Welcome to Sake, by Kanako Takahashi

In Event Reports by ashepherdiwfs

On 14th June, we gathered at Double Tree Hilton in Victoria and had 12 Sakes from western Japan to taste, accompanied with excellent tidbits cooked by former Matsuri St. James’s chef Mr Sudo, currently Akindo Food Catering.   I introduced categories of premium sake, what is written on the labels, and some sake basics. Note that the polish ratio is defined as the percentage of rice remaining after polishing.

1 Dassai 50 Sparkling: 獺祭50スパークリング; Category: Sparkling (Junmai Daiginjo); Brewery: Asahi shuzo 旭酒造 (Yamaguchi prefecture); rice varietal: Yamadanishiki 100%山田錦100%; polish ratio 50%; alc 15%. Tasting note: Milky white cloudy sake with delicate bubbles. Fruity yet very refreshing with creamy texture. For this sparkling sake, the second fermentation has been done in the bottle following the traditional method of sparkling wine production. This one was also cloudy (NIGORI) sake, which is filtered but with coarse material, and the sake lees are still in the bottle. Dassai is one of the most popular sake brands in Japan these days.

2 Tamagawa Kimoto Junmai Konotori Lable; Category:  Junmai 純米; Kinoshita Brewery木下酒造 (Kyoto prefecture); rice varietal: Gohyakumanngoku; polish ratio 77%; alc 15-16%. Tasting note: Full of umami and complex flavours, full body, yet dry finish. Junmai is a category of premium sake made without adding distilled alcohol (as opposed to non-Junmai sakes). The brewery master is English, Mr Philip Harper, who is very successful and produces a rich taste with clean finish sakes.

3 Tamagawa Hitokuiiwa Tokubetsu Honjozo玉川 人喰い岩 特別本醸造; Category: Tokubetsu Honjozo  特別本醸造; Kinoshita Brewery 木下酒造 (Kyoto prefecture); rice varietal Gohyakumanngoku; polish ratio 60%; alc 16.9%. Tasting note: Dry and clean finish. This sake introduces Honjozo, which is another premium sake category, made with addition of a small amount of distilled alcohol. To help the comparison between Junmai and Honjozo, I selected this sake because it has the same brand and the same rice variety as the previous one.

4 Shunshu 春秀; Category: Daiginjo 大吟醸; Brewery: Sawanotsuru 沢の鶴 (Hyogo prefecture); rice varietal: Yamadanishiki 100%; polish ratio 33%; alc 16.5%. Tasting note: Distinctive GInjo-aroma which is floral and fruity melon, banana. Delicate and elegant yet feel the depth of flavour. Daiginjo is a category of sake made using rice with a 50% or more polish, and using a small amount of distilled alcohol. Awarded International Sake Challenge Silver medal in 2016.

5 Born Wing of Japan 梵 日本の翼; Category: Junmai Daiginjo 純米大吟醸; Brewery: Katokiichibee Shoten加藤吉兵衛商店 (Fukui Prefecture); rice varietal Yamadanishiki 100%; polish ratio 35%; alc 16%. Tasting note: Pineapple, pear and flowery bouquet, quite complex with both savoury and mildly sweet flavours on palate with clean finish. Junmai Daiginjo is a sake made using rice with a 50% or less than 50% of polish, made without additional distilled alcohol. It matures for two years at under zero degrees Celsius. Wins many international competitions.

6 Zaku Miyabino Tomo 作 雅乃智; Category: Junmai Ginjo 純米吟醸; Brewery: Shimizu Seisaburoshoten 清水清三郎商店; rice varietal Yamadanishiki & local rice; polish ratio 50%; alc  15%. Tasting note: Green apples on the aroma with stone fruits on the palate. Soft and silky texture. Junmai Ginjo is using rice with a polishing ratio of 60% or less and without the use of distilled alcohol (sometimes, even if the polish ratio is 50%, producers decide to sell as Junmai Ginjo because of the character of the production).  By comparison of Junmai Daiginjo earlier and this Junmai Ginjo, this is slightly weak in typical ginjo aroma and that makes it a Ginjo.

7 Ginjosyu Ikekame  吟醸酒池亀; Category: Ginjo 吟醸; Brewery: Ikekameshuzo 池亀酒造; rice varietal Yamadanishiki & local rice; polish ratio 50%; alc 15%. Tasting note: Fresh, refreshing, clean sharp finish, very easy to drink. Ginjo is the last category of premium sake which is made with rice with a polishing ratio of 60 % or less and use of distilled alcohol.

8 Kuromatsu Kenbishi 黒松剣菱; Category: Futsu-shu 普通酒; Brewery: Kenbishishuzo 剣菱酒造(Hyogo Prefecture); rice varietal Yamadanishiki, Aiyama; polish ratio about 70%; alc 17%. Tasting note: Rich flavour of rice, full body, very dry.  We tasted this sake at room temperature first, then warmed up as well. They tasted very different, and became more accessible when warmed up.  The category called Futsu-shu meaning standard sake is not considered as premium, with less regulation and more freedom to produce characteristic ones.

9 Daruma Masamune 5-year-old Koshu 達磨政宗五年古酒 ; Category: Koshu (Futsu shu); Brewery: Shirakitsunesuke shoten 白木恒助商店(Gifu Prefecture); rice varietal Nihonbare; polish ratio 70%;  alc 17%. Tasting note: Rich umami flavour and notes of nuts, spices. Koshu means matured sake, but it is not a category of premium sake and not regulated. There are matured Ginjo sakes as well.  This one was matured in tank at room temperature (can change from -10 in winter to 30 degrees in summer).

10 Daruma Masamune 10-year-old  Koshu 達磨政宗十年古酒; Category: Koshu 古酒 (Futsushu); Brewery: Shirakitsunesuke shoten 白木恒助商店 (Gifu Prefecture); rice varietal Nihonbare; polish ratio 70%; alc 18%. Tasting note: Caramel, aromas of spice, cedar and nuts. It is soft and smooth with a long, complex finish. This one is matured 5 years longer than the previous one. With aging, it gets more chocolate or coffee notes and colour, and becomes smoother. For pairing, the brewery recommends chocolates or matured cheese. Members were both in favour and against. The ten years one got a deeper colour by aging even though wood barrels were not used.  This is mainly because of chemical reactions of amino acids and glucose. Like wines, if the maturation goes wrong, sake deteriorates.

11 Tamagawa Time Machine 1712 玉川タイムマシン1712; Category: Futsu-shu; Kinoshita Brewery 木下酒造 (Kyoto prefecture); rice varietal Kitanishiki; polish ratio 88%; alc. 14%. Tasting note: Sweet soy sauce-like aroma, sweet and rich taste with umami on palate. This unique sake is made following the same method as 300 years ago, which is completely depending on the nature’s magic. The residual sugar level is very high, but rich umami compensates the sweetness in the end.

We talked about storage and expired freshness dates. Sake is easier to store compared to wine in general; we need to avoid UV and extreme hotness. However, Ginjo styles, made with very polished rice, are more delicate and often recommended to be consumed within a year from the bottling date.

12 Yuzu Sake Keigetsu YUZUSAKE 桂月; Category: Other; Keigetsu Brewery 桂月酒造 (Kochi prefecture); Ingredients: Ginjo, Yuzu juice, honey; alc 8%. Tasting note: Refreshing yuzu citrus note and taste which is soften by honey. Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit. It’s tart and bitter, citrus-like, tangy and fresh, all at the same time. Yuzu sake is made with Ginjo sake and pure fruit juice and honey. The most popular dessert sake is still plum sake, but yuzu became a new fashion because of its refreshing flavour.

Japan has 47 prefectures and all have sake breweries. I introduced only 12 sakes from western Japan.  We have focused on categories this time. In future events, we could compare the differences of Sake rice, yeast, and method of production with pairing food.

As a Japanese, it was a great pleasure for me to have such a wonderful opportunity to introduce Sake.

Kanako Takahashi

Comments & feedback from a member: This was a very informative and well-explained introduction to sakes, with excellent background briefing notes on the production methods, aroma profiles, label information and a glossary. The sparkling sake was very refreshing. I liked sakes 4 and 5 best, but was not keen on the aged ones. Sake 5 was generally very popular. Because Kanako had fetched most of the sakes from Japan, very few of them are available in the UK and they would be quite expensive anyway.

Bernard Lamb.