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This month, we will be focusing on Tokubetsu sakes. Tokubetsu means "special" in Japanese. In the world of sake types there is the Tokubetsu Junmai and Tokubetsu Honjozo. As you may recall, junmais are sakes that only uses four ingredients (rice, water, yeast and koji) while honjozo has a fifth ingredient of grain alcohol (added to the mash to subdue ricey aromas).


A brewer will make several types of sakes, ranging from nigori, to junmai to daiginjo – covering the spectrum of sake styles. Often times, nestled in the lineup will be a Tokubetsu sake. Out of all the sakes that a brewery offers, the junmais and honjozos are generally the standard products – the most economical and versatile. The rest of the lineup ranges from the sometimes cheaper nigoris to the extravagant and indulgent daiginjos.


Why would a brewer make a Tokubetsu Junmai or Tokubetsu Honjozo when they already have a junmai or honjozo in their portfolio? Often times, the Tokubetsu version of a brewery's junmai or honjozo is the souped up version of their standard style. There are no rules as to what a brewer can label as their Tokubetsu "special" sake. It can be that they polished the rice more, used a different type of rice, or fermented the mash for longer. When a sake is labeled Tokubetsu, the brewer is purposely highlighting that one is special.


If the brewer is famous for ginjo style, you may see that their Tokubetsu Honjozo would also qualify as a ginjo. Or if a brewer is inclined to make more rustic brews, their Tokubetsu Junmai might be a yamahai junmai (as is the case with the Ichinokura Tokubetsu Junmai this month at both levels). Since the brewmaster can choose the technique as to why s/he considers it special, it's a peek into their mind.


I often find that when I try a brewery's Tokubetsu sake, I am the closest to the toji's (brewmaster’s) vision for the brewery. I also find that whenever I ask the toji for her/his favorite sake, they usually choose their Tokubetsu sake. It's like their favorite child!


Sake Gumi Pro Tip: when you see a menu at a restaurant, take a chance on a Tokubetsu Junmai or Tokubetsu Honjozo. I am often pleased with Tokubetsu styles when ordering blindly!


Kanpai,


Yoko


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Sake Gumi Umami MartHarada Tokubetsu Junmai
Hatsumomiji Brewery (Yamaguchi, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Yamada Nishiki 50%, SMV: +3


Created by Mr. Harada, the brewery owner and brewmaster himself, this Tokubetsu Junmai uses Yamada Nishiki rice that has been milled down to 50%, qualifying it as a junmai ginjo. However,  Mr. Harada did not want to label it as a junmai ginjo because he wanted to the sake to pair well with food. Believing that the fruity ginjo aroma interferes with food pairings, he used a yeast called Yamaguchiken Yeast H9, which mades the sake less fragrant. The relatively high acidity (at 1.7) also makes it an ideal sake for pairing with food. Although the aroma is subdued, the mouthfeel is viscous and custardy and has the depth of a complex red wine, with a warm whisky-like finish. Recommended at room temperature or slightly warm with savory pizza or herbed chicken.


Sake Gumi Umami MartEnyu Yamahai Tokubetsu Junmai
Ace Brewery (Miyagi, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Sasanishiki 60%, SMV: +1~3


Yogurt! Sesame! Chestnuts! ...are just some of the bold notes I have in my notebook for Enyu. This sake is silky with layered umami. It is great for pairing with grilled meat, oysters, unagi, and mushrooms. Just in time for BBQ season! So what makes this sake Tokubetsu? Several reasons: 1) the brewmaster uses a rice called Sasanishiki. This type of rice is native to Miyagi and is a table rice (mainly used for eating) versus a sake rice, so the grains are smaller, thus, does not retain moisture. 2) Enyu is made using the yamahai method, which involves natural occurring lactic acid. 3) It is aged for a minimum of one year, which creates an incredibly deep and complex brew. Enyu means “to harmonize”. The brewer's intention is that through the one-year aging process, this sake WILL harmonize with food. Great chilled, at room temperature, or warm!


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Sake Gumi Umami MartNito Omachi 48 Nama Genshu Junmai Daiginjo
Maruishi Jozo Brewery (Aichi, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Omachi 48%, SMV: -1


Although this sake is not a Tokubetsu sake, it is quite special because Umami Mart is the only one to carry it in California. It also uses highly polished Omachi rice from Okayama Prefecture. Omachi rice yields brews that are more herbal and spicy and this sake is no exception. The Nito Omachi 48 starts like a daiginjo (pears and honeysuckle) but takes a u-turn midway and finishes slightly bitter and peppery, thanks to its pronounced acidity. Have this sake chilled – the brewer recommends pairing this sake with gorgonzola and honey, and lambchops.


Sake Gumi Umami MartEnyu Yamahai Tokubetsu Junmai
Ace Brewery (Miyagi, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Sasanishiki 60%, SMV: +1~3


Yogurt! Sesame! Chestnuts! ...are just some of the bold notes I have in my notebook for Enyu. This sake is silky with layered umami. It is great for pairing with grilled meatoystersunagi, and mushrooms. Just in time for BBQ season! So what makes this sake Tokubetsu? Several reasons: 1) the brewmaster uses a rice called Sasanishiki. This type of rice is native to Miyagi and is a table rice (mainly used for eating) versus a sake rice, so the grains are smaller, thus, does not retain moisture. 2) Enyu is made using the yamahai method, which involves natural occurring lactic acid. 3) It is aged for a minimum of one year, which creates an incredibly deep and complex brew. Enyu means “to harmonize”. The brewer's intention is that through the one-year aging process, this sake WILL harmonize with food. Great chilled, at room temperature, or warm!

Column: Sake Gumi News

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