I’m back! I take over Sake Gumi for Yoko once in a while and am resurrecting my
theme from 2018, Holy Honjozo!. I love honjozos and feel it is a very underrated
sake category here in the States. People think junmai, as a “pure rice” sake, means it is a better sake. Well, I’d like to debunk this misconception right here and now!
Honjozos, sakes with added brewer’s alcohol, was a method created during the Edo period (1603-1868) to fortify sakes for better travel. Then, during World War II, it became a law that all sakes must add brewer’s alcohol for bigger yield – due to the rice shortage, it was forbidden to make junmais (using only rice, water, yeast, and koji). Once this ban was lifted, honjozos were pooh-poohed until the 80s, when daiginjo and ginjos* became showstoppers: premium sakes with super high rice polishing, with a small amount of brewer’s alcohol added (limited to up to 10% of the total volume). This addition of alcohol is thought of as an “aroma-booster” – that could not be achieved as well in a junmai ginjo or junmai daiginjo. To this day, the sakes that are entered the most into sake competitions are daiginjos, thanks to its trademark silky mouthfeel and distinct aromas.
I personally like honjozos for their light body and clean finish – you will find this in all of the sakes this month. Plus they are extremely food friendly! Don’t get me wrong, I do love junmais too, but as we get deeper into summer, there’s nothing like barbequing in the hot sun with a cold ginjo. Both Yoko and I thought Konteki daiginjo was super special, so we’re excited to offer this bottle to both levels.
Thanks for having me! Kanpai!
Yoko’s Sidekick + Shochu Director**
*If you see “daiginjo” or “ginjo” without “junmai” before it, it is made in the honjozo style.
** Ask me about our quarterly shochu club, Shochu Gumi!
LEVEL 1: Introductory Membership (Two 300ml bottles)
Kubota Senjyu Ginjo
Asahi Kubota Brewery (Niigata, Japan)
Seimaibuai: 55% Gohyaku Mangoku, SMV: +5
This sake is very popular both in Japan and stateside for its easy-drinking profile. Ginjos usually will leave you wanting more so don’t be surprised if this entire bottle is gone before you know it. I get crisp cucumbers and honeycomb on the nose, and a sharp, spicy kick in the front that vanishes quickly for a lush ending. This brew is quite boozy too. Enjoy cold with kale salad, summer vegetable stir fry, or something richer like duck curry.
Level 1 + 2 Crossover!
Konteki “Tears of Dawn” Daiginjo
Higashiyama Brewery (Kyoto, Japan)
Seimaibuai: 50% Yamada Nishiki, SMV: +3
The brewery owner of Higashiyama calls this sake his “Marilyn Monroe” and we’re thrilled that both Level 1 and 2 members can taste why. It’s voluptuous and silky in texture and leaves you feeling a little luxurious. I get bold notes of custard and
caramel, and oddly, a bit of bourbon-likeness. This may be due to the extra time the brewer takes to propagate the koji for this sake, resulting in a velvety daiginjo with hints of spice and a full body mouthfeel. Try chilled with grilled chicken parts (rare liver!), tuna poke, and Lyonnaise potatoes. For a bolder, savory flavors, go ahead and drink this daiginjo at room temp. The unique shape of the 720ml bottle is a tribute to the old sake bottle style from Kyoto.
LEVEL 2: Premium Membership (Two 720ml bottles)
Hakkaisan Brewery (Niigata, Japan)
Seimaibuai: 50% Yamada Nishiki + Gohyaku Mangoku, SMV: +5
Yoko and I have visited Hakkaisan a few times and are always in awe of how much care goes into their sake-making. All of their sakes use spring water from the Hakkaisan Mountain, called Raiden-sama no mizu or "water of the god Raiden. This is the hallmark of their sake: clean, easy to drink, and food friendly. This ginjo is a testament to these traits and passed my father Kuni’s tough screening for a good sake. His test is simply that you want more after your last sip. And you’ll want more of this! You’ll get tay and bubblegum, and ripe tropical fruit on the nose, while the taste is more green: cucumber, grass, and cedar. Its finish is dry. Enjoy cold with vongole pasta, maguro sashimi, and tonkatsu.