Does the type of rice affect the flavor of sake like the type of grape affects the flavor of a wine? The short answer is yes. Brewers will choose specific rice strains to create a desired flavor for a sake. But, it’s also important to remember that yeast strains and how the koji is cultivated also determines the flavor of sake.
In April 2016 we focused on the #1 most commonly used sake rice, Yamada Nishiki. You may remember that sakes made with Yamada Nishiki are often lush and round, with fruity and floral notes. If you notice a floral character in a daiginjo, that’s thanks to the Yamada Nishiki.
This month, we focus on Gohyakuman-goku, the second most commonly used sake rice. Gohyakuman-goku is a hybrid of Kikusui and Shin-200-go rice, created in Niigata Prefecture in the 1930s. Although most sakes that use Gohyakuman-goku rice are from Niigata, Fukui is not far behind. Using Gohyakuman-goku rice for sake production is desirable for two main reasons: 1) it makes a clean, light, and refreshing brew and, 2) the rice stalks are sturdier and taller than Yamada Nishiki, making it more tolerant to high winds and storms.
Gohyakuman-goku is comprised of two words: gohyakuman (5 million), and goku, which is a counter word representing 1.8L. The rice was named after the maximum yield of production that they achieved in Niigata at the time of its naming in the 1930s.
I like Gohyakuman-goku sakes because they aren’t as opulent or showy as some Yamada Nishiki sakes that often have notes of cotton candy and bananas. Gohyakuman-goku sakes are more reserved, austere, and understated; they are generally really easy to drink, but can reveal some unexpected characteristics. For example, the Shunka Shusetsu Echizen Junmai Ginjo in Level 1 has some great minerality, while the Kagatsuru Junmai Ginjo at Level 2 has a wonderful bouquet of warm chestnuts.
This month I am especially excited to try Gohyakuman-goku sakes with many of you at our Umami Mart Sake Dinner with Kosuke Bistro on April 1. If you were lucky enough to get tickets, we’ll see you there!
LEVEL 1: Introductory Membership (Two 300ml bottles)
Shunka Shusetsu Echizen Junmai Ginjo
Koshi No Iso Shuzo (Fukui, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Gohyakuman-goku 50%, SMV: +4
This sake is too cool for school. It starts quietly, presents itself will a little body in the middle and ends dry. The subtle tobacco-like minerality and salinity makes it a great sake for pairing with fish and oysters. This is a great representation of a sake made with Gohyakuman-goku as it is light, moderately lactic, and slightly astringent on the finish. This sake is a muroka (not charcoal-filtered), so it has a golden hue. Enjoy chilled or at room temperature.
Matsuno Kotobuki Ginjo
Matsui Shuzo (Tochigi, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Gohyakuman-goku 55%, SMV: +5.5
In this sake, we notice a bouquet of tropical fruit including coconuts and lychee, which is typical of ginjo yeast. But the characteristics of the Gohyakuman-goku rice come through in its flavor – with minerals, mint, and cedar. This sake skips the usual pasteurization before aging, capturing its bright, fresh, herbal characteristics after pressing. Sip this refreshing sake chilled or at room temperature with fresh spring rolls, maguro, or a bay shrimp salad.
LEVEL 2: Premium Membership (Two 720ml bottles)
Kirinzan Shuzo (Niigata, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Gohyakuman-goku 65%, SMV: +6
I couldn’t help including a sake from Niigata, which is the birthplace of Gohyakuman-goku. This is another Gohyakuman-goku sake that has pronounced minerality and light body. I’d bring this to a casual potluck or picnic because it is versatile and unfussy. It’s dry but well-rounded, and you’ll get toasted pistachios and oats on the nose. Great at room temperature or warm with kinpira gobo, asparagus, or radishes with kewpie mayo.
Kagatsuru Junmai Ginjo
Yachiya Shuzo (Ishikawa, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Gohyakuman-goku 55%, SMV: +3
This sake will be paired with the second course, Maitake with fermented mushroom bouillon and egg yolk pickles, at our April 1st Umami Mart Sake Dinner. This is another example of an easy drinking Gohyakuman-goku sake that surprises you with an unexpected, earthy aroma - bursting with chestnuts and mushrooms. In additon to being a great pairing with maitake mushrooms, try this with roasted poultry. Although this sake can be enjoyed chilled, I liked it best at room temperature.