Whilst not quite as simple as pushing a fresh, floral and fruity junmai daigingo to the back of your cupboard and trying to forget it exists for the next five years, aged sake is indeed a real thing. Specially pre-aged nihonshu (known as koshu) makes up a tiny amount of total sake production and sales and as a result is hugely misunderstood, forgotten or ignored.
Hyakunen Mae Kimoto (100 Years Ago) – Mansakuno Hana (roughly Witch Hazel Flower) is a particularly curious example from the Hinomaru Jozo brewery located by Yokote city, in the snowy Akita Prefecture of Honshu; not least because of the extremely limited English-language online references! Starting out as junmai, aged for eight years in the brewery and with the potential for further conditioning by the consumer, this sake comes with a story before the bottle is even opened!
Appearance: Semi-transparent and still, golden amber coloured body; watered down whisky is the closest comparison.
Nose: High intensity aroma straight from the bottle. Toasted nuts and soy with a distinct blue cheese note.
Palate: Slightly coarse mouthfeel develops into powerful gamey earthiness; a perfect example of the Sake Service Institute’s jun-shu classification (very strong, rich flavour profile). This is a full-bodied lactic / acidic sake with a lingering largely dry finish and just a hint of salted caramel sweetness.
Verdict: From the pour Hyakunen Mae Kimoto was never going to be just another sake. The complex nose and palate are without doubt going to divide opinion, with no guarantee that even the most devoted of ‘fresh’ sake drinkers will approve. Yet few could argue that it isn’t quite the experience.
The stinkiest, mouldiest cheese you can find is the obvious food pairing here. Salty snacks are probably also a safe bet. Personally I enjoyed the majority of the bottle without accompaniment at just below room temperature; in my opinion flavours this profound don’t need (and certainly shouldn’t act as) trimming to any meal!
Ultimately Hyakunen Mae Kimoto is unlikely to make up anyone’s ‘go to’ weekday tipple, but those curious about the hugely understated diversity of nihonshu would do well to hunt this fascinating indulgence down.
Grade: Junmai koshu
Seimaibuai/Rice polishing ratio: 60%
Bio: Jordan Smithcroft is a Manchester-based healthcare worker with an interest in Japanese culture, including Studio Ghibli, Haruki Murakami and Yellow Magic Orchestra. Having travelled to Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto in 2019, he hopes to return to see more of Japan in the near future.
Jordan was shortlisted for the British Guild of Beer Writers’ Best Young Beer Writer in 2016 and has since expanded his interest into sake. He is currently undertaking the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) sake qualification in the hopes of becoming a judge and educator.