In Partnership with the Southern Weekend

Hawaiian Shochu Company: Traditional Japanese shochu from Haleiwa!

Made using traditional techniques from a master shochu maker

Sponsored by the Hawaii State Department of Agriculture

Here in Hawaii, it’s common to see people drinking shochu, a drink native to Japan. However, Ken Hirata, owner of Hawaiian Shochu Company, is making handcrafted traditional shochu here in Haleiwa. HI Now host Jobeth Devera is getting a firsthand taste of what makes his shochu unique.

“We make shochu with traditional equipment and tools, like 150 year-old ceramic pots my master gave us and brought to Hawaii,” Hirata explains. “This type of small batch hand-crafting shochu is disappearing even in Japan. Combining Japan’s traditional shochu making and Hawaii’s fresh produce makes our Hawaiian shochu one of a kind.”

It was poi that brought Hirata to Hawaii and shochu making. Hirata was born in Osaka, Japan, and grew up there. After he graduated from high school, he had a chance to study in the U.S. where he eventually graduated from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. He could not have done it without all the friendship and help from the students who were always from Hawaii attending the school with him.

After college, he went back to Asia and started working in finance. One summer when he was visiting Hawaii as a tourist enjoying poke and poi, he thought, “If there is poi in Hawaii, maybe we can make shochu because poi is fermented too.”

Several years later when he was working in the field of Japanese traditional craft art, the idea of making shochu suddenly came back to him. He thought it would be fun to make shochu in Hawaii. A few months later, he was accepted as an apprentice by Master Manzen in Kagoshima, Japan. In 2013, he and his wife Yumiko started a very small shochu distillery in Haleiwa.

Hirata uses Hawaii grown sweet potatoes to make  his shochu, which gives the drink a sweet flavor.

“We use many varieties of sweet potatoes all from Hawaiian islands,” explains. “For example, each batch has a small nick name.”

The current batch was called Maui Blend because the sweet potatoes came from Maui, and another batch was Molokai Blend because the sweet potatoes were from Molokai.

“Many farmers all over Hawaii have been supporting us by supplying their produce,” Hirata says.

Hawaiian Shochu’s Shochu NamiHana is only available at the production site in Haleiwa.

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