The Thai technique for distilling liquor was introduced to Okinawa in the 15th century. Since then, it has been refined to suit the subtropical climate of Okinawa. Throughout history, awamori has been praised for its superior quality and rich, robust flavor.
“On Okinawa, ‘sake’ means awamori,” said Yoshihide Matayoshi, executive managing director of Okinawa Awamori Distillery Association.
Although many Japanese tend to associate awamori with “shochu,” another Japanese distilled liquor originating in Kogashima Prefecture on Kyushu, there is a strict definition for awamori that distinguishes it, according to Matayoshi.
Awamori must be made from Thai rice (indica) and black rice mold with a one-time fermentation process. Shochu, on the other hand, can be made from any type of starch crop or mold, and is usually processed via two-time fermentation.
“Indica rice, black rice mold and one-time fermentation – without clearing these three conditions, the liquor cannot be called awamori,” Matayoshi said.
The making of awamori
- Indica rice from Thailand is washed and soaked in water, then draining and steamed.
- Black rice mold is sprinkled over the rice, which is kept at about 100 degrees Fahrenheit for about 40 hours.
- Yeast and water are added to the mixture in a stainless steel fermentation tank, traditional earthenware pot or cask to make mash. (The different containers help create different flavors.)
- After fermentation, the mash is transferred to a still for distillation. (It’s said that awamori gets its name from the “awa,” or bubbles, during this process – the more bubbles, the higher the alcohol content.)
- The distilled mash is allowed time to mature in a stainless steel tank, wooden cask or earthenware. (Although a stainless steel tank is common, earthenware pots or wooden casks may be used to enhance flavor and mellowness.)
Cocktails mixed Awamori with the famous local pineapple and Shekwasha (sour Citrus fruit) are delicious, and come highly recommended.
Most singly distilled shōchū is moromitori shōchū. This name derives from its production process:
- Raw material treatment. Usually rice or barley is steeped in water, then steamed to promote starch gelatinization and cooled.
- Kōji production. kōjikin, or koji mold spores, are cultivated onto the material to form koji mold which creates enzymes as it grows. The enzymes break starch molecules down into sugar molecules that can be fermented, a process called saccharization.
- Primary fermentation. The koji is mashed by adding water and fermented for seven to nine days in a tank or vat to form unrefined alcohol, calledmoto or (first stage) moromi.
- Secondary fermentation. The steamed main ingredient and water are added to the unrefined alcohol and fermented again to form (second stage) moromi. The ingredient added during this second stage determines the variety of shōchū; for example if sweet potato is added then it becomes potato shōchū.
- Distillation. Purification of the unrefined moromi alcohol.
There are several reasons for shōchū’s recent popularity. With increasing health-consciousness, many people see it as more healthy than some alternatives. There have been well-publicized claims of medical benefits, including that it can be effective in preventing thrombosis, heart attacks, and diabetes. It is also a versatile drink that is suited to most styles of cuisine.
Shigechiyo Izumi, a Japanese citizen who claimed to have been 120 years old (but only lived to be 105), made shōchū part of his daily dietary regimen. This practice was mentioned along with his record in the Guinness Book of World Records. Because of his intimate passion for shōchū, many have speculated that shōchū is healthy and can actually promote longevity. This even prompted some local Ryūkyū shōchū brewers to market a special Longevity Liquor shōchū bearing his likeness on the front label. Despite these claims, Izumi’s personal physician strongly advised against drinking shōchū, as his kidneys were not strong enough to process shōchū in his advanced age. But Izumi went on to say: “Without shōchū there would be no pleasure in life. I would rather die than give up drinking.”
A Kurashiki University professor published an article in a British medical journal claiming that authentic shochu was effective for preventing thrombosis (hardening of the blood in the blood vessels). Others believe it will be shown to be effective for preventing heart attacks and diabetes, so perhaps those extra hours in an izaka-ya will lengthen your life span.
Okinawa liquor, awamori is just “wine the best medicine.”
Recently, the fact, that it is good to drink Shochu for thrombosis prophylaxis, Awamori attracts attention too. When you have bleeding, a blood clot is important to stop the bleeding. Moreover, it is important, that thrombus continue to remain indefinitely in the blood vessel. The role of a blood clot dissolver have to be kept well balanced cause when the power to dissolve the clot weakened, it would lead to thrombosis, such as myocardial infarction and cerebral infarction. Effect of Shochu in activating enzymes is high. With polyphenols like in the wine it makes difficult to create a blood clot. Awamori also about 1.5 times the strength of the wine in order to increase the dissolving enzyme.