Long-established Kagoshima shochu distillery renews its wooden distiller

PUBLISHED Aug 31, 2022

The new wooden distillation vessel

On August 24, Hamada Shuzo (Ichikikushikino City, Kagoshima Prefecture) replaced the wooden distillation vessel at its Sasshu Hamadaya Denbee (薩州浜田屋伝兵衛) shochu distillery for the first time in five years.

While metal distillers are the mainstream today, the distillery has continued to make shochu using wooden distillers to “replicate the production method of the Meiji era, when the company was founded, and to pass down the history of authentic shochu to future generations.” The new wooden distiller is 150 cm in diameter and 145 cm tall and is replaced every five years. It took about two and a half months for Yasuro Tsudome, the only craftsman in Japan specializing in making wooden barrels for distilling shochu, to finish the new vessel.

The barrels are made entirely by hand, without using nails or glue. The only materials used are cedar trees over 80 years old with a diameter of 60 cm or more and bamboo used to make the barrel hoops. “The aroma of the wood is transferred to the shochu, giving it a unique aroma and flavor,” says the company. “Although the heat conductivity is lower than that of stainless steel, the heat dissipates more slowly, and the gas and alcohol escape little by little through the cracks in the wooden barrel, resulting in a soft, refined taste.”

Kotaro Hamada, the company’s director, says: “The wooden distiller brings out the most intense sweet potato flavor. We hope to continue to preserve this shochu production and pass it on as a traditional industry.”

The new wooden distiller was delivered with its surface untreated. In late September, it will be coated with persimmon tannin as a preservative to protect it from rot and insects. The effect of this coating gives the distillers a deep brown color.