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Before I dive into this month’s theme of Omachi rice, I'd like to review the unique characteristics of sake rice compared to table (eating) rice. All rice is composed of a starchy core with proteins and lipids on the outside. For table rice, the proteins and lipids are ideal so that the rice actually has flavor characteristics. For sake rice, brewers are most interested in the starchy core that can then turn into sugars and ultimately alcohol. So not only is sake rice about 30% bigger than the rice we usually eat, it has a higher starch ratio. I have eaten sake rice before, and it reminds me of risotto – firm, creamy, chewy, and starchy.

So this brings us to sake rice varieties. We are focusing on sakes made with Omachi rice, the fourth most-used sake rice today. It is also known to be the oldest sake rice – therefore, it is not a hybrid (which is true for almost all other sake rice on the market). Originated in Okayama Prefecture, Omachi is still grown mainly there. Although prized for its large grain size, Omachi rice is known to be hard to work with as the stalks are especially tall and prone to fall over during storms, and their disease resistance is low. During sake production, Omachi rice is also known to be softer than other varieties, forcing the toji to keep an especially close eye on its consistency during soaking and steaming.

For all of its quirks, Omachi rice is still sought after because it often displays a spectrum of flavors that are described as, "full of umami, sturdy, herbal, complex," while the number-one used sake rice, Yamada Nishiki, often yields sake that is referred to as, "beautiful, floral, soft." Whenever a new Omachi sake comes into town, it always surprises me. From white pepper to lemongrass to shiitake, Omachi sakes have tasting notes that are less fruity and floral and more umami-rich and spicy.

I am especially pleased to introduce the new Omachi from Heiwa Shuzo in Level 2 (the first time we are seeing outside of Japan, with Gumi members getting a third of what that arrived to the U.S. for the whole year).

If you are local, please know that our bar is now open Fri-Sun and I will be hosting Kaku-uchi Yoko most Thursdays, where I'll be serving sake and tea. Please check our events page online, follow us @umamimart, or join our Discord for dates and times.

Yoko, Co-Founder of Umami Mart and Kikizakeshi

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Kinokuniya Bunzaemon Junmai Ginjo

Nakano BC (Wakayama, Japan)

Seimaibuai: 55% Omachi, SMV: +2, Acidity: 1.3

This bottle comes from one of our favorite umeshu makers based in Wakayama, Nakano BC. I love this junmai ginjo because it throws you for a loop. I typically expect a junmai ginjo to be fruity and crisp, but this has an assertive cream-of-mushroom nose that is savory and robust – which is quintessential to sakes made with Omachi rice. Because this is a sturdy sake full of shiitake and enoki-aromas, go ahead and pair it with heavier foods like bacon-wrapped asparagus and creamy, cheesy dips at room temperature.

Echigozakura Daiginjo

Echigozakura Shuzo (Niigata, Japan)

Seimaibuai: 50% Yamada Nishiki, SMV: +4, Acidity: 1.3

We are going off-theme to showcase this pretty, light sake made with Yamada Nishiki rice, so you can contrast and compare with the umami-rich Omachi-made Bunzaemon above. This Daiginjo is refreshing and highly aromatic with notes of honeysuckle, cherry blossoms, and white peach. It comes just in time as fruit blossoms explode in the midst of spring. Based in Niigata, Echigozakura brewery uses state-of-the-art temperature-controlled, closed-top fermenters to achieve this especially fragrant brew. Try this crisp sake in a wine glass chilled to enjoy its pleasant bouquet with lighter foods like bean salad and red snapper sashimi with ponzu.

Kid Omachi Tokubetsu Junmai

Heiwa Shuzo (Wakayama, Japan)

Seimaibuai: 60% Omachi, SMV: +1, Acidity: 1.7

Heiwa Shuzo’s toji (brewmaster), Shibata-san, adeptly demonstrates what happens when one brews with Omachi. The flavor has a sturdy foundation of umami, with dancing scents of apple and muscat grapes, ending with a hint of acidity. Shibata-san describes the challenges associated with working with Omachi: "The temperature of the preparation is controlled so that the rice does not melt too much to ensure it is delicious but clean. If it gets too soft, it's difficult to make sake." Try this sake at room temperature in a ceramic cup with roasted chicken or toro-taku rolls.

Sanzen Bizen Omachi Tokubetsu Junmai

Kikuchi Shuzo (Okayama, Japan)

Seimaibuai: 65% Omachi, SMV: +2, Acidity: 1.5

For Kikuchi Brewery, the choice to use Omachi was obvious. Says 6th generation president Kikuchi-san, "It's a local rice, so it feels like it's a matter of course." Aware of how Omachi sake has more body and richness than Yamada Nishiki sake, they try to bring out a symphony of flavors by playing Mozart during the fermentation process. Enjoy notes (get it?) of white pepper, and aromas of banana at room temperature, and sauteed mushrooms when warm. Have this sturdy sake warm with curry rice or lamb chops!

Column: Sake Gumi News
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