November 2008

Sake Spotlight - Tetsusaburo Mogi Reviews Kuheiji Junmai Ginjo

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

sake spotlight nov 2008In case that you have been dead for a while - and I mean really dead - then you will surly want to know about an extremely popular brewery in Japan that just started exporting their efforts to the US. Kamashibito Kuheiji from Aichi Prefecture is a kura that makes some extremely unique and "talked about" sakes - so much so that when I went to London to be a judge for the International Wine Challenge at our first "judges' dinner" one of the "judges" ordered Kuheiji Junmai Ginjo and every person at the table to a "t" muttered "Ohhhh Kuheiji!" Is it a fad brew? Is it a cult brewery? Or is it simply distinguished nihonshu that drinks very well and appeals to wine drinkers of note?

To answer this question and ironically enough to review the exact sake that graced our table in London is Tetsusaburo "Tets" Mogi a very bright light in the San Francisco sake scene. Not only a sake lover and student of all things sake - Tets Mogi is a salesperson at JFC International, San Francisco branch. He welcomes any comments, inquiries, even rebuttals to tmogi @ Take it away Tets!

It was about 16 years ago that Kuheiji Kuno came back to his family business of sake brewing, after brief stints in modeling and acting, only to find that it was making only sub-par sake. Kuheiji went on a quest- in search for the sake he truly wanted to make, which turned out to be at same time, a quest to find his inner self. He ultimately came across a Romanee Conti, and then realized that that was the type of sake he wanted to make. Not just a good tasting, balanced sake, but also one that will appeal to the emotions of the drinker- a sake with "dignity", "kindness", and "nostalgia".

He and the toji (brew master), Akihiro Sato, try to make their sake as natural as possible- they feel that more the human process, less the magic. Every sake is genshu (cask- strength, or undiluted), even though they do not label as such because they feel that is the only way sake should be bottled. The Yamadanishiki rice used to make this Ginjo has been polished 50%, which in Japanese standards can be labeled as Dai-Ginjo, but they choose to label it as only Ginjo- a sign of their humbleness.

This unique sake has gained more recognition recently, and is now one of the most sought after sake in Japan. With limited production and limited distribution, only ONE store in all of Tokyo carries their sake.

As much as sake has gained more recognition recently thanks to the popularity of Japanese food, it is still considered as an obscure exotic Asian drink on a worldwide basis. Kuheiji wants to change that. It is his hope to elevate sake into worldwide recognition, like wine, something that would complement any cuisine. For that reason, Kuheiji likes to call his sake "Eau de Desir", or "water of hope", in contrast to how brandy is referred to as "Eau de Vie" or "water of life". His ambitions were partly realized when Kamoshibito Kuheiji was listed in few Michelin three star restaurants in Paris (Guy Savoy and Pierre Gagnaire, among others), making it the only sake to achieve such feat.

Taste wise; this is revolution in a bottle. Nothing like any other Junmai Ginjo, or any other sake. It is also a sake of contradiction- floral but creamy, citrusy but buttery. Dignified, but down to earth. Flashy aroma, but friendly after taste. Innovative but nostalgic. Its aroma has hints of mushroom, peach, mango, or berries. It is similar to a bold Cote-du-Rhone white wine such as Viognier or Chateau Chalon, and makes one wonder if this is really made from just rice only. At the first attack, you will notice a trace amount of carbonation, which will stimulate the taste buds to open, and what follows is a symphony of all the tastes a single sake can withhold- delicate acidity, tropical sweetness, and mineral-like flavors. It possesses a wide spectrum of flavors, and you will notice a different flavor on each sip. There is just way "too much going on" in this sake to express in words, so as Kuheiji himself intended it to be, it's best to "feel it" and let it pass through your body without any premonitions.

Kuheiji has never visited San Francisco, but is well aware of its open mindedness to new cultures and love for fine food. When I talked to him just last week, he said that he has plans in 2009 to visit, and True Sake will definitely be one of his stops. So until then, "a votre sante!"

Thank you Tets-san. The Kuheiji revolution is alive and kicking at True Sake where we carry two of their Junmai Ginjos. As their name is really the family name we have distinguished these two brews by their label colors and refer to them as Black Brewers Mark and Red Brewers Mark. (FYI both of these Junmai Ginjos have different importers - and one also carries the Junmai Dai Ginjo.) Also Tets would later point out in an email:

And yes, you are absolutely right in that the Kuheiji we supply you is indeed Junmai Ginjo. I always forget the Junmai part because Kuheiji makes no other than junmai sake, not to mention that there are very few non-Junmai (Honjozo) Ginjo in the US market

And if this doesn't sell ya then one more thing to chew on - the formal name of the brewery is Banjo Sake Brewing Company. Lastly, this sake was selected by Lynette as her Monthly True Sake Select last month - so we have let her have it again this month - to gloat! Herewith is my quick review of this sake:

  • Kamoshibito Kuheiji "Black Brewers Mark" 

From Aichi Prefecture.
Junmai Ginjo.
SMV: +1 Acidity: 1.6
This wine-like Ginjo has a ripe nose filled with apple, melon, citrus and floral elements. Talk about a distinctive brew - chunky, funky, vivid, wide, fat and spritzy - all adjectives that come rolling out of your first sip. This is a very fruit forward sake that has hints of melon, kiwi, pineapple, cherry and apple on many different levels. If a sake could taste plush this would be that brew - a mouthful of flavors with a nice deep tail. Chewy and gooey, with a powerful fruit to acidity play that speaks to wine lovers who enjoy complexity.
WORD: Plush
WINE: Expressive reds/ Fruity whites
BEER: Sweet ales
FOODS: Think white wine fare, sushi, sashimi, grilled chicken.


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