Katsuyama “En” Tokubetsu Junmai – It is all about the rice

Katsuyama “En” Tokubetsu Junmai – It is all about the rice

Katsuyama – “En” – Tokubetsu Junmai It is all about the rice!   Summary: Rich and glorious. Seimaibuai: 55%,  SMV +2, Acidity 1.8, Acohol: 15% Rice: Hitomebore (table rice) Prefecture Miyagi Price:  $65 on the menu at Osaka Bar. Great value. Score – 9/10 grains Details: This month, my Sake Appreciation Club ventured to the just-opened Osaka bar.  The food menu was packed with all the Osaka street food favourites – kushiage, takoyaki and okonimiyaki. It was well matched by the sake list, where junmai dominated. I think there were only two daiginjos, Dassai 50 and Ippin.  Indeed, soul food should be served with soul sake – which is what junmai really is. Junmai, full-bodied and rich, is often the brewer’s vehicle to reveal the character of rice. Daiginjos tell the story of yeast, which works the grain milled down to pure starches into floral and fruity expressions. Such fruitiness and florality can leave daiginjos a little at odds with heartier Japanese fare. Osaka Bar’s sake selection showed a good grasp on sake and food matching principals. Sake prices, in turn, showed willingness to get Sydney people to drink it.  Good work! Among the long list of affordable, quality junmais – Ippin, Yukinobosha, Urakasumi – something special was hiding. At $65 for a 720 ml bottle, Katsuyama “En” Tokubetsu Junmai was the most expensive bottle on the menu. Katsuyama sake is made by Katsuyama Shuzo. The brewery stands at the foothills of Mt Izumigatake near Sendai city. Sendai is the top rice-growing region in Miyage prefecture. In the Edo period, Sendai produced two thirds of Japan’s rice.  Miyagi prefecture is also famous for its junmai sake – coincidence, or logical consequence of all that great rice? Katsuyama Shuzo has brewed sake since the middle of the Edo period. Then, Sendai daimyo clan appointed it to supply sake to the local lords’ table. Centuries later, Katsuyama brewers remain skilled craftsmen and brew competitions-smashing sake. At the same time, Katsuyama has morphed into a cutting-edge producer that makes sake for the global consumer. The brewery’s motto is “Modern Shudo”, or “Modern Path of Sake”. In the words of Mr. Jihei Isawa, the brewery’s president, it is a way to revive the Edo character of sake for modern times. Katsuyama Shuzo brews expensive, rich sake of exceptional quality, made to match modern European and Japanese cuisine. Fit for an Edo lord, accessible to us all. I’ll take that. The etched glass bottles themselves speak of luxury, and so do the price tags. Katsuyama “En” is Katsuyama’s entry-level sake. It is also the most expensive bottle at Osaka Bar. Katsuyama’s top offering, “Diamond Lei”, costs over $300 in Japan. Other daiginjōs hover around $100, also in Japan. (Double that to estimate what sake would cost in Australia).  “En” at the Osaka bar is a great way to sample...

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Ippin Junmai

Ippin Junmai

Ippin – Junmai     Summary: Do you want to know what a dry, clean sake tastes like? This is it. Seimaibuai: 60%,  SMV +4, Acidity 1.9, Acohol: 15% Rice: Tamasakae Prefecture Ibaraki Price:  a steal at $25.60 online for a 720 ml bottle. Score – 8/10 grains Details: This sake is dry, very dry, and clean. A complex fragrance of freshly cooked rice, with subtle sweet spiciness of dried fruits mixed in. On the palate, there is a strong, citruicy acidity and also chewy, rice-driven umami. I like experimenting with warming junmais, and when warmed, Ippin junmai retains its bity dryness, but the smoothness also magnifies. Overall, enjoyable, clean and refreshing sake. There is a distinct umami note, so it is best paired with umami-rich foods. The brewers recommend oysters, salmon and king fish. About the brewery – Yoshikubo brewery in Mito city in Ibaraki prefecture was established in 1790. “We are only young!”, said to me the grandson of the current president. Fumi Yoshikubo, the 80 year old lady, is the 11th-generation of the family to head the brewery. Yoshikubo sake has global reach, sold across several continents, but the sake has a distinctly local feel. All kurabito are local, and all went to the same high school. The brewing process is reigned over by the Nanbu Tōji Tadayuki Suzuki, who recently came to replace the venerable Katsuo Sasaki, one of the most respected tōji of the Nanbu guild. The most surprising thing about Yoshikubo is that Satoshi, one of the president’s grandsons, lives on Sydney’s northern beaches and promotes Ippin sake across Australia. A truly global jizake....

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Amanato Junkara Junmai

Amanato Junkara Junmai

Amanato –  Junkara Junmai     Summary: Supremely balanced dry but smooth junmai. Seimaibuai: 60%,  SMV +10, Acidity 1.8, Acohol: 15.5% Rice: Ginnosei/Miyamanishiki Prefecture Akita Price:  From $40 online. Score – 8/10 grains Details: Akita, 450 km north of Tokyo, is famous for its tight, compact sake with subdued fragrance but exceptional quality. Once upon a time (about 100 years ago) Akita was a mining prefecture, and the miners liked their drink. Akita farmers, meanwhile, grew a lot of quality rice –  Akita is known the as ‘rice bowl of Japan”.  Lots of thirsty miners and lots of quality rice led to the explosion of sake brewing. Asamai Shuzo, the maker of Amanato sake, was one of the breweries set up in response to miners’ thirst in 1917. Today, it is the smallest of remaining 47 breweries.  Amanato sake is the definition of “jizake” – it is made with rice that is grown within 5 km of the brewery, and spring water that originates in the snow-covered mountains surrounding the brewery. The same mountain streams feed the local river, whose water is used to grow the sake rice. Small and local it may be, but Amanato sake has a strong international presence, as the quality is exceptional. The Junkara Junmai is very complex, smooth and assertively dry sake. Umami-rich rice and fragrant yeast #9 combine to produce a dry but mellow “hōjun karakuchi” style. It flows smoothly on the palate, overflowing with notes of sweet florals and rice, and melts into a very long, super dry finish. A bargain and a standout, not to be missed.    ...

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Otokoyama – Tokubetsu Junmai

Otokoyama – Tokubetsu Junmai

Otokoyama –  Tokubetsu Junmai    Summary: A sturdy, mildy aromatic and well-balanced junmai made for Asian food. Seimaibuai: 55%,  Acidity 1.6, SMV +10, Acohol: 15.5% Price:  Unbelievable $26.90 online for 720 ml bottle (Tokusen store). Why so cheap? No idea, but get it while you can! Score – 8/10 grains Details: This is a “special” junmai. To be called “special”, or “tokubetsu”, both junmai and jonjōzō types need to have one of the government-designated criteria. In case of Otokoyama, it is the milling rate. The rice has been milled down to 55%, which technically, makes it a junmai ginjō.  Otokoyama brewery is in Hokkaido, the Northern-most part of Japan, and has been around for 340-odd years. Its sake has won multiple awards both in Japan and overseas, and is one of the better-known brands all over the world. I ordered this sake off the menu at Mr Wong, where it was mislabelled as “daiginjō”. The accompanying dishes were Chinese classics – roasted pork belly, scallops with XO sauce, and crab noodles. Otokoyama stood up well to fragrant yet not overly spicy food. It opened up with a mild fragrance of frangipani flowers, was sweet, full and smooth on the palate and finished very dry. After the hit of spiciness and dryness in the end, everything resolved very elegantly. It was a great introduction to sake for my dining companion, and just yesterday she told me she kept thinking about that sake and wanted to drink it again, 3 months on! I guess I will have to invite her around to raid my private collection....

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