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Story Okinawa: Awamori by JNTO on 04 January 2018

The best way to taste the spirit of Okinawa is to try awamori, which you can find at most dining and drinking establishments. Also known as shimazake (island sake), awamori is Okinawa’s own unique alcohol and one of Japan’s oldest distilled spirits dating back 600 years. It once played an important role during the Ryukyu Kingdom, and continues to be a popular social lubricant across Okinawa today where it is drunk at both celebrations and nights out, and often accompanied by local sanshin (a traditional stringed instrument) music.




Awamori is distilled from Thai long-grain rice and black koji (mold) that gives the beverage its distinctive aroma. It is distilled in pot stills and then aged in clay pots, creating a potent clear drink that’s 30º-40º of alcohol. In Yonaguni island, you can also get hanazake which has an alcoholic content of 60º – and is traditionally drunk neat!


Awamori is usually served as a set consisting of ice and water so you can mix it to your liking (you can also mix it with hot water). There are many varieties of awamori, including flavored versions that contain fruits such as shikuwasa (a local citrus) or even coffee milk; koshu, awamori that’s been aged for at least three years; as well as habushu that has a pit viper steeped in the bottle (it’s supposedly good for the libido).


With its clean, refreshing taste, awamori is usually paired with local Okinawan food such as tofuyo (fermented tofu), umibudou (sea grapes), goya champuru (stir-fried bittergourd), and mozuku (black seaweed). As awamori is sugar-free it contains no amino acids, and it’s lower in calories than other similar alcoholic beverages. Some restaurants serve awamori with ukon (turmeric) juice, which is believed to prevent hangovers.


Those who don’t drink alcohol can try koregusu, a condiment of awamori infused with spicy little chilli peppers. This spicy liquid can be found in any restaurant, and is as ubiquitous as chilli sauce dribbled on most dishes.

Awamori distilleries


Okinawa is home to about 50 awamori distilleries that produce a variety of labels with flavors that vary depending on the their age and the containers they’re distilled in. You can observe the distilling process and sample their products at many distilleries across Okinawa. At Kamimura Shuzo, established in 1882, you can even make a souvenir awamori bottle which can be stored in their cellars for 5 to 10 years.


One of the most famous distilleries is Zuisen, established in 1887, which produces Seiryuu, an awamori that’s matured for over 3 years to produce its characteristic mellow and sweet flavor. Another notable brand is the Zanpa series, produced by Higa Brewery, which has a fruity aroma and no bitterness.


Seifuku is a small distillery on Ishigaki island which still makes awamori by hand, and produces the well-cured Seifuku Vintage 43 with its mellow, rich taste. The small distillery of Tokiwa is on Izena island, and is another distillery that produces their rich and easy-drinking awamori by hand.


okinawa awamori distilleries

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