asian spirit market has blown up in the US over the past few years due in large part to two factors: The overall quality and drinkability of the products and the increasing influence of Asian culture on the West. Here are a few of his recommendations:
Ginza No Suzume Barley Shochu – This barley distilled Shochu from Japan is as smooth as velvet and as neutral tasting as anything on the market. $21/750ml.
Chum Churum Soju, from Korea, is an example of a Soju that should be mixed with sodas or juices to create fantastically clean and light cocktails. At only $19.99 for a 1.75Lt, it is a real steal. One of the hottest spirits on the streets of Seoul!
“If you’ve seen Lost in Translation, you probably got a kick out of Bill Murray’s pimping of Suntory whiskeys,” muses Camm. “In fact, Suntory is one of the biggest spirit companies on the planet, and it isn’t without good reason. The whiskeys that they sell, especially those from Japan, rival the best from Scotland.”
Hibiki 12-Year – A gorgeous blended whiskey, Hibiki 12yr was partially aged in plum liqueur barrels. Notes of honey and pineapple make this a whiskey of near perfect finesse. $63/750ml
Yamazaki 18-Year – If the Hibiki 12yr is about finesse, the Yamazaki 18yr is about depth and complexity. Everything from spice to smoke to dried fruits and dark chocolate is perceptible in this one – a true Asian treasure!
Sake2Me: Even though Sake2Me isn’t the most serious, connoisseur type sake, it still tastes damn good with sushi or other light fare. It comes in four flavors from Asian Pear to Ginger Mango and is slightly sparkling which adds refreshing effervescence.
Oimatsu Shuzo Snow Moon Beauty: For the more sophisticated yet value conscious sake drinker, Snow Moon Beauty is a smooth yet dry junmai ginjo sake. When served chilled, it offers notes of stone fruit with a light, elegant texture. $17.99/720ml
Henry Sidel, founder and president of New York-based importing company Joto Saké (www.jotosake.com), has brought small, artisanal Japanese sake producers to the U.S. market and shares his particular favorites.
“With Joto Sake, I look for qualities from the best sake-producing regions of Japan, and breweries which produce their sake in small batches, primarily using locally-raised rice.” He says, “When learning about sake and other Asian spirits, I advise shoppers to read what they can in books and online about Japanese food and drink, and see what the trends are. This will make what you see on your market shelves make more sense, so you can buy with confidence.”
Yuki No Bosha Limited Release Junmai Ginjo ($35.99/ 720 ml), produced in Akita at the Saiya Brewery, founded in 1902. It is the 4th most award-winning brewery in Japan.
Kasumi Kimoto Extra Dry ($26.99/ 720 ml), produced in Hyogo by the Kasumi Tsuru Brewery, founded in 1725 and managed by the 9th generation. The Brewery makes 90% of their sake by using the traditional yamahai and kimoto methods. It pairs well with the seafood, specifically crabs.
HouHou Shu ($14.99/ 300 ml), produced by the Marumoto Brewery, founded in 1867 in Okayama. It is a fun, sparkling sake made using same method as champagne.
Hana HouHouShu ($15.99/ 300 ml), also produced by the Marumoto Brewery, is made with real, dried herbs, including hibiscus that creates a pink hue; the rose hip creates a drier taste in the sake.
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This spring, Kai Vodka LLC releases its Kai Shochu/Soju 48 Proof line as well as a new range of Kai Flavored Vodkas, just in time for summertime cocktailing and tropical flavor. We hear one of the two Kai Shochu/Soju flavors will be Kai Young Coconut Shochu/Soju, made with coconut water.
Production of Domaine de Canton ($32) begins with the selection of only the finest, freshest baby Vietnamese ginger, peeled and cut by hand and then blended with VSOP and XO Grande Champagne Cognacs, Provençal honey, Tunisian Ginseng, and fresh vanilla beans. www.domainedecanton.com
Haamonii Smooth Shochu: Hand-crafted in small batches in the San Francisco Bay Area, a two-ounce serving of Haamonii is approximately 70 calories, compared to up to 120 calories for vodka. It is also available in Lemon. $31.99
Momokawa and Moonstone sakes provide great value for the home mixologist, neat or as a light cocktail foundation. Momokawa Silver, Diamond, Ruby and Pearl run about $12, while their Organic Ginjo and Nigori retail at $13 – $14. Moonstone’s yummy range (Asian Pear, Raspberry, Plum and Coconut Lemongrass) runs at about $12/bottle.
G Joy Junmai Ginjo Genshu Sake ($20) is distinguished with a sweet nose of tropical fruit, taffy and butterscotch, leading into a dry-yet-fruity medium-full body with baked apple and white toffee notes.