Awamori, an earthy-flavored alcoholic beverage made only in Okinawa, Japan, is similar to sake but has several major differences. Instead of being brewed like sake, it is distilled like a single malt scotch. After a single distillation, it is diluted with water. Awamori also has a higher alcohol content than sake and is usually produced to have 25 to 30 percent alcohol by volume. However, it can also be found with an alcohol percentage as high as 60 percent.
Awamori liquor is made from Thai-style long grain Indica rice. In contrast, sake is made with long grain Japonica rice. Just as the Indica rice used to make awamori is imported from Thailand, so too is the distillation process Thai. However, the ingredients and process of making awamori aren”t purely Thai: the black koji mold, which is indigenous to Okinawa, is used in the fermentation process of Awamori.
History of Awamori
In Japanese, “awa” means foam, and “mori” means to rise up. While some believe that the name “awamori” refers to the fact that the amount of foam is proportional to the alcohol content, others believe that the name merely refers to a large amount of foam generated in the fermentation process.
Awamori was brought to Okinawa around the 14th or 15th century. A member of the Satsuma clan named it to distinguish it from other types of Asian liquor. At the time, the emperor allowed only 30 families to distill it. Because this privilege was inherited, making awamori stayed in the same family for many generations. Today, there are still only 47 distillers of awamori.
How Awamori is Made
Here is how distillers make awamori:
- The Indica rice is first washed until the outer covering is removed.
- The rice is soaked in water, drained and steamed for an hour.
- After steaming, the rice is cooled to 40? Celsius.
- Black koji mold is added and the rice is left overnight.
- The following day, the rice mixture is spread over shelves to allow the mold to covert the starch to sugar. This mixture sits for two days.
- Black mold water is added to the rice mixture, and this new mixture is allowed to ferment for two weeks.
- The final step is to move the mixture to a distiller container and let it sit for two and a half hours.
Okinawa is a sub-tropical environment. This means that a brewed product would have to be chilled and would not last long.
Since awamori is distilled and contains a lot of citric acid, it can withstand the long fermentation and aging processes. If aged for three or more years, awamori is called “kusu.” Only 51 percent of the awamori liquor has to be aged to be considered to be kusu. Therefore, check the label to make sure it is “100 percent aged.”
How to Drink Awamori
Many people enjoy awamori because it is versatile, clear and does not contain any additives. These properties allow it to be easily added to many different mixed drink recipes. Another benefit of awamori is that it is naturally produced and aged, meaning that it causes minimal hangovers the next day.
Traditionally, people drink awamori mixed with water and ice. However, if you would like to try some interesting cocktails, check out these recipes.
- 2 oz. awamori
- splash of water
- squeeze of fresh lime.
- Pour awamori over ice in a “rock glass” tumbler.
- Add a splash of water and a squeeze of fresh lime.
- 1 oz. awamori
- 1/3 oz. triple sec
- 1 oz. cranberry juice
- 2-3 lime wedges, squeezed.
- Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice.
- Shake three or four times.
- Strain into a chilled martini glass.
Awamori Black Vinegar
Because inhabitants of Okinawa have the longest lifespan in the world, people from around the world have been interested in their health secrets. One of these secrets is the natural health supplement known as Awamori Moromi Black Vinegar. Until recently, it has been a well-kept secret from everyone except those who distill awamori. Now, it is widely used in Japan to promote health and longevity.
Awamori black vinegar, which is actually light in color, is a tonic made from the fermented rice mash that is a byproduct of awamori. Originally, it was fed to the pigs. When the farmers noticed how healthy the pigs became after eating the mash, they started drinking the tonic themselves.
The tonic contains many amino acids and vitamins, including:
- 16 times the amount of amino acids, as compared to normal Japanese vinegar
- 43 times the amount of amino acids, as compared to apple cider vinegar
- vitamin B-1
- vitamin B-2
- vitamin B-6.