Review: Benisango Kokuto Shochu (TWSC2021’s Best of the Best Shochu)

Tonight we sit down with a bottle of Benisango, the winner of the Best of the Best in the Shochu Division of Tokyo Whisky & Spirits Competition 2021. Like TWSC 2020, a kokuto shochu from the Amami Islands once again won the top prize.

Benisango, which roughly translates as “crimson coral,” is the name of the bottle of kokuto sugar shochu from the Amami Islands that beat out 254 other bottles of shochu at Tokyo Whisky & Spirits Competition 2021.

If you’ve been with us since last year, you might remember that a different bottle of kokuto sugar shochu won the same prize for the 2020 edition of TWSC. We introduced kokuto shochu at the time, so I won’t repeat myself, but the it’s essentially shochu made from whole cane sugar.

And it’s one of the few spirits in Japan that actually has legal protection about its location: kokuto shochu can only be produced on the Amami Islands. The Amami Islands have been in the news recently as they’re expected to become another UNESCO Natural World Heritage within the next couple months.

Benisango is a bottle from Amami Oshima Kaiun Shuzo, the same company behind Japan’s best-known kokuto shochu: Lento. I say best-known just because it’s the most common: if you go to an izakaya and they have only one kokuto shochu on the menu, it’s probably Lento.

As we said when the results came out, Benisango probably has a more “foreign-friendly” profile than Lento. That’s because, in addition to being bottled at 40% abv, it spends time in oak casks. Given the Tokyo Whisky & Spirits Competition is judged primarily by people (like me!) with backgrounds in Western spirits–even the Shochu Division–it makes sense that they would prefer it to unaged, more watered-down spirits.

Let’s get into this bottle.

Review: Benisango

Nose: Vanilla butter cookies, butterscotch, brown sugar cubes, and fresh baked bread

Palate: Smooth and super easy despite the abv. Caramel, more sugar, and plenty of vanillins

Finish: Lasting caramel and hush puppies

Score: A+

Price paid: 2715 yen after tax

It obviously leans towards the sweeter side, but this is a fantastic bottle of shochu that ought to be mandatory drinking for anyone interested in the category. Especially for people new to shochu, as there’s none of that potato funk that new people might find off-putting. I’d say you should buy it even if were double the above price. At under 3000 yen, it’s an absolute steal.

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