Mitake first came on my shochu radar when I was working at Nihonbashi Takashimaya in the saké department. One large bottle (1800 ml) was sitting in the storeroom as a customer had special ordered it. It wasn’t a shochu that we normally carried. I asked one of my colleagues about it and she told me that it was a premium shochu. Premium is tricky in Japan. In this case, it is a popular shochu that is available in limited amounts, creating a premium price for it.
Fast forward about ten years later and you can imagine how thrilled I was to see Mitake being sold in our local department store saké department as part of a fukubukuro, the lucky grab bags that are sold on January 2nd at major department stores.
Can you see the beautiful imagery of Yakushima island on the label?
Mitake is made on Yakushima island, a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site for its rich flora and ancient sugi (Japanese cedar trees). Yakushima island is also famous for its delicious water, essential in making Mitake sweet potato shochu. In the shochu making process after it is distilled it is often diluted with water to lower the alcohol percentage. Some on Yakushima will tell you that the local water has umami, hence the Mitake shochu also has umami.
On the upper left corner there is a circle with what looks like three red E’s in it. This symbol is important as it recognizes that all of the sweet potatoes used in making Mitake shochu comes from sweet potatoes that were grown and harvested in Kagoshima prefecture. Apparently some shochu distillers are using imported sweet potatoes from overseas.
The red characters reading down is honkaku shochu 本格焼酎, or single distilled shochu. If you are drinking any shochu, it should be honkaku shochu. The other style, distilled several times, is better for making umeshu or other sweet shochu that is steeped with fruit like yuzu, lemons, or even coffee beans.
On the right side of the label there are two other important kanji to take note of.
屋久島産 Yakushima-san or from Yakushima island
薩摩焼酎 Satsuma Shochu or shochu from Kagoshima
Much like D.O.C. in wine, there are four regional types of shochu that can be labeled as such:
薩摩焼酎 Satsuma Shochu from Kagoshima (made from sweet potatoes)
球磨焼酎 Kuma Jochu from Kumamoto (made from Japanese rice)
琉球泡盛 Ryukyu Awamori from Okinawa (made from Thai rice)
壱岐焼酎 Iki Shochu from Nagasaki (made from barley)
On the nose, Mitake has a sweet aroma, somewhat like sweet potatoes. It isn’t funky like some sweet potato shochu can be, but more on the mild side. On the palate it is slightly sweet, somewhat like steamed sweet potatoes. It’s slightly dry with a bit of umami on the palate. Overall a mild and easy drinking shochu. I liked it with hot water (oyu wari) but that is because it’s cold this time of year. It is also very nice on the rocks or as mizuwari (mixed with water).
If you ever come across a bottle of Mitake be sure to pick it up.
Mitake Shuzo started in Showa 33 (1958) and is currently a 2nd generation shochu distillery.
芋焼酎 imo jochu (sweet potato shochu)
麹：米麹（白麹） shiro kome koji
原料：コガネセンガン base ingredient: koganesengan sweet potato
25 degrees alcohol (Mitake also makes a shochu with the same label that is 35 degrees, so double check when purchasing)
Kagoshima-ken, Kumage-gun, Yakucho Awa 2625-19
You may like these other blog posts on shochu.