June 2007

Sake Spotlight - Miwa Wang Looks at Kasumi Tsuru Nama Genshu Honjozo

Posted by admin in 2007, June, Newsletter, Sake Spotlight

For this "Sake Spotlight" we look within the fine confines of True Sake to get a real pro's take on a very unusual and dramatic Honjozo that has become a store favorite. Miwa, as most of you know, is the manager of True Sake and is an accomplished Sake Sommelier. She is also a heck of a cook and quite the foodie and many of her sake taste and aroma sensations are founded in this fact. This is Miwa's second Spotlight and I must say that she has come a very long way in her ability to convey sake. Please enjoy Miwa's "Spotlight" on the Crane of Kasumi

Kasumi Tsuru "Crane of Kasumi"
Shiboritate Nama Genshu Honjozo

Last spring was the first time I tasted this seasonal nama (unpasteurized) sake from the Japan-Sea side of Hyogo prefecture. I remember taking the bottle to a nearby sushi joint, sat at the counter and took notes. I kept feeling how flavorful, fun, and structured this Honjozo-style sake was. Although I drank only about a quarter the bottle, the memory of this sake stayed with me a long time.

This freshly pressed (shiboritate), unpasteurized, undiluted (genshu) sake is a Honjozo. Honjozo is a type of sake where the brewing rice is milled to 70% or less, and made with rice, water, koji-rice and a limited amount of distilled alcohol. This sake is made from a local rice called "Gohyakumankoku, which is milled to 63% for koji-mai and 68% for kake-mai. The yeast used is the foamless version of the most commonly used yeast in the country, #7. The alcohol level of this sake is 20% compared to 15-16% for most sakes and that, in my opinion, makes it a great party sake.

When you open the bottle, a sweet aroma of ripe fruit and cream, like banana pie, arises gently. This aroma blends with the refreshing acidity of fresh fruit and the boldness of genshu in the glass. Served cold, it feels sweet and warm like tropical air. The flavor of fermented rice feels comfy while the heat of genshu makes you warm like the sun. Since this sake is undiluted, adding one or two ice cubes transforms the sake into something new (although I don't recommend doing this to most sakes.) The texture becomes very smooth, while the sweetness and flavor come forward as the heat retreats. I think this sake is a perfect companion for grilled seafood as well as something spicy and bold such as curry. Also because of a slightly higher alcohol level, this sake pairs wells with rich foods like yellowtail teriyaki, Japanese-style steak with butter and a splash of soy sauce, or Chinese seafood dishes. Every spring I take time to enjoy this sake.

When I learned the president of Kasumi Tsuru, Mr. Fukumoto was visiting San Francisco in early April, I was quite excited. Upon arriving at True Sake, he displayed a great enthusiasm and willingness to share information right away. He began explaining passionately about their sake making, particularly the Kimoto** and Yamahai*** brewing methods. He also presented me with the company brochure, which illustrated the process of making "shubo." (Shubo is a starter yeast mixture and in this case made using the Kimoto method.) Although I am familiar with several processes, his brochure included a step called "te-moto", a term I never heard of before.

Later in the evening I tried the sake with Mr. Fukumoto, Tamiko-san from Joto Sake Import, and Mr. Tomita from Shichihonyari—yet another interesting brewery. As we sat and talked, I learned that Kasumi Tsuru Shiboritate Nama Genshu Honjozo is seasonal, meaning the locals get it around December. And for the domestic market they make the sakes "sokujo" style, a widely practiced, faster brewing method, while for the export Yamahai style. When I asked Mr. Fukumoto why there were two different methods, his answer was simple and humorous: the locals just can't wait too long to have this tasty sake. In other words, if it is made Yamahai-style, more days are needed to complete the brew. I learned something new again.

Next evening, I tasted the sake again at a sake event hosted by Joto at Tokyo Go Go. Afterward, Mr. Fukumotot showed us a DVD of their sake making process, including the "te-moto" step I mentioned earlier. He told me the brewery used to make shochu and have the equipment to distill sake, so the brewers alcohol used for their Honjozo is house-made. Another unique point about their sake is the use of local brewing rice called Hyogo Kitanishiki, which is only grown in the town where the brewery is located. At the end of the evening, I asked him what the special local cuisine of Kasumi is. With a smile he said, "squid sashimi for summer and crab-shabu-shabu for winter." I am so there, and I hope you are too.

(Terms such as *Honjozo, **Kimoto, ***Yamahai, please visit the English-version of their site or contact me at the store.)

Thank you Miwa! This brew sells for $31/720ml and is again seasonal so don't miss out. I believe we ran out of this sake in Septemeber last year!

Kasumi Tusuru "Crane of Kasumi" 
From Hyogo Prefecture.
Nama Honjozo Genshu. SMV: +1.5 Acidity: 1.5
A "fresh" sake nose filled with cherry blossom, mineral, apple and cantaloupe elements. This Genshu (undiluted) Honjozo is a full- bodied sake that feels slinky but has ubber attitude. Layers of flavors such as plum skin, honeydew melon, and ripe apples dance on a chunky flow of complexity that drinks far smoother than all of the "action" would indicate. It is a "wide" nama that speaks expansively but finishes in a whisper that lets you know the power of freshly released sake. Think a banquet of feeling and flavor in a limo-ride texture.
WORD: Honeydew
WINE: Bulky reds/ Chewy whites
BEER: Ales and mellow Stouts
FOODS: American sushi, zesty salads, hot dogs/burgers with mustard, grilled meats.

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