Similar to what a vacation feels like in Gunma, the sakes they produce are gentle, supple, and leave you feeling refreshed. Both of the breweries we are featuring are proud of their well-water, citing the mountainous terrain ideal for snow melt. Both breweries also celebrate the natural beauty of Gunma by naming their sakes after native natural elements of the prefecture. Ryujin Brewery's Oze no Yukidoke (Oze’s snow melt) takes its name from Oze National Park (famous for its marshland), while Nagai Shuzo names its line of sakes after a specific flower that grows locally called Mizubasho.
So what do the sakes taste like? They are smooth and floral with a clean finish. The sakes are a great complement to lighter foods like konnyaku sashimi and Shimonita Negi. But for most of us who don't live in Gunma and don't have access to these particular foods, fresh foods like sweet cherry tomatoes, oysters, green beans, and blueberries are just as delightful.
Gunma sakes are perfect summer sakes. Here in Oakland, our hottest days tend to happen in September, so a chilled brew is fitting for this month. But wherever you are, have a Gunma Getaway with us, with these sakes.
LEVEL 1: Introductory Membership (Two 300ml bottles)
Nagai Brewery (Gunma, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Yamada Nishiki 50%, SMV: +4
Lay out the picnic blanket and bring a chilled bottle of Mizubasho! The aroma of Mizubasho Ginjo is that of a ripe, green summer melon. This summery sake is clear in color, light in texture and goes down very easily. We loved this sake alongside octopus and snapper ceviche. This light sake was also great with blueberries (which are abundant right now). It is named after a flower called Mizubasho (Asian Skunk Cabbage) which grows in the marshlands of Gunma. The brewer says, “Mizubasho sake is made with a focus on clean and pure tastes that reflects this flower’s natural beauty.”
Oze no Yukidoke Ohkarakuchi Junmai
Ryujin Brewery (Gunma, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Yamada Nishiki 60%, SMV: +10
A delicious accompaniment to smoked or seared salmon, this dry yet smooth sake is great either chilled or at room temperature. This sake is slightly yellow because it’s been aged for one year - resulting in a smooth texture. Enjoy the pronounced acidity and koji aroma in this sake with fatty cuts of meat like salmon belly, dan dan mien or lamb kebabs. I love this sake because of its pleasingly sukkiri (dry) finish while still capturing the umami from the rice.
LEVEL 2: Premium Membership (Two 720ml bottles)
Ryujin Junmai Daiginjo Namazume
Ryujin Brewery (Gunma, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Yamada Nishiki 50%, SMV: +1
This opulent Junmai Daiginjo Namazume is pasteurized once before aging for one year, but skips bottle pasteurization for a bit of effervescense on the nose. Notice cherries, cotton candy, and citrus. Followers of the Dragon God experience elegant sweetness in the front, tonic and floral notes in the middle, and a refreshing finish (classic Gunma!). Serve chilled with sashimi, chilled mussels, or summer green beans.
Takacho “Regal Hawk” Bodaimoto Junmai Muroka Genshu
Yucho Brewery (Nara, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Hino Hikari 60%, SMV: -25
This bodaimoto is not from Gunma, but we had to get our hands on it now, or else it would disappear. Bodaimoto (an old method of making sake, predating kimoto) involves an extra step before making the shubo (starter mash) where rice soaks in water for three days, allowing lactic acid to proliferate. The water (rich in lactic acid) is later used in the shubo, killing the bacteria and ushering healthy propagation of sake yeast. The result of this wild fermentation yields sakes that are highly acidic and tend to be more rustic than sokujo sakes that use modern techniques. That’s why you’ll notice muscat grapes, ume, and a weighty viscosity in Takacho. This sweet but highly acidic sake is great chilled with rich foods like uni, a creamy, stinky cheese or pork belly.