Having already provided a profile on Kuncho Shuzo Co. Ltd in a previous review of their fantastic Kaorucho Junmai, there’s not a lot to add about the ever-popular, Kyushu-based brewery here. That online references to their history and methods of production are minimal is perhaps best respected; especially if it allows their wonderful products to speak for themselves!
Instead, I wanted to say a few words on honjozo, the classification of the Kuncho brew I’ll be opening up today.
Perhaps the least often discussed of the tokutei meisho-shu (special designation) nihonshu classifications, honjozo is bound by a legal requirement to polish rice down to at least 70% and employs the addition of brewer’s alcohol into the fermenting mixture.
Honjozo can be viewed as the aruten (alcohol-added) counterpart of junmai; the main distinguishing features being a lighter taste and drier finish. This can be admittedly difficult for inexperienced drinkers to recognise, without side-by-side comparison. So it’s often best to just, sit, back, relax and enjoy the sake!
Appearance: Golden-tinted body with an almost ‘thick’, oily character on swirling.
Nose: Well-rounded lactic nose with an underlying earthiness; conjuring porridge and nutty breakfast cereals.
Palate: Again, there is a beautifully balanced, light lactose flavour, with a warm sweetness, reminiscent of caramel. The texture is thick, smooth and almost milk-like, whilst the finish is very dry and clean. All of these characteristics become more pronounced as the sake naturally goes from fridge-chilled to room temperature.
Verdict: Whilst they indeed have a dazzling junmai ginjo, and arguably one of the best nigoris currently available in the UK, even from this understated little honjozo, it’s not difficult to see why Kuncho enjoys such a brilliant reputation as a sake producer, both within and outside of Japan.
This is an easy-drinking, light nihonshu (15% ABV) that really strikes the umami to sweet harmony perfectly. Combined with its extremely clean finish, this is simply the ideal accompaniment for just about any food you can imagine sipping it with.
Complex sakes can be an absolute joy to sensually deconstruct. But there are times when a modest, yet effective little ninhonshu is just what you need. This could very well be what you’re looking for on those occasions.
Seimaibuai/Rice Polishing Rate: 65%
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 recently passed his level one sake education qualification from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and hopes of becoming a judge and educator.