Toyobijin is not exactly what I’d call an unknown quantity. Sumikawa Shuzo received a similar boost in fame as Asahi Shuzo and Dassai when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe served it at a summit meeting with Vladimir Putin in Yamaguchi prefecture. Since then, their flagship label Toyobijin is everywhere, and has spun off into an almost countless number of variations. Ippo is one of those.
Ippo means “One step” in Japanese, and is intended to refer to a step forward from the original premium Toyobijin label. This series of sakes focuses on the rice: each is made with a different variety to showcase their differences.
80% of the rice in this sake is Kamo no O, the “turtle’s tail,” grown not far from my house in a town called Tabuse. The farm supplying this rice has developed a special relationship with Sumikawa, as they supplied rice to make sake after a major flood nearly destroyed the kura around ten years ago. This particular crop was planted and harvested in a public event involving locals, so it has a particularly special connection to the community.
The sake itself is big and robust. It has a hefty dose of umami on the front end, with clear notes of banana and melon, threaded through with earthier mushroom. It has a strong finish that leaves hints of the nojun weight for a while, but not overlong. It is a strong dinner sake, bringing out the richness of meat dishes and sautees, without overshadowing lighter vegetable sides.
Basically, Sumikawa is incapable of making a bad sake, and this is a very nice counterpoint to the more delicate ginjo/daiginjo you get from other Toyobijin iterations.