This month, I wanted to explore sakes made with rice that hasn't been super polished. These are sakes that go against the grain (get it?), that are moving away from refined, delicate daiginjos polished down to 50%, 23% or even 1%! We are featuring sakes that use rice that's just been polished down 75% or above - that's why we call them Extreme Junmais (junmais do not have a rice polishing ratio minimum, but tend to be at 70%).
Generally speaking, the less the rice grain is polished, the more robust and rich the sake. And the more it's polished, the more delicate and floral the sake. That's because when you take a look at the rice grain, there is a starchy core surrounded by proteins and fats. The more the proteins and fats are still included during the production of sake, the more bold and umami-rich flavors are present in the final brew.
All of the brewers have different motivations for making sakes using rice with less polishing. But the goal of Tenzan Brewery for making Level 2's Shichida 75 is especially timely. The brewer believed it was wasteful to polish off so much of the rice, and wanted to celebrate the flavors of the outer portion of the kernal. In a time when we are very aware of our food supply, getting the most out of our food is not only a necessity but a responsibility. I thought that the motivation of Tenzan was very inspirational in times like these. This also proves that the outer portion of the rice, which is usually polished off, carries so much personality and flavor.
I am a huge Mary J. Blige fan, and these sakes remind me of her 2005 ballad, Take Me As I Am. The rice grains are proclaiming they have no shame in all of their protein/fat/starch-rich glory!
Just so you can feel me, So you can get the real me
To highlight some of the local restaurants offering take-out during this time, I've paired these sakes with foods that are available in the East Bay. No matter where you are, we hope these sakes go well with your comparable take-out favorites.
And finally, thank you to all Sake Gumi members for staying in the club and offering your friendly voices over the phone and smiling faces at curbside pick up. Kayoko and I continue to serve all of your sake, shochu, and whisky needs during this time by offering shipping and curbside options! We can't wait to see everyone in the near future. In the meantime let's all be safe and sip sake at home!
Co-Founder + Sake Director
LEVEL 1: Introductory Membership (Two 300ml bottles)
Yuki Honoka Junmai
Take No Tsuyu (Yamagata, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Dewa no Sato 77%, SMV: +2
Take No Tsuyu uses a special kind of sake rice called Dewa no Sato, that has a particularly large, starchy core. So although they’ve only polished down to 77%, this sake tastes refreshing, and almost like a junmai ginjo - light bodied with hints of melon. It’s subtle, with a silky texture and aroma of caramel. Make it pizza night and have this sake chilled! Local take-out recommendation: the creamy, nutty Classic Hummus at Pomella in Oakland.
Harada Junmai 80
Hatsumomiji Co., Ltd. (Yamaguchi, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Yamada Nishiki 80%, SMV: +3
Many people mistake highly polished sake rice as a sign of quality, but Harada-san wanted to show the importance of good skill - so he sought to make a great sake using low-polished rice. Harada-san himself was surprised with the final taste of Harada 80! He couldn't believe how fruity it was for using rice that was polished to 80%. Indeed, you get pineapple, lychee, muscat grapes, and a touch of effervescence, complemented by a bold, dry, and assertive finish. Try this chilled with a bucket of fried chicken! Local take-out recommendation: Fried Chicken at the Kebabery in Oakland.
LEVEL 2: Premium Membership (Two 720ml bottles)
Onda Brewery (Niigata, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Ippon Jime 88%, SMV: -1
Kayoko and I visited Onda in 2018. There, Onda-san told us about his concept for the 88 - to create a sake with deep structure, backbone, and umami. I’d say he achieved it with this malty, mushroomy, yeasty brew. Onda-san is so fanatical about his rice, that he grows it on site (very rare for a sake brewer)! He is especially proud of his rice and wants people to taste it in all it’s 88% glory - I’d say that’s confidence. Try it warm with savory fried snacks. Local take-out recommendation: Fried Soba Snack from Soba Ichi in Oakland.
Tenzan Brewery (Saga, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Yamada Nishiki 75%, SMV: +4.5
In the early 2000s, brewers started listing polishing ratios on daiginjos to entice consumers (i.e. 50%, 23%, etc.). Turning this notion upside its head, Tenzan released this bottle and wrote "75" on their label. This caught people’s attention, for its punk rock attitude towards highly-polished daiginjos. This bold, juicy sake reminds me of grappa and drinks best at room temperature alongside BBQ or steak. Local take-out recommendation: Beef Curry at Teni Kitchen next door to us.