Three Interesting Sakés

Saké is often called rice wine, but that is a misnomer.  While it is an alcoholic beverage made by fermentation, the production process more closely resembles that of beer, and it is made from grain (rice, of course), not fruit.  To make saké, the starch of freshly steamed glutinous rice is converted to sugar and then fermented to alcohol.  Once fermented, the liquid is filtered, heated, and placed in casks for maturing.  Sakés can range from dry to sweet, but even the driest retain a hint of sweetness.

Here are three interesting sakés to try.  All should be served chilled, or at room temperature.  Although the cheap sake you may encounter in sushi restaurants will usually be heated, often too much so, such treatment will destroy the subtleties of these selections.

Nanbu Bijin “Southern Beauty” Tokubetsu Junmai

Tokubetsu translates to “special,” indicating that a special element was incorporated into the brewing process at the discretion of the brew master.  In the case of this sake, that element is the use of the local Ginginga rice which took over eight years to develop and perfect, according to the brewery. The water, yeast, and brewing team are also all from Iwate prefectureJunmai is pure rice wine, with no added alcohol.  Until recently, at least 30% of the rice used for junmai sake had to be milled away, but Junmai no longer requires a specified milling rate.

Junmai is historically considered the “way saké was” and means “rice and water only,”  These brews can have their rice milled to many different levels, from 80% with 20% removal to 55% with 45% removal, as long as the milling percentages are on the label.  The result is that some Junmai can drink very rich and full-bodied, and some drink lighter and more elegant.  They can be served chilled, at room temperature, or warmed (but I suggest avoiding warming this one).

Southern Beauty has been milled to 55%, with 45% removal of rice, as high as it gets.  It is Kosher certified, unusual among sakés.  It has a soft, round character, with a flavor reminiscent of mandarin oranges.  ABV is 15.3%.

http://www.southern-beauty.com/

Tozai “Snow Maiden” Nigori Junmai

Snow Maiden, also known as Hanako, was a koi fish that lived to the age of 226 years in pure mountain water at the base of Japan’s Mt. Ontake.   Nigori, or nigorizake, translates roughly to “cloudy” because of its appearance, and is the oldest style of saké.  The cloudiness is produced when a brewer leaves in some of the rice lees, or sediment. Nigori is not an unfiltered saké however, as the sake is filtered to some degree.  I’m not a big fan of nigori saké because of the rice grit that it always contains.  It is quite delicate here, however, and I found it acceptable.  This expression is relatively dry for a nigori saké, as they always tend toward sweetness.  It has a soft, floral palate, with flavors of cantaloupe and a suggestion of daikon.  ABV is 14.9%.

Dassai 45 Junmai Daiginjo

Daiginjo is the highest grade of saké.  Junmai Daiginjo has the highest milling rates in saké production, with a minimum of 50% rice polished away and 50% remaining.  But that standard is often surpassed by brewers looking to push the rice milling envelope, resulting in sakés that can be milled down to 35%, down to 23%, and even 7% remaining!  These sakés are always served chilled.

Dassai translates to ‘Otter Festival.’ The name comes from a local Yamaguchi legend that involves a bunch of happy-go-lucky otters showing off their fishing skills and showing us humans how it’s done properly.  Back in 1981, the Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin Big Band released an album called Tanuki’s Night Out, which tells the story, in music, of Tanuki, another hard-partying otter.

Dassai 45 has been polished to 45% rice remaining, hence the name.   The nose features a banana aroma, with lychee, green apple, and “acidic bubble gum” on the palate.  AVB is 16%.

https://www.asahishuzo.ne.jp/en/

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Momokawa Pearl Saké

Momokawa PearlSaké is often called rice wine, but this is a misnomer.  While it is an alcoholic beverage made by fermentation, the production process more closely resembles that of beer, and it is made from grain (rice, of course), not fruit.  To make saké, the starch of freshly steamed glutinous rice is converted to sugar and then fermented to alcohol.  Once fermented, the liquid is filtered, heated, and placed in casks for maturing.  Sakés can range from dry to sweet, but even the driest retain a hint of sweetness.

This saké is a domestic product from SakéOne saké brewery in Forest Grove, Oregon.  The company began as a saké importer in 1992, and in 1997 they expanded the operation and began brewing saké.

In premium saké, water composition matters a great deal. SakéOne’s founder chose Oregon because he believed that the best-quality water for saké brewing is in the Northwest.

The other crucial component is rice, and SakéOne sources its Calrose rice from the Sacramento Valley. Calrose is derived from Japanese saké rice and has several qualities that produce saké with more body, higher viscosity, and a long finish.


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SakéOne’s modest tasting room.

Momokawa Pearl Saké

Pearl is a rich, full-bodied Junmail* Ginjo** Nigori*** saké that opens with vanilla and pineapple on the nose.  It is quite sweet as far as I’m concerned, with banana, coconut, and marshmallow on the palate.  The producer suggests pairing this with spicy cuisine, but I would personally reserve it for desserts, especially those featuring tropical fruits.

Nigori is an acquired taste, in my opinion.  If allowed to settle, there will be about an inch and a half of very fine-grained solids in the bottle.  If mixed with the saké as intended, the solids create a chalky mouthfeel, which I am not a fan of.  YMMV.  The ABV is 14.8%, and the SMV**** is -10. The rice has a polish of 58%, so 42% of the rice has been removed.  Serve chilled.

NOTE:  SakeOne offers a three-tiered monthly saké club (but not all three tiers are available in every state, due to local liquor laws).  Club membership offers attractive discounts and access to limited production sakés.  Unfortunately, SakeOne marks up the actual shipping charges by 30% to 50%, making those discounts in reality rather less attractive.  I for one would prefer that the discounts be less, if necessary, and the shipping costs accurate.

https://sakeone.com/

*Junmai is pure rice wine, with no added alcohol). Until recently, at least 30% of the rice used for Junmai sake had to be milled away, but Junmai no longer requires a specified milling rate.

**Ginjo designates that at least 40% of the rice has been polished away. If a bottle is labeled just Ginjo, distilled alcohol was added; if it is labeled Junmai Ginjo, no alcohol was added.

***The Nigori designation translates roughly to cloudy because of its appearance. All sakés are usually filtered to remove grain solids left behind after fermentation. However, Nigori sake is filtered using a broader mesh, resulting in the inclusion of fine rice particles and a far cloudier drink.

****The SMV (Saké Meter Value) measures the density of saké relative to water, and is the method for gauging the dryness or sweetness of saké. The higher the SMV, the drier the saké. The median value of SMV is +3

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Momokawa Ruby Fields Saké

Momokawa Ruby Fields

Saké is often called rice wine, but this is a misnomer.  While it is an alcoholic beverage made by fermentation, the production process more closely resembles that of beer, and it is made from grain (rice, of course), not fruit.  To make saké, the starch of freshly steamed glutinous rice is converted to sugar and then fermented to alcohol.  Once fermented, the liquid is filtered, heated, and placed in casks for maturing.  Sakés can range from dry to sweet, but even the driest retain a hint of sweetness.

This saké is a domestic product from SakéOne saké brewery in Forest Grove, Oregon.  The company began as a saké importer in 1992, and in 1997 they expanded the operation and began brewing saké.

In premium saké, water composition matters a great deal. SakéOne’s founder chose Oregon because he believed that the best-quality water for saké brewing is in the Northwest.

The other crucial component is rice, and SakéOne sources its Calrose rice from the Sacramento Valley. Calrose is derived from Japanese saké rice and has several qualities that produce saké with more body, higher viscosity, and a long finish.


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SakéOne’s modest tasting room.

Momokawa Ruby Fields Saké

Ruby Fields is a rich, full-bodied Junmail* Ginjo**  saké that opens with aromas of Granny Smith apples and bananas.  Those flavors continue on the palate, with the addition of a hint of cantaloupe.  It is moderately dry, with a fairly long finish.It is marketed as an upgrade to Momokawa’s Ruby  The ABV is 16%, and the SMV*** is -1.5. The rice has a polish of 58%, so 42% of the rice has been removed.  Serve chilled.

https://sakeone.com/

*Junmai is pure rice wine, with no added alcohol). Until recently, at least 30% of the rice used for Junmai sake had to be milled away, but Junmai no longer requires a specified milling rate.

**Ginjo designates that at least 40% of the rice has been polished away. If a bottle is labeled just Ginjo, distilled alcohol was added; if it is labeled Junmai Ginjo, no alcohol was added.

***The SMV (Saké Meter Value) measures the density of saké relative to water, and is the method for gauging the dryness or sweetness of saké. The higher the SMV, the drier the saké. The median value of SMV is +3

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Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America Junmai Ginjo Genshu Saké

Tsubaki Grand ShrineThat’s quite a title there, isn’t it?

Let’s break it down:

Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America

The Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America (aka Tsubaki America Jinja) is the first Shinto shrine built in the mainland United States after World War II. It was erected in 1986 in Stockton, California, and moved to its current location next to the Pilchuck River in Granite Falls, Washington, in 2001.

The Gosaijin (enshrined spirits) of Tsubaki Grand Shrine are Sarutahiko-no-Ōkami, ancestor of all earthly spirits; and his wife Ame-no-Uzume-no-Mikoto, spirit of arts and entertainment, harmony, meditation, and joy. Also enshrined are Amaterasu Ōmikami (spirit of the sun), Ugamitama-no-Ōkami (spirit of foodstuffs and things to sustain human life), America Kokudo Kunitama-no-Kami (protector of the North American continent) and Ama-no-Murakumo-Kuki-Samuhara-Ryu-O (spirit of Aikido).

Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America is a branch of Tsubaki Ōkami Yashiro, one of the oldest and most notable shrines in Japan.

Photo: Magus Dethen

Photo: Alexander Kushi-Willis

Junmai

Junmai is pure rice wine, with no added alcohol). Until recently, at least 30% of the rice used for Junmai sake had to be milled away, but Junmai no longer requires a specified milling rate.

Ginjo

Ginjo designates that at least 40% of the rice has been polished away. If a bottle is labeled just Ginjo, distilled alcohol was added; if it is labeled Junmai Ginjo, no alcohol was added.

Genshu

Genshu is undiluted sake (literally, “original” (base) sake) which has not been diluted after pressing. However, sake which has had water added within a range that reduces the alcohol content by less than 1% is also considered genshu.

Saké

Saké is often called rice wine, but this is a misnomer.  While it is an alcoholic beverage made by fermentation, the production process more closely resembles that of beer, and it is made from grain (rice, of course), not fruit.  To make saké, the starch of freshly steamed glutinous rice is converted to sugar and then fermented to alcohol.  Once fermented, the liquid is filtered, heated, and placed in casks for maturing.  Sakés can range from dry to sweet, but even the driest retain a hint of sweetness.

Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America Junmai Ginjo Genshu Saké

This saké is a domestic product from SakéOne saké brewery in Forest Grove, Oregon.  The company began as a saké importer in 1992, and in 1997 they expanded the operation and began brewing saké.

SakéOne’s modest tasting room.

In premium saké, water composition matters a great deal. SakéOne’s founder chose Oregon because he believed that the best-quality water for saké brewing is in the Northwest.

The other crucial component is rice, and SakéOne sources its Calrose rice from the Sacramento Valley. Calrose is derived from Japanese saké rice and has several qualities that produce saké with more body, higher viscosity, and a long finish.

This saké is the personal selection of Reverend Koichi Barrish and is a fundraiser for the Tsubaki Grand Shrine in Granite Falls, Washington, over which he presides.  20% of sales go to support the shrine.

This is a dryish, full-bodied saké with hints of spices and caramel.   The ABV is on the higher end at 18%, and the SMV* is +6.5..  The rice has a polish of 58%, so 42% of the rice has been removed.  Serve this chilled with poached clams, steamed asparagus, or lemon-baked salmon.

SakéOne also offers: Yomi, g, Momokawa, and Moonstone.

Yomi was the first canned sake available in the United States. Yomi is junmai ginjo sake, with a lower acidity and a medium body. It is 13% ABV.

g saké is genshu, undiluted sake. There are two varieties of g saké, g fifty genshu and g joy genshu, which have different taste profiles. Both are 18% ABV.

The Momokawa junmai ginjo sake line is about 14% ABV.  Momokawa Silver is dry and crisp, while Momokawa Organic Nigori is lush, smooth, fruity, and floral.

Moonstone is SakéOne’s premium junmai ginjo sake.

sakeone.com

*The SMV (Saké Meter Value) measures the density of sake relative to water, and is the method for gauging the dryness or sweetness of saké. The higher the SMV, the drier the saké. The median value of SMV is +3

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