Archive for March, 2007

Shizuoka Sake Tasting 5: Takasago & Chuumasa by Etsuko Nakamura

March 31, 2007

Please check Shizuoka Gourmet Blog for all the gastronomy in Shizuoka Prefecture!



Etsuko Nakamura of Tokyo Foodcast and Melinda Joe of Tokyo Through The Drinking Glass teamed up to taste two more bottles I sent them. Etsuko was kind enough to send me her notes:

We finally tasted your special hole-in one Chumasa. That was so good!
Thank you for the opportunity to sample a special sake!

Hole-in One
Chumasa Brwery, Shizuoka City.
Dai Ginjo, Hyogo Yamadai Nishiki rice 100%, Rice milled down to 40&. Brewed in February 2007. Not for sale
Subtle melon/banana fruity aroma
Nice finish with slight bitterness, but that bitterness has really
Nice balance and does not stand out
Light and good overall balance

This one went really well with food. It does not stand out by itself,
not like some Daiginjo that screams “look at me”, rather it has very
elegant personality.

The other day at Kaiun, they said Shizuoka Kanpyokai does not like
having too much aroma, but try and keep it really simple.

Fuji Takasago Junmai injo Muroka Nama. Unfiltered and unpasteurized. Rice milled down to 55%
Very fresh “nama” with good balance
I see they have Yamahai and Yamahai Honjozo. I will look for one of these to try next time.
Etsuko Nakamura

Matsunaga Saketen/Liquor Shop

March 29, 2007

Please check Shizuoka Gourmet Blog for all the gastronomy in Shizuoka Prefecture!



Mr. Matsunaga is a true “personage” on the “Shizuoka Prefecture Sake Scene”, both welcome and avoided in the sake brewing world.
He is not only a true collector of Sake, particularly Shizuoka Sake, as you can find out on his Homepage, but also a pitiless judge as well as a historian.
When I asked when his business was founded, he answered that it was the only piece of history he did not know fairly well as he got married into the family that owned the Akebono Brewery in Yaizu City before meeting its demise in WWII, after which they moved to their present address in Shizuoka City.
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Thanks to him, I had the occasion to acquire the following “maboroshi sake” (the ones that disappeared):
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Sogatsuru (Kakegawa City), Shikon (Shiamada City), Hasshou (Hamana Gun) & Okinabenten (Fujieda City)

Mr. Matsunaga sells the sake of the following Shizuoka Prefecture Brwers:
Isojiman, Hatsukame, Kokkou, Shidaizumi (including Shirasagi), Morimoto (Sayogoromo), Eikun, Yoshiya (Chumasa), Aoshima (Kikuyoi,) Sugii (Suginishiki), Shosetesu, Doi (Kaiun)

Matsunaga Saketen
420-0075 Shizuoka City, Aoi Ku, Go Bancho, 5-9
Tel.: 054-2523465
Fax: 054-2737122

Kumpai Brewery: Senji Ichikawa

March 27, 2007

Please check Shizuoka Gourmet Blog for all the gastronomy in Shizuoka Prefecture!



On March 27th, I finally had the pleasure to visit and interview Mr. Senji Ichikawa and his son, Shigetoshi.
Kumpai Brewery is located in Tegoshi, Shizuoka City, very near Abe River, whose subterranean waters fill their well.
Although the kura is over 100 years old, it was called Ichikawa Brewery until WWII and were closely associated to three other breweries, Hashimoto Brewery in Kita-Cho, Shizuoka City, Shiratori Brewery in Kadoya, Shizuoka City and Sekibe Fujinami Brewery in Mochimune, Shizuoka City.
Ichikawa Brewery was the sole to survive WWII and was rebuilt with the help of National grants under the present name of Kumpai Brewery in 1949.
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We went through the regular tour of the tiny kura, a very traditional establishment where all is done almost as years before. Mr. Ichikawa’s son was very enthusiastic with his explanations despise his father’s amused expression. At least, the next generation is assured!
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Mr. Ichikawa decided to assume the toji’s responsibilities in 1994 and his son will be have learnt enough under his tutelage when he will take over.
Normal (futsuu sake) sake amounts to 40% of Kumpai Brewery, 10% is junmai, while the rest is Honjozo and over.
As for rice, they exclusively use “Miyama Nishiki” from Shiga Prefecture as it is grown “biologically” without the use of any pesticides. As for yeasts (kobo), they use M310 for normal sake, 901 and 1401 for the rest.
They also brew two “private brands”, “Abe no Shizuku” for Vinos Liquor Shop and “Warashinagawa” for Nagano Liquor shop.
I must say the visit was a very pleasant one, with plenty of smiles and without any affected expressions!
I certainly will return!

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Tasting 6: Omuraya/Wakatake Brewery

March 27, 2007

Please check Shizuoka Gourmet Blog for all the gastronomy in Shizuoka Prefecture!


My Japanese wife uncharacteristically bought me a bottle of sake! (she drinks wine most of the time…)
It is a bottle brewed by Omuraya/Wakatake Brewery in Shimada City to celebrate the Spring.
It is a “nama” (unpasteurized), tokubetsu no junmai (pure rice sake) brewed on the 9th of January 2007 from ricemilled down to 60%.Since my wife has a good nose and palate, we decided to taste it together before she reverted to her wine…

Name: “Haru No Nama Ippon”

Clarity: extremely clear
Color: almost transparent
Body: Smooth, sirupy

Aroma: quite faint, flowers, clover, yoghurt

Taste: surprisingly strong, considering the flavour.
Vanilla custard, flowers and cherries.
Disappears quickly, but no aftertaste whatsoever.
Definitely a sake conceived for youg women!

Hana No Mai for 25 Years of Friendship!

March 27, 2007

Please check Shizuoka Gourmet Blog for all the gastronomy in Shizuoka Prefecture!



The Prefecture of Shizuoka and the State of Zhejiang, China, celebrated 25 Years of Friendship and Collaboration at Century Hotel In Shizuoka City on March 26th by breaking a barrel/cask of Hana No Mai sake (Hamamatsu City)
Why Hana No Mai?
Because Governor Ishikawa (3rd) hails from Hamamtsu City!

Shizuoka Governor Awards Tasting Party

March 23, 2007

Please check Shizuoka Gourmet Blog for all the gastronomy in Shizuoka Prefecture!


On Friday, March 23rd, between the unholy hours of 12:00 to 14:00, I went to the Tasting party held in honour of the Shizuoka Governor’s Sake Brewery Awards (approximate translation) in the company of two new converts, Mark from England, and Ethan from the U.S.
I personally was planning to taste only the two winners as I had to be bak at work by 15:00 after gallons of coffee!

The winner of the Junmai Section was a Suginishiki Junmai Dai Ginjo by Sugii Brewery
Rice: Hyogo Yamada Nishiki
Milling: down to 40%
Dryness: +1
Acidity: 1.2

Colour: Transparent with shades of amber
Clarity: Very clear
Body: Light but solid

Aroma: pears
Taste: Pears trning petillant. Masculine impression. Some welcome acidity. Typical of Sugii Brewery

The winner of the Gunjo Section was a Dai Ginjo by Fujinishiki Brewery
Rice: Yamada Nishiki
Milling: down to 40%
Dryness: +4
Acidity: 1.2~

Colour: very transparent
Clarity: absolutely clear
Body: solid

Aroma: subtle flowers
Taste: very sophisticated, lots of sweet flowers, especially “kuchinashi” (gardenia)

I did taste a few more I have rarely the occasion to such as Shusseijo and Aoitenka (the latter very distinctive) from Hamamatsu City.
I manage to direct the media onto my better-looking friends and did some necessary “socializing”, securing an interview with Doi Brewery (Kaiun) and Hana No Mai in the process. Met some good friends and made new ones among the Saketen owners.

Quite an interesting experience, although some people had nothing to do there. That is the danger of a free tasting party!

Shizuoka Sake Tasting 4/1: Kumpai Brewery-Sakura

March 22, 2007

Please check Shizuoka Gourmet Blog for all the gastronomy in Shizuoka Prefecture!



Yesterday, while I was fuming about some intruders, I managed to get those two limited editions (only 300 bottles of each) fromKumpai Brewery and took on the positive action to open the first one and forget all the little stories.
This edition, “Sakura”, is a “shinshu” (new sake), “nama” (unpasteurized), junmai ginjo.
Brewed in march 2007
100% Biyama Rice
Rice milled down to 55%

Color: Completely clear with a touch of amber
Clarity: Perfectly clear
Aroma: Fruity
Texture: very smooth
Body: Smooth and easy to drink, with a touch of petillant lingering
Flavor: Plum/Apricot and Cherries. Develops into a faint dried nuts later

Perfectly accompanied my wife’s “kani to na no hana” ( crab and rape blossoms) salad.
At around 2,600 yen, a little pricey but deserves it!

Shizuoka Sake Tasting 3: Doi-Kaiun Brewery-Iwaizake

March 21, 2007

Please check Shizuoka Gourmet Blog for all the gastronomy in Shizuoka Prefecture!



I just finished this bottle offered to me by mrs. Miyazaki, a stusdent of mine who has relatives in Fujinishiki and Wakatake Breweries (which should make it easier for me when interviewing them!)

It was brewed in February 2007 by Doi Brewery in Kakegawa City.
“Iwaizake” means “Congratulations Sake”.
It is a “nama shinshu shiboritate”, or unpasteurized new sake, just “wrung out”.
Interestingly enough, although the rice has been milled down to 60%, the Brewery did not give even the name of Honjozo.
It can be drunk chilled or even as “kan” (warmed up).
Totally transparent
Clear colour with a hint of amber
Slightly sweet aroma, melts quickly inside the mouth with strong hints of banans and vanilla. Leaves a “petillant” impresion on the palate for a while, typical of unpasteurized sake.
At 920 yen a 720ml bottle, definitely a great bargain! Would suggest it as a chilled aperitif!

Intruders? Renegades? Profiteers?

March 20, 2007

Please check Shizuoka Gourmet Blog for all the gastronomy in Shizuoka Prefecture!



Kampai? Certainly not to these guys!

The world is not all rosy. That is why you need your favourite drinks. But when I feel deprived of my last pleasure, I can become downright nasty…
March being a quiet month as far as teaching business is concerned, I decided to pay a visit to Kumpai Brewery across the Abe River in Shizuoka City early this afternoon. I had to pick up a couple of limited nama ginjo and dai ginjo bottles there, as well as ask for an interview. Mr. Ichikawa seemed only too glad to oblige and agreed on a date next week.
Along the way I had noticed a very large hangar cum company with the big name of Shinkon Sake. Uh? Why didn’t I notice that before.?
I decided to investigate and left my bicycle at the entrance. I simply barged in the very large lobby office, politely produced my shizuokasake blog name card and introduced myself as a Shizuoka Sake History Researcher, a big title full of ballooney but that has opened a lot of doors so far. The lady who welcomed me went to wake up the “katcho san” who was dozing in front of everyone. They must feel pretty secure and prosperous to show that kind of attitude…
The unsmiling katcho san came to me with a photocopy of his company’s official history for my benefit. So far, so good. I started asking innocuous questions in spite of all the information clearly written in Japanese before my eyes.
-When was your company founded?
-8th Year Taisho Era
-Was your company originally in Shizuoka City?
-Kakegawa City. That is from 10th year Taisho Era
-When was it established in Shizuoka City?
-In 1952 after it was rebuilt after the war.
-Has it stayed in Shizuoka City since then?
-No, we moved to Okayama City in 1956 under the present name of Hiraki Brewery. We opened a branch In Hamamatsu City in the same year.
-Why did you move to Wakayama City?
-Sorry, corporate privacy!
At that moment, to say that my interlocutor’s face was unhappy was a gross understatement. I “apologized” and followed a different tack.
-Although your company name is Hiraki Brewery advertizing Hiraki Honjozo (apparently they do not brew anything of better standing), I noticed the names of Nihon Sakari and Shinkon (I was playing the fool there). Do you also sell them?
-That is correct (the katcho san was becoming bored with the whole affair).
-I saw your casks at Sengen Shrine in Shizuoka City. Did your company donate them?
-That is correct.
I had enough by then. After some nonsensical comments about their branches in Shizuoka Prefecture and what else, I took my leave (politely).

Simply put, Hiraki Company was a true Shizuoka Prefecture Brewery until 1956, when they either bought themselves or were acquired in Okayama City. They used and expanded their roots inside Shizuoka Prefecture to inundate us with the products of no less than 31 companies through 10 outlets in Shizuoka Prefecture, going as far as to declare their company in Shizuoka City as their Mother Company!
No wonder that so many bars, izakayas and restaurants do not feature Sake brewed in Shizuoka Prefecture on their menus!
I mentioned all this to Mr. Ichikawa of Kumpai Brewery again. He nodded with a wry smile. When I remarked it was about time Shizuoka Brewers acted in concert, he smiled again…
Life in the future promises to become a little more interesting!
Kampai to that!

1) I happened to see Hiraki Hinjonzo almost everywhere during the next days. The interesting thing is that they write the name in the inverted order, although their website is clearly written Hiraki…
2) I soon found out that Shinya Totsuka, Hiraki Co’s main shareholder, is nothing less than Kakegawa City Mayor! Blimey, they are everywhere, aren’t they?
3) Last, can someone tell me why Hiraki Company and Fuuki materialized in Shizuoka exactly the same year?

Liquor Shops: Marukawaya Saketen

March 20, 2007

Please check Shizuoka Gourmet Blog for all the gastronomy in Shizuoka Prefecture!



I discovered Mr. Kawaharazaki’s shop on the Internet when I was starting investigating the Shizuoka Sake World. His homepage is a great source of information and provided me with an unvaluable headstart!
His shop was founded by his father in 1964 and sells Japanese sake, mostly from Shizuoka, shochu, liqueurs and wines. Actually Mr. Kawaharazaki is a great wine love and does a lot of tasting. But most of all, he is encouraging everyone to taste Shizuoka Sake! If all the saketen could do that…
AS for Shizuoka brewed sake he sells: Kumpai, Chuumasa (Yoshiya Brewery), Haginishiki, Hakuin Masamune, Fujimasa Brwery, Takasago (Fuji Takashima Brewery), Sayogoromo (Morimoto Brewery), Sugunishiki, Shoosetsu and Kaiun (Doi Brewery).
Mr. Kawaharazaki will keep you informed by mail of all new sake coming to his shop if you leave and airmail address or a fax number. He can read English, so no problem there!

420-0068 Shizuoka Shi, Aoi Ku, Tamachi, 2-104
Tel.: 054-2527817
Fax: 054-2551974
24-hour telephone service: 054-2218929

The Good News and the Bad News

March 16, 2007

Please check Shizuoka Gourmet Blog for all the gastronomy in Shizuoka Prefecture!



My investigative efforts are finally paying off!
I visited the Shizuoka Sake Brewers Association Office in Shizuoka City for the 4th time yesterday.
I tried a new strategy: instead of asking for the “man-in-charge”, I talked to the two ladies working as secretaries, who by now knew me enough to feel comfortable talking with me.
Mrs. Ukai and Shimizu readily answered my questions, forcing the gentleman (I still can’t remember his name, blimey!) in coming out of his comfortable lair to join in. He had at last recognized I was being serious.
And as if some magic had operated, I was offered copies of “meibo” (name lists) of all the sake breweries, and shochu distilleries which was a real bonus, from 1953! Banzai!
These were the good news. I certainly will have to decipher the whole information, although the three employees competed with each other to help recognize the pronunciation of some very obscure names and brands.
Now the bad news:
I found out that 3 of the existing 32 member breweries were not brewing their own sake, but instead having it done by other breweries to be sold under their own label. To think that “oke gai” had been finally eradicated! The “Brewery” names are: Matsuwaka, Takamatsu and Chiyo No Musume. I will not bother to “visit” them, but I will try to buy their brand for my scrapbook collection and some of little retribution of my own. Call me passionate, I don’t give it a fig!
The other bad news were only a confirmation. One of the “big names” Doi Brewery (Kaiun) was still selling some of their sake to a Nada Brewery. Their owner, Mr, Doi, is nothing less but the present Chairman of the Shizuoka Prefecture Sake Breweries Association!
I will keep that information in my pocket when I visit their Kura!

Homare Fuji Rice Labels

March 15, 2007

Please check Shizuoka Gourmet Blog for all the gastronomy in Shizuoka Prefecture!



The official label for rice exclusively grown inside the Shizuoka Pefecture for sake brewing under the name oh “Homare Fuji” has been chosen.
The label comes in Japanese and English in two versions, black on white and white on black.
The labels were designed by Ms. Sumiyo Inagaki, third-year student at Shizuoka Culture and Arts University who was chosen ahead of 9 other students at the same University.
The label can used for sake brewed only with Homare Fuji Rice. which was granted gobernment recognition in 2005 and is grown on 12 ha. in the central part of the Prefecture, especially around Yaizu City.

Shizuoka Prefecture Governor Competition

March 15, 2007


On march 15th were announced the results of the Annual Governor Prizes by the “Seishu Kampyo Kai Kenchiji Sho”.
The testing was conducted in Numazu City the previous day by five judges who were submited 48 entries in the junmai category and 49 entries in the ginjo category.
It was a personal pleasure to hear that Sugii Brewery (Suginishiki/Fujieda City) obtained the Gold Award in the junmai category. Fujinishiki (Fuji Gun) got the Golden Award in the ginjo category.
26 Breweries participated. A big absent was Morimoto Brewery who considered last year’s rice quality did not warrant participation. Actually, Mr. Doi (Doi Brewery/Kakegawa City), Chairman of the Shizuoka Sake Breweries Association announced that, in spite of the problems caused by unreliable weather last year, Shizuoka Brweries had come up with better than expected results…
I shall have the occasion to taste them (all?) next Friday!

Ginjo Category:
Gold Award: Fujinishiki Brewery
Silver Awards: Yoshiya Brewery, Kokkou brewery, Aoshima Brewery, Sugii Brewery, Senju Brewery, Fuji Takasago Brewery, Hamamatsu Brewery, Masuichi Brewery, Kamisawakawa Brewery, Isojiman Brewery, Haginishiki Brewery, Fujimasa Brewery, Hatsukame Brewery, Doi Brewery,Omura Brewery, Hana No Mai Brewery, Watanabe Brewery

Junmai Category:
Gold Award: Sugii Brewery
Silver Awards: Yoshiya Brewery, Kamisawakawa Brewery, Senju Brewery, Fuji takasago Brewery, Aoshima Brewery, Masuichi Brewery, Hamamatsu Brewery, Kokkou Brewery, Fujimasa Brewery, Fujinishiki Brewery, Haginishiki Brewery, Isojiman Brewery, Makino Brewery, Doi Brewery, Bandai Brewery, Hana No Mai Brewery, Takashima Brewery

Sugii Brewery: Kinnosuke Sugii

March 7, 2007

Mr. Kinnosuke Sugii has the reputation of a maverick inside the Shizuoka Sake Brewers world.
He is only a very opiniated toji who spends a lot of time and energy on personal research into new ways and products the industry should be thankful for!
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Mr. Sugii (49) is the 6th generation of a purely local dynasty of master brewers dating back to 1843. The next generation is still at high school, but his staff of three fairly young men, all local, seemed to have been taught well as their “toji” takes the helm only when brewing ginjo. Otherwise ,”I let them in charge!” he proferred as he is busy with his constant research.
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Like every other brewery in Shizuoka Prefecture, Sugii Brewery uses the water from its own well fed by by the Oi River. It is reputedly the hardest and richest in minerals in the Prefecture. Mr. Sugii is quite happy with the fact as it allows him to concoct brews with a difference. He would like to increase the acidity as well, as he thinks our sake are a bit too soft. The annual output is 40,000 1,8 l, 30% of it ginjo. No futsusake/normal sake produced! I personally thanked him for that!
After some “private” talk about the politics, lack of consultation/teamwork inside the brewing community and the economy, he invited us on grand tour of his brewery with the help of of his staff who seemed to really enjoy demonstrating their craft.
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We had to climb wooden stairs half worn by all the feet of the crowd of “kurabito” who used to toil there to have a peek at the fermenting and drying rice. We went into some very technical discussion about rice that I will spare you from. In any case, I had to leave early back to work, abandoning Mr. Nagashima of Nagashima Saketen and two of his “kikizake” friends.
Sugii Brewery also produces some very fine shochu from “imo/tuber” and “kome/rice”. His toji has tried his hand at making shochu with barley and buckwheat. But he was not convinced. This year, he wants to experiment with violet yams and fruits. Should be fun!
Before I hurried out, Mr. Sugii chose a couple of bottles according to my wishes, one of which will go to Melinda and her friends for blind tasting!

Sugii Brewery
428-0033, Shizuoka Ken, Fujieda City, Koishigawa cho, 4 cho-me, 6-4
Tel.: 054-6410606
Fax: 054-6442447

Shizuoka Ken Toji Kikizake Kenkyuukai

March 6, 2007


(Mr. Nakashima of Toshiya Brewery going for a second check?)

On Wednesday March 6th, I attended my first very official tasting session thanks to a personal invitation gracefully granted by Mr. Haruju Nakashima, the Master Brewer (“toji”) at Yoshiya Brewery. It was an entire new experience for me and could have also been so for older hands.
The title, “Shizuoka Ken Toji Kikizake Kenkyukai” could be translated as “Shizuoka Prefecture Sake Tasting Reasearch Session conducted by Master Brewers”, or “Shizuoka Prefecture Sake Master Brewers Reasearch Tasting Meeting”, or something else, whatever you like. sakesession1.jpg
I arrived at 13:00 as requested, just to find out that the “Tasting Research” had taken longer than expected. I was not in a hurry, and waited in the lobby within earshot of the conversations held by all the reps, owners, Master Brewers of the Breweries which had fielded their concoctions for the competition whose results will be announced to the media on the 14th of March and served for public tasting on the 23rd of March at the same place, Mokusei Hall in Shizuoka City.
As no one knew me among them, I could listen in all impunity (I won’t be able to do that next time!) the semi private conversations. I realized it was not all harmony. Some gentlemen were plainly ignoring each other…
Finally we were called inside by Mr.Nakashima who seemed to be in charge and invited to taste the sake on display. I had a little chat with the Yoshiya Brewery toji and mentioned that his very dry Chuuei honjozo had been thought as a junmai ginjo by my friend tasters in Tokyo.
Was he smiling? Was he smirking? He obviously took it as a personal compliment (Melinda, put that ladle back onto its rack!)
17 Breweries were repesented in a row of junmai and two rows of Ginjyo:
Sugii (Suginishiki), Doi (Kaiun), Hana No Mai, Isojiman, Fujinishiki, Yoshiya (Chuumasa), Senjyu, Takashima (Hakuin Masamune), Shidaizumi, Tenjingura Hamamatsu (Shusseijo), Eikun, Hatsukame, Kamisawakawa (Shosetsu), Wakatake, Haginishiki, Fujimasa (Chiyonomine) and Sanwa (Shizugoromo).
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We were given enough time to try all in a loud spitting concert. I kept to the ones I did know well as I had to go back to work at 5:00!
Then we had to go through some “announcements” made by the 6 judges, including one from Nagoya (?) who looked more like a jaundinced stork with his long emaciated frame ensconced inside a regional civil servant garb, and those of official reps of the Prefectural Government. Slighty disappointing, but understandable, as they could not reveal the resullts.
They notably said that despite the adverse climatic conditions, Shizuoka Ken had again produced great brews that would definitely stand a chance at national competitions. I found this a bit out of place as some big names had not bothered to participate. I had been informed in advance by some Breweries that they were interested in higher circles…
I did not bother too much about listening any longer and instead greeted in my own manner a couple of Master Brewers who were obviously bored. After the “speeches”, we were invited to sample the exhibits again. Actually the true reason is that some “friends” had arrived, including some ladies. I kept apart and concentrated on observing the whole exercise. I was proved right when a big company reps approached me to exchange name cards. At least, I have one more easy visit to enjoy soon!
I just will have to keep out of politics!

Shizuoka Sake Tasting 2: Yoshiya Brewery-Chuuei by Melinda Joe

March 4, 2007



This is the second blind tasting that my good friend Melinda Joe has kindly agreed with this bottle I sent her on March 1st. I obtained the bottle at Yoshiya Brewery, Shizuoka City, Shizuoka Prefecture when I interviewed Mssrs. Hashimoto and Nakashima (see precedent post).
The only pointer I gave Melinda was that it was completely different from Tasting 1 and that it would make an extravagant “kan” (hot sake)!

Chuuei Karakuchi brewed by Yoshiya Brewery In Shizuoka City, Zaimoku-Cho (that is for your notes)
Brewed and bottled in February 2007
100% Yamada Nishiki
Milled down to 55%
Acidity: 1.3 (low even for Shzuoka)
Dryness: +17 (!!! This is the dryest sake I’ve ever come by!)
Alcohol: 16~17 degrees
Can be drunk chilled or hot
Shizuoka Koubou

Color: Completely clear
Clarity: Perfectly clear
Aroma: Quiet, ricey,
Texture: very smooth, quite dry
Body: Light, gaining a bit of weight as it warms
Flavor: High-impact, compact, umami-rich rice in midpalate, hints of vanilla and banana custard, integrated bitter notes, quick finish with an herbal tinge
General impressions: refined, restrained, classy, nomi-yasui, tsuyoii, tanpaku, contemplative, secretive

This one stumped my three tasters and me! We struggled to get our palates around it. It was completely different from the Sayogoromo, the polar opposite, as a matter of fact. It was not fruity and flamboyant but had a richness and real presence despite its light weight. Understated and artful.

Thank you again, Robert-Gilles, for introducing me to all the wonderful diversity in Shizuoka sake!

Scrapbook: Sake amateurs’ great tool!

March 2, 2007


Last year, when I started to seriously study the history of sake and sake breweries in Shizuoka Prefecture, I came to rue the fact that I had nothing to show for all the sake I drunk all these years! To think that I had even started a label collection to only give it later to a (very good) friend to use as decoration back home!
Oh well, it’s never too late to begin, eh?
So, in late September (I still remember that it was one of those stuffy rainy days) I went to my favourite stationery store and chose scrapbooks big enough to accomodate sake labels (the one on 1.8 l bottles are truly enormous!) and strong enough to carry around.


I’m not the type to write methodically what I experience, but at least I can use such a scrapbook for constant reference as I not only jot down indispensible information, but stick business cards, catalogue cuts, book copies and newspaper articles as they come.
One could easily make it a work of art, and I would encourage anyone to do so!
But the importance of such a compilation lies in the fact that it will be easy to donate before you depart from this world and contribute precious material for future “sake historians”!
And to drive a point home to some incapable people in the Shizuoka Sake Brewers Association!


March 1, 2007


Contrary to wine labels, sake labels are not straightforward affairs. Apart of a very few pointers, brewers don’t seem to fall under stringent laws as far as the contents of the bottles (and casks) are concerned. More than often, you have to go around the label and decipher the small sticker at the back to find out what’s inside.
Fine by me as it adds spice to the investigation.
As I do not have Melinda’s or John’s ultra sensitive taste buds to find my way through a tasting labyrinth, I make use of my (very) few social skills and ask questions until I get the answers.
Now, labels serve many purposes. Frankly speaking, one can be easily fooled or misled as many Breweries employ different names and labels for their creations, regardless of their own company names.
I have created my own subjective label classification as follows:

“Straightforward labels”
They clearly announce the Brewery and the Sake. Above example: Haginishiki, Dai Ginjo.

“Private labels”
These are the most problematic. The sake they refer to are ordered by individuals to Brweries with specific instructions. Their quality can wildly vary, and their purpose sometimes denotes a crass motivation.
Below are three examples to illustrate my argument.
(I take full responsibility for my comments as I have to cite names!)
Iira: Ordered by Restaurant gentil, Shizuoka City. Brewed by Doi Brewery (Kaiun) in Kakegawa City.
A top-class Dai Ginjo brewed according to very exacting biological specifications. Would win prizes anywhere. Pricey, but fully deserves it!
Ashikubo: Ordered by Mochizuki Shoten, Ashikubo, Shizuoka City. Brewed by Fujinishiki Brewery, Fuji Gun.
An honest Junmai Ginjo. At 1,525 yen, a true bargain considering the quality. I would recommend it to collectors with only one reservation: why does the label advertize that this sake is made with water collected in Ashikubo, while the sticker at the back says that all sake are exclusively brewed with water from Mt. Fuji by Fujinishiki Brewery?
Sumpu No Takajo: Ordered by Seven Eleven Convenience Store, Takajo Machi, Shizuoka City. Brewed by Eikun Brewery, Yui City. The 7-11 owner used to be a liquor shop owner who asked this private label to his brewer friends.
A Junmai Ginjo for 1,000 yen?
A bargain? Definitely not. I was not impressed at all by the contents. I made a point to drink it all, as I have a policy to guzzle down my mistakes. Won’t be fooled again!

“Promotional labels”
They either promote history, an event, a region or culture.
They can also wildly vary.
Toro No Sato, Haginishiki Brewery and Abekaido, Yoshiya Brewery, Shizuoka City, and Nagai Ki No Hashi, Omuraya Brewery, Shimada City, show a positive approach as they are true bargains, whereas the crass exploitation of Mount Fuji one-cup sake found their way into my bathtub where they had the merit to smoothen my skin after a hard day playing cricket!

“Artistic labels”
Labels with a definite artisitic orientation.
The sake can also wildly vary.
Definitely top of the Prefecture are the labels from Morimoto Brewery, Kikugawa City, whose owner/master brewer has for some years ordered or created different designs for his special brews.
The last of the three labels above has an interesting story as I witnessed its birth.
During my visit at Morimoto Brewery on February 16th, I was offered a taste of this beautiful 5-year old sake, “Koshu No Roman”, still unlabelled at the time. When I asked if the label had already been designed, Mr. Morimoto showed me the blueprint (see photo at top of page) of the label he intended to use. When I asked him if he could make a copy for me, he readily agreed. But he could not put his hands on a sheet of clean white paper. No problem. He grabbed a brown paper rice-bag, cut it to size and put it through the copy machine, applied his personal seal on it, et voila! (I got half of the original six-label print).
As the result definitely pleased everyone present, he stuck with the idea and “copied” the official label for his brew on more brown rice-bag paper! But I’m not supposed to tell anyone…

“Commemorative labels”
No need to say, you are left open to big surprises or disappointments in that category!
At least I can say that I enormously benefitted from this kind on February 27th when I was graciously offered the bottle below by Mr. Motoo Hashimoto of Yoshiya Brewery, Shizuoka City.
A golf fanatic, he had managed the exploit of a hole-in-one on January 14th, 2007. He had a label created to commemorate the feat with place, name, shot et al.
Back home, just out of curiosity, I read the sticker behind the bottle.
Dai Ginjo and the lot! Holy me!
Not for sale, by the way