Browsing London Sake’s expansive range, it’s all too easy to get overwhelmed by choice. Sometimes, even for an experienced nihonshu connoisseur, the best approach is simply to choose a bottle with a beautifully, striking label and hope that the contents measure up. This tactic (which has generally served me well with both unfamiliar sake and craft beer purchases in the past) goes a way to explaining how I ended up in the possession of Tamagawa’s 2019 ‘Red Label’ Heirloom Yamahai Genshu.
When it comes to versatility, sake is arguably the best drink to choose in terms of texture, flavour, food pairing and serving temperatures. And while I’ve enjoyed trying plenty of premium ginjo sake, there’s a whole world of other categories to drink my way through and a style I’ve been drawn to lately is futsushu.
As table sake, futsushu isn’t considered a premium grade of nihonshu, but that has nothing to do with its quality and if you’ve never tried futsushu then you’ll want to dive in with the incredible Komachi Sakura.
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.
As a long-time enthusiastic craft beer drinker, one of my must-visit locations in Tokyo was Hitachino Brewing Lab, in the Akihabara district. Whilst I certainly spent a fair amount of time getting well acquainted with all manner of styles from the Hitachino Nest Beer range in the hip bar, I walked away completely oblivious to the fact that Kiuchi started life (and continues) as a sake brewery.
It was actually not until I was back in the UK and looking to order some of my new favourite Nest Beers to enjoy at home that I stumbled across Kiuchi’s nihonshu range.
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.
Watanabe Sake Brewery’s decision to take on Cody Brailsford as assistant-head brewer is famous throughout the world of nihonshu. The enthusiastic American rose through the ranks from apprentice to assistant head brewer, determined to share the joys of beautifully crafted Japanese sake with the Western world, presented in a way it could easily relate to.
The Hourai Cody’s Sake range has undeniably achieved that, its catchy names (see Cody’s Ninja Junmai) and trendy bottles stand out against a sometimes-impenetrable wall of kanji and tradition in sake lists. And whilst Cody is admittedly still a way off from his ultimate goal of having the US President drink his sake, it certainly doesn’t seem impossible, considering the ever-growing reputation of him and his produce.
Sake brewing requires a tremendous amount of precision and dedication to craft a high-quality product. Breweries such as Gozenshu have built their reputation on creating sake that is as delicious as it is creative. The brand has no problem flexing its creative muscles and that’s exactly what Gozenshu did with the 1859 Prototype.
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.
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.
The Ozeki sake brewery is one of the powerhouses of the sake industry, producing a wide range of memorable nihonshu. Founded in 1711 and based in Nada, the brewery has made a name for itself with several innovations, like the famous one cup sake produced during the 1964 Olympics in Japan.
That spirit of innovation can be felt throughout all the Ozeki products and a bottle I enjoyed tasting recently was Ozeki Hana Awaka. With an elegant, unexpected flavour profile, this sparkling sake has plenty going on.