The spring has arrived as a breeze from the sea. It’s cold but feels fresh and vibrant. You may still wear your winter coat but you know that you will soon take it to dry cleaners and pack on the top shelf of your wardrobe until November. You are looking forward to longer days, warm evenings and tree blossoms. Look out of the window and you will already see magnolias unfolding their long flowers among black tree branches, which still longing for the leaves.
Well, spring is a great time to try something new and taste beautiful sake. You just need to find something that you like. And here I am, writing my new post to help you navigate in that strange world of funny names, weirdly shaped but beautiful bottles with unreadable characters of Japanese calligraphy.
In spring, you might want to drink something fresh and delicate, a drink that will help you appreciate more the wakening of the nature around you, something light and a bit sweet, a sake that you can casually sip in the spring sun looking at fresh green leaves and gentle blossoms.
Koshi no Kanbai, an ultimate spring sake
Koshi no Kanba is a legendary sake from Niigata. The name refers to a winter plum, “kanbai”, a plum tree which blossoms late winter, early spring. Koshi no Kanbai is a quintessential spring sake: light, delicate, crisp and clean like the first sunny day of spring.
Koshi no Kanbai generally is not available in the UK. However, World Sake Imports, who represent the brewery here, usually bring a small batch of this legendary sake at the end of the winter – beginning of spring to London restaurants. So if you see Koshi no Kanbai on a drinks menu, go for it! It might be your only chance to try it this year.
However, if you don’t go anywhere given the current situation, you can still find it online. For example, Whiskey Exchange still have it.
Tedorigawa Kinka Nama Daiginjo
Tedorigawa Kinka is a great spring sake. It’s nama, which means that it has not been pasteurised leaving some of the wildness of freshly made sake in the bottle. Still, the wildness is still quite subtle and delicate, like the first blossom of a cherry tree.
Kinka is relatively sweet sake and full-bodied sake with well-balanced acidity and silky texture.
Its fruitiness is a wild combination of tangy green apples, delicate peaches, lemons and spring blossom aromas. Kinka has an amazingly fresh and fruity taste with wild berries, a bit of pear, a hint of plum and a droplet of honey to soften it.
Tedorigawa Brewery is located near Kanazawa in the Hokuriku region. Kinka is a great example of Kanazawa style of sake. It’s more on the full-flavour side rather than popular light and dry style, which makes it stand out.
Tedorigawa Kinka is great with lighter food like sushi and sashimi or steamed fish, chicken or vegetables.
Where to buy
Sayuri Junmai Nigori
This cute pink bottle with flowers on the label looks very spring-like and fresh. Sayuri is an elegant sake with a smooth creamy texture and gentle fruity aroma. You will notice pear and banana notes and pleasant sweet rice scent.
As suggested by the name, Sayuri is a nigori sake, which means that it was pressed through a coarse mesh to leave some rice bits in the drink. These rice particles create the creaminess and a mouthful texture. Sayuri is a relatively sweet sake as most of nigori with a bit of caramel, plum and some honey notes in the taste.
The “junmai” but in the name means that the sake is made purely from only rice, water and yeast. It adds a bit more savouriness and umami to the taste of the sake making it easier to pair with various foods.
You will definitely enjoy Sayuri with sashimi as its sweetness will offset some oiliness and saltiness of fish. However, because of its elegant taste, it will be great with any type of sushi or light meals like steamed vegetables of fish, mild cheese or creamy pasta.
Sayuri Junmai Nigori is an affordable but high-quality sake from one of the largest sake producers in Japan, Hakutsuru Shuzo, which uses great water from Mount Rokku in Nada region in Hyogo prefecture.
Where to buy
Waning Moon (Junmai Yauemon)
Waning Moon is a great sake from Yamatogawa brewery located in Fukushima prefecture. It’s a junmai sake, meaning that only rice, water, koji and yeast were used in making it. Junmai sake is also on a savoury side in terms of taste.
Waning Moon is an uncomplicated but very versatile sake. Its earthy profile makes it perfect to pair with hearty food. The sake is easy to drink and will be a great companion to your first BBQ of the year (provided you have a garden and can do it without venturing outside your house in these difficult times).
I personally had it with excellent pizza from Tokyo Pizza and the pairing was perfect. Waning Moon has a light aroma profile with a combination of fruity notes like pear and more earthy like wood and stone together with a present vanilla scent.
You can definitely taste the alcohol in this sake. However, the overall taste is clean and dry with medium acidity, bittersweet notes and a long smooth finish. The sake is full of umami but not too overpowering. It must be great with any hearty food of any cuisine. You can even try it warm to release a bit more flavour and make it a bit sweeter.
Again, Waning Moon is an affordable spring sake, which you can enjoy at the end of the day video conferencing with your friends to observe social distancing.
Where to buy
Akashi-tai Tokubetsu Honjozo
Akashi is a small brewery in Hyogo prefecture making artisan sake. It’s got good distribution in the UK with presence in Majestic Wine, Odd Bins and other wine merchants.
Their Tokubetsu Honjozo is a great entry-level sake, aromatic full-flavoured and semi-dry. Honjozo means a sake in which a small amount of alcohol is added after the brewing is done in order to preserve some aromas. Tokubetsu means “special” in Japanese and refers to a higher polishing ratio of the sake.
Akashi-tai Tokubetsu Honjozo is a highly aromatic sake with a nice bouquet of dried fruit, caramel, toffee, and candied lemon. The taste is also very pleasant. While the brewery calls it crisp and dry, I’m not sure about the second part. The sake, in my opinion, is more semi-dry than dry and has a well-balanced taste with acacia honey, elderflower, almonds and burnt sugar flavours.
You will definitely enjoy Akashi-tai Tokubetsu Honjozo with a wide variety of food. It will be great with tempura, grilled meat and fish.
Where to buy
Daishichi Minowamon Kimoto Junmai Daiginjo
Finally, something special, Daishichi Minowamon, a superpremium sake made using the ancient kimoto method. All Daishichi sake is a real treat. The brewery uses a special super-flat rice-polishing technique which allows it to achieve the higher polishing ratios.
Daishichi Minowamon has a clean and crisp taste with amazingly balanced acidity and a super-smooth texture. When you first smell it, you will notice a classic junmai daiginjo aroma of ripe peach, sweet melon and raisins.
The kimoto method, however, adds some savoury depth to the aroma with some mozzarella cheese, pepper and mineral notes. The smell is so enticing and so pleasing that you probably take a couple more breaths before tasting it.
Minowamon’s taste is very gentle but completely satisfying. You will be pleasantly surprised but the smoothness of the sake and its long and a bit bittersweet finish. Basically, Daishichi Minowamon is a masterpiece of sake brewing. Thus the price, which is usually around £80. But it’s completely worth every penny.
While you will definitely enjoy Daishichi Minowamon on its own, it is also great with sashimi, boiled crab or grilled fish. Something with gentle flavours in order not to overpower the elegant taste of sake.
Where to buy
I have started writing this post before all this coronavirus pandemic became so critical and severe. When the situation worsened I almost abandoned this article thinking that in such dire times it’s probably not really relevant. However, after a week in self-isolation, I thought that people can still enjoy sake at home by ordering it online.
I ordered Kanpai sake set a few days ago to support Tom and Lucy and also taking this opportunity to properly taste and review their great sake. So I decided to finish this post to encourage everyone to try something new.
Yes, sake is a social drink, probably even more social than beer or wine, but we can still enjoy it connecting by the plethora of communication tools from good old Skype to Whatsapp and now extremely popular Zoom.
So if you decide to try something from the list or buy any other sake online, get in touch with your friends and organise a virtual sake nomikai (飲み会, a drinking party).
Don’t go too hard on drinks just because you are at home, and remember that an opened bottle of sake can last at least a week in the fridge. And if you do a virtual sake party, leave your comments here!