The Great Wave Off Kanagawa is one of the most iconic images in all of Japanese art, originally from a wood block print published in the 1830s by the artist Hokusai. It depicts a scene from the sea in the eponymous coastal prefecture just south of Tokyo, today famous for its laid-back vibe and beach community not unlike what we have here in nearby Santa Cruz. The most famous beaches in Japan are in Kanagawa and it's within that maritime setting that the Kumazawa Shuzo brewery is located, surrounded by the soothing sound of crashing waves; the same waves that are historically depicted in Kokusai's romantic illustration above, and the same waves that are today being shredded by some of Japan's most famous professional surfers. Founded in 1872, the facility has been family-owned for thirteen generations and continues to create world-class, yeast-oriented products.
Why write "yeast-oriented products" and not just beer and sake? Because beyond brewing, Kumazawa operates a bakery and pizza restaurant at their Kanagawa operation, using various strains of local yeast developed on site. You might say the Kumazawa family members are yeast experts, perfecting the nuances of fermentation over the last two centuries. As many of you whisky drinkers already know, both yeast and water play an incredibly important role in the ultimate flavor of a spirit, and the locale of certain distilleries—especially those located along the coast—can influence the liquid in a number of different ways. Much like one can taste the elements of Islay in each sip of Laphroaig, the same characteristics are apparent in one of my favorite sakes from Kumazawa: the Tensei "Song of the Sea."
Using a combination of both Yamada Nishiki and Gohyakumangoku rice (the latter of which often producers a clean, light, and refreshing style of sake), master brewer—or toji—Tetsuro Igarashi uses yeast strain #9 to impart a maritime influence on his homage to the sea. The sake is classified as junmai ginjo, meaning there is no fortification, only rice polished to 60%, koji mold, and water were used in the brewing. Intermingled in the palate are flavors of salt-water taffy and mineral notes from the highly-mineral water used in the production. It's balanced by the melon and apple fruit flavors created by the yeast strain, resulting in a saline and refreshing wave (pun intended) of sake deliciousness.
Like many wines and a number of beers and spirits, the ultimate character of the sake is also determined by the cuisine with which it's meant to be enjoyed. You could pair the "Song of the Sea" with a number of seafood options, but also spicier more exotic flavors like curry and, due to the acidity, fattier and richer textures like lamb or even beef. It's such a versatile and delicious sake that, in my opinion, it's a great place to start if you're looking to jump down the sake rabbit hole. We've currently got it in stock for $34.99. Grab some glasses, call a few friends, and start your weekend with a bottle of the Tensei.
And picture the Wave Off Kanagawa washing over you as you enjoy each delicious sip.