The rice used to make Uka sake, KR55 Koda Farms® Heirloom Organic Kokuho Rose rice is grown in California’s San Joaquin Valley
Since the start of Sake Gumi in 2015, it has been on my list to run a theme on organic sake. Although I would come across sakes made with yuuki (organic) rice, or considered organic by the JAS (Japan Agriculture Standards), they could not officially be labeled as organic in the U.S. Therefore, my criteria for selecting sakes for the theme was that they were considered organic by the USDA.
Going organic takes commitment. Not only does it take time to research organic methods, it often involves lots of money to create production areas dedicated to organic production, and payment of fees to get certified. So why do it? All of the brewers featured this month expressed a larger societal goal. Takeshi Endo of Kikusui Sake USA emphasizes how organic practices strengthen the company as a whole, “(By brewing organic), all employees learn the importance of environmental protection, considering the human body, and the natural environment.”
Munemori Ozaki, the President of Tentaka Shuzo says, “I wanted to pass on the rich nature of the place I was born and raised to future generations.” He also expresses the group effort involved, “Organic sake-making is supported by many people: farmers who prepare the soil, make rice seeds, grow rice, harvest, people in transportation, brewers, and finally, our customers. We need everyone’s support and understanding to continue brewing organic.” For Uka Sake, the concept spans generations and continents. “The idea to make organic sake from California’s Koda Farms organic proprietary KR55 rice variety originated around 2018 from the desire and obligation of the third generation (Japanese-American Koda family) to add something new and special to the Koda family’s legacy in rice,” says Hayato Yusa of Uka Sake. Uka Sake reunites the two cultures by brewing sake in Fukushima, Japan with rice grown in the U.S.
Organic sake is defined by its practices and the resulting benefits that occur in the final product are secondary. “No matter how good the organic rice is, if the factory that processes it is full of chemicals, it’s no good. Kikusui Sake Brewery has established a new certified ‘organic space’ to prevent chemical substances and raw materials from coming into contact with each other.” Yusa of Uka echoes the sentiment, “I don’t think the aroma and taste is because it’s organic rice. Organic certification can only be achieved through organic methods.” However, Ozaki of Tentaka nods to the fact that organic foods have a certain quality, “Just like the flavors of organic tomatoes and cucumbers are mild without harsh flavors, organic sake is soft and mild. Non-organic sake may be able to express the aroma and flavor, but only organic sake can give a gentle texture when you sip.”
The time for organic sake is now! Although Kikusui blazed the trail by releasing their organic sake back in 2007, seeing more organic offerings from Japan is a relatively new phenomenon. Says Monica Samuels of Vine Connections (who imports Tentaka sakes), “Organaka first launched in the U.S. market in 2014 but production was limited at first and we have recently started receiving more product.” Michael John Simkin, Uka’s national director adds, “The first batch of Uka arrived in the U.S. in September 2019. Now, with its fourth season of brewing underway, the Uka line is available in 14 states and expanding.”
I can certainly get behind the mission of these sakes which all seem to affirm their commitment to sustainability and the environment. I am pleased to finally be able to round up four organic bottles of sake that I’m proud to introduce after eight years of Sake Gumi. Kanpai!
Yoko, Co-Founder + Sake Director
Uka Dry Organic Junmai Daiginjo
Ninki Shuzo (Fukushima, Japan)
Seimaibuai: KR55 Koda Farms® Heirloom Organic Kokuho Rose 40%, SMV: +7, Acidity: 1.5
“More than just sake, Uka is a continuation of strengthening relationships with Japan and remembering our roots,” says Hayato Yusa of Uka Sake. Brewed in Fukushima using California rice, this sake has aromas of green apple, pear, and chamomile. This sake is as advertised – light and dry, perfect for having chilled alongside mushrooms sauteed in butter or roasted chicken.
Kikusui Junmai Ginjo Organic
Kikusui Sake Co. (Niigata, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Organic Niigata Koshihikari 55%, SMV: +2, Acidity: 1.4
Keeping the outdoor-oriented and environmentally conscious crowd in mind, Kikusui Sake created this fresh junmai ginjo that has aromas of banana and melons. Simple dishes like fresh tofu with a dab of miso or bonito sashimi are recommended as a pairing. Enjoy chilled or at room temperature. I was delighted to hear that Susumu Tanaka designed this label, who also desiged the iconic packaging for my late father’s favorite cigarette brand Mild Seven.
Uka Black Label Organic Junmai Daiginjo
Ninki Shuzo (Fukushima, Japan)
Seimaibuai: KR55 Koda Farms® Heirloom Organic Kokuho Rose 40%, SMV: -1, Acidity: 1.6
Sumptuous and silky as a junmai daiginjo should be, this sake is multi-layered. Get aromas of tropical fruit, strawberries, and flavors of light clover honey. There’s some body on this one so it’s great to take in the symphony of aromas in a burgundy wine glass chilled alongside decadant dishes like crab and black cod. Masanori Baba, who co-directed the Koda Farms documentary Seed, designed the Uka logo and labels.
Tentaka Shuzo (Tochigi, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Organic Asahi No Yume 68%%, SMV: +5, Acidity: 1.9
In addition to using organic rice, Munenori Ozaki of Tentaka notes that the compost used in the rice farming is organic. Additionally, he says they use organic in-house yeast. “Heat Organaka to 108°F and enjoy warm in a small hirahai in one sip,” says Ozaki-san, “pour it into raw oysters and enjoy them without a sauce! Enjoy with creamy dishes such as risotto.” These pairings enhance the acidity and umami of the rice and highlights its refreshing aftertaste.