An introduction to Ryukyu Awamori
Made from water, rice, yeast, and a special black mould Aspergillus awamori called kuro koji (black koji), awamori has been produced in Okinawa since the 15 century and is Japan's oldest distilled spirit.
Only awamori made in Okinawa Prefecture may use the name Ryukyu Awamori and this is protected by the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). Awamori is "the spirit of Okinawa."
Although also made from rice, awamori should not be confused with sake – awamori is distilled while sake is only fermented. Awamori is also quite different from Japanese shochu which may be made from other ingredients such as sweet potatoes, barley, and carrots. While both shochu and awamori are distilled, shochu is distilled twice while traditionally, awamori is only distilled once to ensure its complex flavours are retained.
A black mould known as koji is key to awamori production as this turns the starch in rice into sugars that are fermented to make alcohol A single distillation concentrates this alcohol to make the spirit that after maturation will become awamori.
Awamori must be matured for at least six months and that labelled 'kusu' must be aged for at least three years. Some awamori are aged for decades.
There are 47 awamori distilleries in Okinawa and collectively they produce over 1,000 different brands with different characteristics and varying levels of alcohol, although most are around 40% alc./vol. or a little over.
Awamori is traditionally enjoyed diluted with water, usually over ice with cold water but also with hot water. Increasingly, awamori is finding its way into cocktails.
And rest assured, awamori is sugar-free, gluten-free, and contains no carbohydrates.