Now that we’ve familiarised ourselves with the how and why’s of awamori, here’s where we zone in on the what, as in what you should be drinking. With that in mind, allow us to introduce you to Ryukyu 1429…
Everything you need to know about this brand is on the label: Authentic. Ryukyu. Awamori.
That name is no coincidence either. ‘Ryukyu’ pays homage to the Ryukyu Kingdom, a proudly independent country from the 15th to 19th century, which is now known as Okinawa. ‘1429’ represents the year of the spirit’s birth. But deep respect for your heritage and being sticklers for tradition doesn’t mean that you can’t zhuzh things up a bit. Which is what the team behind Ryukyu 1429 are doing by introducing awamori to a global audience.
Of course, they’ve adhered to all of the government requirements, such as making the spirit in Okinawa using Indica rice from Thailand and adding that magical black koji to the fermentation process. Then there’s the single distillation and the resting the spirit in clay. Tick, tick and more ticks. But where they’ve made changes is by switching things up with the packaging.
Out went the old-fashioned, brown or green wine-style flacons and in came a line of fresh, bold and unashamedly modern bottles. Proud, clean-looking and with Ryukyu 1429 emblazoned across the centre, it’s a very distinctive makeover, thanks to the flat front, short neck and sloping shoulders. Admittedly, not very flattering for a human but for awamori, boy does it stand out from anything else in the category. Look closely and you’ll notice a sinuous looking ancient kame pot subtly indented into the bottle. Like the spirit inside, it’s a class act.
Comprising three expressions, Tsuchi, Mizu and Kaze, meaning Earth, Water and Air respectively, each product in the Ryukyu 1429 collection is made in a different Okinawan distillery, has a totally different character yet is perfect for mixing in cocktails and matching with food.
We know. We tried them at a special Cocktail & Food Pairing Menu at China Tang at The Dorchester. Led by its Bar Manager Giulio Amodio, who just so happens to be Ryukyu 1429 Global Ambassador, it showcased a series of Highballs (only because it was a lunch, NOT because the range doesn’t present itself in punchier drinks), it was the perfect introduction to the diversity of the range and the category.
Worth noting, it was Giulio who approached the brand and asked if he could share the awamori love, not the other way round. “It appealed to me on lots of levels,” he tells us when asked why this, out of the many spirits he’s tasted, of all the brands he’s been asked to work with, was the one he wanted to represent. “Firstly, Okinawa is a part of Japan that the rest of the world doesn’t know about. Also the flavour was unique. It was really exciting to discover an ancient spirit that was a new category to me. We’re always trying to categorise spirits – gin, vodka, whisky, even shochu and baiju but awamori stands on its own. It’s really new to the market and while there are similarities to shochu, what I love about it is, shochu is only 20% and doesn’t particularly lend itself to being mixed, whereas Ryukyu Awamori comes in at 43%, making it a wonderful base for cocktails. Plus,” he adds, “Awamori adapts to the ingredients you mix it with. And while the lunch we served was Chinese, it pairs equally well with French, Italian or Japanese dishes.”
The Ryukyu 1429 collection
Created in Tomigusuku and aged in clay pots made from soil from various Okinowan regions
According to Giuilo, this is the most versatile of the three expressions and makes a good introduction to the category in general. “Tsuchi is a great alternative to gin and vodka,” he says. “It gives a nice Asian twist to all manner of classic cocktails and like all three expressions, it lends itself perfectly to the flavours you mix it with.”
Taste: Clean, neutral versatile, earthy with an initial bitterness that mellows into nuttiness.
Mix it: Try it in classic cocktails like a Singapore Sling, Aviation and White Lady, “it brings an Asian twist without overpowering the drink,” says Giulio.
Match it: Simply lengthened with Cedro Soda as a Shoreline Fizz, it was the perfect accompaniment to our dessert of lemon salted egg yolk custard bun.
Created on the island of Kumejima, renowned for its crystal clear water
“This one has had more contact with the black koji which in turn gives it a bolder and brighter taste,” Giulio tells us. “I like using it in sourish cocktails like a Margarita as it blends well with citrus. You can also enjoy it like a white rum, on the rocks and served with yuzu or freshly squeezed lime juice,” he says. “It’s also reminiscent of a mezcal as it has a real grassy character or earthiness to the spirit – again, that’s the koji coming through. Tasting it neat is totally different to how it presents itself in cocktail. It’s smooth and not at all overpowering.”
Taste: Spicy and acidic, lingering with a rich sweetness.
Mix it: Try it in sour cocktails like a Margarita or Daiquiri.
Match it: The citrus element cuts through fatty dishes but would also work well with fish. Our cocktail was the Ringo Starr, mixed with lime, Paragon Rue Berry Cordial and Apple Oolong soda. Paired with classic Peking Duck, it was a match made in tastemaker heaven.
An elegant awamori blend aged for five years
Not for nothing is this expression known as ‘the refined one.’ So much so, it’s set apart from the rest of the range, housed in a mysterious black bottle. Aged for five years, therefore coming under a category called ‘Kusu’ meaning old alcohol, it’s smooth as you like with a sweet, mushroom-nutty aroma and rich vanilla aftertaste. “Kaze can be enjoyed neat or on the rocks but it also works in cocktails ,” Giulio tells us.
Taste: Rich, full-bodied with a lingering sweetness punctuated with creamy vanilla.
Mix it: Try it in a Martini.
Match it: Our Healing Highball of Kaze topped with aloe vera soda was served alongside steamed Diver scallops on a half shell with shredded garlic and vermicelli.
Ryukyu 1429 on the menu at Shochu Lounge at Roka
The cocktail and food pairings at Shochu Lounge at Roka are equally inspiring. Working closely with Ryukyu 1429 and organisations like the Japan Society to promote awamori, Honkaku shochu and Japanese drinking culture the team, headed up by Simon Freeth, Global Bar Manager and Lorenzo Cisi, Bar Manager Roka Charlotte Street, Shochu Lounge, even have an awamori shitsugi ceramic vessel ageing on site.
Mix it: ‘Awa Martini’ (Ryukyu 1429 Mizu, Haku rice vodka, fino sherry and Italicus bergamot liqueur).
“The aromatic and vibrant awamori complements the sherry with Italicus balancing with a touch of sweetness and floral notes,” Simon explains. “Haku rice vodka gives it an extra kick, to bring it all together.
Finally, we add a garnish of purple shiso olive oil which gives an explosion of flavours that will float on your drink until the very last sip.”
Match it: “This drink is the perfect match for our kampachi salad dish, as even though it has the big flavours from the dressing, the raw fish is delicate and balances with the more subtle notes of the cocktail.”
Mix it: ‘Ryukyu Highball’ (Ryukyu 1429 Kaze with soda water and lemongrass).
“The aged awamori has beautiful umami flavours as well as vanilla and toffee notes. The highball opens up all of the deep flavours and help showcase this amazing spirit,” Lorenzo explains.
Match it: “The crab and black cod dumplings with chilli dressing, pairs up perfectly with this highball as its deep flavours complement each other,” he continues.
Mix it: ‘Negroni San’ (Ryukyu 1429 Tsuchi, Campari, sweet vermouth, cedarwood).
“The bold, bitter, spicy, Ryukyu 1429 Tsuchi notes are the perfect combination for this drink,” says Lorenzo.
Match it: “It’s more than a match for our spicy beef with padron pepper skewers.”
Mix it: ‘Mori tai’ Ryukyu 1429 Tsuchi, Takamaka white rum, roasted almond, banana, lime, umami bitters).
“This is a twist on the notorious Mai Tai,” Simon tells us. “Swapping rum with Ryukyu 1429 Tsuchi elevates the drink even further, giving it an extra dimension and a more flavourful one. Banana and roasted almond notes are added to the cocktail, making it a proper Tiki drink. Japanese umami bitters release the awamori making it shine.
Match it: With a selection of mochi ice creams.
The food and cocktail pairing menu is available at Shochu Lounge, Charlotte Street.
Where to try Ryukyu 1429: