The world of sake is one of constant experimentation and versatility. Breweries with centuries of experience create products that demonstrate their sake making skills, and one brewery that’s particularly innovative in Hayashi Honten in Gifu Prefecture.
This is evident in the brewery’s Golden Amber junmai koshu, a complex drink full of wonderful contradictions.
Hayashi Honten was founded in 1920 by Hayashi Eiichi, a man who had the philosophy of maintaining tradition while looking to the future. Located west of Kakamigahara City, Hayashi Honten is at a crossroads between two rivers: Nagara and Kiso.
The Nagara River flows from the Dainichigatake Mountains, also known as the Japanese Alps, and it’s from this river that the brewery collects water to make sake. The water is located in a 100m deep well.
With a cold climate and good water source, the area is ideal for sake brewing and the spirit of innovation runs through the veins of all who work at Hayashi Honten. The toji and kurabito make annual retreats to Akita Prefecture to learn from other masters and improve their skills so they can continue to elevate nihonshu as a category.
The brewery’s Golden Amber falls into the koshu (aged sake) grade, a category with a lot of experimentation. To qualify as koshu, sake must be aged for a minimum of three years and the Golden Amber is comfortable in its maturity, coming it at twelve years.
The ageing process was carried out for eight years in tanks and then another four years in ex-bourbon barrels. Needless to say, this has created some off-the-wall flavours that aren’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. I happen to be one of those weirdos who gets excited about unusual flavours and I wasn’t disappointed.
On the nose, the drink had the aroma of sour grapes and cinnamon. The sourness shifted into high gear on the first sip, a brash kick of bourbon to the tastebuds. Next came an undercurrent of chocolate and dill pepper, which graduated into the taste and texture of aniseed ice cream. It was bizarre and beautiful.
With its complexity, I see Golden Amber working with dinner and dessert. For a meal, I’d suggest roast pork shoulder with carrots and mushrooms. For dessert, something like vanilla cheesecake or rice pudding would go well.
This junmai koshu is the marmite of sake. Either you’ll love it or you won’t. But you’ll go back and taste it more than once because it is out of the ordinary and it is award-winning. The Golden Amber was voted the ‘Perfect Sake for a Gift’ in 2012’s UK Sake Awards and won the Silver Award at the International Wine Challenge in 2013.
These are the kind of credentials that give the koshu category a lot of potential. Golden Amber is a drink that opens the door for what is possible.
Grade: Junmai koshu
Seimaibuai/Rice Polishing Rate: 70%