Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Do Words Matter? An unnecessarily drawn out review of Miyazaki Kinmiya Soju

Let's talk about something complicated. Something with a lot of nuance, that requires the reader to make an effort to understand. Something that no one except me cares about in the slightest. The topic - 

"Why I am Excited To Purchase Lousy Alcohol At The Weird Asian Grocery Store"

In Oregon there is a firm bifurcation between distilled spirits and other alcohol. Non-distilled alcohol is available in grocery stores, beer shops, convenience stores, and a myriad of other places who've obtained the proper license. Distilled spirits (regardless of their alcoholic strength) are available only through the state-run liquor stores. This can lead to some head scratching situations, for instance where Cardamaro (a 17% abv wine-based amaro) can be had with a volume discount at Fred Meyers but Aperol (an 11% spirit-based apertif) is only available in liquor stores. Every state has illogical blue-laws, but at least Oregon's is a knowable quantity if you are somewhat versed in how things are made. Fermented and/or fortified = grocery. Distilled = Liquor Store.

Fine. Rules Are Rules. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) does me many solids in my professional career, so I won't carp too much. However, I still get a perverse joy when something slips through the cracks, and I find a distilled spirit in the grocery store. Such is the case with Miyazaki Co. LTD's Kinmiya "Soju".  There it was, camouflaged among the Mirin and the incomprehensibly Chinese 'Special Pickle Wine'. When trolling for weird booze at the grocery store, keep an eagle eye for "1.5% Salt Added". To avoid excise tax for beverage alcohol, producers render their cooking products 'non-potable' with salt. This is how our country poisons the poor degenerate souls who have the audacity to try enjoying shaoxing wine. Someday in the future, we, the downtrodden and despised drinkers of cooking sherry will RISE UP, and say NO MORE. NO MORE WILL WE SUFFER YOU TO POISON US WITH SALT MERELY FOR TRYING TO DRINK COOKING SHERRY. But for now, the salt remains.
soju shocho kinmiya JFC International Fubonn
Miyazaki Co. LTD Kinmiya Soju

Founder Miyazaki Shozaburo
Anyways, once you've located something interesting looking without any salt it's time for focused googling. Miyazaki Hoten was founded in 1846 as a producer of Sake, Mirin, and Shochu. In 2005 they won "The Best Prize at the '100 Selected IT Business Models.'" In between those events, invariably much occurred that might be of interest but I will allow to peruse the Company Newsletter at your leisure. Mostly it seems to be poems written by Dali about Japanese Highschool baseball.

The Kinmiya is their flagship shochu brand, an affordable high-volume spirit with a minimal taste. By their description

Nicknamed "Kinmiya shochu", turtle Miya shochu has gained popularity in the Kanto area from ancient times. Mellow taste to use the subsoil water of pure Suzuka River sprung from Suzukasanmyaku, and clean it features. Design also incorporates the design of the gold seal turtle Miya shochu tradition, it is proposed the products that can be enjoyable temporary gatherings.
So keep that in mind for your next 'temporary gathering'.

But wait, what's all this shit about Shochu when the bottle is clearly labelled "Soju"? While it says "Soju" (a Korean spirit typically produced from rice or sweet potatoes), the Kinmiya is in fact actually Shochu (a Japanese spirit which can be distilled from a variety of raw materials). Why the mislabeling? Ahem, go ahead wikipedia

The liquor licensing laws in the states of California and New York specifically exempt the sale of soju from regulation relating to the sale of other distilled spirits, allowing businesses with a beer/wine license to sell it without requiring the more expensive license required for other distilled spirits.The only stipulation is that the soju must be clearly labeled as such and contain less than 25% alcohol.
This had the knock-on effect of traditional japanese shochu producers diluting their products and labeling them as "Soju" to sneak into this lucrative loophole. This loophole doesn't apply in Oregon, but there are still many Shochus in the liquor store marked as Soju because of the size of the California and New York markets. This is an Okinawan Awamori, something with a proud history, bottled at a pathetic 20% and disgraced with the label "Soju". 

"Blah Blah Blah" you might say. "Soju and Shochu are the same thing, who caaaaares." You are Wrong, and I would strike you if I had enough internet bandwidth and appropriate haptic techonology to do so. I think this misconception occurs because some people prefer to deal in generalities. "Both Soju and Shochu are asian and they are spelled almost the same, so they ARE the same. Case Closed. I don't have time to care about this, I have pressing TV shows to watch and my countdown timer for the return of Pumpkin Spice Lattes needs to wound." They shellac these generalities into a thick shell which protects their flabby brains from the Heavy Facts and Sharply Specific Truths which the world is truly composed of. In fact, Shochu and Soju are made by different people, in a different way, out of different materials, for different reasons. In a similar way to how Ten-High Blended Whiskey is different than an Islay Single Malt, even if the philistine calls them both whiskey.

That was a wonderful tirade. Very invigorating. And it was for the most part true. Unfortunately, complexity looms. While most Soju (like Jinro, the most popular spirit in the world) is highly-distilled flavorless ethanol, made industrially and artificially flavored with sweeteners and thickeners, there are traditionally made Sojus  which use mixed culture fermentation and small pot-still distillation to produce something similar to a traditional honkaku Kome (rice) shochu. And conversely there exists Japanese Shochu called korui or new style shochu, which is highly-distilled, nearly flavorless ethanol, made industrially for mass consumption. Such is the case with the Kinmiya "Soju", a VERY lightly flavored spirit distilled from sugar cane.  

How about a review? Been a while....

Nose - Slight sharpness, with the medicinal / tool-cleaner aroma common to mid-grade vodka. With some air this dissipates and yields a vaguely sweet, mellow sugar cookie aroma but you really have to jam your nose in there. A splash of water nullifies the aroma, not surprising given the low abv (20%).

Taste - Tastes fine. Mild, smooth, and clean with only the tiniest hint of flavor. There is some brown sugar to the midpalate, and a bit of heat to the finish but otherwise slips down pretty unnoticed. While
honkaku shochu can be earthy and savory, or bright and fragrant, this is neither and resembles nothing so much as an acceptably bland vodka which has been heavily watered.   

Value - At $15/750ml for a 20% spirit, it's certainly a stretch to say this is a deal. However, when compared to other Japanese shochus available in Oregon it is a more appealing proposition. Also, the thrill of buying alcohol at the grocery store in defiance of Oregon God and OLCC is difficult to put a price on. Also, I had fun reading their newsletter in the course of writing this, so that gives them a bump. I will say a 6 for value, but your scale may read differently.

Thus concludes the most comprehensive english language examination of Miyazaki Hoten's Kinmiya shochu. I hope this helps the other 3 people in the world who might be desperately googling.


  1. Soju aside, thanks for reminding me about pumpkin spiced lattes; there is a Starbucks in Sweden now so I am gonna keep an eye out...

  2. Dear lord that was disturbing!
    Here I am, bowling for googles about what Kinmiya Shochu is made with, and there you go and blow my mind with the pics of Kinmiya labeled as Soju, and a thorough explanation to boot. Thanks I guess.

  3. It seems I'm the third person. Thanks for the info :D

  4. Hahaha! Then i'm the fourth! I came upon this blog while trying to figure out where people buy soju in Cleveland, Ohio. I still haven't solved that mystery, but a guess is that the restaurants in Asia Town are selling it. I like this blog. I like what you write about and the style you write in. It doesn't look like you have posted in a while, so i hope you are doing well and are still alive and being delightful and snarky wherever you are.

  5. Thumbs up. Drank on ice with a single squeezed lemon and a splash of matcha tea.