Monday, July 6, 2015

Hawaiian Shochu Company or Why We Love The Magic Funk Factor

The Koji Room at Hawaiian Shochu Company

I have learned something in my experiences as a dickwolfer, and even just as an eater and a drinker. And it is this:
The Funk Factor is where the magic is at.
It is present in all food and beverages that have some sort of fermentation alchemy going on.
 Think miso, cheese, shoyu, wine, beer, kombucha....
The fermentation process is a funky one.
Beautiful in it's delicate balance of foul and fantastic. A little on the edge, risky almost.
 Left a little too long and fermentation becomes rot, but carefully tended with intention and you've got the alchemy of turning something unimpressive into something golden.

al . che . my
1. the medieval forerunner of chemistry, based on the supposed transformation of matter. It was concerned particularly with attempts to convert base metals into gold or to find a universal elixir.  
2. a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation or combination.

And this brings me to the coolness, precision and magic happening at the 
Hawaiian Shochu Company.
Tucked into the sleepy back roads of Haleiwa on the 
North Shore of Oahu, a tour of The Hawaiian Shochu Company is a really great addition to your North Shore experience. Most people are familiar with Sake, but Shochu has been having a surge in popularity not only in Japan, but in the U.S. as well, and Oahu is home to the United States' only shochu distillery.  
Shochu is a Japanese distilled spirit, while Sake is a brewed beverage. If you are curious about this fascinating process, a trip to Hawaiian Shochu Company is a must on your list of things not to be missed when on Oahu.

Hawaiian Shochu Company was one of only two Shochu distilleries in the United States until recently, when a Washington state distillery closed its doors, making Hawaiian Shochu Company the country's only shochu distillery.
Namihana Shochu

Namihana is the name of Hawaiian Shochu Company's shochu. It is created using traditional techniques of "Kurose Brew Masters" of Kagoshima, Japan. Years ago, Ken Hirata served as an apprentice under Master Manzen at Manzen Shuzo Co. in Kagoshima, Japan, later choosing Hawaii as the place to set up his own distillery based on Hawaii's weather, which is similar to Kagoshima's fall season when sweet potatoes are harvested. Hawaii offers a year round growing season in rich volcanic soil for the many varieties of sweet potatoes used in Namihana Shochu. Even the Name "Namihana" sounds like a blend of Hawaiian and Japanese: Nami - meaning waves, and Hana - meaning flowers.

Although Sweet potatoes are key in producing this Shochu, the real magic ingredient is KOJI-rice. And this is where the magic happens: when Koda Farms heirloom varietal rice is steamed in a wooden steamer called a KOSHIKI, and then introduced with koji (culture), the magic funk begins to do it's thing. This process is done by hand and closely watched as it does it's magic for 48 hours. Ken and his wife, Yumiko carefully tend to the fermentation of the Koji rice like a winemaker tends to his grapes, until they have reached the right balance of funk.   
Kametsubo fermentation pots

Next the koji rice is mixed with steamed sweet potatoes and then goes into century-old ceramic vats called KAMETSUBO, which occupy a corner of the distillery, where the fermentation process continues for a total of about two weeks. After that, the mash is heated, distilled and then aged 4-6 months before it is ready for bottling.

 This process is only done twice a year and yields a batch of only 6,000 bottles of shochu. This is one of the things that makes Hawaiian Shochu Company so special. Every step of the process is done by hand in the traditional way and when you have one of their bottles in hand, you know it is from a small batch made with a lot of love. The other thing that makes it special is the team of two that make it all happen. It is a treat to be guided through the process by Ken, who has such a love for the spirit, the techniques and the land from which it is produced. He happily explains each step and answers as many questions as you can come up with, while his wife Yumiko places labels on bottles and handles business across the room.
Ken & Yumiko Hirata

Of course, there is a sample involved in a tour of the distillery. I'm no shochu expert, but I can tell you this: there is a smooth, rich flavor in Namihana Shochu. Served simply over ice or crafted into a cocktail, shochu is a great addition to your arsenal.  

If you're looking for something you can't find anywhere else in the islands OR the U.S. this is a fun and informative experience, complete with a sample of Namihana shochu!
You can schedule your tour or purchase Namihana Shochu 
by appointment only by calling
 The Hawaiian Shochu Company.

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