The birthplace and long time residence of awamori is Okinawa. And while you may not have heard about awamori before, its history dates back to the early 15th century (when Japan began trading with Thailand). Awamori is considered to be Japan’s oldest distilled spirit.
Awamori is made from long grain Thai Indica rice that’s fermented with black koji mold. While sake uses yellow koji, the black koji used to make awamori produces high amounts of citric acid, which acts as a preservative during fermentation. After fermentation, awamori is distilled, bottled, and sold as shinshu (young awamori) or left to age. While traditional ceramic pot aging is still very common, some distilleries are purchasing old bourbon barrels to age their awamori, which adds a unique Whisky-like flavor to the spirit as well as a deep amber color. Regardless of the vessel used, aged awamori becomes mellow and soft over time and develops umami characteristics that are not often found in other Japanese beverages.
It may seem like awamori is lost in the shadow of other Japanese beverages like sake or shochu, but there are currently 47 distilleries operating in Okinawa today and although the industry is small, it deserves attention as a distinct beverage that can pair with food from around the world. Awamori can be enjoyed on the rocks, straight, or with warm or cold water, but our favorite is when it's served as a highball.