Highlighted Japanese IngredientAwamori

Japanese Unique Spirit Born in the Islands of Okinawa

"Awamori," made from rice and black koji (rice malt) mold, is a distilled spirit produced in the islands of Okinawa. It has a unique strong aroma and richness and has gained popularity recently thanks to its unique character different from other Japanese alcoholic beverages such as refined sake and shochu, and it is consumed not only in Okinawa but also throughout Japan. In general, Awamori’s alcohol content is 30-40% by volume—it is a strong spirit, as strong as vodka and tequila, but in recent years, various options are offered including fruity Awamori that is popular with young women.

A Long History from the Era of the Ryukyu Dynasty

Awamori is a spirit that has been inherited through generations from the time Okinawa was prosperous as the Ryukyu dynasty. There was a record that alcohol was being made in the Ryukyus in the 15th century, and the name "Awamori" appeared for the first time in a catalog of items delivered to a general of the Edo shogunate from King Ryukyu in 1671. When Admiral Perry of the United States, who urged the opening of Japan, visited the Ryukyus in 1853, he drank Awamori and mentioned, "It tastes like French liqueur."

In World War II, fierce battles took place in Okinawa, and many distilleries were damaged. Production resumed at a government-owned factory in 1946, but there was a shortage of black koji molds that are indispensable for the production of Awamori. There is also an episode that the surviving black koji molds were retrieved from the factory site destroyed during the war. In 1949, private distilleries were approved and the production gradually recovered. Awamori still takes root in the lives and culture of the Okinawan people.

"Black Koji Mold," "All-Koji Mashing," and "Single Distillation"

Most of the rice used for Awamori is Thailand's long-grain “Indica.” Recently, attempts to use rice from Okinawa have also begun. And, the Japanese Liquor Tax Act stipulates that "black koji mold" should be used to make koji from rice. Awamori is the only product in the world that uses black koji mold alone to saccharify rice. Black koji mold is characterized by the fact that it is resistant to high temperature and humidity, as it produces a large quantity of citric acid. Therefore, the corrosion of the moromi (fermenting mash) can be prevented even in the temperate climate of Okinawa, which enables the production of Awamori throughout the year.

Using these ingredients, Awamori is manufactured by a simple method of "all-koji mashing" and "single distillation," in which mashing and distillation are undertaken only once. Awamori is created in various flavors through ingenuity applied to the time and temperature of each process, the distillation and filtration methods adopted by distillers and brands alike.

Awamori is manufactured in a total of 47 distilleries and one union located on the Okinawa main island, Kumejima, Miyakojima, Ishigakijima, and Yonagunijima, among others. While some distilleries respect the old-fashioned traditional brewing and distilling method, others are in pursuit of producing easy-to-drink Awamori by introducing the latest equipment. The attractive point is that one can enjoy Awamori with different characteristics that are unique to each production region.

Enjoyment of Maturing Kusu (old liquor)

Awamori has no expiration date and you can enjoy it in good taste for a long time by keeping it away from heat, humidity, and direct sunlight. In general, after distillation, Awamori is stored for an extended time of six months to one year, packaged in bottles or jars and shipped. Those aged for three years or more are called "Kusu (old liquor)." Since August 2015, in order to label Awamori as "Kusu," all of the content must be aged for at least three years. When blending multiple Kusu, the label shall indicate the shorter aging period for the younger Kusu.

With Kusu, the longer it matures, the deeper the flavor and the aroma become, leaving a milder texture on the tongue. Kusu has a mellow and rich flavor that is comparable to aged whiskey and brandy, but aging method differs: whilst foreign liquors are matured with components deriving from aromas in the wood of the cask, Awamori utilizes its own components for long-term maturation. Therefore, even after bottling, maturation progresses smoothly. The oldest Kusu that currently exists is said to be 150 years old.

In Okinawa, there is a culture of nurturing Kusu. It is called shitsugi aging method: Kusu is placed in multiple jars in chronological order, and if you have consumed a certain amount of the oldest Kusu, you pour the same amount of the next oldest Kusu in the jar. This is a wisdom to mature Awamori while keeping the aroma and taste as well as preventing deterioration. This easy maturation process can be followed even in general households, and Awamori is the only alcoholic beverage that offers such a one-of-a-kind opportunity.

Awamori as a Low-Calorie and Low-Sugar Alcoholic Beverage

Awamori, which is a distilled spirit, basically does not contain carbohydrates and proteins like brewed alcoholic beverages. Awamori’s calories are roughly proportional to its alcoholic content, which is lower than sake with the same level of alcoholic percentage. Awamori is an alcoholic beverage suitable for health-oriented people who are after "low-calorie" and "low-sugar" properties.

Awamori can be enjoyed in various ways and goes well with meals

Awamori is easy to drink during meals and enjoyed in combination with various cuisines in the world, such as Japanese, Western, and Chinese meals among others. You can enjoy Awamori by various consumption options: with water, on the rocks, with soda, and with hot water, allowing people in broad age groups to drink in the way they prefer. Thanks to its unique characteristic as a “liquor with flexibility,” even if you dilute Awamori with water, you can still enjoy it with lower alcohol content without weakening the aroma and body. If it is aged Kusu, it is recommended to enjoy its rich taste and aroma straight or on the rocks.

As it is colorless and transparent, it can be used in various ways as a cocktail base. Awamori is an excellent match with citrus fruits such as Okinawa's special produce, shekwasha (flat lemon), and other tropical fruits. Awamori cocktail contests attract participants from South Korea, Singapore, etc. who present a variety of cocktails.

List of related links

List of exporters of Japanese Awamori
JAFEX (Japan Agricultural & Foodstuff Exports)