Friends and sake: Honijikomi-Kamoizumi

Brewery:Kamoizumi Shuzo
Saké type:Junmai Daiginjo
Milling ratio:50%

Why do people need friends? I bet most of us never thought about it. Friends are something so natural for the majority of people like air to breath and water to drink. Interestingly enough, there is a lot of research done on friendship between children and adolescents but relatively little on friendship during the later and longer part of people’s lives. I think that one of the reasons we have friends is our desire to share our joys (and sorrows for that matter) with somebody. We enjoy doing something and we don’t want to do it alone. And we need friends to expand our horizons, to learn something new and gain various skills in life. So if you have a hobby and say your family are not that interested in it, you turn to your friends who share the same interest.

I’m quite lucky that my family share my interest in Japan. However, sake is a slightly different matter. They either don’t drink (like my daughter who is a bit too young for that) or are not particularly excited about it (like my wife who just likes to take a sip and say “delicious!”). And here enters the friendship. I’ve got a friend, who introduced me properly to the world of sake. Before that, I tried sake a few times and already liked the drink, but was not that excited about it. I didn’t have any idea that sake could be of different types and grades, and only after my friend had forwarded me an invitation to a sake tasting event, I fell in love with the drink.

We also share a general interest in Japan and Japanese culture. Probably at slightly different angles, but it makes it more interesting that way. So we have established a little tradition of buying a bottle of a nice sake and drinking it together whilst talking about sake, Japan and life in general. I enjoy doing it and always look forward to our next meeting.

Honijikomi-Kamoizumi Junmai Daiginjo sake

A few of weeks ago my friend sent me a picture of Honijikomi-Kamoizumi sake and invited me to sample it. Kamoizumi brewery is well known for its nigori (unfiltered) sake so it was a great opportunity to try their junmai daiginjo sake. The brewery is relatively young, founded only 106 years ago in 1912 in Saijo, a district in Hiroshima Prefecture renowned for sake brewing. It was founded by Junichi Maegaki, a son of a grain merchant, who was only 23 at the time. The name of the brewery comes from the name of the spring, Kamo, from which the brewery takes their water for their sake. Kamoizumi was one of the pioneering breweries which started in 1965 the revival of junmai sake, which is made from only four key ingredients: rice, water, koji mold and yeast.

As you might know, during the Second World War when Japan started experiencing a shortage of rice, sake brewers started adding distilled alcohol to their sake to use less rice for the same sake production volume. This trend continued after the war, as many brewers discovered that adding alcohol during brewing process helped enhance sake flavour and aroma. Such sake is generally called honjozo. However, by the 70s, some sake breweries started the revival of pure junmai sake.

Kamoizumi Brewery
Kamoizumi Brewery, photo courtesy to Lumi iori (Wikipedia)

Honijikomi-Kamoizumi wasn’t a classic sake. First of all, it had an unusual for sake bottle: a straight cylindrical one, more like a wine bottle, containing 500ml instead of the standard 720ml. I have looked at the brewery’s website and from what I could understand, it looked like the company also  exports this sake to the US. Probably this was the reason for itssake unusual bottle. Another thing about this sake was its name. I wanted to find out what Honjikomi meant and again turned to my friends, this time Japanese.

One of my friends told me that honjikomi is another and probably posher word for honjozo, a sake with a milling ratio of 70% and added alcohol. As Honijikomi-Kamoizumi was junmai daiginjo, made without adding any alcohol and with milling ratio of 50% I kept digging. The second friend I had asked explained to me that indeed, honjikomi is another word for honjozo, but it also means the sake brewing process, shikomi, when the three main ingredients, koji, steamed rice and water are added to the sake starter, called shubo, in three stages to make moromi, the main fermenting mass from which sake is made.

So as I understand now, honjikomi (also known as hon-shikomi) refers to the production process. My friend even volunteered to interview the brewery for my behalf if I had any further questions, which was really kind of him. So as you can see, if you have friends you can achieve quite a lot with their little (and sometimes not so little) help.

Honjikomi-Kamoizumi dinnerBack to our sake. Honjikomi-Kamoizumi is quite mellow sake. It is relatively sweet but not too much and has fruity notes in the taste but also some earthiness. It was easy to drink and it could be paired with a lot of different foods due to its balanced taste and gentle flavour. For the record, my friend prepared a selection of cold starters and a miso baked salmon as a main dish, which went nicely with the Kamoizumi sake. It was the beginning of February so we also celebrated the Chinese New Year, which is the year of the Earthy Dog, making this earthy sake perfect to start the year with.

Hannari Kyo UmeshuThe evening was completed with a glass of umeshu, Japanese plum wine. This time it was Hannari Kyo, a classic umeshu based on rice shochu from Kyoto. I read somewhere that Hannari is a famous word in Kyoto dialect (or should I say Kyoto “brand”) of Japanese language and refers to something elegant and bright. It also could be translated as gorgeous. Hannari Kyo had very good balance between sweetness and acidity and was the perfect drink to end our evening.

Tomodachi, kampai!


Alex is a London-based sake blogger, podcaster, IWC Sake judge and sake advocate. He is a publisher of the Sugidama Blog website and a host of the Sugidama Podcast. Alex has an International Kikisake-shi (Sake Specialist) qualification from SSI (Sake Service Institute). He sees his mission as expanding the awareness of Japanese sake among as many people as possible and helping the growing community of sake lovers to bring together beautiful Japanese sake and non-Japanese food as a way to build a better understanding between our cultures.