More New Sake

When I was in Japan last week, I could not get over how much sake there was everywhere. We'd walk through the subway stations and there would be huge storefronts full of sake, as far as the eye could see. Shelves and shelves of different selections that numbered into the hundreds at some establishments. "Who the hell is drinking all this?" I thought.

"More importantly, why am I not drinking all of this?" I thought immediately following.

 I don't know anyone in the U.S. who drinks sake regularly. Why not? Because we don't know anything about it, that's why. If we all knew a little bit more, I think we'd be more interested in giving it some attention. Why? Because it's delicious, distinct, and different from what we're usually choosing between.

Ichishima is a family-owned brewery in the Niigata prefecture that has been making sake since 1790. Located on the western coast of Japan, it's nestled in between the ocean and the mountains, and can receive more than 30 feet of snow annually. The cold temperature allows for an incredibly long fermentation times (roughly five weeks), resulting in light, delicate, and elegant sake flavors that bring new meaning to the word graceful. Niigata sakes are meant to pair well with seafood and sushi; two specialties of the coastal region. Jeff Garneau and I met with Tiffany Soto this week to taste through the entire Ichishima portfolio and we were really taken aback by the quality. We're still roughly new at this, so while we liked everything we tasted, we went with three of the most distinct and different expressions in the line-up.

Ichishima Tokubetsu Honjozo Sake 720ml $26.99- The Tokubetsu Honjozo sake is made from Gohyakumangoku and Koshiibuki rice, polished down to 60%. Technically, the milling percentage would allow Ichishima to classify it as Ginjo, but in order to save on export tax, as well as provide value to their customers, they declassified the sake to Honjozo. Tokubetsu Honjozo means a small amount of rice spirit is added late in the fermentation process, stimulating the yeast cells into making a second round of aromatics. Those flavors do indeed show up on the palate, as the crisp melon and pear flavors see just a bit more richness and tanginess than the standard Ichishima expressions. For the price, this is one of the most-dynamic, interesting, and high-quality sakes we carry at K&L.

Ichishima Ginjo Koshu Sake $69.99- The Ginjo Koshu sake is a bit of a twist on the Ginjo classification, as the liquid is matured in an enamel-lined tank for five years after it is brewed (a tank that sits in sub-zero temperatures, is denied of oxygen, and sees no light whatsoever). The effect the aging process has on the sake is profound. The aromas are mushroomy and earthy, with umami galore and a pungent richness. This is a sake to pair with braised meats and fragrant cheeses. It's a savory delight that really transcends what we normally consider sake to be.

Ichishima Ginnoyorokobi Daiginjo Sake $149.99-  The Ginnoyorokobi Daiginjo is the top of the Ichishima line and is easily the most amazing sake we carry at K&L. Using koshitanreii rice (a proprietary hybrid of yamada nishika & gohyakumangoku that can only be grown in Niigata), this is one of the only truly regional sakes on the market. The palate is creamier with hints of white chocolate and mint. The flavors meander from crisp melon to soft vanilla, and the sake finishes with an herbaceous flutter. One of the most complex and full-flavored sakes I've ever experienced, while simultaneously remaining restrained and delicate in nature. Simply stunning.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll