Five blue – Tasting

Today I’ve got something from Iwakuni powerhouse Sakai Shuzo, makers of Gokyo. Sakai has a reputation as a very staid, traditional kura but they’ve recently been trying some more modern things with labels designs and such, and this is clearly one of them.

There is a whole line of “five” branded sakes, of different colors. This is the blue one, a nama junmai ginjo with a very special secret: it’s a kimoto!

What’s kimoto, you ask? OK, it’s lesson time!

In the making of sake, you start with rice. Part of the rice is used for rice Koji, which has been inoculated with the Koji mold, the rest is slowly added during fermentation.

Koji releases sugar from the rice, which has to be converted into alcohol by yeast. This happens in a mixture of rice, rice Koji, water and yeast they call shubo (literally “mother of alcohol”). Shubo ferments best when the rice grains dissolve into, basically, gruel. There are several methods for making this happen, and Kimoto is one of the oldest and most traditional.

The kimoto shubo method includes a process called yamaoroshi where the shubo is stirred and mashed with wooden poles to physically break down the rice. This is a very slow process, of course, and it also results in naturally occurring yeast to join the mix. At the same time, naturally occurring microorganisms release lots of lactic acid, which helps create an environment for better fermentation.

Modern shubo making uses natural chemical processes and temperature control to break down the rice, with strict control on yeast used, and the lactic acid is added directly for a faster, more controlled process.

But what does all this mean for the drink? In a word: flavor. The slow, natural fermentation with wild yeast and microorganisms in kimoto results in big, complex flavors with lots of lactic acid sourness and full bodied umami. There’s a kind of wildness to kimoto that you don’t find in more modern processes that can be a bit much for the uninitiated, but results in exciting drinking for those looking for something different.

And five blue is definitely something different.

Those words we see on labels tend to give us clues to the flavor we’re about to enjoy. Ginjo tells us we’re in for aromatic, fruity notes. Junmai leads to richness and full bodied flavor. Five gives us both of those for sure, with a sour apple and peach uwadachika that fills the nose as you raise the cup.

Then comes the sip, and you experience wave after wave of flavor. The initial attack is that ginjo apple, with a hint of white peach and melon. Then comes a pure streak of sour, like a shot of fresh lemon juice, and after you swallow you’re left with a mellow lingering rice umami and gentle bitter astringency.

This sake tastes alive. It almost feels carbonated with the acidity and tingling alcohol. It would easily stand up to rich meals like curry or pizza no problem, but would likely overpower more subtle Japanese fare.

I love it. I’m glad I bought a 720ml yongobin so I can enjoy it more and more. It’s not something for everyone, but it’s also not hard to drink like some more traditional dry sakes.

It’s the kind of thing you get when a true master brewer decides to try something quirky, and it’s a rousing success.


Five junmai ginjo nama, seimaibuai 50%, kimoto shubo

Translation of the label:

Freshly pressed sake has a a yellow-green color with a touch of blue. We say this sake is “clear blue” and is a sign of well made sake.
This fresh, exciting flavor recalls the vibrance of youth, like the blue-green of fresh leaves.
Take a drink and think back on those times: that’s what this sake is for. And once you’ve drained your glass, that bitter-sweet flavor lingers… A bitter sweet memory…

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