Sake Relationships – Maruto Sea Vegetables and Rokkasen Brewery
Sometimes I forget that I have been at this game for a long time. Then certain things remind me that I know a lot about the evolution of the sake industry outside of Japan. Good beginning huh? Interested? Well you should be because the “net net” is that we have a lot of new sakes in the store right now and you can thank my diminishing brain skills.
Where do I start? I could start way back in 2000 when I started making lists of sake importers into the US. I literally would look at every bottle of sake that I could find and then I’d write down the names of the importers and their city’s name. Why? Because there weren’t a lot of web addresses back then and most labels only included a business name and a city. Now this is leg work, people! I had to actually work for information and not just Google-it! I basically wanted to create a list of every group involved in importing sake into the US, so I could eventually inform them of my crazy idea to open the first dedicated sake store outside of Japan.
One name that I kept reading on the back of sake bottles was Maruto Sea Vegetables. It really intrigued me – sea vegetables! So I reached out to them and they told me politely to speak with their distributors in SF called Hosoda Brothers. And that was the beginning of a relationship with Maruto and Hosoda that was extremely kind and supportive. I ended up selling a lot of their sakes, including Juyondai! That’s right! The little food company in Torrance, California that sold seaweed and other sea vegetables had the rights to Juyondai – the powerhouse award winning brewery from Yamagata. You see Maruto Sea Vegetables as I would find out only sold rice, seaweed and sake from Yamagata Prefecture, and the owners had personal relationships with the sake brewers.
Fast-forward a decade and I noticed that my relationship with Maruto had diminished, because the relationship with Hosoda Brothers had diminished. Thus, my customers were now being denied sakes that I really valued and enjoyed. Worst yet, the same sakes were available at a local Japanese grocery store at very low prices. So, I did a little homework and figured out that these Rokkasen Brewery’s sakes were being brought up from LA and put directly into the grocery stores. Hmmmmm? It was a bummer, but I didn’t really inquire about it, because I didn’t fully comprehend the issue.
Fast-forward again, this time to May when I went to Yamagata Prefecture for the IWC. I wasn't expecting the meeting, but on one of the many glorious nights in Yamagata I met the owner of Rokkasen! I told him the whole story from my perspective and he said that he would reach out to Maruto, because, “We have to have our sakes back in True Sake!” This made me feel sort of proud, but I could also see some second hand problems. I didn’t want to bushwhack Maruto! Lo and behold upon my return to SF I got the call and email from Maruto. It was all good, and it was all positive, and I really like the Soga-san, who is the current owner. We had met many years ago at the store, but I couldn’t remember so I suggested that I would drive down to LA to check out their operation and discuss what we could do for the customers of Rokkasen sake.
So what the heck does this mean to you? It means we have YAMAGATA in the house now! I like the brewery so much that we took on 5 new products for you to taste and enjoy! (Actually there are 7 new products but 2 of them are for a limited time so make sure to get the Sparkling Sake set from this killer brewery in the “Sake Surprise Section”)
Rokkasen “Godanjikomi” Junmai (SMV: -12) $26/720ml
I love this sake, always have, and was sad to see it gone. But it is back! And you should be glad! Yes, it is on the sweet side, but it is not cloying or too goopy! I used to claim it was the best sake in the biz to take to Chinese Dim Sum. The round and soft flavors go so well with the savory and steamed flavors. And I was not aware but this brew was voted one of the top selling “Warming Sakes” in Japan! Woot! Great to warm and great with food!
Rokkasen “Yamahoshi” Junmai Ginjo $28/720ml
I’m very glad that this flavor Junmai Ginjo is back in the inventory. I always loved the blue bottle, but it’s the full-bodied flavor of this brew that will talk to our customers. It’s very Yamagata in feeling and flavor. It’s clean, but not Niigata “typical” clean that has no body. Instead it has a nice mouth feel and is very layered in nature. A wonderful addition to our Junmai Ginjo offerings at a very good price point.
Rokkasen “Yamahoshi” Daiginjo $13/300ml
This is new addition to the True Sake portfolio and you can thank KJ for confirming that this sake is very expressive, complex, but extremely drinkable. It has a great fruity aroma and drinks velvety and smooth. I brilliant Daiginjo at an equally brilliant price point. We don’t have a lot of 300ml Daiginjo so it is a very welcome brew to this high end category.
Rokkasen Junmai “Godanjikomi” Nigori $8/300ml
Ha! We have not added a lot of nigoris to the store as of late. But, it is still a very popular segment, so this unfiltered beauty is very welcome company for our customers who are fans of the “foggy” sakes. Creamy, round and smooth it is perhaps the most elegant of our 300ml Nigoris. Yes, I used the word elegant, which is uncommon when describing white bum rushes of flavor. And at this price point it is pound for pound the best creamy brew in the store right now.
Rokkasen “Temahima” Junmai Daiginjo $42/720ml
Lots of breweries have two or three lines of brands for their sakes. Rokkasen has a line called Temahima and it is for some very delicious high-end brews. This Junmai Daiginjo that has the handprint of the former Governor of Yamagata, who was considered the best business governor ever, is a very sophisticated sake that speaks to those who enjoy elegant complexity! I love the look, but I really love the flavor of this sake! It makes a great gift, because you are always giving somebody a “hand.”