At a recent On-nomi I focused my drinking on a pair of sakes from Hagi city in Yamaguchi. Hagi is a major brewing city in Yamaguchi prefecture, and locals are growing increasingly vocal about their ingredients, including locally grown rice, and Hagi’s spring water.
The first sake on the table was a tokubetsu Junmai from Iwasaki Shuzo in Nagato, just outside of Hagi itself. This one was made with Yamadanishiki rice from a “Special A” ranked field in the greater Hagi region. They polish it to 60% and then made this limited edition sake.
It was a hearty junmai, with big apple and melon aromas followed up by a full bodied flavor and clean finish. There were palpable savory rice notes with a lovely more-ish sweetness on the top.
It was just a lovely drink. It was well made and interesting, without tiring the palate.
But did it taste like Hagi? Meh. Who knows? It was good, and that’s what matters.
This little beauty is from Yachiyo Shuzo, recently of Room La+ fame. It’s a yon-dan jikumi, which will require some explanation.
Normal sake fermentation starts with a seed mash, a small batch of rice koji, water, and yeast. Over the course of four days additional white rice and water are added to this started in three stages to build the main fermentation mash. This three-stage process is called san-dan jikomi (3段仕込). However, sometimes brewers will add an extra step of rice, usually rice koji, to bring out a bigger hit of sweetness. This is called 4段仕込, or four-stage mash building (I have heard of even more stages, up to seven in some cases!). The goal is to increase the sugars and enzymes generated by koji to, essentially, enrich the sake flavor profile. It can get pretty heavy!
In this particular case, the brewer recommends drinking it over ice to balance the sweetness, and I have to agree. This was my first sake on the rocks, and it was a real pleasure. It was, indeed, deeply sweet with touches of honey and molasses, with a subdued note of acidity that helped to prevent any cloying heaviness in the finish.
This isn’t the kind of sake I’d drink every day, but as an aperitif or dessert sake it seems wholly apt. Another lovely Hagi sake!
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