Yamaguchi Rarity Taste Test

In a recent wander around the shopping streets surrounding Tokuyama Station, I found what you might actually call my holy land: a new bar dedicated (almost) solely to sake. Kokushu (͡國酒) opened in March of this year and offers pretty much one thing: All you can drink nihonshu (they do have a little machine dispensing highballs and chuhais, but…). One wall of the shop is taken up entirely by coolers full of premium sake, and naturally there’s a big selection of local Yamaguchi brews.

To be honest, I actually wandered into the shop while waiting to meet a friend for karaoke and they weren’t even technically open, but the staff seemed happy to talk and even let me have a special sampling of 3 choko for 1080 yen. It’s all self serve anyway, so I think she was likely just bored.

From Left to Right: Taka Shinshu Tokubetsu Junmai Jikagumi (Seimaibuai 60%), Abu no Tsuru Mamma  Junmai Ginjo Muroka Nama Genshu  (Seimaibuai: Kojikome 40%, Kakemai 50%), Project SEISYUN from Hatsumomiji and Tabuse Agricultural Technical High School

I chose three that  not only had I not tried before, I’d never even seen in shops! I started in the typical order: the richest, heaviest flavor first.

Project Seisyun is a sake made at Tabuse Agricultural Technical High School under the direction of Hatsumomiji Shuzo. Tabuse ATHS has a standing program in sake brewing, and local brewers cooperate to help train and popularize sake making among young people. This is my first chance to taste the  product.

This is what I’d call a very traditional sake. It’s a junmai, with a seimaibuai around 70%. It’s heavy in umami and some punky, syrupy flavors with a hit of anise and melon notes. It’s got a bit too much going on to make for smooth evening sipping, but it’s a solid, old fashioned sake in the Yamaguchi tradition.

Next, I moved on to the Abu no Tsuru. Abu no Tsuru is a kind of enigmatic brewery. They work all the way on the other side of the island, with little publicity but lots of word of mouth. I’ve had the chance to try two or three styles, and they’ve all been stellar. I have big hopes for this relatively  new kura in the future.

This one, MAMMA (a weird transliteration of まんま, which means “just the way it is”, kind of ) was just wonderful. It’s a Junmai Ginjo Muroka Nama Genshu with  one of those increasingly common seimaibuai mixes: Kojikome 40%, Kakemai 50%. That means that the rice used to propagate the koji is more polished than the rice added to fill out the mash during brewing. I’m not exactly sure what the reasoning behind it is, but just off the top of my head it allows easier koji propagation (less rice so easier access to the shinpaku heart) while bringing out more rice flavor from the kakemai.

Whatever the case, it was a really mouthwatering sake. It had a firm banana aroma, and the flavor had that banana note with a strong sour punch and very more-ish umami.

The last one is from Nagayama Honka, under the premium Taka Domaine label: Shinshu Tokubetsu Junmai Jikagumi (Seimaibuai 60%).

This is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a premium shinshu: Light and refreshing apple-y sweetness with a healthy sourness to cleanse the palate, with an almost watery finish. There is a good balanced umami to it as well that really fills it out perfectly.

It was a wonderful chance to try some unusual sakes, and definitely a great intro to a new place to drink.

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