After a long absence from sake, Asomaniac and I made up for lost time in the most spectacular fashion. What follows are the tastings notes of a sake session which was impressive in both quality and quantity.
All sake is nama and made with Yamada Nishiki rice, unless otherwise stated. The percentage figures are the level of rice refinement.
We started off with the Akaoni Private Bin Juyondai Junmai Daiginjo (赤鬼PB十四代純吟原酒 – 50%) and, on the manager’s suggestion, compared it with the Juyondai drip pressed Junmai Ginjo (十四代 中取り純米吟醸 – 40%). Both were wonderfully smooth and clean, but the refreshing and lively palate of the Akaoni made it our favourite of the round.
My esteemed companion believes that when drinking it’s better to start with the best quality and work your way down, as your palette and mind become fatigued. So, in keeping with this rule, we ordered up a round of the star players: Juyondai’s premium label Soukou Daiginjo (十四代 大吟醸 斗瓶囲い 双虹 – 35%) and the Ryuugetsu special brewed Junmai Daiginjo (十四代 特別純米大吟醸 龍月 – 40%). Sadly, the Ryuugetsu was sold out, so in its place we chose the standard daiginjo (十四代 大吟醸 – 35%) – and what an inspired decision it was! The ‘regular’ daiginjo was our hands down favourite; fragrant, refined and beautifully balanced.
We departed from Yamagata and headed down to the other end of the country for our next round, sampling the refreshing, fruity bouqueted Kannihonkai Daiginjo (環日本海 大吟醸斗瓶囲い – 35%), from Shimane, and the Dassai 23 Junmai Daiginjo (獺祭 磨き二割三分 純米大吟醸), from Yamaguchi. Self proclaimed sake experts love to diss Dassai for being overly refined, feminine and too widely available. Apparently, real connoisseurs only drink the austere, earthy varieties of obscure kura. Well, they can keep their unfiltered yamahai, I am an unabashed fan of the sake produced by this innovative Yamaguchi kura. Having enjoyed their 50, 45, and 39, I had high expectations of the 23 – the highest level of refinement on the market. And, as I expected, it was outstanding; smooth, elegant flavors combined with a delicate honeydew melon aroma. Superb!
Just when I thought I had tried the cream of the crop, Asomaniac informed me that there is actually an even more select 23 which is pressed using central frugal force. Nakamura-san confirmed this by whipping out his keitai and showing us an image of the high-tech piece of equipment used in the process. It looked a little something like this:
For or my erudition, Aso-san ordered two varieties of his favourite sake, Yuki No Bosha, from Akita. A bit of post-session research revealed that Saiya Shuzoten – the brewery that produces Yuki No Bosha – was the very first kura to be certified as organic. Furthermore, all of their sake is unfiltered genshu, made with Akita Komachi rice.
Back to the tasting, we drank #66 (from a batch of 300) of the limited edition Yuki No Bosha Daiginjo (雪の茅舎 大吟醸 生酒原酒 第六十六番 – 35%) . It was a revelation: a mild, melon fragrance, that harmonised beautifully with its full, balanced flavour. Stunning! The Yuki No Bosha Freshly Pressed Junmai Ginjo (雪の茅舎 しぼりたて 純米吟醸生酒 – 55%) was also fantastic. It had a refreshing aroma reminiscent of fruit, and a light, elegant flavour.
I was less enthusiastic about the amber hued Hakuyocho Daiginjo 18BY (伯陽長 大吟醸 – 35%), from Tottori. At 5 years old, it had the viscous mouth feel and musty earthy, sherry-like notes of a koshu sake. You can’t win them all.
As fan of Isojiman, I was disappointed to see that it was not listed on the menu – sold out, apparently. Instead, we opted for another well-regarded Shizuoka sake, the Special edition Kaiun Daiginjo (開運 大吟醸 伝 波瀬正吉 – 40%), named in honour of the former toji, Hase Shokichi. Beautifully crafted, with the floral bouquet, harmonious flavour, and crystal clear finish that I so readily associate with Shizuoka sake.
There was food, but nothing of note. The sashimi moriawase that I had pre-ordered was mediocre; the uni inedible. Basically, don’t come here to eat. The one success of the night was the yuzu kosho tofu misozuke, which I had enjoyed previously. Aso-san went nuts for it, ordering plates in triplicate until we had exhausted the kitchen’s entire stock.
I’m fortunate to live a short walk from Kagataya, one of the best little sake shop in town. Its owner converted me to the joys of Nabeshima, from Saga, and it’s purple labeled junmai ginjou is one of my summer staples. The Nabeshima Nakakumi Muroka Junmai Ginjou, made from Gohyakumangoku rice (鍋島 中汲み純米吟醸 五百万石 – 50%) had mellow base notes, with a heady fragrance and smooth finish. Equally impressive was Asomaniac’s pick, the soft and slightly sweet Miwasakura Junmai Daiginjou made with Omachi rice (美和桜 純米吟醸 生原酒 雄町 – 50%), from Hiroshima.
I could have been because of the sheer volume that we were drinking, or maybe it was just Asomanic’s boyish charm, but the service we received throughout the evening was exceptional. Nakamura-san and a lovely female staff member took their time to answer our questions, and give a little background on each sake. Once he was familiar with the styles that we preferred, we handed the selection over him and sat back to reap the rewards.
On the left, Sakunohana Muroka -non-charcoal filtered- Junmai Ginjou (佐久の花 純米吟醸 無濾過 生原酒直汲み – 55%), from Nagano, which was made with local Hitogokochi rice. It had a pleasant fruit fragrance, and a slightly sweet flavour, that was balanced out with a nice amount of acidity and astringency. On the right, from a small Aichi kura, the charming Chouchin ‘Newspaper Series’ Junmai Ginjo, (長珍 純米吟醸 新聞紙シリーズ 生 無濾過 – 50%). It had fresh aromas, lively acidity and a deep flavour which really opened up as it reached room temperature. An idiosyncratic feature of this sake is – as its name suggests – that it’s packaged wrapped in newspaper to protect it from heat and light. No info on which newspaper they prefer, but you know I tried to find out. #geek.
For our last round, Nakamura-san selected a couple of gems. The Orouku Takemichi Junmai Ginjou (王禄 ‘丈径’ 純米吟醸 無濾過生原酒 – 55%), is another sake named in honour of its toji – Ishihara Takemichi. Using only organic Yamada Nishiki rice, this young Shimane kura has created a lovely full-bodied sake with a lively, clean finish. Finally, from Shiga, the Sakamatsu Junmai Ginjo (
With minds and palettes worn out, and the effects of the sake kicking in, most sensibly minded people would have headed home for a cuppa tea and a lie down. That, however, was not to be. We rallied with a battle cry of, “Rum and Cuban cigars!”, settled our bill, and wobbled off into the night to continue the revelry.
A plea to foreign visitors: Please be mindful that this is a busy izakaya. If you are not proficient in Japanese, then out of respect for the staff, please consider going with a Japanese speaking friend.