Nanbu Bijin – Tokubetsu Junmai

Nanbu Bijin – Tokubetsu Junmai

Nanbu Bijin –  Tokubetsu Junmai     Summary: Fruity, ricey, sweet, full and overall beautifully balanced sake made with local Ginotome rice. Marvellous with spicy food. Seimaibuai: 55%,  SMV +5, Acidity 1.5, Acohol: 15.5% Prefecture Iwate Price:  Hovers around $80-90 in leading restaurants. Score – 8/10 grains Details: If you are a regular reader of my website, you will have noticed that I don’t dwell on sake flavour descriptions. Each sake review is, mostly, a story about the brewery behind it. This is no accident. A big reason why I love sake is my admiration of the craft and skill that goes into creating each bottle. So many breweries go back hundreds of years. How amazing is that, to know that bacteria involved in creating each specific sake flavour have lived on brewery walls, equipment and air for hundreds of years? Sake brewing is largely a family business. Each generation inherits the knowledge and adds their own twist. Sake brewing is driven by unique personalities behind it. Stories behind sake is what fascinates me, and I hope that my readers will these stories interesting, too! And you definitely need to know Nanbu Bijin (Southern Beauty) brewery’s story to appreciate its sake. Sure, its deliciousness will stand on its own, but knowing this kura’s secrets will add depth to your drinking experience. The 160 year old Kuji Shuzo, the maker of Nanbu Bijin sake, is in Iwate, one of the coldest prefectures in Japan.  Winters here are long and snowy – perfect for brewing premium sake. The kura is in the valley surrounded by mountains, and draws water from its own well. The water that rises through the well comes from melting mountain snow, and passes through many layers of mountain rock. It is so pure, that the brewery does not filter it before using it in sake making. What is more interesting, though, is that the natural quality of the water is so exceptional, the brewers do not filter their premium sake – at all. That’s quite unusual. Not filtering sake is a legitimate technique and unfiltered sake is called “muroka”. Muroka style is heavier and fuller-bodied. However, unfiltered Nanbu Bijin sake is as delicate and clean as other brands’ filtered sake. Their bottles do not carry the “muroka” label. Nanbu Bijin sake has been receiving a lot of acclaim, winning gold medals 5 times during the last 10  “New Sake Tasting Competitions” in Japan.  This competition is the most respected sake contest in Japan, where brewers showcase their technical skills.  The most striking fact about Kuji Shuzo, however, is that they sell their best sake locally. It is a deliberate strategy of gratitude to the local community. If you want to try the best of Nanbu Bijin, you have to travel to Iwate. I, for one, can’t wait!...

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My top 5 sake

My top 5 sake

Top sake brands – how many? I have already written about (an arbitrary) list of current top 5 sake in Japan.  I say arbitrary because there are hundreds of stellar sake brands. Sake brewers pour so much effort, precision, and love into their craft, more often than not, they end up making something delicious. There are about 1250 active breweries in Japan, and John Gauntner, the father of modern-day sake appreciation, recommends about 400 sake brands. That means one in three breweries produce something worth seeking out. In the presence of so much great sake, how do particular brands become super-popular and end up in various “top 10” lists? There is, of course, marketing. More importantly, much sake is still brewed using very traditional and labour-intensive methods, and its production cannot be easily increased. Owners might simply be unwilling to move the brewery into a bigger building. They might not want to move away from the source of water, or might be worried that the change of ambience will effect the quality of sake. They might not want to invest millions into very expensive equipment. Limited supply creates cult following. Most of the time, though, their reputation is well deserved. Slava’s top 5 sake Last month, I tried over a hundred sake. Most of that epic effort happened while I was studying with John Gauntner. As you can imagine, attempting such a concentrated tasting over a short period of time has a potential to tire out one’s palate. The brands I am including below are the ones that cut through the noise instantly and powerfully. So, I give you: 1. Isojiman Junmai Ginjō.   I have already included it in my “Top 5 sake in Japan” list. The reputation is well deserved indeed. The brew had the clarity of cold mountain air. I am not making these descriptions up, these were my actual notes from the evening! I might or might not have imbibed enough of great sake to feel more lyrical than usual that night. It began with the delicate fragrance of white peaches.  On the palate, it was fragrant, sweet, elegant, and smoothly resolved with a somewhat dry finish. Brewed with precision. Superb.               2. Sugata Junmai Ginjō I wondered if I should include Sugata in my top 5. Most likely, this sake will never make it to Australia, or anywhere else. The sake we drank was also a shinshu (new sake, not yet matured for the obligatory 6 months) muroka nama genshu. Unfiltered, unpasteurised, undiluted. What are the chances of seeing it in Australia? Probably slim to none. Unless we ask the Black Market Sake guys nicely. That brew, however,  was pure joy...

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