When you experience a lot of something in a focused way, you often start to look for unusual sides. The “same old” becomes boring, and you want something new. With a subjective thing like tasting drinks-sake, wine, whatever-this often leads to seeking out unusual styles or processes that often make a “challenging” drink. Thus, real sake guys will start looking for 20 year old koshu, or stuff made with wild yeast and natural lactobaccilli, and so on.
And all of that, that dulling of the wheel of hedonism, means we can forget the basic pleasure that got us started in the first place. Sake’s a good drink. It’s tasty, and fun, and should be enjoyed.
That long preamble is all leading up to this: This bottle of Ageo Junmai Daiginjo, sold as a limited edition by a sponsor group called Nihonshu Ouendan (JP) (Sake Cheer Squad), is simply the most enjoyable sake I have ever drunk. It might very well be the most enjoyable alcoholic drink I have ever drunk.
First, let’s talk about what it is. Ageo is a label from Kitanishi Shuzo (JP) in Saitama prefecture. For this edition, Nihonshu Ouendan contracted for them to produce a junmai daiginjo and ship it as jikagumi, which means that the bottles are filled directly from the tank–unfiltered, yes, but also not pumped through machinery. In addition, this sake is all nakadori.
Nakadori is a complex term, but basically it goes like this. When pressing sake, there are three distinct “layers” that appear. The first sake that comes out from the sheer weight of the moromi itself is called arabashiri, and it is filled with fine lees, i.e. clouds of rice particles. This element lends this section of the pressing run a bit more robust umami, and arabishiri is often considered quite robust. Once the arabashiri is done, you get the middle section: nakadori. Nakadori is clear and smooth, with an overall balance that might be kind of light on umami (as that is concentrated in the arabashiri). It is often submitted for competition, as it is really the heart of sake. The last section is seme, or the tails. This is often quite dry, with a higher alcoholic content than the other sections due to continued yeast action. This means it also has more “rough edges,” with a high chance of bitterness or other zatsumi off-flavors.
So nakadori is basically the purest, cleanest section of the press. And this sake is that nakadori, poured directly into a bottle, and shipped out.
Those are the facts. The experience, though, is less quantifiable.
The aroma of this bottle of Ageo was mellow and full. It hinted at mango, vanilla, custard. And in the mouth, it was a perfectly balanced dance of sweet, mellow, smooth sake. Honey and vanilla and rice pudding and…smoothness. The finish was clean and light, with nothing left but the desire to drink more.
And that was what was so great. I have never wanted, so powerfully, to just keep drinking a sake like this. I have had some very nice sessions where I enjoyed every sake I had, but none where I just couldn’t stop pouring.
Why, you ask?
It was perfect. That’s all I can say. There were no rough edges at all. Nothing standing out to distract from the smooth, balanced pleasure in every sip. It did not cloy, or assert, or hit separate notes. There was umami, there was sour, and there was sweet, but they all worked in harmony so I had to really tease them out. But I didn’t really try to, because why would I want to break this perfect picture?
And I will never experience this again. This was one of 120 bottles like this, and no more are available. And since this was nama, any bottles that I might encounter in the future will not be like this. I am sure that there will be a similar release in the future, but again: similar is not identical. This sake, made with this rice, in this climate, will never be made again.
There is something wistfully beautiful in that, don’t you think?
Thanks, Nihonshu Ouendan and Kitanishi Shuzo.