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Jinmyo

For God's Sake! Is There a Sake Sommelier out There?

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Sawanotsuru 10.5. First impressions: nicely rounded. Smooth. I hate the word 'smooth' in relation to booze but this is smooth in the ... buttery, velvety sense of the word. We're talking texture here. Savoury with a wee bit of sweetness to round off the edges. Reminds me a little of the breakfast cereal Special K. The one with ads that imply a few bowls of the stuff will turn you into a sexy woman in a sexy red dress. And who doesn't want to be a sexy woman in a sexy red dress? I don't even know enough about sake to really know what I like but, still, this one's a winner.

 

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EDIT

 

And here comes another. Taru Sake de Kanpai served in a glass I stole from a former workplace. I had six such specially-branded glasses. I broke five very quickly. Anyway, onto the sake itself. This one is jacked with extra distilled booze but still only weighs in at 2.1 (Australian) standard drinks. Marginally more than the earlier drop. This one is funny. It's not as clean as the 10.5 and I was about to write it off as less interesting, but then came the finish. The finish has this ... planty note. Like mezcal planty. Agave. A touch of smoke. And I ain't talking no cheap rotgut worm-infected mezcal. I'm talking quality mezcal. It's there. Rice plonk with hints of mezcal? Pretty rad.

 

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Also, I think it's going to be traditional to set my sake against some randomly-selected reading material. 

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Two is a boringly round number. Let's try three today. This one is Tatewaki Samurai Sake. Dig the samurai on the label, hepcats. Junmai. Boozy on the nose. Smells more potent than the others and ... guess what? It is. Considerably so. 3.3 standards for the 300 mL bottle. The nose is a little 'closed'. The bouche bit: Crisp. There's a fair whack of booze on the palate, too, but also some spice. A bitter pepperiness. A touch of fruit that expands during the finish. Tropical fruit. Then, right at the end, there's that classic savoury rice booze flavour. And, as an epilogue, there's the flavour of booze. Just plain old booze: think vodka. This from a sake that's a pure sake. No distilled stuff thrown into the mix. It's kind of interesting, I guess, but I don't think I enjoy it as much as the other two I had today.

 

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Evening lads (and ladettes, etc). Another sake. Bishonen Junmai. Big fruit. Boocoo fruit. Too boocoo. Ripe banana. Stone fruit. Pear. Raw booze on the finish. Yeah, that bit's not so pleasant. 

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Rice plonk o'clock. Hakutsuru's junmai ginjo. Superior. Superieur. Allegedly. Floral. Rose. A bit of fruit. Kind of restrained, though. Too refined. Too restrained. Subtly sweet, a bit of savouriness and a bit of boozy bitterness on the finish. Not a huge fan of this one. The frosted bottle is kind of nice, though. Like a shower screen.

 

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Here's another one by the same people. The standard junmai. Stronger fruity/floral notes than the more refined version. A little sweeter. Still that boozy edge to it. 

 

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The English-language stickerage on these labels isn't very good. And my knowledge of Japanese, which I picked up in primary school, extends to being able to read hiragana with the pace and accuracy of a four-year-old. Kanji? Katakana? Forget it. That's an aside. Romaji would be nice. So, yeah, I realise my English transcription of what I've been drinking is at times inaccurate. Go by the photos, I guess. I know I will when eventually deciding what I want to revisit/avoid. Anyway, what we have here is a junmai daiginjo manufactured by Watari Honten. 

 

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The packaging reminds me of the way damn near every wine, no matter how mediocre, is plastered with medal-looking stickers. Dig this, buyers: this wine has won a grand prize. In a competition we ran. In which this wine was the only entrant! First, second and third. But I'm being harsh, here. This sake's pretty good. It's immediately likable. Prestige indeed. The aroma has a nice touch of cider to it. Right proper stuff: dry French cider. None of that syrupy Scandinavian-style swill. A bit floral on the palate, a floral sweetness, but the cider note's still there. Fruit. Dried fruit. Sultana. Nothing overdone. This is subdued but in a good way. As much as I'm new to all this, this is probably a sake I'd give to someone that hadn't had much/any sake before but had a fondness for dry Riesling and dry cider and other dry, delicious, crisp things. Touch of pineapple on the finish. This is, I think, the most alcoholic of the sakes I've tried thus far but doesn't have the boozy punch of some of the others I've tried. Even that classic rice booze flavour is subdued. Rather than smacking you over the forehead with an alcoholic sap on a busy street, it refers to lure you somewhere nice--satin sheets and all that, nice music and maybe a box of Valrohna--and give you a good evening before nicking your wallet and watching you while you sleep. A femme fatale. 

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Tanrei Junmai. Like a lot of the ones I've purchased recently, this sake is a product of Hakutsuru. Catching Diego/SAB Miller vibes here. I mean, maybe their Australian distribution's just a whole lot better than anyone else's. This one's kind of ... bland. Maybe I'm serving it too cold. Clean. Finishes with that rice booze taste in a bigger way than the one I just tried but it's not as heavy-handed as some of the other junmai sakes I've tried. The alcohol is stronger on the nose than the palate. Bit of citrus going on. Fresh. Not much of a finish.

 

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This one's possibly too interesting after a looooong day. Aroma, straight up, reminded me of a pale ale. Very clean yet there's a smokiness to it. That mezcal thing is coming through again. Still loving the mezcal/rice booze combo. Makes me think cocktail potential in a big way. Maybe a White Man Comes Around. And that just sounds sooooo wrong, hey? There's a bit of fruitiness on the tail end of this one. Nice touch. Taru Sake by Kiku Masamune. This one's a winner. Along with the 10.5 and Honten I can see this one entering the rotation. 

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The first sake I've warmed. The label suggests it is merely 'good' when served chilled but 'excellent' when warmed or at room temperature. Warmed it is then. Boozy. There's a bit of lemon going on and a boat load of umami. Tastes kind of ... generic. I don't mean that in a bad way. Rather, I mean that this sake tastes of sake. The rice booze flavour. The sake is American: Sho Chiku Bai Extra Dry.

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Hakutsuru Sho-Une Junmai Dai Ginjo. Supposedly premium sake. Dig the gold writing. Light-coloured beer on the nose. That carries over to the palate. Savoury with a mild berry sweetness. Strawberry? A bit of banana going on too. Not much of a finish. Bit of booze heat on the tail end. 

 

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That bird logo again. Hakutsuru's Draft Sake. Says the multilingual spiel on the back of the bottle: 

 

 

 

Draft Sake gains its fresh, refined taste from being brewed and aged for 1 month in a cool state at about 5*C before bottling. Characterised by its light, fresh and smooth taste. Slightly dry. Enjoy this sake chilled.

 

For some reason, I expected this to be boring. I've found the Hakutsuru range, thus far, to be a bit of a mixed bag. This expression is interesting. On the nose you have big fruit. Banana. Palate is fruity. A little sweet. The 'fresh' business isn't just marketing shite. There's something funny there, too. A sort of dried fruit flavour buried under all the overripe fruit. Dates? A bit of citrus, too. The classic rice booze taste, as well as the taste of plain old booze, is restrained. I don't know if I'd call this sake accessible.

 

EDIT

 

150mL in, I'm inclined to say that it is. It's easy-drinking, at least. Dangerously so. Maybe moreso than any of the sakes I've tried so far.

 

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So, hey, this is interesting: my first sparkling sake. Takara Mio. Nose is fairly restrained. Palate is fruity. Sweet. Has something vaguely in common with shitty sweet sparkling wine. That surprised me. I expected the similarity to end with the appearance and texture. This is too sweet for me. Low booze content: about a third of the booze of everything else I've tried.

 

EDIT

 

Fuck me. 75% of my way into the first glass, this melony sweetness is speeding across the border into Cloying Country (a region that neighbours Bat Country). Blergh. Luckily my missus is helping me with this.

 

EDIT 2

 

Here comes another. When I did my first big purchase, the guy behind the counter convinced me to buy this one. Why? It's the most popular. Ja, they sell this one more than any of the others. I nuked it according to the directions on the packaging, taking that as a sign this was another sake that was 'excellent' when heated. Booze on the nose. Harsh. All up your nose like wasabi jacked with English mustard. Blergh. Entry is a bit watery and insipid then there's a slight bitterness. Creamy texture. A touch of smoke. Overripe/rotten banana before a slight touch of BOOZE on the finish. Most popular? These people are on something. And that something is sure as shit not good sake.

 

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Now this one is interesting. Takara Shuzo's Tokusen Shotikubai. A reminder about a point I made earlier: the English-language stickers on these bottles can be dodgy and this bottle, unlike most others, has no English labelling whatsoever. Flying blind. Anyway, the sake itself is nicely balanced: a lasting savouriness off-set by a golden syrup sweetness. A tiny hint of bitterness that isn't unpleasant. I don't know if it's nice enough to make it one of my future stock-up-on-in-case-of-zombie-apocalypse sakes, but I'd probably order it if I recognised it on a menu somewhere.

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I don't know if I'll ever try any of these, but I sure am enjoying reading these reviews. Thanks for posting.

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Ditto Craig E's thanks for posting these tasting notes, Chris.  I have been greatly enjoying both your prose and photos and am remiss in posting my own thanks.  I've never had sake and never had any desire to explore it as I had a notion that "good" sake was extremely expensive and beyond my budget. I'm not sure I will embark on anything approaching your own efforts but, I'll certainly be open to sake tasting opportunities that come my way.

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Shirataki Sake Brewery's Jozen Junmai Ginjo. The nose reminds me of vinegar. Not in a repulsive way--we're not talking salt and vinegar crisps in a fish and chippery here--but it's there. White vinegar. A little bit of stone fruit on the palate. A sweetness. A little bitterness on the finish. There's subtle and there's ... bland.

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Hijack time. Or, rather, time to commandeer the thread. Nautical term.

 

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First up in the Official Sake and Assorted Rice-Based Booze Tasting ThreadTM is Takara Shuzo Co.'s Shochikubai Nigori Sake Junmai. My first taste of unfiltered sake. Served lightly chilled. Shaken. Poured into inappropriately-shaped glassware. Appearance, obviously, is cloudy. Almost like orgeat. Slightly milky texture but not as thick as I was expected. When I read about this stuff I envisioned something with the viscosity of Bailey's plus or minus a few lumpy bits. It's slightly sweet with a lemony sort of edge to it. Aroma of homebrew beer: yeasty, fermented. What you'd expect an unfiltered product to taste like, really. Berry. Blueberry, maybe. Fun misprint on the English language sticker suggests this bottle contains 21 standard drinks rather than 2.1. Which is fitting, really. This is pleasant enough, yeah, but clearly a little bit of unfiltered sake is a lot.

 

Nigorizake goes well with food, especially slightly spicy foods.

 

Rihaku Tokubetsu Junmai 'Dreamy Clouds' Nigori Sake is one I enjoy - a glass of it shown here and here.  It is only lightly cloudy ("usunigori").  Fruity.  (It seems this one technically qualifies as a ginjo)

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Another one I've picked up is Tozai Ginjo 'Voices in the Mist' Nigori Sake.  Also very lightly cloudy.  Fruity.  Pic below:

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EDIT 2

 

Here comes another. When I did my first big purchase, the guy behind the counter convinced me to buy this one. Why? It's the most popular. Ja, they sell this one more than any of the others. I nuked it according to the directions on the packaging, taking that as a sign this was another sake that was 'excellent' when heated. Booze on the nose. Harsh. All up your nose like wasabi jacked with English mustard. Blergh. Entry is a bit watery and insipid then there's a slight bitterness. Creamy texture. A touch of smoke. Overripe/rotten banana before a slight touch of BOOZE on the finish. Most popular? These people are on something. And that something is sure as shit not good sake.

 

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Did you try this one "un-nuked" (this doesn't mean time in the microwave does it? That is what I think of when I think of "nuking" something!)? If so was it any better?

 

I rarely drink sake but when I do (usually in Hawaii with friends of Asian background) we do little more than gently warm it to luke warm or perhaps slightly warmer.

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Did you try this one "un-nuked" (this doesn't mean time in the microwave does it? That is what I think of when I think of "nuking" something!)? If so was it any better?

 

I rarely drink sake but when I do (usually in Hawaii with friends of Asian background) we do little more than gently warm it to luke warm or perhaps slightly warmer.

 

No, I didn't try it prior to microwaving it. After the prescribed time the sake was warm. Certainly not hot.

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No, I didn't try it prior to microwaving it. After the prescribed time the sake was warm. Certainly not hot.

 

OK. I know that my friends in Hawaii never use a microwave (although I am not sure that makes any difference). They warm the sake using the equivalent of an electric tea pot looking appliance.

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I chose this one because the logo looks kind of cool. Like something you'd get on a Uniqlo t-shirt. Simple but cool. Dig, too, that it's another 'premium' sake. I have a couple more bearing this sticker. I'm not sure if it's a thing--as in a proper thing (made in a specific way using specific ingredients to some supposedly objective standard)--or just marketing pish. You know, the way damn near every second bottle of wine you buy bears stickers suggesting it won a gold medal in some category of some competition you've never heard of before. Wakaebisu Shuzo Co Ltd's Gizaemon. This is an interesting sake. There's a real tang to it. And a certain robustness. It's ... shit, let me step away from my comparisons to sexy women in sexy dresses for a moment and use the image of a dude from a romance novel cover. Big muscles. Manicured chest hair. Big arms that envelope you. You know, a dude that looks like that mantastic werewolf guy in True Blood. Woo ... Aside from the tang, which isn't a sour tang but more the kind of tang I associate with Lay's Light and Tangy crisps. Aside from that, yeah, no one flavour dominates. This is like one of those whiskies or wines or ... whatever that's just too fucking good for you to want to deconstruct. It's just nice. Like that werewolf guy.

 

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I chose this one because the logo looks kind of cool. Like something you'd get on a Uniqlo t-shirt. Simple but cool. Dig, too, that it's another 'premium' sake. I have a couple more bearing this sticker. I'm not sure if it's a thing--as in a proper thing (made in a specific way using specific ingredients to some supposedly objective standard)--or just marketing pish. You know, the way damn near every second bottle of wine you buy bears stickers suggesting it won a gold medal in some category of some competition you've never heard of before. Wakaebisu Shuzo Co Ltd's Gizaemon. This is an interesting sake. There's a real tang to it. And a certain robustness. It's ... shit, let me step away from my comparisons to sexy women in sexy dresses for a moment and use the image of a dude from a romance novel cover. Big muscles. Manicured chest hair. Big arms that envelope you. You know, a dude that looks like that mantastic werewolf guy in True Blood. Woo ... Aside from the tang, which isn't a sour tang but more the kind of tang I associate with Lay's Light and Tangy crisps. Aside from that, yeah, no one flavour dominates. This is like one of those whiskies or wines or ... whatever that's just too fucking good for you to want to deconstruct. It's just nice. Like that werewolf guy.

 

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Sounds enticing.  Wonder if this is available around these parts - i'll look for it.

 

Nice imagery.  :-)  BTW I presume you mean Joe Manganiello ("Alcide"), unless you had Grant Bowler ("Cooter") in mind instead.  :-D  Just a small niggle - neither one has a hairy chest. ;-)

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Open this one and you get knocked over the head by sourdough starter. It throws you in a bakkie and hauls you off somewhere to do bad things. This one's really ... different. There's fermentation on the palate, too. The sour funk of raw bread dough. At least, the way I'd imagine raw bread dough to taste when I open the plastic box after setting aside my Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day dough for a couple of weeks. There's also ... tonic water. Like, ja, gin and tonic. Fukui Shuzo's junmai. Another 'prestige sake association' drop, incidentally.

 

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An Australian sake. The label bangs on about Go-Shu being Australia's best sake. Go-Shu make two sakes. So far as I know--and perhaps I'm wrong--no one else makes sake in Australia.

 

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This has a restrained ... sake aroma. Balanced palate. Sorta fresh. Sorta creamy. Sorta umami. Unremarkable while still vaguely pleasant. My vague recollection of the classic--the plain old junmai, as opposed to the junmai ginjo--is of something a bit more interesting. 

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It's been a while. Hakushika Namachozo. Dig the frosted bottle, hepcats. Normally not an encouraging sign. Reminds me of a shower screen. Anyway. Nice balance of fruityness--stone fruit--and savouriness. The creaminess and sweet/sour balance of lemon curd, the sweeter kind, on the tail. Then, somehow, the finish goes all dry to remind you that this sake packs a punch.

 

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Sake seems to be going much more mainstream. The Wine and Spirits Education Trust has just launched a level 3 award in Sake (see here). Only available in UK at present.

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