The Japanese Pavilion is returning to Imbibe Live for a second year, and this time will be showcasing not only saké, but traditional spirits shochu and awamori too.
After experiencing the UK on-trade’s extensive knowledge and interest in saké first-hand at last year’s show, Japan’s National Tax Agency (NTA) and Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), organisers of the Japanese Pavilion, are showcasing more of Japan’s drinks this year.
The first of these spirits coming to Imbibe Live is shochu, primarily produced on Japan’s Kyushu island. It is most often made using sweet potato, barley or rice, but some are distilled from raw ingredients such as brown sugar, sesame seeds, shiso leaf, or even kombu seaweed.
Awamori, meanwhile, is produced on the Okinawa islands, and has a long history going back to the era of the Ryukyu Dynasty. Like saké and some shochus, it’s produced from rice, but often undergoes many years of maturation, which gives it both strength and complexity when compared to most shochus.
Also crucial to this unique spirit is the exclusive use of black koji malt for its all-koji mashing, with this mashing, like its distillation, only occurring once.
The variety of styles and flavours within these two spirits extends to their versatility. In Japan, both awamori and shochu are often served over ice, with water, or even with hot water, but they’re useful cocktail ingredients too. Shochu is frequently mixed in a highball with green tea or oolong tea, while awamori pairs well with citrus or tropical fruits.
In London, some venues are already showcasing these unique spirits, such as Roka’s Shochu Lounge, and Cubé Mayfair, which offers a range of both shochu and awamori, and makes use of them in cocktails.
Saké won’t be neglected at the Japanese Pavilion, of course, particularly in light of its growing popularity in the UK, no longer exclusively in Japanese restaurants, but in those offering international cuisines as well.
French and Italian restaurants, plus ones that specialise in seafood, are increasingly discovering the food-matching potential of saké’s umami characteristics, as well as its lower iron content.
Whether you’re a saké aficionado or unseasoned to Japanese drinks, you will find something new to explore at this year’s Japanese Pavilion.