I first encountered Morikuni Sake Brewery Co. Ltd (increasingly referred to as Shodoshima Shuzo) via their Hachi Hachi 88 junmai. Using local Oseto rice polished down to just 88%, the golden-coloured thick and nutty brew certainly grabbed my attention as one of the most unique junmai classification sake I’d experienced, and left me longing to try more of the small and very young (established 2005) company’s offerings.
I am delighted to say that tonight I achieved just that, finally getting my hands on each of the beautifully presented 300ml bottles of the Shodashima No Kagayaki range daiginjo and junmai daiginjo (stylised as ‘daiginjyo’ on the labels) via Ukiyo Republic’s online Japanese sake store.
Being able to taste these two premium sakes side by side satisfied my nerdy, technical interest in nihonshu production and the incredibly broad flavour profile that it offers, and most importantly was a hugely pleasurable drinking experience that further cemented by post-pandemic ambitions to visit the picturesque island of Shodo.
A glance at the vital statistics of the Shodoshima No Kagayaki sakes would suggest that they’re likely to be very similar. They are, of course, brewed at the same facility, using the same methods, rice variety and water supply, and share a 17% alcohol by volume and 40% rice polishing ratio. In short, it’s easy to dismiss how the addition of a little distilled brewer’s alcohol could change the profile in anything but the most subtle of ways.
Yet, sitting back with some nice, rustic bread and olives and with Joe Hisaishi’s Kiki’s Delivery Service soundtrack playing quietly the background (check out both Shodo island’s connections to olive production and the Kiki franchise) I discovered just how foolish such an assumption would be!
True to their unfiltered nature, there is a slight yellowy hue, but for the most part both daiginjo and junmai daiginjo are transparent and with a water-like density. Essentially, they are impossible to tell apart from each other on looks alone.
Despite this, the nose gives away much more and is where the distinction truly begins. Whilst the junmai possesses a robust, ricey aroma with some low-level lactic notes, the daiginjo is a light and summery, with just a hint of tropical fruit. There would certainly be no confusing the two in a blind smelling!
The distinction is even more apparent on the palate. True to its aroma, the junmai daiginjo possesses a rich, umami body with a subtle roasted chestnut note and a sharp, lingering swallow. Whilst it’s certainly more expected from a junmai than the daiginjo, it’s a peculiar profile in such a highly polished sake in general – though that’s not to say unwelcome.
The daiginjo then, by contrast, has a light, silky mouthfeel followed by a buoyant fruitiness (but with almost zero acidity). While it’s a complex and intricate sake in which each sip reveals another nuanced layer, it’s also certainly more ‘familiar’ and therefore likely to be the preference of most Western tastebuds.
As the majority of my preferences are for full-bodied, ricey sakes, I was somewhat surprised to discover that here I tended to favour the more delicate presence of the daiginjo when sampled side by side. Whilst the junmai is certainly a well-crafted and delicious little brew (that I would have likely given a rave review had I drank it alone), the alcohol-added version is just that little bit more stimulating and prestigious.
That said, rather than trying to announce an ultimate champion (everyone will have their own preference, of course), it’s more interesting to give a little though to the fact that, despite their identical bases these are two incredibly different sakes, both of which go wonderfully with large, briny olives and good music. And, most importantly of all, both of which provide further evidence that Morikuni is one of the best and most exciting sake breweries currently importing to the UK. All in the name of sake science!
Grade: Daiginjo and junmai daiginjo
Seimaibuai/Rice Polishing Ratio: 40%
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.