Billed as a “totally new class of Japanese craft spirits,” Rihei Ginger is undoubtedly a different animal than most shochus, and the explanation is right there in the name: 20% of the mash that goes into this spirit isn’t composed of grain, but rather local heirloom ginger.
Some explanation is in order:
Rihei Ochiai, the distiller behind this artisanal spirit, is known locally in Japan’s Miyazaki Prefecture as somewhat of a mad scientist for crafting high quality, small production shochu from unique ingredients such as pumpkin, bell pepper, onion and yomogi leaves. Rihei Ginger was born when a local farmer heard tales of these experiments beyond traditional rice, sweet potato and barley ingredients and requested that Ochiai craft a shochu from his heirloom ginger.
It was this ginger-based craft spirit that blew the Vine Connections team away when they ventured a visit to the distillery after hearing local talk of Ochiai’s innovative botanical experimentations. With 38% alcohol, Rihei Ginger contains 20% ginger, 30% rice, and 50% barley. In this way, Rihei Ginger is more reminiscent of a Japanese gin than a shochu, making it a niche product that is totally unique to the landscape of Japanese craft spirits.
How does shochu distilled (in part) from ginger acquit itself? Let’s find out.
The nose is spicy with ginger, but curiously not particularly sweet — in contrast to something like Canton — featuring a cooked — almost smoky — character, as if the ginger had been roasted over a fire rather than freshly grated (which, in a way, it has been). The palate falls along much the same lines, though here that pungency is tamed to some degree by a mild, citrus element that comes across mainly as lemon peel. The finish sees the rise of an earthier character, somewhat echoing the nose but spinning it with notes of white flowers and jasmine. On the whole, the ginger element here is surprisingly mild, which makes this spirit less interesting than it initially sounds… though, on the other hand, that may actually work to your benefit, depending on how you use it.