With the possible exception of Miyazaki residents, Japanese are in near-unanimous agreement that Kagoshima’s shōchū is the best in the land, and there are more than 800 local varieties available. These are usually made from sweet potato rather than rice, which makes for a heavier flavour, and a higher alcohol content – 25 percent, rather than the national norm of 20 percent. As is the case elsewhere, one can have the hooch served straight, with soda, heated, mixed with hot water, or on the rocks. Like wine, each variety has its own specific taste, but lengthy izakaya lists will mean nothing to the average foreign visitor – so here are a few top picks to get you started.
Kaidō 海童 Served in a distinctive red bottle, this is perhaps the best low- to mid-range choice, and has a clean, crisp taste that works best on the rocks.
Kojika 小鹿 Cheap but high-quality option, whose slightly dry taste is magnified when served heated.
Kuro 黒 Popular with young and old alike, this tasty cheapie is available in pretty much every izakaya and convenience store across the prefecture. Best served heated.
Maō 魔王 Running Mori Izō a close second for quality, this slightly sweet variety is a favourite with Kagoshima connoisseurs.
Mori Izō 森伊蔵 The king of local shōchū, this high-roller favourite can cost over ¥70,000 per bottle in a Tokyo izakaya, but is usually available here for a fraction of the price. Have it neat, or with hot water.
Nofū 野風 A rarity in Kagoshima shōchū terms, in that it’s made from corn rather than sweet potato. Though, being 35 percent alcohol by volume, you may not notice.
Shiranami 白波 The most famed variety in Kagoshima city itself, this is available in over a dozen different grades, including the somewhat hazardous 37 percent-alcohol Genshū variety.