It’s easy to brand Takara Shuzo Co. Ltd as nothing more than an offshoot of the Takara Group (Japan’s leading corporation for alcohol-related business and biotechnology) and all the negative connotations that can come with multinational mass-production. Yet, the brewery, based in the Nada ward of Kobe (one of Japan’s major nihonshu producing regions), have skilfully blended the best parts of traditional sake-making methods and the advantages of modern technology, to create beautiful, authentic, contemporary sake.
This Shochikubai Shirakabegura junmai offering uses the traditional, extremely labour-intensive kimoto yeast-starter method, which in its simplest terms introduces natural, lactic acid bacteria into the fermentation process to create a more robust, alcohol-resistant yeast, and ultimately a rich and acidic final product, often recommended for oily food pairings or gentle warming.
Seduced by these intriguing characteristics, I got my hands on a 640ml (very unusual for Japanese sake) bottle, and over several tastings at varying temperatures followed Takara in their self-proclaimed ‘pursuit of perfection.’
Appearance: Clear transparent, still body with a clean swirl.
Nose: Almost non-existent when chilled, developing into soft and delicate melon aroma at room temperature and subtle rice notes on further warming.
Palate: Oily mouthfeel, with a light, pleasant tanginess. Served chilled the flavours are medium-bodied and ‘bready’, although there is little in the way of lactose. The finish is short, crisp and understated. Gentle heat coaxes an additional pleasant buttered rice flavour out, whilst sharpening the alcohol note a touch.
Verdict: Shochikubai Shirakabegura is a reliable, all-purpose and reasonably priced junmai. With the additional acidic palate that the kimoto technique brings, it’s a beautifully presented sake, delightfully different depending on serving temperature, and likely to make an excellent partner for all manner of Japanese or Western cuisine.
Grade: Kimoto junmai
Seimaibuai/Rice Polishing Rate: 70%
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.