It's no secret here at Umami Mart – I am a huge fan of yamahai and kimoto style sakes. So much so that I dedicate one month of Sake Gumi to them every year. Earthy, mushroomy, acidic, and savory are just some of the common descriptors of these sakes.
The wild and often acidic flavors present in kimotos and yamahais are due to the fact that lactic acid is allowed to develop naturally in the yeast mash. On the other hand, sokujo sakes, which make up 90% of sakes on the market, are made by adding pure lactic acid during the fermentation process. Cultivating lactic acid naturally results in a lively, robust sake.
What’s the difference between a kimoto and yamahai? Kimoto is the original style of making sake. In addition to incorporating naturally-forming lactic acid during fermentation, the kurabito (brewers) are required to physically mash the rice with a long pole. Mixing and mashing the rice during this process reduces the amount of oxygen present in the mixture, promoting the proliferation of lactic acid. At some point in time, brewers realized that they didn’t need to mix the mash with poles at all for lactic acid to proliferate sufficiently, hence the yamahai style was born. If we were to oversimplify the taste profiles of the two, kimotos tend to be more rustic and earthy, while yamahais tend to be bright and slightly tart.
I am especially excited about the yamahais and kimotos this month because although they differ from one another, each one is a great example of yamahai or kimoto sakes. From the mushroomy Suehiro in Level 1 to the acidic Amabuki in Level 2, each sake is layered, surprising, and intense – just as yamahais and kimotos are intended.
To enjoy the spectrum of flavors in these sakes, drink them at room temperature or slightly warm. Chilling tends to exaggerate the acidity – and you may miss some prominent, exciting flavors.
Happy New Year,
That’s me, mixing the mash with a pole
LEVEL 1: Introductory Membership (Two 300ml bottles)
Suehiro Densho Junmai Yamahai
Suehiro Sake Brewery (Fukushima, Japan)
Seimaibuai: 60%, SMV: +1
Kick off 2018 with this cozy brew full of earthy, mushroomy aromas. Upon closer enjoyment, you will also notice tropical pineapple and cherry flavors. If you are a fan of funk and “notes of a musty basement,” this one is for you! Suehiro is textbook yamahai that has a fragrance full of sake lees and yeast. Pair with foods that are equally funky like lamb and unpastuerized or stinky cheeses. Enjoy at room temperature.
Kasumi Tsuru Kimoto Extra Dry
Kasumi Tsuru Brewery (Hyogo, Japan)
Seimaibuai: 65%, SMV: +5
At room temperature or slightly warm, the aromas of sweet potato and caramel come to life in this extra dry kimoto honjozo. The savory umami present in this kimoto is a satisfying contrast to the extra dry ending that delivers spice. Let the flavors expand in your mouth with flavorful foods like barbecue chicken, pesto pasta or Japanese curry.
LEVEL 2: Premium Membership (Two 720ml bottles)
Amabuki Yamahai Junmai
Amabuki Shuzo (Saga, Japan)
Seimaibuai: 65%, SMV: +4
This yamahai is juicy, acidic, with a hint of mintiness. Made with marigold yeast, the nose is fruity and floral (a bit like a daiginjo) and the hue is slightly golden. I’d recommend this sake to lovers of Viognier because of its soft and fruity build and fans of Chablis because of its acidity. Pair this unique yamahai at room temperature with herbed seafoods (mussels or white fish with parsley) or hummus spiced with cumin.
Tengumai Yamahai Jikomi Junmai
Shata Shuzo (Ishikawa, Japan)
Seimaibuai: 60%, SMV: +4
This sake is all pleasure. From its golden hue and its fragrance full of raisins and plums – to its balance of savory, creamy and juicy flavor characteristics. Although this sake is not aged, it is reminiscent of one from the structure and aromas of dried fruits. I love the sturdiness of this sake that expands and reverberates with time. The high acidity in this sake is yet another great example of how acid plays a prominent role in yamahai sakes. Thanks to its acidity, it pairs well with steak, and oily foods like Chinese take-out! Drink this at room temperature or slightly warm.