The more I learn about Sakai Shuzo, and the more Gokyo I drink, the more of a fan I become. What once struck me as a frumpy old-man sake has become almost iconic to me, and the main reason is every single thing they make is just what I want from it. Their futsushu, their junmais, everything–I love it.
But more than that, Sakai has managed to maintain its hard grip on the traditional local market with high quality standard fare (it’s biggest seller is futsushu, followed by standard junmai) while doing things that are truly out there.
Every year, Sakai hosts an event where they invite local retailers to the kura and let them try their “experimental brews.” If the retailers like them, they can stock the limited runs and see how they sell (often these are marked by a cute little tanuki mascot peeking past the label). If they sell well, they can go into the regular lineup. And every year, some really interesting, odd things come out. Gokyo’s Five series, with its creative labeling and innovative use of different koji and brewing methods, were born this way.
And this year, they released this: Ride? Black. A junmai made with 96% mill rates (essentially with just the husks removed) and black koji.
Just looking at that description makes the wheels spin. How did they get the koji to grow? Just how sour is it? How did they make it drinkable?!
I had to try it. And I did!
This sake is, if you’ll pardon the expression, a tanuki of a different color. The sake pours cloudy, looking a bit like a good unfiltered cider. And the aroma is bright, vibrant banana, pineapple, and yeast. From the start, this sake announces that the flavor is going to be big.
And it is! The initial impression is tart banana bread. The acidity is full and assertive, but not unpleasant in the least. Oddly, there are few cereal notes in this. It’s not got the kind of barley-wine weight I would expect from such a milling rate, though there is a slight hint of almond on the back of the palate. There are clear tropical fruit notes, and a mouth-pleasing depth of umami, but it cuts off clean and clear without overstaying its welcome. It is imminently more-ish, and utterly unique.
There is nothing staid or stuffy about this sake. It’s creative, exciting, and damn good. I would drink this over a dozen junmai ginjos any day of the week and twice on Sundays, and you can quote me.
I love me some Gokyo.