Whilst I’ve already drifted from whisky in the last few days, let’s make one last sojourn before I return to the spirit of spirits in earnest. Sake is a departure for me, and away from spirits, but it’s only a fleeting blip I promise – though I did also visit a Greek vineyard this week and an olive oil plant, but shan’t be reporting.
So why does sake jump through the whiskylovingpianist’s hoop?
- Sake in essence is rice, water and yeast, and even though it stops short of the distillation>ageing process, the sake tradition is mind-bogglingly involved. It’s a drink typically made in large factories to be consumed in volume, whilst a more bespoke & painstakingly made product caters for a more discerning/specialist audience – a craft that spans centuries. Ring any bells, whisky fans?
- Let’s also remember that any new experiences for the nose and palate should be welcomed.
A fantastic drop-in tasting at Hedonism in London, presented by Honami Matsumoto and Yukiko Hiromatsu, offered eight different sakes from Keigetsu, Tosatsuru, Nabeshima & Urakasumi. We start with four sakes from the Tosa Shuzo distillery.
vinquinn says ‘The family owned Tosa sake brewery was established in 1877 and Mr Matsumoto is the 6th generation. Organically grown local rice varieties, Hinohikari and Gin no Yume are grown at 300-600 metres above sea level, experiencing high diurnal temperature swings. Keigetsu is located in Kochi prefecture, in the South of Japan, on Shikoku Island’.
[Please bear in mind that I have almost no previous experience with sake. Having tried only warmed restaurant sake in China Town, Leicester Sq. and with street-food in Melbourne before now, this will be my third and counting].
Keigetsu ‘John’ [Sparkling] [2017/18] Tosa Shuzo 15% [75cl]
This won the Sparkling Sake Trophy at the International Wine Challenge in 2016. It uses Gin no Yume rice polished to 50% – more on that later.
- N: Common Cava-like>Champagne nose, with subtle fruity/floral notes.
- T: Unusual [unfamiliar] tangy/pong in a Cava-like vain with a fusty dry depth.
- F: Short and clean, which I believe is the aim. Being fully sympathetic to food is where sake is at.
- C: I’ve no previous sparkling sake reference but found the CO2 distracting, reinforced when comparing this with the similarly-styled non-bubbly sake that followed.
Keigetsu ’45’ [2017/18] Tosa Shuzo [Junmai daiginjo] 15% [70.2c]
Junmai Daiginjo indicates pure, natural, high-grade sake.
Like the sparkling ‘John’, this is made from Gin no Yume rice with a 45% polishing.
- N: Same character/profile as the ‘John’, just without the bubbles.
- T: Winey-ish,…
- F: Beer-ish,…
- C: Though neither a wine nor a beer, this & most of the other sakes managed to resemble both. Looking back, this would prove the standout sake of the day, for my utterly novice sake palate.
sake-times says ’The ratio always refers to the bit that remains after polishing. For example, rice that has had 30% of the grain removed will have a ratio of 70%. In the case of the rice grown for consumption, the average polishing ratio is as low as 90-92% (less than 8% removed). In the case of the rice grown for brewing, the ratio can be anywhere between 70 – 50% or less’.
sake-talk.com summarises thus:
- Less than 50%: Daiginjo, Junmai Daiginjo
- Less than 60%: Ginjo, Junmai Daiginjo, Tokubetsu Junmai, Tokubetsu Honjozo
- Less than 70%: Honjozo
- Unspecified: Junmai
Keigetsu ‘Aikawa Homare’ [2017/18] Tosa Shuzo [Tokubetsu Junmai] 15% [70.2cl] website
Made from Hinohikari rice, this belongs not to Diginjo but to a more common sake style called tokubetsu, meaning special. The most commonly drunk sake is called Tokutei.
- N: Farmy, cereal-y, mushroom-y,.. and other stuff.
- T: Same again,..
- F: [No notes]
- C: I really like it, yet the Keigetsu ’45’ still has the edge – just don’t ask why.
Gekkeikan Blue bottle  Ob. [daiginjo] 15% [70.2cl]
Daiginjo is also referred to as The King of sake. This sees a 35% polishing, the highest ratio in common practise.
- N: Comes with a sweeter pong than the ‘45’.
- T: Though lighter in style than the Keigetsu, it’s broader on the palate.
- F: Wine=beer-ish once again.
- C: I’m gradually acclimatising simply to the smell & taste of fermented rice alcohol, one that certainly deserves its unique category.
Read part 2/2 HERE