Introducing traditional sweet potato shochu to the world Yachiyoden Distilling inc.

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Category: Japanese Food

A labor of love

For the Yagi family, 2004 marked the end of a long wait. Their family shochu (traditional Japanese distilled liquor) business, established in 1928 but shuttered when the shochu industry hit hard times, was set to reopen as the Japanese shochu boom gathered steam. It was a momentous occasion for Eijyu "Andrew" Yagi, the current CEO and grandson of founder Eikichi Yagi, who had always dreamed of reintroducing his family's brand of sweet potato shochu to Japan. In the ten years since it reopened, the Yagi family's Yachiyoden brand has spread across the country as well as made inroads abroad, becoming available in Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea and Germany. Starting in April 2014, it will become available in North America, and from there-the Yagis are hoping-the world.

The fourth generation: Kentaro "Kenny" Yagi, Executive Director (left) and Daijiro "Denny" Yagi, Master Brewer

Harvesting sweet potatoes at a Yachiyoden potato field

"Make mine a Satsuma"

Kagoshima, the southernmost prefecture of Japan's third largest island, Kyushu, is synonymous with sweet potato shochu-to the extent that the World Trade Organization has bestowed the geographical indication of "Satsuma," a historical name for the area, on the shochu produced there, putting it on par with champagne, bordeaux and cognac. But location alone does not Satsuma shochu make. Distillers must use rice malt, water and sweet potatoes from Kagoshima Prefecture, and the manufacturing process must take place in Kagoshima as well.

The Yachiyoden Distillery, tucked away in a pristine, wooded area of the Sarugajo Valley, surrounded by clean air and brimming with spring-sourced water used in production, easily meets these requirements. They also grow their own potatoes, giving them one more layer of control over the quality of their ingredients. And they use 50 earthenware jars, lined up in a spotless, cavernous room, for the distilling process.

The distillery's representative brands, Yachiyoden Black and Yachiyoden White

Yachiyoden's seven shochu offerings

The lineup

Yachiyoden Distilling produces seven varieties of shochu, six of them made from sweet potatoes under the Satsuma indication, and one from barley. Of the seven, four are available abroad-their representative brands, Yachiyoden Black and Yachiyoden White, and two seasonal brands, Juksi (fall) and Kiiroi Tsubaki (spring). Yachiyoden White works well as a dinnertime drink to accompany any style of cuisine, from your basic fish, chicken or steak dinner to fancy French dishes and beyond, while Yachiyoden Black is best savored on its own. All four varieties can be enjoyed on the rocks, or, for the adventurous, in the Japanese style, mixed with either hot or cold water.

A step above

Going forward, the Yagi family is eager to take their brand worldwide. The last ten years of domestic sales have brought recognition including TV spots, magazine articles and awards such as the Master Brewer's Choice Award at the Kagoshima Honkaku Shochu Awards Ceremony. They're also proud to have former master brewer Masami Yoke commended as a Contemporary Master Craftsman by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, on board as an advisor. Having reached the upper echelon of Japan's shochu world, Yachiyoden is ready to take flight abroad.

Preparing sweet potatoes for steaming