As the only affordable sake brewery currently operating in the UK, all eyes are indeed on Kanpai. Yet, the Peckham-based business have much more to recommend them than simple default. Sake enthusiasts Lucy and Tom Wilson opened the trendy microbrewery in 2017, and quickly won the respect of other aficionados across the country, and most impressively of all, from industry operatives and experts back in Japan.
Covered several times already in Yamato Magazine (along with several gushing pieces in the national press), there’s no need for another extensive history here. It’s enough to say that all of the praise is deserved and that Kanpai are in no small part responsible for the ever-increasing interest in sake across Britain.
Today, I’m opening a 375ml bottle of the brewery’s 15% ABV flagship tokubetsu (special) junmai nigori, Kumo – meaning ‘cloud’ in Japanese. Brewed with a modern, foamless yeast and with the rice polished down to 70% of the grain remaining, the brand’s own product description tells of a ‘refined interpretation of a classic cloudy sake… an elegant tropical nigori, with bold acidity and a rich yoghurt finish’; a profile sure to have any sake fan close to salivating.
Appearance: Subtly green-tinged, thin body. No actual rice sediment clinging to the glass, however (as is common in many nigorizakes).
Nose: Medium intensity aroma of freshly steamed rice and dairy products, with an underlying, fresh pineapple note.
Palate: Silky, smooth mouthfeel. This is a high intensity, complex and punchy sake. Again, lots of creamy lactose character, with a hint of tropical fruit shining through in the perfectly balanced dry to sweet ratio, meaning neither sensation is overwhelming. A distinct, yet pleasant, sanmi (sour) note in the long, dry finish makes this a truly memorable sake.
For those looking to enjoy Kumo with a meal, I can certainly vouch for Madhur Jaffrey’s classic Punjabi rajma (red kidney beans in double cream), which takes advantage of Kumo’s dairy notes, as both a paired profile and an extinguisher for those super-hot dried red chillies!
Verdict: The beautifully labelled, stylishly shaped bottle that houses Kumo goes a long way towards making this nigori an attractive prospect for UK consumers unfamiliar with kanji and looking for a modern, accessible sake drinking experience. However, that shouldn’t fool purists into believing that this is ‘safe’, ‘sanitised’ or anything other than an authentic product.
Sure, its sweetness is dialled back in favour of some additional dry notes (compared with many typical nigoris), but that’s arguably just another aspect of its ‘tokubetsu’ status. Overall, this is a delicious and unique, complex sake that can proudly stand besides any genuine Japanese example.
Grade: Tokubetsu junmai nigori
Seimaibuai/Rice Polishing Ratio: 70%
Bio: Jordan Smithcroft is a Manchester-based healthcare worker and certified Sake Sommelier Association (SSA) sommelier 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.