||Shochu and sake are
both traditional Japanese beverages with a history dating back
many centuries. Although shochu is distilled and sake is
brewed, much like beer or wine, the two res-emble each other in
other important ways as well. One of these
is that both depend on koji to convert starch from barley
(shochu) or rice (sake) into glucose, after which
yeast added to turn the glucose into alcohol.
The koji at the heart of shochu and sake production comprises
microbes resem-bling the beneficial bacteria involved in the production of such
Wes-tern foods as cheese and yogurt. But koji microbes, which thrive in
hot, humid conditions, have traditionally been used only in Asia. Often referred
to as "Oriental magic," they are a gift of nature that plays a key role in Japanese
food culture - including the production of such Japanese staples as shoyu(soy
sauce) and miso(soy bean paste).
||Our iichiko brewmasters are experts at monitoring the multiplication of koji microbes in steamed barley by touch and taste under carefully controlled conditions. In fact, it is their skill at controlling the activity of koji that has earned iichiko shochu its name. In the dialect of Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's four main islands where iichiko is made, its name means ichiban in standard Japanese, or "number one" in English.
Koji also has a preservative function, since it produces large quantities of citric acid that both protects iichiko against detrimental bacteria and helps to bring out the flavor inherent in the barley, contributing further to iichiko's rich taste and delicate aroma. Unlike such spirits as gin and vodka, iichiko requires no further additives, which might alter or undermine this taste and aroma.