March 23, 2023

TCGP S2 E12 - The Shochu Gatherer with Christopher Pellegrini

On this episode of THE COCKTAIL GURU PODCAST, hosts Jonathan & Jeffrey Pogash take a spirited journey to the land of the rising sun with shochu, awamori, sake, and Japanese whisky expert—and multilingual polymath—Christopher Pellegrini, one-time brewer, sometime actor and producer, founder of Japanese spirits importer Honkaku Spirits, and author of The Shochu Handbook: An Introduction to Japan's Indigenous Distilled Drink. All brought to you by Glenmorangie Single Malt Scotch Whisky and Monin Premium Gourmet Kiwi Syrup.

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The Cocktail Guru's chat with Christopher Pellegrini, founder of Honkaku Spirits, and learn how an American ended up founding a Japanese Spirits company. Shortly after Christopher moved to Japan, he became obsessed with shochu.  So much so that he opened his own company in March of 2020.  Chris explains to the Gurus how shochu takes on the flavor of the product which was brewed; ie sweet potato shochu tastes of sweet potatoes, barley tastes of barley etc. Additionally, they are relatively low ABV which makes them easy to drink.  Honkaku Spirits is devoted to bringing intensely artisanal Japanese spirits to discerning American customers with a particular focus on koji-based spirits including Honkaku (meaning authentic) Shochu, Ryukyu Awamori from Okinawa, and koji whiskey, an as-yet undefined but widely enjoyed category of whiskey. Working exclusively with family-run suppliers, Honkaku Spirits endeavors to introduce the finest traditional spirits Japan has to offer. 





The Shochu Handbook: An Introduction to Japan's Indigenous Distilled Drink (2020) (



Japan Distilled (

Sake On Air (



"Christopher Pellegrini and Stephen Lyman of Honkaku Spirits" - The Craft Spirits Podcast (January 6, 2023) (

"Koji Whiskey Returns with Christopher Pellegrini & Stephen Lyman" - Spirits of Whisk(e)y (January 26, 2022) (

"Christopher Pellegrini: The Commitment Leap" - Leading Change Partners (November 7, 2022) (

"Promoting the International Spirit of Shochu with Christopher Pellegrini" - Small Business Japan (no date) (



"A Talk with Shochu Expert Christopher Pellegrini" - Kokoro (February 8, 2023) (

"Relish the Process: Interview with Honkaku Spirits' Christopher Pellegrini and Stephen Lyman" - Adam Mendler (December 21, 2021) (

"Shochu Is Japan’s Best-Kept Secret—and the U.S. Is Finally Catching On: The duo behind koji-based spirits importer Honkaku Spirits details the overlooked history of Japan’s most popular spirit—and why the U.S. is ready to embrace it" - SevenFiftyDaily (December 20, 2021) (


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TCGP S2 E12 - The Shochu Gatherer with Christopher Pellegrini

Jonathan: Welcome to the Cocktail Guru Podcast, a

Jeffrey: show about food, drink, and

Jonathan: entertainment with a tight focus on the good life and

Jeffrey: all things delicious, luxurious, and

Jonathan: fun. I'm Jonathan Pash, bartender, author, TV personality and founder of The Cocktail Guru.

Jeffrey: And I'm Jeffrey Pash, wine and Spirits Professional.

Jeffrey: Insatiable collector of culinary ephemera. And so people tell me an engaging And

Jonathan: my dad,

Jonathan: well dad, we are, uh, onto another episode of our. Cocktail Guru podcast and you know, um, you know what I'd like, I'd like to do more often, dad. What's that,

Jeffrey: John? I have no idea.

Jonathan: Educate talent. No idea. I'll tell you right now, I'd like to educate our listeners on various types of spirits because we always talk.

Jonathan: To guests, and they're oftentimes friends of ours, and we've known them for a while, but the people listening may not know them. Um, it might be a little bit, um, over their heads perhaps, um, just because we have that relationship with those folks. But I'd love to bring in, you know, spirits experts to talk about what they are geeky about and to really do a little bit of a deep dive, as much of a deep dive as we possibly can in the allotted time.

Jeffrey: Well, El. Of course, I mean, there are two reasons why we do these podcasts, but one of the reasons, one of my primary reasons is to preserve a piece of history. Mm-hmm. History of mixology, history of wine, history of spirits. History of entertainment as well, because we do have guests who are in the entertainment

Jonathan: industry.

Jonathan: Yes. We've had, uh, well, Kelsey Grammar has been our, been our biggest guest.

Jeffrey: Exactly. Exactly. And um, the second reason is education. Of course, we're here to try to teach ourselves as well as the general public, cuz there are a lot of things I don't know. Mm-hmm. Like the subject we're gonna discuss today.

Jeffrey: I'm just learning about it really. I know. Started. Tasting started tasting a few years ago, uh, but not extensively. And it's thanks to our next guest that, uh, and

Jonathan: I think it's, I think it's amazing. More involved. Yeah. Amazing to learn, uh, because, you know, you never stop learning. I always say that I don't know everything, obviously.

Jonathan: And you don't know everything dad? Um, I don't, I don't. No, you don't. Oh, okay. Um, but what, um, what I wanted to do, or what we'd like to do today is talk about. A spirit that is not very known, uh, in the West, uh, but it is known in the East and it is a spirit called Shochu. And we have probably one of the foremost experts on that category.

Jonathan: Uh, he's an author, host, diehard Tokyo Swallows fan. Oh my gosh. Um, he's very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about Japanese spirits. That's where Shochu is from. It's from. Uh, he launched a company called Hong Kaku Spirits in March of 2020. Great timing there. Um, young man, uh, with the mission of bringing a, an intensely artisanal Japanese spirit to discerning American consumers, especially koji based spirits, including Shochu, Aari, and Koji whiskey.

Jonathan: Um, and we'll talk all about that because, uh, it might be Greek to, uh, other people out there, or Japanese rather. Um, and he's from Bristol. Received a BA in Spanish from Wittenberg University MA in. Uh, teachers of English second language or, yes, English is a second language and University of College of London.

Jonathan: But, um, before we bring on our guest, we're gonna take a quick break and we'll be right back. There's

Jeffrey: nothing

Christopher: better than the smell of coffee in the morning. What if you could enjoy a coffee subscription of fresh roasted specialty coffee while making a difference in the lives of farmers that grew up it?

Christopher: What if you also had access to a virtual coffee community? Other coffee lovers and the coffee farmer and roaster, that's all part of the Farm To Cup Coffee Club subscription at Unleashed Coffee. Subscribe today, unleashed

Jonathan: And we're here. And Dad, who are we bringing on as our show you expert today,

Jeffrey: Mr.

Jeffrey: Chris? Pei, he is a master a, a shochu master, and I have attended his tastings virtually in the past. And guess what I'm holding? I'm drinking tasting one of his fine products and it's the home Kaku distillery that, um, is involved in producing and bringing together some of these great show shoes and the.

Jeffrey: I don't know if I should mention the one.

Jonathan: No, let's let 'em, let's let 'em talk. Hey Chris, this is one of my all time

Jeffrey: favorites.

Christopher: It's delicious. Hello. Thank you very much for having me. I appreciate it. It's great to see both of you, um, and welcome to the Rabbit Hole, and thank you for allowing me to invite all of your.

Christopher: Dedicated listeners to the rabbit hole as well. Of

Jonathan: course. And you and Chris, I have to say, you are, I believe our, the first guest to be, um, streamed in from as far away as you are. Um, this is the furthest we've ever spoken, uh, across the, uh, streaming

Jeffrey: platform. This is by far the most exotic interview we've had, so,

Christopher: That's right.

Christopher: Zip code 180 7 dash 0 0 3 beaming in from Tokyo, Japan. It's a true pleasure. Thank you very much.

Jonathan: Wow. Well, we always ask our guests when they come onto the show, um, what is your Desert island drink? And it's okay if it is your, your product.

Christopher: Um, I think I'm gonna need to go with a more of a category. Of, or a subcategory of spirits.

Christopher: Sure. And it would be sweet potato show too, I think would be my desert island. Go-to. Yeah. I mean, once dad is freaking out about answer, I'm freaking out

Jeffrey: because guess what's in my glass?

Christopher: It's the sweet. I'm gonna, I'm gonna mention it's called

Jeffrey: colorful. Okay. Okay. Now you can explain what

Christopher: that is. If you.

Christopher: Well, yeah, I mean, probably a lot of people out there don't know what Shochu is and I'm, and I apologize. Am I jumping the gun here? No.

Jonathan: Uh, yes. No, I think that would be great. Um, let's give a little bit of an overview on the category or Oh, cool. The category itself. Yeah, we'd love that.

Christopher: So Chotu and also awa moi are.

Christopher: Let's call them Japan's indigenous spirits. They're hundreds of hundreds of years older than whiskey, which has only been made in Japan for a little over a century. And these spirits are unique because they are single pot distilled. And what that means is if you know anything about distillation, this is quite rare in the world of spirits.

Christopher: It's just one pass through a pot. That means that these indigenous spirits from Japan taste like what they're made from. So if you make a show you from sweet potatoes, which is an improve approved ingredient, then it's gonna taste like sweet potatoes, and if you make it from barley, it's gonna taste like barley and so on and so forth.

Christopher: It's quite complicated though, because there are 53 approved ingredients by the tax office here in Japan. So it's a incredibly diverse spirits class. Of course the trade off being when you have high esters, high aroma from the, from the fermentation, from the mash, you sacrifice some of that A B V, that alcohol by volume.

Christopher: So these are not the most powerful spirits that you've ever encountered. They tend to be bottled at 25 to 30% A B V, which is typical in Japan, and they. Delightful. They can be consumed a number of ways as they are in Japan. Yes, they can be used in cocktails, uh, but traditionally they were blended with hot water and cool water, and today, often sparkling water and of course poured over the rocks.

Christopher: But it really is. And I say this all the time, and unfortunately it's still true. They are Japan's best kept culinary secret. They really are. Wow. They outsell sake here in Japan, which is mind boggling for most people. When you consider that sake really is the the poster child for Japanese drinks, really, when you think of it from an outsider's perspective.

Christopher: But here in Japan they're consumed before meals, during meals, after meals. They are incredibly flexible and just. Absolutely lovely, and

Jeffrey: these are delicious. Just to build on what you said earlier, these are balanced, they're beautifully balanced, they're smooth, they're, you know, relatively high. They're not that high in alcohol, but relative, you know, 25 to 35%, something like that.

Christopher: And they are, they're certainly, but you

Jeffrey: would never know. A spirits drinker might taste this and say, oh boy, this doesn't taste at all like alcohol. And it doesn't, it tastes like the product. It tastes like sweet potato. It tastes like whatever is being used buck wheat for, I don't know. Um, and it is just luscious.

Jeffrey: It's comp, they're complex and very smooth, eminently drinkable and

Christopher: what, um, yeah. And they're difficult to make. Yeah,

Jonathan: I'm sure. Sure. Right. A lot of, yeah. The process is, is pretty incredible. Um, what, what is it that sort of got you, uh, into this category and into Japan? And, you know, I, I know that you moved there at one point, um, because you, you kind of have a, had a love for, or have a love for Japanese

Christopher: spirits.

Christopher: So I started out making beer in the United States. Hmm. Um, I worked for a small brewery called Otter Creek, which is in Middlebury. And I was there in the nineties. I was actually brewing for them for a while when I was still a teenager, which as a lot of people that'll, that's a glitch in the matrix for them, I'm sure.

Christopher: But it, it is legal to make, it's just not legal to consume. Right. Um, I was the youngest commercial brewer in the United States for a while, and it wasn't because I necessarily deserve the job. It just happened so happened that our first and second brewer, Were, um, not available. And then there was an emergency, and I got thrust into the role after kind of making a name for myself as a home brewer for a while.

Christopher: So I knew what I was doing, but I didn't know how to do it at scale, and that's what I learned. And I developed a fascination for, and a, an appreciation, really a, a passion for. Small batch drinks, uh, in this case beer that people would line up to either fill their growers with or, you know, that they told their friends about.

Christopher: And I was immensely proud of my job as a teenage brewer. I brought that passion and that excitement with me to Japan. Many years later. I graduated from university. I was in Korea, boy meets girl, girl wanted. Moved to Japan. I was like, cool. So it was at her behest that we moved here. That was back in 2002, 20 years ago and we're still here.

Christopher: And in the interim, while I was searching the beer scene when I first got here, it was not a pretty site. And I ran face first into Chu AOR one day at an before I could speak any Japanese whatsoever. And the guy was messing with. And he is like, ah, today, weirdo, you're gonna try this. And I had been drinking sake up to that point.

Christopher: And then he, he kind of surprised me with a barley shochu, which I was not expecting. And I had never heard of Shochu before. Honestly up to that point I didn't know what it was and I was like, wow, that's not sake's. Like nah, nah, it's show to drink it. And so long story short, after a i five different glasses of different types of sh of show to, they're all clear.

Christopher: They all taste wickedly different cuz they're made from different ingredients and they're just single distilled. So you know what you have is what you get. Yeah. It's like the Wizzywig ed editor in WordPress. It really. You know, whatever you are working with in the fermentation, that's what's gonna present or express in the, in the disti, distill it.

Christopher: And I was just fascinated. I was like, how can you have one of these tastes like sweet potatoes? Another one tastes like buck buckwheat, another one tastes like brown sugar. How does this work? And where do they make it? And that was the beginning for me. Um, that's how I really started to get into show to, and I'm the type of person that.

Christopher: I get curious about something, it's very, very difficult to dissuade me or knock me off course, especially like it was in early 2003 when Wikipedia was just getting going. There was not a show to page, I had no source for information in English. So the only thing I knew to knew how to do was to go there and figure it out myself.

Christopher: Hmm.

Jeffrey: And boy, you found, uh, some. Great ones because you became friendly with Distillers, I believe, and then you That's right. Eventually you were, um, representing their brands, collecting them and selling them in different markets. And Boy and Hong Kaku, if I am correct, means authentic. Perfect. So all the that's Producers you have are truly, you know, craft, authentic producer.

Jeffrey: Uh, of Cchu and it shows in, in the flavor, in the complexity and the, uh, thank you very much. The deliciousness of the product. Yeah.

Christopher: Yeah. I, I don't think that, I know there are a bunch of people that, um, we work with who are like, can we please get some, get some brands with slightly higher volume? Cause we're a little bit like a wine importer.

Christopher: Even though we're dealing in spirits, we're just bringing in really small batches of these things and they can't make more. I mean, these. You know, fourth generation, fifth generation, family owned businesses that really had only supplied their lo local neighborhood. And I can't get some of these brands in Tokyo where I live because they don't need Tokyo.

Christopher: But fortunately, as you said, Jeffrey, these are friends. These are, they're. They are, they're friends of ours. And over the years, after helping them and, and trying to get the word out on their behalf, when we finally started Hong Cocker Spirits in March of 2020, we were able to go to them and say, Hey, I know this is crazy.

Christopher: Hear me out. We wanna bring it to bi coastal in the States. And they're like, Huh. And that at first they, they thought it was a joke. In fact, we did have some people going like, haha, right? Yeah, sure. You the, the college professor. Okay. Yeah, sure. I, I'm sure you know how to sell, show it to in the United States.

Christopher: But, you know, kept going back and saying, listen, just shave off a small allocation. We're gonna bring it over. We're gonna s we're gonna try and tell this story to spirits lovers. We're gonna try and tell it to bartenders. And we're go and we believe that we. Get people to see the light here because these are made by amazing people in very small batches to ridiculous standards.

Christopher: And you know, it's about the people, it's about the place, it's about the process. And that story hadn't been told up to that point. And so we're having a heck of a time doing that now.

Jeffrey: Fantastic. Great. And

Jonathan: do you have these, these relationships that you have with, um, you know, your, your distillers and the families?

Jonathan: Um, I, I see here that you're working with Japan's only female master Brewer distiller.

Christopher: There are a few of them now. And, um, this was not on purpose. They were friends too. And um, this might not be surprising to anyone, but they were the ones that were the quickest to sign on. Um, A bunch of the, you know, I don't want to go too deep down this hole, but a bunch of the guys were a little bit too, uh, set in their ways and it was like, well, that's not how we do it.

Christopher: That's not, you know, we don't need foreign markets. It's like, yeah, I, I totally understand that. You don't need Tokyo, you don't need foreign markets. But, you know, trying something new could be a good thing for your brand. Who knows? And, um, the women were. Yeah, let's give it a shot. They, they almost didn't bat an eyelash.

Christopher: We have three, um, female toge, T O J I, which means master brewer distiller in our portfolio. Right now we're working on onboarding a fourth, and that's basically almost everyone in the show two world. There's um, about 200 and. Let's call it 270 Active Shochu in Awa Modi distilleries down in KSU in Okinawa, the ones that are run by women, I, you could count 'em on two hands I think.

Christopher: And so it really is just a sliver of the industry and we're just fortunate. We're really lucky that they were our friends before we ever thought about drumming up a business.

Jeffrey: And are these younger, new producers, um, are they. Making a product that is different from the traditional shochu. I, I understand.

Jeffrey: I think that's, yeah, they might, in the seventies they might have been a little heavier in style. Not quite as in interesting. Not as flavorful. And they've become lighter and fruitier in in modern days.

Christopher: That's a great question and you. Right on the money with that, with that guess, back in the day, sweet potato showed you, for instance, they had in, they just had, we'll call it prehistoric now, they'll, they had just had inferior equipment and slightly inferior techniques, and honestly, the variety of sweet potato, sweet potatoes, the varietals available just were not as good as they are today.

Christopher: So everything's. Bumped up several levels and Y yes. The show two of today is not like what it was back in the 1970s when show two started to hit the hit the dial for a lot of people in the bigger cities around Japan.

Jeffrey: And it was in those days, the early days, a blue collar drink, wasn't it?

Christopher: That's right.

Christopher: It certainly was. And it was a southern blue collar drink. So down in Q shoe, it really wasn't a thing in old soccer or toko, and

Jeffrey: now it's young and upscale.

Christopher: I, I hope that it's becoming that way. That's what, that's the goal. But you may have noticed that, um, the demographic crunch here being what it is and the.

Christopher: You know, people don't drink as much as they used to. I mean, you don't, you don't need alcohol necessarily to slide into someone's dms. You don't need that liquid courage anymore. So I think we're seeing a little bit of a shift, a little bit more mindfulness in, in the way people imbibe, which is a great thing.

Christopher: But, um, yeah, I just wanna say everybody drink quality and drink slowly. Absolutely. Yeah. That's

Jonathan: probably the key. That's the name of the game. And, and speaking of drinking slowly, I'd like to slowly sip on some of. Samples that, uh, dad and I received, and we'd love for you Fantastic to kind of walk us through a live on-air, uh, tasting of your products.

Jonathan: But before we do that, we're gonna take a quick break and come right back.

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Jonathan: That's shop dot the cocktail 10% off with Code Guru 23. Cheers. And we're, uh, back from the commercial break and looks like you got, you got a little bit of. Start, dad there? Yes,

Jeffrey: I did. I, uh, I've been tasting my favorite show shoes because, like, unlike you, Jonathan, I've been participating in, uh, Christopher's, um, tastings, and I've been lucky enough to get a head start on tasting these wonderful products.

Jeffrey: Um, which I have been doing for about, about a couple of months now. So I'm learning quite a bit at a, at a fast

Jonathan: pace and well, what should we, what should we taste first? Yes,

Jeffrey: Christopher, you decide what we should

Christopher: taste first? Uh, I think we should start with movie Whole Cup.

Jonathan: Ooh, I've got that. Yeah, I've got a little sample here.

Jonathan: Said the right thing.

Jeffrey: You

Christopher: said the right thing. I don't actually have the the US label, but it's very similar to the Japan label. Uh, the US label just has a little bit more English on it, but it looks a lot like this. Cool. Yeah. And it has the same, same script down the center. Yeah. Beautiful

Jonathan: looking, uh, bottle there.

Jonathan: And Jonathan,

Jeffrey: you have not tasted this yet, have you?

Jonathan: I, well, I've tasted show you before. I have not tasted, no,

Jeffrey: no, no, no. I mean, movie Cool. I

Christopher: mean movie. No, you're,

Jonathan: no, I'm sorry. Yes. You're in for a treat.

Christopher: You're in for a, oh, wow. Yes. Yeah. So this is a, this is a barley show to you. A hundred percent barley, and it's made.

Christopher: A, uh, a little bit about 12% of the mash bill is roasted barley, which is where you get all of the Ah-huh. Toast from. Oh yeah. I'm, I'm, and it's, and it's a little bit of coffee. It's a little bit of chocolate. Yes. And it's just, it's only 25% A B V, but it has. A lot of character. Oh yeah. It, it

Jonathan: tastes like, I mean, it smells like it's, it's higher proof than that, but, um, wow.

Jeffrey: This is, yeah. I wasn't going to use the magic word. The word that got me to love this particular show you and that is the C word coffee. Yes, it does. It tastes like, it tastes like coffee beans, like freshly roasted coffee. Oh, yes. Like you're munching on coffee beans. That's what it

Jonathan: tastes. Right. Like the, uh, like the chocolate covered, like the chocolate also being candy.

Jeffrey: Exactly, exactly, exactly. Yeah.

Jonathan: Which I just had, I just had one of those yesterday

Christopher: actually. Wow. And boy is that, this is perfect timing. Delightful. Just delicious.

Jonathan: Can we taste it? Mm-hmm. Can we taste

Christopher: it? Yeah. Go for it. Yeah. Hmm.

Jeffrey: And again, it's so smooth. Hmm. And oh yeah. Ooh. Smooth and flavorful. Uh, not, not what you this, not

Jonathan: what you're expect. Crisp. It's crisp. Yeah. It's crisp and it's clean. You know, you, when you smell it, you're like, wow, there's quite a bit of funk in there. And then you taste it and it's very refreshing. It's very, um, mellow.

Jonathan: Mm-hmm.

Christopher: And strict and strictly, we, we like this one. On the weekends when you, when you're finishing up the, the dregs of the pot of coffee, what, and, uh, you know, it's just after lunch. You got probably enough in there for another cup of coffee, but it's cold now. So you pour it over, ice, pour about a shot, shot and a half of Mogie Hook eye in there.

Christopher: Top it up with sparkling. It's a nice kind of brunch. Spritzer. Why not for, why not for breakfast?

Jonathan: Why wait. It doesn't have to be

Christopher: for, why wait for brun? That's true.

Jeffrey: B, I can see drinking. I might do this tomorrow morning. I might drink this with my coffee. A cup of coffee and have, and my breakfast.

Jonathan: Oh, that's a good idea.

Jonathan: Yeah, that's fine. It's not, it's not full proof, you know?

Jeffrey: Do you know what else I can see doing with this? I'm sorry, Christopher. If this is sacrilegious in any way, It's not meant, it's not meant to be. Go for it. But I'm thinking because one of my favorite drinks, a drink that I produce on a regular basis is the Bloody Mary.

Jeffrey: Oh. Mm-hmm.

Christopher: I could actually see

Jeffrey: add making a certain type of Bloody Mary with this Muk Yeah. Using

Christopher: this. That sounds, that sounds very interesting. Yeah. I would have to

Jeffrey: modify it, but it, but I think it would be a

Jonathan: Luci. Absolutely. I would agree. I would agree actually with you, dad,

Jeffrey: at one of the rare moments.

Jonathan: Thank you. Um, what, uh, so what, what do we have next?

Christopher: Next, let's move on to, uh, gk. Mm-hmm.

Jonathan: Oh, Goro. Okay.

Christopher: Got that right over here. We're gonna switch over into Sweet Potato Show too. Territory. Now I have a bubbly. I actually have the US bottle for this one. It looks like this. Oh, nice. Yeah. Um, I'm gonna, and Goro is a sweet potato show too that is made on the southern of the two Koski islands in Kagoshima Prefecture also 25% A B V.

Christopher: Mm-hmm. And this is a nice kind of introduction to Sweet Potato show to which is very near and dear to my heart. Um, it's. It's got the sweet potatoes front and center. It's made with black cogi, so it's got a nice subtle balance between the sweetness and the earthiness. There's this really interesting, almost like there's this chocolatey component to it that kind of weaves in and out of there, and this is a really.

Christopher: Interesting. Um, drink for, to kind of w work its way into an Alaska, I think. Mm-hmm. Um, if you take the gin out and the, you know, the yellow char truce and the orange bitter, it's a just a, it's. It's really nice. It's what I have to say about Goral. Oh wow. Um,

Jonathan: yum. I'll have to try it in Alaska. That's very interesting.

Jeffrey: And just so our listeners and viewers, um, can understand, Koji is a type of mold, correct? That's right, yes. And it's used That's right. Used to make meso and soy sauce and all kinds of other

Christopher: things like that. All the delicious stuff in Japan. Oh, that's so good. Yeah. All the

Jeffrey: umami umami

Christopher: thing that's. Yes, I mean, the umami components and characteristics are definitely aided and embedded by Ji use in, in terms of cation and fermentation.

Christopher: And without ji, without this native mold, this wild mold strain, Japanese food would not be what we know it today. Wow.

Jeffrey: I'm, I'm big on umami. I, I study umami as much as I can, so that's why Koji is most important.

Christopher: Absolutely. Absolutely. And, uh,

Jonathan: okay,

Christopher: what's next? Hmm. Hold on. The next one we're gonna stick with, um, the sweet potato here, but we're going to a totally different type of sweet potato.

Christopher: The, the sweet potatoes showed you that we j. Tried is made with the most common type of sweet potato in ksu, at least for making Shochu, and that's called GaN. You don't have to remember that, but you might read it pretty soon in the future if you start Googling Shochu. Kogan is by far the most commonly used type of sweet potato.

Christopher: Why? It's neither too sweet nor too earthy. It has a great starch content, and more starch obviously leads to more, uh, glucose, which leads to more alcohol potentially. And it's not hard to work with. It does. It's not too messy in the still. Um, it's just a really, really suitable type for making show to. But this next one, which is called colorful and made in neighboring Miyazaki prefecture, is made with what you could call a red or a purple sweet potato, a very different type of spud.

Christopher: And you're gonna notice it as soon as you put your nose in this glass that, oh wow, this. This is a totally different animal. Oh yeah. When, and this one's way, fruitier. Yes. It's way more floral. I get,

Jonathan: uh, I get the leach, I get leechy and I,

Jeffrey: I just tasted the, the goro And the goro is also sweet potato, but Yes.

Jeffrey: But the goro, I, I think I understand what you're saying. You said it was for kind of, for beginners, people who are just starting out. It's more, it's a hundred, I would say it's a much lighter, uh, lighter in flavor. Lighter than colorful. And colorful is just, just boom, sweet potato. Yeah, just get, and, and I'm not saying in an overpowering way at all.

Jeffrey: It's just the deliciousness, the concentration of sweet potato coming through in the glass and it's just amazing that you can get that in a spirit. It's

Christopher: really amazing. It's, this is a great indication side by side with Goro too of. Diverse. Even a single subcategory of shochu can be, I mean, there's five dozen varietals or more, more used to make sweet potato chotu these days.

Christopher: And they go from, you know, as white as this piece of paper. Once you, once you hack 'em open to the most ruby, like Dorothy slipper, you know, color. Yeah, yeah. You know, and everything in between like. Orange, everything, and they all express very differently in the fermentation, especially when accounting for different types of coy and different types of yeast, fermentation, temperature variations, and there is so much diversity just in the sweet potato showed you subcategory alone that you could spend half a lifetime just trying to get your head around it.

Christopher: It's really fun.

Jeffrey: Wow. Color, colorful is a very apt name because this is colorful in your mouth. It's, it is, it's, it's very burst, bursting in your map with flavor. It's

Christopher: just color

Jonathan: in your map,

Jeffrey: color in your I love it. I love it.

Christopher: That's the, this is the, this is the US label. Yeah. Which is a little bit colorful.

Christopher: Not a, not a complete spectrum, but purples and blue and, um, just, yeah, a lot, lot of fun. This one, if I. In terms of success personally with, with mixing things? Mm. It has worked surprisingly well in a Negroni. Mm-hmm. Um, it, it is pretty easy to slot in there. It's easier than it should be almost, but, uh, yeah.

Christopher: Colorfuls a another. Another one that's found a lot of new fans. And once people, once bars latch onto it, it almost like they, they take the whole allocation for that part of the state. It disappears really quickly.

Jeffrey: So, wow. Chris, in, in which markets can some of these, um, show to be found? We are

Christopher: primarily distributed by Wine Bowl.

Christopher: Mm-hmm. Great. And then in other states where wine bow is, is not present, then we. Found other ways to get in. We're, we're probably in 20 something states now. Um, most, most major markets we're in. Wow, that's amazing. So it's wonderful. Mm-hmm. And we, we've got, we've been very fortunate. We've got one final one here, one final one.

Christopher: This one is, uh, So is the, the only in our portfolio. Mm-hmm. And Awa Mori predates, showed to. Se a couple of decades at least, and it is the spirit of Okinawa. A 100% rice Koji spirit, and usually bottled at 30% a b V. But this one's 43 and this one is nuts. Yeah, it is. It's called Yoka. Koji. Yoka means four days and Koji means ji.

Christopher: So it's a four day Koji, which is twice the length of a typical coy propagation before fermentation. Oh, yeah. So they let this coy grow into the, the rice, the polished. For double the amount of time that is standard. And it just leads to all of this crazy depth and shape shifting in the flavor profile.

Christopher: And I love it. I think it's fascinating. Oh, I, I have a bottle

Jonathan: of this. Oh, it's, it, it's really good. It, this one is definitely the funt of all of them.

Christopher: Here's . This again is the Japan label. Mm-hmm. Uh, which we only just barely, uh, touch. This is such an iconic, uh, label. The logo is fantastic. Nice. And so it looks it's the exact same Yeah.

Christopher: Form factor with the bottle in the US should be pretty easy to spot on a shelf. This one just is amazing. It it kind of, It starts out with that graininess and that nuttiness, and it's like, oh, hey, wait, wait here, here's a little bit like sesame for you. Yeah. And then it, it backs off. It's like, oh, this, no, hold on.

Christopher: How about a little bit of Japanese pear? And then it finally, it's like, uh, caramel, whatever. Who cares? You know, just let's put some age in there. It's a very young spirit actually. There's no age on it whatsoever. It's like, I think it goes into the bottle after only resting for about a year. It's really not very long in the.

Christopher: But it just has so much going on. So that one's hit, hit a lot of bars very, very quickly and forcefully. You will not be surprised that it finds its way into espresso martinis very quickly. Mm-hmm. Oh yeah. Um, So it's, it's a, it's a fun one. That one for me. If it, if it was a little lower proof, I would probably drink it a lot more frequently.

Christopher: But at 43, I can't just like throw 'em back like I can with the 20. Right. Right.

Jeffrey: To me, this, this feels and tastes more like a, a true spirit, much higher level of alcohol and, um, and not for me, not quite as smooth as the others.

Jonathan: Right. Yeah, yeah. No, I get that too. And, um, well, that, this is awesome. What's, what's next?

Jonathan: What's, what's on the plan? What's, what kind of plans do you have going on for this year or for the future?

Christopher: Well, we plan to keep frustrating our, our distribution partners by bringing in very small allocations of, of, uh, of a successive number of, of products. We've got other friends who are just waiting in the wings who have pro promised us maybe, you know, 50 cases a year or a hundred cases a year.

Christopher: And so we're really excited about that. We have, the one thing I think I'm most proud about is the fact that the things we're bringing in, when people when show two nerds based in Japan hear that these things are ending up in the United States. They react in one of two ways. One is complete shock that, that somebody knew to pick those small, like super nerdy brands.

Christopher: They're like, wow, somebody really knew what, what they were doing. The o the other reaction, which is probably equally common, if not more common, is. Pretty intense anger because we're shorting their supply. The domestic supply is having a chunk of it shaved off to go to the states. And so I've gotten mostly tongue in cheek, but I've gotten a number of text messages from other show tune nerds that I've been, you know, on the circuit with for a couple of decades now, who are just like, I can't believe that you're taking this away from us.

Christopher: I'm like, well, you know, we got got, um, I. Important markets to develop. Mm-hmm. And we've got a lot of potential show to lovers out there that I promise this'll do more good than bad long term if, if you just work with us. But, um, it really is, it makes me very proud that, that these tiny little distilleries making these amazing products have agreed to work with us because, I don't, I I still can't believe we were able to do it.

Christopher: Yeah. I really can't. And there are some that have still held out until now, but they're, they're coming around I think, and this year should be very interesting cuz we've got some, what's called our reserve line. We've already got a couple of products in the market, which are just complete unicorns. And we're gonna supplement that line, the reserve line with a whole bunch more just of these really small batch, amazing single batch distilled.

Christopher: Show to an products and I can't wait for you to try 'em. And just one more.

Jonathan: That's amazing. One

Jeffrey: more quick question, Chris. Uh, you said the Yoka Moji, uh, sorry. The Yoko Koji, um, is not aged. How about the Goro? The, and the colorful and the, uh,

Christopher: Moji Hoka, the Mu hok, they're all quite young. Um, GOK I think is.

Christopher: Probably the old, well, no, that's not true. Colorful is a blend of a couple of different purple sweet potato distillers. One is older than the other. I think if you average it out, they're gonna be about two years old for the whole thing. That, that is right in line with . And then Mogie, Hoka is also quite young.

Christopher: Oh, hold on. No, it's not, it's not anymore. Hmm. Um, it is now the, we're at the end of a, a tank that was five years old when it went into the bottle. Okay. So that, but that's gonna shift. And, and quite, quite frankly, with that one, because the roast notes are so strong mm-hmm. It doesn't really matter if it's two and a half years or four years old.

Christopher: It really doesn't, it doesn't change all that much. It just is very assertive. It knows who it is and it doesn't halt back.

Jeffrey: So that roasted character will still

Christopher: come. Correct. That roasted character doesn't quit.

Jonathan: Yeah. And, um, Chris, be, before we let you go here, you mentioned something about a podcast, uh, Podcast that, that you do right?

Jonathan: Where the Tokyo

Christopher: swallows, what is this? That's right. It's a complete passion project. It's the old that's, it's probably the old of the three podcasts I'm currently associated with. That's the oldest. We've been doing it for probably 10 seasons now. We put out a one or two a month and it's just cuz we love the team so much.

Christopher: Um, finally the last two years, the team actually. Got out of its own way and was good, but that's not normal. They'll probably regress to the mean very shortly. Oh boy.

Jeffrey: The swallows, is it pot? Do they play in the United States?

Christopher: They do not, they play, they're a Tokyo team, one of the two teams here in Tokyo.

Christopher: They're kind of the, the New York Mets, right. Of Tokyo mm-hmm. To the, the Yomi giants of the

Jeffrey: Yankees, because I did go to a, uh, minor league baseball game close to here where I live in New Jersey, and the game that we saw happened to be against a Japanese.

Christopher: Oh, okay. Yeah. Maybe a Was that a a pre-season game or something,

Jeffrey: or was it No, it was during the season, I think.

Jeffrey: I think it was, yeah. Interesting. Yeah. I mean, it might have been like an exhibition game, I don't know. But it was, it was very good. Very

Christopher: possible.

Jonathan: Very good. Well, baseball and shochu perfect together. Oh, yes. Uh, and your products, Christopher Pellegrini. Perfect. I mean, they, they're delicious and we've really appreciated your time and learning more about the category and tasting these spirits.

Jonathan: So we thank you, uh, for joining.

Christopher: My pleasure entirely. Thank you both for having me on and to everybody out there sip slowly. Sip Kaku. Yes, sip Kaku

Jeffrey: Spirits Delicious. Delicious time is brought to you in part by Monan Premium Gourmet Syrups and Glenn

Jonathan: Mork. Well, hi again everyone. Um, hopefully. Enjoyed this episode of the Cocktail Guru Podcast, and it is once again, time for Tipple time.

Jonathan: Uh, Jonathan, that's me, of course. Uh, and this is the segment where I make you a cocktail. You listen, if you're just listening to my voice or you watch and listen if you're watching, uh, on the, uh, On the website, uh, which of course is the cocktail guru, where you can listen and watch both together.

Jonathan: How about that? You could see my face, you could see the beautiful products here. And I'm gonna start, I'm going to go right into this cocktail. I'm really into highballs these days. And a highball is basically, well, it's the name of a glass as well as the name of a drink. It's any kind of spirit with some sort of sparkling beverage in it.

Jonathan: Usually soda, water, and whiskey. Well, whiskey, highball, and this is a variation on a whiskey high. That I call the QE X. So here's uh, a product I love Moanin. You've seen me use Moanin products, uh, on the podcast before. This is their kiwi. It's this really interesting color. And you may be thinking, folks, this is bright green color.

Jonathan: Is it natural, Jonathan, is it a natural green? And yes, actually it is. It's an all natural green color, uh, which is lovely. So the kiwi has this be. It has real kiwi flavor in there, which is amazing. And I have the Glen Morgie X, which is a single malt scotch whiskey made specifically for cocktails for mixing.

Jonathan: Um, and it's, it was actually crafted with inspiration from bartenders, from bartenders and by bartenders. So we're adding one and a half ounces of the Glen Mor GX to directly to this highball glass. And I love the detail on this glass. I don't know if you could see that. It has this beau cool dragon. This is a company called Cascada.

Jonathan: Um, and they've turned me onto these beautiful, uh, etched glasses. Now I'm adding ice directly to the highball glass, and we're gonna fill it up all the way to the tippy top with some ice. Yeah, more ice. The more ice. Okay, now we'll top it off with some, uh, tonic water. I actually have some elderflower tonic.

Jonathan: You can use soda water. You can use ginger beer, ginger ale. And just give it a little top off, just like that. Oh yeah. Look at that. It's a nice color. It's like this, uh, emerald. Yeah, it's like an emerald green color. We'll take a nice. Stainless steel straw. And I have some lavender, some dried lavender, which will just, oh sh.

Jonathan: Oh, sprinkle on top. There we go. And so you get that lavender kiwi. Lavender works really well with the scotch whiskey. Oh my gosh. Look at that folks. Friends, I'm gonna take a little sip. Hmm. Yes, that is what we call a Porch Pounder can sit back on your porch and pound them as the weather starts to get warmer.

Jonathan: Well cheers to another Tipple time. Until next week, well, until two weeks from now, where I'll have another amazing cocktail tutorial. Cheers, tipple

Jeffrey: Time is brought to you in part by Glenn Morgie and Monan Premium Gourmet.

Jeffrey: On the next Cocktail Guru podcast, there's like a

Jonathan: area

Christopher: of servers way off in the distance and they'll go, ah, you know, like just to like, I hear you. You know what I mean? I'm coming. I was like appalled, like, oh my God, we're failing

Jonathan: these people. We were pissing off our guests.

Christopher: I'm wrong. It's me. I'm the problem.

Christopher: Right.

Jonathan: To quote Taylor Swift, quote, Taylor Swift

Jeffrey: on the next Cocktail Guru podcast.

Jeffrey: That does it for today's show. If you enjoy what we do, please rate, review, and subscribe to the podcast. You can also support the show with a small monthly donation to help sustain future episodes. Just click on the donate button at the top of our website and choose your donation amount. To learn more about our guests, visit or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.

Jeffrey: Or

Jonathan: TikTok. The Cocktail Guru Podcast is produced by First Real Entertainment and distributed by Eats drinks tv. A service of the Center for Culinary Culture, home of the Cocktail collection, and is available via anchor, Spotify, apple, Google, Amazon, and wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

Christopher PellegriniProfile Photo

Christopher Pellegrini


Christopher Pellegrini is a shochu and awamori expert, author, podcast host, and die-hard Tokyo Swallows fan, incorporating his infectious enthusiasm and knowledge of Japanese spirits in all his professional endeavors. He launched Honkaku Spirits in March of 2020 with the mission of bringing intensely artisanal Japanese spirits to discerning American consumers, especially koji-based spirits including shochu, awamori, and koji whiskey.

Hailing from Bristol, Vermont, Christopher received his B.A. in Spanish from Wittenberg University and his M.A. in language education from University College London. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Bioresource Economics at Kagoshima National University in Japan.

After honing his skills as a brewer at Otter Creek Brewing Company in Middlebury, Vermont, Christopher became a full-time professor at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan. Following the launch of Honkaku Spirits, he now lectures at the university on a part-time basis.

Respected throughout the industry, Christopher is a judge of the Tokyo Whisky & Spirits Competition as well as Spirits Selection by Concours Mondial de Bruxelles. In addition to being a contributor to the award-winning “Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails,” his extensive understanding of shochu inspired him to write the first non-Japanese book about shochu and awamori, “The Shochu Handbook.” He also co-hosts two podcasts focused on the education of Japanese spirits: Japan Distilled and Sake on Air. Fluent in English and Japanese, Christopher’s contribution to increasing global knowledge of Japanese spirits continues to shape opinion on the burgeoning category.

Christopher was the first person to be simultaneously certified by the Sake Service Institute as a Shochu Kikisakeshi (specialist) in Japan and as a Shochu Advisor by the Sake School of America; to this day he is one of a select few that hold both accreditations. Christopher also speaks conversational Spanish and Korean.

Passionate about giving back, Christopher proudly supports the Minga Foundation, the Providence Saint Joseph Foundation, and the Ray Pellegrini ‘Reach for the Stars’ Scholarship.