swigsandgrinds@yahoo.com Tucked into the sleepy back roads of Haleiwa on the North Shore of Oahu, a tour of The Hawaiian Shochu Company is a really great addition to your North Shore experience. Most people are familiar with Sake, but Shochu has been having a surge in popularity not only in Japan, but in the U.S. as well, and Oahu is home to the United States’ only shochu distillery.

Shochu is a Japanese distilled spirit, while Sake is a brewed beverage. If you are curious about this fascinating process, a trip to Hawaiian Shochu Company is a must on your list of things not to be missed when on Oahu.

Hawaiian Shochu Company was one of only two Shochu distilleries in the United States until recently when a Washington state distillery closed its doors, making Hawaiian Shochu Company the country’s only shochu distillery.

Namihana Shochu, Made in Hawaii

Namihana is the name of Hawaiian Shochu Company’s shochu. It is created using traditional techniques of “Kurose Brew Masters” of Kagoshima, Japan. Years ago, Ken Hirata served as an apprentice under Master Manzen at Manzen Shuzo Co. in Kagoshima, Japan, later choosing Hawaii as the place to set up his distillery based on Hawaii’s weather, which is similar to Kagoshima’s fall season when sweet potatoes are harvested. Hawaii offers a year round growing season in rich volcanic soil for the many varieties of sweet potatoes used in Namihana Shochu. Even the Name “Namihana” sounds like a blend of Hawaiian and Japanese: Nami – meaning waves, and Hana – meaning flowers.

Although Sweet potatoes are key in producing this Shochu, the real magic ingredient is KOJI-rice. As with all food and drinks involving some form of fermentation alchemy, like miso, shoyu, cheese, wine etc., there is a magic funk factor. With Namihana Shochu, the magic happens when Koda Farms heirloom varietal rice is steamed in a wooden steamer called a KOSHIKI, and then introduced with koji (culture).This process is done by hand and closely watched as it does it’s magic for 48 hours.

Next it is mixed with steamed sweet potatoes and then goes into century-old ceramic vats called KAMETSUBO, which occupy a corner of the distillery, where the fermentation process continues for a total of about two weeks. After that, the mash is heated, distilled and then aged 4-6 months before it is ready for bottling.

hawaiian shochu distillery oahu north shore haleiwa kametsubo fermentation

Photo: Heidi Anderson

Cetury old ceramic vats called KAMETSUBO hold steamed KOJI-rice and sweet potatoes while they gently and naturally ferment
Koda Farms KOKUHO ROSE Heirloom varietal rice and a traditional wooden steamer called a Koshiki
hawaiian shochu distillery haleiwa north shore oahu mash

Photo: Heidi Anderson

After steamed rice and sweet potatoes are allowed to ferment, the mash is heated and distillation begins

This process is only done twice a year and yields a batch of only 6,000 bottles of shochu. This is one of the things that makes Hawaiian Shochu Company so special. Every step of the process is done by hand in the traditional way and when you have one of their bottles in hand, you know it is from a small batch made with a lot of love. The other thing that makes it special is the team of two that make it all happen. It is a treat to be guided through the process by Ken, who has such a love for the spirit, the techniques and the land from which it is produced. He happily explains each step and answers as many questions as you can come up with as his wife Yumiko places labels on bottles and handles business across the rooom.

hawaiian shochu Company haleiwa north shore oahu ken hirata

Photo: Heidi Anderson

Hawaiian Shochu Company Distillers, Ken & Yumiko Hirata

If you’re looking for something you can’t find anywhere else in the islands OR the U.S. this is a fun and informative experience, complete with a sample of Namihana shochu!
You can schedule your tour or purchase Namihana Shochu by appointment only by calling Hawaiian Shochu Company.
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