Mad Dash To Dai Ginjos – Whoa take'er easy pardner!
I have several $150 sakes in True Sake, and I can honestly say that I have turned more people away from buying these sakes than I have sold. Why? Simple, I feel that they haven't done their time learning sake before appreciating the subtleties found in these amazing Dai Ginjos. This has caused some heated exchanges for sure. But I truly believe that one must earn the right to taste heaven.
Am I being a snob? The answer is absolutely not. I am being a guardian, and my quirky approach to the upper echelons of sakes is done out of respect rather than the chasing of the mighty buck. (Don't get me wrong – I like the mighty buck, but will risk it to make certain that a person's first taste of a supreme Dai Ginjo will be met with as much understanding as fascination.)
Junmai Dai Ginjos are the pride of most breweries. To prove this point they typically make Dai Ginjos at the end of a brewing season when the team is functioning perfectly. Typically at the beginning of a brewing season the kurabito will start making Honjozos (with added distilled brewers alcohol), Junmais, Ginjos and lastly the Dai Ginjos when the team is firing on all cylinders. Of course they use their best brewing rice, their best polishing rates, their best yeasts, their best storing tanks, etc. Dai Ginjos are pampered babies. They are the most labor- intensive sakes, and as such the most expensive.
At True Sake we sell Dai Ginjos from a brewery that usually gets credit for inventing Dai Ginjo polishing rates (50% removal and 50% remaining of each grain of rice). The brewery from Kochi prefecture called Tsukasabotan sells a certain Dai Ginjo called "Delouxe Hourei" which comes in an antique bottle that symbolizes the first of the Dai Ginjos. And many breweries thereafter have taken the art form known as Dai Ginjos to crazy levels such as polishing the rice to 17% and removing 83% of each grain of rice.
The bottom line is that people feel compelled to go straight for the best. But as I say Dai Ginjos are only the best in process not in personality. I much prefer customers to cut their teeth on Junmais (70% remaining). Once they have tasted a variety of sakes in this category then I say try some Ginjos (60% remaining). Then and only then do I recommend vaulting into the realm of just starch and water called Dai Ginjos. Ironically, when I want to woo somebody away from wine I will offer a Dai Ginjo, but once they see how amazing sake really is I tell them to go back to the beginning. It is about exploration.
Now you know why I won't sell a $150 bottle of Dai Ginjo to somebody who doesn't know sake. In a sense going to the top is cheating. It's like taking an elevator to the top of Mt. Everest. Wow the view may be grand, but knowing the feeling of risking it all on the way up using ropes and fortitude makes the view all the more special. You appreciate the top more when you have tasted the whole mountain.