Awamori


Awamori

"Awamori" () is an alcoholic beverage indigenous to and unique to Okinawa, Japan. It is made from rice, and is not a direct product of brewing (like sake) but of distillation (like shōchū).

Awamori is typically 60 proof, although "export" brands (including brands shipped to mainland Japan) are increasingly 50 proof. Awamori is aged to improve its flavor and mellowness. Some brands of awamori (notably "hanazake") are 120 proof and will catch fire.

The most popular way to drink awamori is with water and ice. When served in a restaurant in Okinawa, it will nearly always be accompanied by a container of ice and carafe of water. Awamori can also be drunk straight, on the rocks, and in cocktails.

Another name for awamori used in Okinawa is Nihongo|"island sake"|島酒|shima-zake, or "shima" for short.

As of early 2005, awamori sells for between 350 yen per cup and 50,000 yen for an aged clay vase; generally, the greater its age, the higher is its value.

History

Before April 1983, awamori was mistakenly labelled as shochu, second class, but is now properly labelled as "authentic awamori," somewhat distinct from shochu. Awamori, while also a distilled rice liquor, differs from shochu as it is made from Thai-style, long-grained Indica crushed rice, not the short-grained Japonica usually used in shochu production. Additionally, instead of using white koji mold for fermentation, as in shochu production, the fermentation process for awamori uses black koji mold, which is indigenous to Okinawa.

The technique of distilling reached Okinawa in the 15th century from Thailand, and this may be why Thai-style rice is still used in its production today. The Okinawans continued to refine the technique, making it more suited to the subtropical climate and the unique local black koji mold. From the 15th to 19th century, awamori was sent as tribute to Okinawa's powerful neighbors: China and Japan.

Koshu

When awamori is aged for three years or more, it is called koshu (古酒, "old liquor"). Legally, in order to earn the designation koshu, over 50% of the awamori must be aged three years, and in practice with awamori labelled generically as koshu, the other 49% is usually six months old. If a specific age is noted, then all of the contents must be of at least that age. Awamori is aged underground in constant cool temperatures in clay pots or vases. Before the Battle of Okinawa during World War II, 200- and even 300-year-old koshu existed, but all were lost in the battle. Several attempts are being made to produce these koshu again.

Hanazake

On Yonaguni, Japan's westernmost island, the three distilleries of Donan, Yonaguni and Maifuna produce a variant of awamori called nihongo|hanazake|花酒, lit. "flower liquor", which has an alcohol content of 60%. Originally intended for religious ceremonies, "hanazake" is traditionally consumed straight.

Etymology

"Awamori" is thought to get its name from the bubbles (泡 "awa") that rise and swell (盛 "mori") during its distillation. The more bubbles, the higher the alcohol concentration in the final product.

Despite being commonly written with the kanji character 泡 (bubble), there are other theories on the origin of the name. One of these is that the name derives from 粟 (also pronounced "awa"), meaning millet, a raw material used to make awamori centuries ago, now completely replaced with rice.

Sources

* Okinawa Prefectural Government, "Awamori," Okinawa: Cultural Promotion Division, Okinawa Tourism and Cultural Affairs Bureau, 1996.

External links and references

* [http://www.okinawa-awamori.or.jp/english/ Okinawa Awamori Distillers Association]
* [http://www.jahitchcock.com/okiawamori.html Okiawamori]
* [http://www.sake-world.com/html/shochu-awamori.html Sake world]
* [http://www.chuko-awamori.com/english.html Chuko has a special stage for awamori]


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