“My whole career has been bridging the cultural gap in business between the U.S. and Japan. Crafting shochu was a natural fit, and so was setting up our business in Frederick. There is such a supportive, collaborative atmosphere for craft beverage manufacturers here,” says Takatsugu (Taka) Amano, CEO and co-founder of the American Shochu Company.
Crafted in Frederick, Taka, and his wife, Lynn, want to introduce the U.S. to the traditional Japanese spirit that surpassed sales of sake in Japan for the past sixteen years. The popularity of shochu is attributable primarily to its smooth flavor, low alcohol content, mixability, potential health benefits, and reputation for no hangover that appeals to well, just about everyone.
Taka says, “Shochu is the coolest and newest alcoholic beverage to be introduced to the U.S. The American Shochu Company is the only manufacturer in North America to produce this liquor. It is essentially a white whiskey, but it is uniquely its own thing. It goes down very smoothly, without the harshness that vodka has, and is single distilled like a whiskey. The grain comes through so that you will taste or smell the barley at the base.”
“The process from conception to market began with us seeking an Experimental Distilled Spirits Plant permit (EDSP),” says Taka.
The EDSP allows for experimentation and development of spirits for a limited period of time.
“We were able to get a permit, and while experimenting, we discovered our own process. We were using traditional Japanese processes, but we had to modify them for the local situation,” Taka says.
“Making shochu is very much a craft. As the only authentic shochu distillery in North America, we start with 100% organic pearl barley. Then, to saccharize the grain, we use koji, a completely different saccharizing and fermentation process,” says Taka. “Koji is a mold that effectively extracts the taste and character of the base ingredients, giving a rich aroma with a slightly sweet, mellow taste. Our fermentation takes two to six weeks, which is a long time. After the mash is up to a very high alcohol level, we distill, followed by resting the spirits in glass for three months.”
Taka and Lynn are proud of how far they’ve come and the reception that their shochu has received.
“Shochu is a very versatile alcohol. It’s amazing alone, but it also mixes really well, so we have created some cocktails. A popular mixer with our spirit is pink lemonade, which we call a Cherry Blossom. Mix it with Arizona Honey Green Tea, and you have a Zen Garden. And we like mixing it with George’s Bloody Mary Mix, which we have named a Bloody Mariko. We have a plan to offer these cocktails and others in cans in the future,” says Taka.
Taka and Lynn’s shochu products, Umai!, the traditional shochu containing 24% alcohol, and Roy’s Demon, named in honor of Taka’s father, with 40% alcohol, have been well received within and beyond the area, winning notoriety and several awards.
“We were thrilled when our Umai! and Roy’s Demon won medals at the 2020 American Craft Spirit Awards,” says Taka. “And we were the top-selling ‘Maryland Made’ brand of alcohol in Montgomery County liquor stores in 2019. That is an indicator of a strong repeat customer base that we have been working toward building. Covid has slowed us down a bit, but our plan has been and still is to raise investment capital that will help us to increase our production capacity and to get our cocktails into cans.”
Try it out for yourselves! American Shochu Company products are available to order via the website and can be found in Montgomery County and in many Frederick County liquor stores and restaurants. AmericanShochuCompany.com