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While sake is known globally as Japan's alcoholic beverage, there is another fascinating alcoholic beverage in Japan called “awamori”, a spirit that people around the world are still unaware of. We asked Mr. Koji Higa, the owner of Awamori Souko, a members-only bar specializing in awamori, about what makes awamori so appealing and how to best enjoy it.

Koji Higa

The owner of Awamori Souko, a members-only bar specializing in awamori with a selection of over 800 varieties of awamori. In addition to running the bar, he is also giving lectures and demonstrations all over the world as an awamori expert, conveying the charm of awamori to the world.

 What is awamori? 
Awamori, the royal spirit that takes you on a journey through Okinawa's history

Awamori is Japan's oldest distilled liquor with a history of about 600 years, and it is believed that it is also the predecessor of Kyushu's shochu. The production of awamori began in Okinawa when Okinawa was still a single country called Ryukyu. During the period of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which lasted for about 450 years, awamori was an upper-class drink for imperial kings and princesses, and was used as a drink to entertain foreign guests. Therefore, drinking awamori means you can enjoy the experience like the kings and princesses. Through awamori, you can discover the fascinating charm of Japan and the era of Ryukyu in Okinawa that you did not know about.

How is it different from other alcoholic beverages? Unique characteristics of awamori

It is a distilled liquor and has no carbohydrates

Unlike sake, which is a brewed alcoholic beverage, awamori is categorized as a distilled alcoholic beverage. Due to Okinawa's warm climate, sake is difficult to store and spoils, and for this reason, distilled liquor has prospered in Okinawa. Moreover, being a distilled liquor, awamori contains no carbohydrates.


It is a spirit made from rice

Since awamori is a liquor made from rice, one of its characteristic aromas that can be tasted is the savory flavor of rice. The taste is also not tiring to drink because it does not contain carbohydrates. When drinking awamori, imagine the flavor and aroma of rice grains.


It matures

Another unique feature of awamori is that it matures over time due to various factors. While whisky and other spirits are generally aged under the influence of barrels, spirits that are rice-based, high quality, and also matures (in a variety of environments including barrels, earthenware pots, and awamori origin) like awamori, are rare in the world.


 Pairing with food 
How to enjoy awamori in different occasions

To best enjoy awamori, it is very important to make sure that the alcohol content range is appropriate for the occasion.

As a mealtime drink

When served with a meal, it is recommended to dilute awamori with water to about 15% alcohol by volume, which is about the same alcohol content as wine or sake. When awamori of 30% ABV is diluted with water at 1:1 ratio, it makes Mizuwari (awamori diluted with water) of 15% ABV. Pairing awamori with food has different advantages from what can be done with wine or sake. While the idea of food pairing with wine or sake is primarily to "layer" the palate, the idea of awamori food pairing is to "stretch" the palate. The basic concept of food pairing is addition. When pairing food with wine or sake, the alcoholic drink acts as a kind of seasoning, and the flavors of the meal and the sweetness and acidity of the drink interact with each other in the mouth, gradually intensifying the flavor. However, it may become too much if you keep adding flavors. Awamori, on the other hand, enhances the original taste of the meal as it has no sugar content or acidity. Instead of layering and intensifying the flavors, awamori acts as something like drinkable rice and extends the flavor of the meal, just like some dishes taste much better when eaten together with rice or bread. Therefore, when paired with awamori, even dishes with strong flavors can be enjoyed to the end. Awamori especially goes well with soy sauce, miso, and other strong flavored or greasy foods. It is also great with Chinese food.


As an after-meal drink


If you are full but want to prolong the good times, it is recommended to drink awamori with a higher alcohol content (35% ABV or higher) straight or on the rocks slowly as an after-dinner drink. Just as you would pair whiskey with chocolate, awamori goes very well with sweet food when enjoyed at high alcohol content. At Awamori Souko, Ryukyu royal court sweet called “Togantsuke (winter melon compote)” is served.

 Different ways to enjoy 
Find the way to drink awamori that suits you

For people who don't drink alcohol on a regular basis

For those who do not usually drink much, awamori with carbonated water (Tansanwari) is recommended. Diluting 30% ABV awamori with soda water at a ratio of 1:4 will produce a Tansanwari with an alcohol content of approximately 6% ABV. Many of the world's liquors used for Tansanwari are barrel-aged liquors, but Tansanwari of awamori gives savory aroma and flavor of rice, which is different from the sweetness of barrels. Enjoy the unique taste of awamori rice highballs.

For those who like sweet liquors

Many people like sweet liquors, but you may feel tired of the sweetness when you drink it continuously. In such cases, it is recommended to take a break between sweet drinks to have a glass of awamori. Since awamori is a spirit made from rice and does not have an overpowering taste, it can be enjoyed in a relaxed manner without overstimulating the palate. When your mouth feels tired from all the sweet liquor, wine, or sake, enjoy a glass of awamori diluted with water (Mizuwari).

For those who enjoy drinking alcohol on a daily basis

For those who like to drink, try drinking awamori of 35% ABV or higher slowly, straight or on the rocks, as an after-dinner drink. This way, you can enjoy the taste of awamori itself. Awamori has a category called “Kusu,” which is awamori aged for more than three years. Kusu has a more complex and lingering flavor than new awamori, so fans of distilled spirits can enjoy imagining how it was made and the climate and historical background from which it was born while drinking it.

Suitable drinkware for awamori

Okinawa has traditional drinking vessels called “Karakara” and “Chibuguwa,” but they are not a must for drinking awamori. When drinking awamori at a higher alcohol content, they can be substituted for cups or glasses for other alcoholic beverages with higher alcohol content. When drinking it Mizuwari (awamori diluted with water), using a Ryukyu glass will give it a more Okinawan feel.


Karakara and Chibuguwa


Ryuku glass

 Coffee x Awamori 
Coffee Awamori, a new way to enjoy awamori

Okinawa is a place where coffee beans can be grown, and there are many excellent coffee shops within the prefecture. If you are traveling to Okinawa, finding Okinawan coffee beans or visiting coffee shops is also a great way to experience the place. Coffee Awamori, a drink that combines two drinks that have a strong connection to Okinawa, is something we would like to introduce to coffee fans around the world. Combining coffee, the lingua franca of the world, and awamori, the first distilled spirit in Japan with great value and history, is a new way to enjoy awamori as well as coffee.
Coffee Awamori is very easy to make. First, dilute 30% ABV awamori with water at a ratio of 1:2 to make a 10% ABV Mizuwari (awamori diluted with water). Then simply add ground coffee beans to it and make a cold brew (10g coffee beans to 150㏄ liquid). The process is very simple. Try making Coffee Awamori using your favorite coffee beans.

 When in okinawa 
Visit Awamori Souko to experience awamori when you come to Okinawa, the home of awamori

The best part of traveling is enjoying the local food and drink to the fullest. Just as you would drink beer when you go to Germany, you should definitely enjoy awamori when you come to Okinawa. Awamori Souko is a members-only bar, but you can make a one-time trial visit if you make a reservation in advance. You can taste awamori while listening to the stories of the spirit directly from awamori professionals who know awamori inside and out. Although the staff communicate mainly in Japanese, they can also manage to speak a little bit of English. Reservations can be made through the bar's Instagram.

Awamori Souko

Address: 4F, Kume Hachibankan, 2-8-14 Kume, Naha, Okinawa
TEL: +81-98-869-0808
Instagram: @awamorisouko_official

Posted on 2023/10/5

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