Preview: The 12th annual Awamori Festival

In Hawaii, we have so many Asian influences, but it seems like we’ve only started to really educate ourselves on liquors like sake, shochu, soju, and awamori. Awamori? Yup, this popular rice-based alcohol is all they drink in Okinawa, and Hawaii residents are starting to catch on to it.

Awamori gets its distinct, but subtle flavor from two unique ingredients: Unlike shochu, awamori uses long-grain Thai rice for distilling; and instead of white koji mold, they use black koji mold — indigenous to Okinawa — in fermentation. In Okinawa, they are often aged in mountain caves, as well. The result is a clean, clear spirit that tastes similar to sake and shochu, but with its own complex notes. It’s usually consumed straight and chilled, but if you find it too strong you can add one (and only one) drop of lime into your glass.

I got so much information on awamori, I could do an entire blog post on its science and history … but I will save that for another day. The upcoming Awamori Festival on December 12 will educate all attendees on the spirit and foods you can pair it with. Actually, it has now been renamed Cultural Fusion because they are including shochu, soju, and wine in the mix and showcasing elements from other cultures. For the first time, they’re having it at Harbor View Center, a banquet facility above Nico’s at Pier 38, which will accommodate the growing interest: In their first year, the Awamori Festival drew 25 people. Twelve years later, the crowd has grown to 200, and they expect it to increase as people learn more about it.

Awamori festival preview

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We got a preview of the food being served at the event next week and tried some awamori and shochu provided by Lotus Spirits, with Executive Chef Raymond Locquiao’s recommendations.

Back in August, the Nonstop team went to the debut of Hwayo Soju in Hawaii to taste it straight, in cocktails, and paired with food. Click here to see photos and video from the launch so you can see why it’s a featured spirit at this event.

In the meantime, here are the details for the upcoming Awamori Festival:

Cultural Fusion
December 12 ~ 5:30 to 8 p.m.
Harbor View Center, above Nicos at 1129 N. Nimitz Hwy.
$70 in advance, $80 at the door
Contact Randy Kuba at 808-780-3440 or