A little while ago one of us came across an “island” shochu in a souvenir shop in Shizuoka Prefecture. We are not in the custom of buying alcoholic beverages at such establishments for various reasons, but this one caught our eye owing to its romaji (Roman letters) name, “Shoemon,” which we first read quickly and sans eyeglasses as “Shoeman.” Needless to say, the brand name rendered in kanji carries no odd connotations. The English-language explanation on its box identifies the beverage as a “shochu made of barley malt and sweet potato.”
Shoemon is made on Hachijo-jima, which is one of a number of islands stretching in a southeasterly direction from Izu Peninsula. For administrative purposes the islands are part of Tokyo Prefecture. There are a number of attractions on Hachijo-jima, but one of the most curious is the abandoned Hachijo Royal Hotel,* which has for years been relentlessly attacked by the surrounding vegetation in the manner of those aggressive tomatoes featured in that classic horror film Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978).
We first tasted Shoemon straight. One of us found the aroma to be not dissimilar from some types of baijiu, which might be slightly disconcerting for those expecting a typical shochu aroma. Drunk straight, the flavors that unfold on the palate are multi-layered, well rounded, and complex. Subtle sweet-potato notes give way to a smoky nuttiness—perhaps owing to the influence of barley—a pleasant sweetness that lingers, and a silky mouthfeel. One of us picked up on hints of ginseng, as well. The abv is 25%. We found it to be great on the rocks, as well, though some of the smokiness is diminished with the dilution.
*Readers in search of more information on the Hachijo Royal Hotel might wish to check the website of RIDGELINEIMAGES, which is replete with photos, of course.