June 2008

Sake Spotlight - BT Does "BY" (Kikuhime That Is!)

Posted by admin in 2008, June, Newsletter, Sake Spotlight

sake spotlight june 2008I won't lie - it's $125 per bottle! Stop reading right here if you cannot afford a bottle. Stop reading right here if you can afford a bottle but would never purchase one on principal. Stop right here if you think that Yaegaki Mu is the best Dai Ginjo ever made. (It's a good brew - don't get me wrong!) Go no further if you don't really want to "know" sake.

Recently I sent my buddy an email that said that I wanted to be embalmed in Kikuhime Dai Ginjo when the Great One punches my ticket. He replied, "By the time you die I will have drunk it all. That sake is one of the best I have had. I agree." And this is coming from a fellow person who is not in the business of saying "favorites." We just never answer that question - "what is your favorite sake?" But in the dark corners of after hours emails we at times let our guards slip and say crazy things like "best" or "most favorite" or "da-shit!" (We never say, "da-bomb" for obvious sake-bomb reasons)

I remember my first! Love? Hell no! I remember my first taste of Kikuhime's Dai Ginjo. The bottle was a present from my pal Ryuta Sakamoto - of Kappo Sakamoto in Kyoto and Medicine Restaurant in SF fame. (A brew that they keep permanently on their menu in Kyoto.) He thought that I might enjoy it. He thought wrong. I loved it. So much so that I went to my importer of this kura, who I used to sell their Yamahai Junmai (too big for the average sake drinker), and said I need this Dai Ginjo. So three years ago said importer brought Kikuhime Dai Ginjo to our shores to be sold exclusively at True Sake. No other place outside of Japan carries this brew, nor should they! It's home is in the home of sake.

The name of this AAA Yamadanishiki-rice-made-sake is BY, which of course stands for "Brewing Year." What's the difference between a "brewing year" and a calendar year? Think in terms of rice! Rice from one season is used in the next - Fall '06 rice used for January '07 sake for example. A brewing year begins on July 1st and ends in June of the following year. This acronym also represents the "emperors calendar," which designates the current year of the current emperor. for example this year of 2008 is the 20th year of the current emperor's reign - thus we are in year 20 and a brew bottled this month would read 20-06 or June 2008. This brew, however, is laid down for a year and a quarter and then bottled and released roughly 1 1/2 years after turning rice into liquid! Add the fact that this baby is carrying roughly 18% alcohol - Genshu, and you get a brew that has stability in the bottle.

Kikuhime is an extremely well known brewery in Ishikawa Prefecture. (Amongst sake drinkers it represents one of "those" breweries where soul and passion reigns supreme - and has done so since 1570.) I won't touch on the amazing packaging of this brew - hey for a buck twenty-five it better be classy as all get out! I will however speak to the style that this brew chooses to define its contents - confident and different!

Herewith are my notes of said first tasting experience in the summer of '05:

Bottle Nose: Koji rice and cherries. Nose: Sweet rice, melon, mild fruit, and noughet. "A plump and ripe Dai Ginjo with 'perfect' amounts of balance and character." "Thick and ripe, slightly fruity sake with grains and a subtle savoriness." "Structure is so sound - thick legs on glass could have told you that - this produces and very slow dissolve in palate." "So plump and rewarding - the acidity swims in the thickness - and the finish is tremendous (say hello to a peek-a- boo mild tail)." "There is a hint of sweetness that rides the chewy flavor push - super soft and silky with slick and chewy flavor elements." WORD: Perfect WINE: Fat Pinot Noir/Chewy Whites BEER: $8 Ales (I cannot remember writing that but love it!)Now since that fateful first tasting I have secretly squirreled this brew to special occasions across this great land - hell I even took it to New Orleans to pair with Cajun food! And on my personal "sweetness/dryness" scale - a system that I invented by necessity before I knew about the Sake Meter Value or Nihonshu-do - I gave it a 4, which lo and behold is the same number I gave the brew tonight when re-reviewing it for the Sake Spotlight! Basically this sake is so solid - so balanced - so even that it would take a natural disaster to throw this beast off kilter.

Here is my most current review of a brew that is dated 17BY, which means brewing year 2005! (Aged for a year and a half and bottled/released in December 2006) and please note that we only have 4 more cases of this beauty in a bottle:

Bottle Nose: Deep Cherry (same as first smell over 3 years ago - yes a different BY all together) - consistency nevertheless! Nose: Per usual I use three different sized vessels when tasting a brew for review - Melon, hint of vanilla, steamed rice, and salt water. "Round and soft - deep and layered - with a gentle reminder of aging." "Superb balance with a gentle richness." "Round and pampered extolling a quick finish with a lingering tail - deeper and deepest a sense of floating richness pervades." "Soft and supple with just an amazing feel - a mouth gripping experience - solid and so even." "Drinks better in an Izakaya-style (sake pup glass that looks like a cut-off Italian table wine glass) and does not get rewarded in a larger vessel." "Look for white rasin, cucumber, steamed rice, cooked pineapple, and honey roasted nut elements." "A taste of sweetness presents itself when you airate the brew between your teeth." "Drinks far more elegantly chilled, far more expressive at room temperature, and far more soulful when warmed ever so slightly." WORD: Balanced WINE: French Pinot Noir/White Burgundy BEER: Controlled Belgians FOODS: Yup! Even Cajun! Will take on all-comers!

Why did I bring this brew out into the Sake Spotlight? Are you thinking that I want to sell a lot of $125 bottles of sake? You really don't know us at True Sake if you think this! No - the reason is really quite innocent and pure. I present this brew because it is a foothold in the understanding of climbing the sake sheer-faced mountain. It is a solid grip - a firm placement - a step for which you need to get to a higher level of understanding sake. Or not!

Herewith is an entirely different review written for my store's "copy" (see if you can spot any similarities):

Kikuhime "Chrysanthemum Princess" BY
From Ishikawa Prefecture.
Dai Ginjo Genshu (Aged Over One Year).
SMV:+5 Acidity: 1.3
Some sakes are built well and some are built like this amazing Dai Ginjo. With a gentle collection of cherry, sweet rice, melon, lavender, and powdered sugar aromas, this brew is a mouth-ride at its finest. Thick and chewy with a super soft texture, behold the definitive "fat" sake. There are hints of grains and steamed rice on one floor and far more savory flavors on another, and hidden amongst it all are deep rich fruit veins that one must seek or miss altogether. Plump and rewarding this Dai Ginjo has a structure like no other, enjoy the acidity and revel in the complexity.
WORD: Complex
WINE: Deep reds/Fat whites
BEER: Belgian Ales
FOODS: Made for grilled fare and complex cuisine.

Just a biblical brew - all the more so because if you were to ask any sake maker of note he would tell you privately that he would have loved to study under their former toji - one of the best of all time! (I have met two current toji who went "through" their "system" and both would give their lives to have been made the "next" toji at Kikuhime.)

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