Denver Distillery Is Releasing a One-of-a-Kind Spirit on May 6

Imo Kasutori Shochu will be released on May 6.
Imo Kasutori Shochu will be released on May 6. Joseph Burns Photography
Denver Distillery's Japanese-inspired Imo Kasutori Shochu is the first shochu made in the United States with U.S.-grown sweet potatoes and local sake lees (the spent rice left over from making sake), says manager Chris Anderson-Tarver. The distillery is hosting a release party for the spirit at 5 p.m. on Friday, May 6, at its location at 244 South Broadway. “'Imo' in Japan delineates a sweet potato-based shochu, and 'kasutori' delineates a shochu made using kasu — spent sake lees,” explains Anderson-Tarver.

The distillery already makes a popular sweet potato vodka, utilizing 4,000 pounds of sweet potatoes per batch that are chopped, cooked and distilled four times. The full-bodied, smooth vodka inspired Anderson-Tarver to explore other spirits using sweet potatoes. He found Japanese shochu and invested more than a year of research into the clear spirit, partaking in Zoom calls to Japan and meeting with experts to formulate a recipe and to properly understand the distilling process. “It’s a lot to take in,” he says.

He turned to Christopher Pellegrini, a U.S. expat living full-time in Japan, who contributed to The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails and founded Honkaku Spirits, which imports sake, shochu and other artisanal spirits from Japan to the United States.

“He literally wrote the book on shochu,” Anderson-Tarver says of Pellegrini and The Shochu Handbook. “I talked to him for a long time to make sure that our process would qualify as an authentic shochu in Japan."

Anderson-Tarver read academic articles about koji spores, the chemical properties of shochu and the chemistry and processing of sweet potatoes. “I purchased every bottle of sweet potato shochu I could find in the Front Range so I could familiarize myself with the flavor palate,” he says.

Colorado Sake Co. also provided valuable feedback on the project, in addition to partnering with Denver Distillery, allowing it to utilize the sake lees from its production to create the Imo Kasutori Shochu.
click to enlarge Sweet potatoes from Mississippi were used to make Imo Kasutori Shochu. - JOSEPH BURNS PHOTOGRAPHY
Sweet potatoes from Mississippi were used to make Imo Kasutori Shochu.
Joseph Burns Photography
Local collaboration like this is important to the Denver Distillery team. “I’ve lost count of all the people we’ve partnered with,” Anderson-Tarver says, laughing. The distillery has sourced spices for its gin from Savory Spice; the dry cider for its Apple Pie Moonshine comes from Colorado Cider Company; Kucha House of Tea provided black tea used in limited-release whiskey; its coffee liqueur uses product from Kaladi Coffee Roasters; there is local raw honey used in its dark rum; and the grains that go into its whiskey are grown within 2.5 hours of the distillery. “There’s so much amazing stuff going in on the state,” Anderson-Tarver says, adding that there’s very little reason to look elsewhere.

But when it comes to a product like sweet potatoes, which are less readily available locally, Denver Distillery opted to source a “distinct American-style sweet potato” from Mississippi, Anderson-Tarver notes.

So what can people expect from the results? “They’ve never had anything like this,” he promises. He describes the finished product as having fruity notes and a coconut vibe that is reminiscent of the sweet potatoes. “It’s complicated on the palate,” he adds.

The spirit comes in at 40 percent ABV, which is on the high side for a shochu — traditionally, it's almost half that, 24 percent ABV — but Anderson-Tarver says the team liked how it tasted at the full strength.

Imo Kasutori Shochu can be mixed with soda, water, citrus and ice, "creating a really well-balanced cocktail,” he says. You can also mix it with hot water, which helps open up aromas and offers a completely different sensory experience, he adds.

There will be a variety of shochu cocktails available at the release party, including Haku Iced Tea, made with Taiwanese oolong tea from Kucha House of Tea; Studio Shochu, with Bancha Organic Japanese Green Tea, lemon juice, simple syrup, Strongwater Rose Sage Virtue Bitters and orange peel; Highball in the Sky, made with Strongwater Orange Blossom Sparkling Tonic; and Oyuwari, hot shochu service.

You can also bring or purchase shirts for live screen printing, with shirts available for purchase.

Imo Kasutori Shochu will be available at Divino Wine and Spirits, Bottleshop 33, H Mart Westminster, Denver Comedy Lounge and Ginger Pig.

Denver Distillery is located at 244 South Broadway and is open 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 1 to 10 p.m. Saturday and 2 to 8 p.m. Sunday. The Imo Kasutori Shochu release party is on Friday, May 6, starting at 5 p.m. For more information, visit
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Kristen Kuchar is a Colorado writer covering craft beer, food and travel. For Westword, she explores vegan dining and the state's artisan beverages, such as cider and mead.