You might not like distiller Koichiro Watanabe’s shōchū, but he’s OK with that. Instead of pleasing a broad spectrum, he has chosen to make complex, bold shōchū imbued with the flavors of his hometown for a passionate fanbase.
Watanabe is the fourth-generation head of Watanabe Distillery in Tano, Miyazaki Prefecture. The small, family-run business was founded in 1914 and now produces about 50,000 liters of shōchū per year, predominantly of the sweet potato and barley varieties. Unlike most producers, the family grows the raw materials themselves, believing that imparting a sense of terroir begins in cultivating the soil.
The family rotates its crops, sometimes even swapping fields with neighbors, to ensure the rich, volcanic soil maintains its fertility. They also eschew agrochemicals in favor of hand-weeding and fertilizing with organic byproducts from shōchū production. In the case of sweet potatoes, Watanabe says this results in spuds that have more robust flavors and yield 10-20% more alcohol than ones they’ve purchased from other farmers.