I’m beginning to feel I have some kind of karmic connection to Nakashimaya. Every sake event I go to I run into the same young staff member, and he always talks me into trying something new. When people ask me for recommendations, I always find that their specific event needs seem to call for one of their big, flavorful karakuchi sakes. And every time I drink a new label I am always struck anew by how assertive their brews can be.
So be ready to see lots of Nakashimaya on this blog. It’s hard to get away from!
This sake is a karakuchi muroka ginjo. It’s yet another aruten, with brewer’s alcohol added in the making process, and it is another testament to just how versatile and unpredictable this style can be.
When I think about the term karakuchi, I find myself wandering into that whole “sake is so unique!!1!!” territory, which I normally avoid because blech, but it really is in this case. Because the word karakuchi in drinking almost always means “Dry” (normal folks call it bitter). Karakuchi beer is dry beer, heavy on the bitter/hop flavor profile. Karakuchi wine is dry wine, light and astringent. But Karakuchi sake is often not bitter in the slightest.
This is one of those not bitter karakuchi sakes. There is no word for this but sweet, but not sweet like an apple sweet. Nor is it sweet like sugar is sweet. It is sweet like blackstrap molasses is sweet. It is sweet like dark honey is sweet. It has a heaviness to it, bordering on the cloying. It also has a richness of umami as well, and not any identifiable sourness at all. Going by the more complex, but also quite accurate, guide on the back of this Hizen Toji sake, this is very much a Nojun Karakuchi (top left area), as opposed to a light (dare I say bitter?) tanrei karakuchi like you’d find in Niigata.
I think perhaps this is one of those sakes that does not go with things, it goes with itself. Some drinks are social drinks, adding a bit of alcoholic zest to events. Beer is the quintessential social drink. It’s flavorful and fun, but not too many beers are so assertive as to call attention to themselves when you’re in conversation. Some drinks are meal drinks, like a nice Chianti to go with your pasta. They help bring out food flavors and balance the meal without overpowering the food.
This sake is neither of those. This is sake for times when you want to focus on the drink. When you want to explore the flavor, savor the tradition and process of making good a really big sake. It demands attention. It rewards contemplation.
So I do not suggest this for meals, or for fun nights. It’s a slow contemplation sake. But it is, for that, a very very good one.