Artisan Spirit: Summer 2021

Page 72

CL ASS IS IN SESSION Two Shochu Experts Aim to Educate the Country on Obscure Japanese Spirits WRITTEN BY RICH MANNING /// PHOTOS PROVIDED BY HONKAKU SPIRITS

How do you turn the masses on to a brand-new spirit category that’s actually centuries old?


his is the challenge facing Christopher Pellegrini and Stephen Lyman, the onetwo punch behind Tokyo-based Honkaku Spirits. Launched in 2020, Honkaku Spirits isn’t a particular brand. It’s a Winebow-distributed portfolio that allows them to introduce the American market to traditional Japanese spirits like shochu and awamori, spirits that are virtually unknown in the West despite being around since at least the mid16th century. The organization’s burgeoning portfolio of 72

artisan labels acts as a means for them to carry out their ultimate mission of educating the American market on the brilliance of these categories. There is a lot of knowledge to share, and each term, category, and designation associated with the categories goes deeper down a rabbit hole that spirits aficionados may be inclined to fall into with unabashed glee. For Pellegrini and Lyman, this process starts with simply convincing these consumers the spirits exist. “Right now, we are starting from essentially

zero,” Pellegrini said. “Shochu and awamori awareness in the U.S. is extremely low. The TTB does not even recognize these spirits categories, even though more shochu is produced annually in Japan than tequila in Mexico. Of course, we hope to have a successful business that helps establish these categories worldwide, but the only way that happens is through education.” The first step in this educational journey may involve informing bartenders and the average consumer of what shochu is not. To the untrained ear, “shochu” sounds an awful lot like “soju,” the easy-drinking, low-proof potable that restaurants without a hard liquor license can use to build cocktails in some states. The differences between the W W W . ARTISANSPIRITMAG . C O M

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