Continuing from my previous post about the JFC Sake Expo and Food Show. I spent around 3.5 hours at the show and tried quite a lot of different sake. However, this time I was more careful and stuck to the tips I outlined in one of my previous posts. I only tasted the sake I was particularly interested in, despite some temptation I hardly tried any shochu, I had some food as well thanks to other stalls, which presented some of the top Japanese grocery brands such as Kikkoman and Java Curry. I also made a fair amount of notes
Well, back to the review. I managed to meet quite a lot of amazing people at the show. For example, I had a very interesting conversation with the President of the Hakutsuru sake company, one of the largest sake producers in Japan. I met two of my classmates from the Kikisake-shi course who were checking out sake for their companies. Also, I witnessed a very interesting conversation between a wine store owner and a representative of a sake brewery about how to display sake on the shop floor.
Talking about the amazing people, I had a very interesting encounter at the Kikusui brewery’s stall. Richard Priest worked for the brewery in Japan for several years but now helps it as an independent consultant based in Berlin. He has the amazing knowledge of the brewery’s products and history and he was talking about it very passionately and engagingly when we met. He also showed me a video where he was making a sugidama, the name and the symbol of my blog! If I’m lucky enough, I will convince him to let me publish the video on my blog.
Kikusui was the first brewery, which started selling namazake, unpasteurised sake, at the beginning of the 70s. Namazake, of course, existed well before that but was usually sold at breweries because of its short shelf life. In order to protect namazake from the oxygen and light, Kikusui decided to sell it in small 200ml cans and it instantly became a hit.
The sake is called Funaguchi and it’s honjozo genshu, undiluted sake made from 70% polished rice with the addition of some distilled alcohol. The sake is very lively and feels very fresh. However, it also ages well in the air-tight can. Richard showed me a photo of the same can opened years after
Kikusui also had very good daiginjo genshu, Setsugoro. It was a slightly dry sake with a fruity aroma, savoury taste and creamy texture. Another sake I tried and liked was the No.1 nigori in Japan (according to the company’s brochure!) called Perfect Snow. It was a creamy and sweet sake with a high alcohol content, 21%. It tasted more like a liqueur and would be great with desserts or as a dessert topping.
A nice surprise was waiting for me at the Daishichi Brewery’s stall! I met Erika, who is posting as @sakeguru on social media, including Instagram. It was great to see someone I knew only from social media in person. Last time, for example, I met Arline, who is @tastetranslation both on Instagram and Twitter. It’s one of the reasons I love these events!
Back to the Daishichi Brewery. Founded in 1752 in Fukushima, Daishichi uses the traditional kimoto method for many of its sake. The company has also developed the Super-flat Rice Polishing technique, which maximises the removal of the unwanted parts of the rice grain leaving the starch part mostly intact. As a result, the rice polished using the super-flat polishing method for example to 70% is similar to the 58% polishing ratio of the conventional method. Pretty revolutionary, uh?
I tried two Daishichi kimoto sake. The first one, Daishichi Minowamon, was junmai polished to 50% super-flat, which probably equates to 35-40% in the traditional method. It was a clean and crisp sake with a fruity aroma but some richness in the taste due to the kimoto method. The second was Daishichi Masakura Junmai Ginjo made from Gohyakuman Goku rice polished to 58% super-flat. It was a richer sake with a creamy texture and a mild flavour. It was my favourite sake from this brewery.
I also would like to comment on the beautiful bottles, the Daishichi sake is sold in. The combination of gold, white and black colours together with the exquisite calligraphy convey a very traditional and luxury feel and match perfectly the character of the sake.
I have tried Garyubai sake from the Sanwa brewery before and liked it very much. The brewery was founded more than 300 years ago. It takes the name of its brand from the legend about a dragon, who was waiting to become a king. The temple near the brewery has a plum tree which according to another story was planted by Ieyasu Tokugawa. He also waited patiently (and sometimes impatiently) for his chance during the period of Japan’s unification. His patience was rewarded as he finally established the Tokugawa shogunate, which lasted for 250 years and brought Japan peace and prosperity.
Sanwa brewery presented three junmai ginjo genshu muroka sake made of different types of rice: Yamada Nishiki, Gohyakuman Goku and Homare Fuji, a local rice from Shizuoka prefecture, where the brewery is located. Muroka means a sake, which wasn’t charcoal-filtred. All the three sake were very good, but I particularly liked the one made from Gohyakuman Goku rice: light and smooth with balanced acidity and fruity aroma dominated by peach notes.
Sekiya Brewery from Nagoya presented a wide range of its Houraisen sake. The brewery grows its own rice and sources water from many springs of the foresty area it’s located in. I decided to try three of their sake this time.
The first was Houraisen Kuu (Sky), an elegant and fruity junmai daiginjo with a silky texture and balanced acidity. The next, Houraisen Wa! (Harmony) Junmai Ginjo was a medium-bodied sake rich in umami and with a crispy finish. The last one was Wa! Juku-Nama, an unpasteurised sake matured for a year before the shipment. It was sweeter and more complex than the original Wa! I think that Kuu was my favourite, although it was a tough choice given the quality of all Houraisan sake.
Miwa brewery from Gifu prefecture specialises on nigori, unfiltered (or the better term would be coarsely filtered) sake. The 90% of its total production is nigori. The brewery’s brand comes from historic Shirakawa-go village, which together with Gokayama villages is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.
The first Shirakawago sake I tried was Sasa-Nigori, a lightly cloudy junmai ginjo. It was made by mixing coarsely filtered and normal junmai ginjo sake. The result is a creamy texture and delicate taste, not dominated by sake lees. The sake is also not as sweet as many other nigori
However, it was the brewery’s third sake, which really impressed me: Junman-Nigori, a heavily cloudy sake. Thick and sweet as I always imagine,
Miyazaki brewery was at the Sake Expo presenting four of their sake. They had honjozo, junmai, junmai ginjo and daiginjo. I tried both junmai ginjo and daiginjo and they were excellent. The junmai ginjo was slightly richer and more intense while daiginjo was delicate and fruity, perfect to drink on its own. It also would be great with seafood.
Tama no Hikari
Tama no Hikari is a brewery from Kyoto established during the early Edo period. The region is famous for its soft water, which produces more “feminine” sake, meaning that the sake is softer and more delicate. It’s usually fermented at a lower temperature for longer time, then sake made of hard water. Mind that “hard” water in Japan is still a very soft water compared to the water in the UK or in Europe in general.
I tried two sake from Tama no Hikari. The first one, Tamanohikari Junmai Ginjo Iwai Rice, was labelled “For Woman” to highlight its softness and delicate taste. I’m sure that the brewery didn’t mean to sound anyway sexist! It had a fruity aroma dominated by pear and strawberry with some mineral and mushroom notes. Very mellow, creamy texture and some honey and fruits in the taste. It was easy to drink. I even bought it later to toast for my Kikisake-shi exam results.
The second sake I tried was Junmai Ginjo 94 (Kyujyuyon) (see the big bottle with 97.8% label on the main photo). It was an izakaya sake, great with izakaya-style grilled food. Apparently, the brewery actually calculated the compatibility of this sake with grilled chicken in yakitori sauce. It turned out 97.8%! Even the name 94 is a wordplay with a Japanese word for skewers. I really liked this sake and if I see it in a shop I will definitely buy it and have with yakitori! It’s rich and full-bodied full of umami. A bit unusual for Kyoto style junmai ginjo sake. Tama no Hikari also had very good yuzu sake and umeshu.
Asahi Shuzo’s Dassai is one of the most famous sake brands outside Japan. The brewery makes superb sake from entry level junmai daiginjo Dassai 50 to Dassai Beyond made from the rice polished to an undisclosed level. If someone who had never tried sake before asked me for my advice from which sake to start I would definitely recommend Dassai.
This time I didn’t focus on other Japanese drinks presented at the show. For example, there was a good selection of shochu. I’ve mentioned shochu from Nishi Sake brewery in my previous post. Another shochu brand, which caught my eye due to its beautiful bottle design was Ginza no Suzume
JFC is a distributor of the two major Japanese beer brands. Sapporo beer is always associated for me with great Ozu’s movies from the 50s. You can often see a battery of Sapporo bottles in one scene or another.
Kirin is another famous Japanese beer. I order it quite often at Japanese or any other restaurants if they have it. It was great to see the people behind the brand.
Overall, JFC Sake Expo and Food Show was a great event. JFC is one of the key distributors of sake in the UK and they have a diverse portfolio of brands from big players such as Hakutsuru, Ozeki and Dassai to relatively small breweries. It was very useful for me to attend the event and try a wide range of the sake they sell in order to buy the ones I particularly liked and write more detailed tasting notes for my readers. I hope that you will find this review useful and buy one of the sake mentioned here and drink it with your friends or family.