The beauty of Japanese sake is that there are so many different types, ranging from light and fruity daiginjo, to savoury honjozo. A unique type of nihonshu I enjoyed tasting recently was Yamato Shizuku Yamahai.
Crafted by the Akita Seishu brewery, the Yamato Shizuku is a special type of sake for me because it marks the first time I’ve tried nihonshu crafted in the yamahai style.
Why did I choose the bottle?
Originally, I was drawn to the Shizuku because of the Yamato name and it helped me feel more connected to the reasons behind creating Yamato Magazine. I was also keen to learn more about yamahai sake to see if there were any differences in flavour.
Yamahai sake is marketed as being rarer than your average bottle and refers to a specific kind of brewing method. It involves preparing the moto (yeast starter) in a special way, which creates gamier and wilder flavours. So, yamahai could be seen as an evolution of the older kimoto style.
In his book, Sake Confidential, nihonshu maestro John Gautner provides a concise definition of both. “Yamahai and kimoto are older, traditional methods that both utilise natural lactic bacteria to produce lactic acid, which then cleans the environment in preparation for the sake yeast cells.”
Tasting the Yamato Shizuku revealed a complex, enjoyable drink with several flavours. On the first sip, I noted a powerful nuttiness that I’ve come to appreciate in honjozo. But then a robust marzipan taste infiltrated my mouth and I found myself savouring the contrast of sweet and savoury.
Hints of earthiness appeared, which may be the handiwork of the Miyama Nishiki rice that Akita Seishu use to craft the Yamato. This was topped off by a rich creaminess that lingered in the throat.
I’d say the Junmai Yamato Shizuku has made it into my list of top nihonshu. There’s a beautiful contrast of flavours and it is light enough that you don’t feel like you have to drink it quickly. Sip it at your leisure and toast to your drinking partners. It’s a drink for all seasons.
Grade: Junmai, Yamahai
Seimaibuai/Rice Polishing Rate: 60%
Rice: Miyama Nishiki