July 2010

Sake Spotlight - The "Big Guy" Reviews Some SakeOne Brews

Posted by Beau Timken in 2010, July, Newsletter, Sake Spotlight
Liloa Papa "Sake Spotlight" is a unique section within the Newsletter that takes a closer look at specific sakes that may be purchased at True Sake. I approach different professionals within the industry to give their perspectives and insights to the how, what and why for very special sakes. These insiders are importers, brewers, authors, sake sommeliers, or just enthusiasts who will take your knowledge base a little further. What I like about this segment is that often my review is quite different than that of the guest professional's adding to the point that there is no right or wrong when discussing your opinion about sake.

This month I asked a "large presence" in the sake world to write about a couple of brews that are close to his enormous heart. Liloa Papa is a big dude! And more importantly he is a big cuddly dude who loves all things sake - so much so he works for a sake brewery and importing company in Oregon called SakeOne. (SakeOne) I asked Liloa, the Western Regional Manager, to write about a couple of the brews that we stock at True Sake and to introduce their newest addition to their company's portfolio (a very famous Niigata brewery) - killing two birds with one big dude. All joking aside, Mr. Papa has a great pallet and feel for the American sake scene, and herewith are his comments for the Sake Spotlight:

What's Old Is New Again

The newest sake to hit the States landed nicely on the shelves of True Sake. Beau, first of all was kind enough to put them on his shelves, offered me to write an article and talk about Yoshinogawa and a quick review of two popular Murai Family sake. How could I resist?! It's like Obi-One asking Luke Skywalker(dare I compare myself to Luke?) to "feel the force" and go for it...well, here goes and I hope I don't miss!

We've (SakeOne) imported the Murai Family sake for really about 16 years, but a few years back the name morphed into Murai Family from Momokawa Brewing Japan. It was a switch to honor our partners and recognize a passionate brewing family. At the time, two of their most popular sake were, and still are, Tokubetsu Honjozo and Nigori Genshu.

Tokubetsu simply means that something is special about the sake. Generally, this implies unique handling of the rice, extra polish or special varieties. Honjozo implies the addition of spirits, added alcohol. Oh my! It's not a Junmai....call the sake police quick! Yeah, some people get worked up over the idea that Honjozo is not "pure," that it's tainted. What they forget is that about 9 of 10 bottles of sake in Japan are Honjozo...no kidding. Most sake has added alcohol. I say...get over it. It's sake and frankly it's AMAZING juice. Murai Family's Tokubetsu Honjozo is no exception; it's a mind blower. Crisp anise aroma complimented with a bit of earthiness and pear/apple notes. I used to sip this one on the shores of the Big Island at sunset with fresh caught Mahi Mahi on the grill and lobster on the coals ( in season of course) but, I truly enjoy this one with Chinese roasted duck.

The Murai Family Nigori Genshu is a standard bearer for the big and bold - yet silky smooth Nigoris. It remains uncut, roughly filtered and full of ricey goodness. At 19.9%, this big boy packs a punch but you won't notice the heat. It's a creamy elixir that smoothly washes down spicy flavors and matches up perfectly with a dark chocolate flourless torte.

The Oldest Brewer In Niigata Is The Newest In The U.S.

Yoshinogawa is the oldest sake brewer in the now famous Niigata Prefecture - sake Mecca to some. Founded in 1548, they are kind of the great, great, great, great... (you get the picture) grandfather of sake in the region and therefore have a duty to protect their ages-old craft. Surrounded by prime agricultural land that is fueled by unbelievable winter snows, Yoshinogawa has all it needs to brew true local sake. Rice from local fields, water from a historic well, careful yeast and koji management all combine in a Kura that is both ages-old and futuristic. If you ever get to visit them, please just don't ask to see the super high-tech Koji room. They don't show it to anyone...it's top secret and if you sneak a peak, you may never leave (hmm, not a bad idea).

True Sake offers up four Yoshinogawa sake, each reflecting the character of Niigata and the brewery but each distinctly different. The more classic Niigata style can be found in the Gensen Karakuchi or Echigo Junmai while deep, lush tones grow with the Ginjo and Gokujo Ginjo.

Yoshinogawa Gensen Karakuchi is super dry (thus the "Karakuchi"), clean and crisp with hints of citrus, earth and integrated notes drawn directly from the Niigata climate - lush mountain water, earth and mossy tones with subtle fruit notes. Brewed with Gohyakumangoku rice that is polished to 65%, Gensen Karakuchi tastes drier than its +7 SMV indicates. Wash your sushi down with this one, or maybe pair it up with brie and see what planet your taste buds land on. Easily paired with classic Japanese cuisine.

Echigo Junmai is named in honor of the old Japanese Province of Echigo, the local region area that is home to Yoshinogawa. It is like a deep breath of high mountain forests full of evergreens and crisp running streams. An easy sake to pair with diverse foods, it's also a great one to sip on its own. Echigo Junmai recently received the highest rating for a Junmai - 92 Pts. from the Beverage Testing Institute. Pour this one to go with winter fruit chutney with roasted pork, cider glazed turkey or baked Virginia ham.

Yoshinogawa Ginjo moves your palate toward the increasingly big Niigata brews. It is rich and buttery with toasted mixed nuts, cream and anise tones blending with subtle notes of fresh cantaloupe and fresh apple & pear. I'd pair this up with some toro, salmon, chicken karaage or miso marinated Halibut. I am getting hungry as I write.

I'll round this out with the Yoshinogawa Gokujo Ginjo, a distinct sake crafted to fully reflect the terroir of the brewery. The term "Gokujo" signifies a line of brews that are crafted utilizing the brewers favored practices and the finest local ingredients. This is the only one of the brews that we currently import but it's the crème of the bunch. The personal favorite of the 19th generation brewery president, Koji Kawakami, Gokujo is a true brew of desire. Crisp fennel aroma infuses your senses as a flight of fresh herbs dances across your tongue. It's a spa for your senses. The full- bodied, tongue-wrapping smoothness carries through each sip and you can expect the fresh herbs to linger on the finish. Pair this one up with ginger and carrot bisque, fig and prosciutto and bacon wrapped scallops.

I was fortunate enough to hang with Beau recently and "study" some Nihonshu on a very "serious" level. I am still feeling it. Hopefully, by the time you read this I will have recovered completely.

Liloa Papa, SakeOne Western Regional Sales Manager / Sake Geek

Thank you Liloa for your kind assessment of several sakes that we carry, intend to carry and may carry in the future. (Note to readers - we can special order any of the sakes that Liloa spoke about, but for shelf spacing issues we cannot carry all of these brews at the moment.) I will add my two reviews of the brews that we do carry below and will say that I have been "drinking" Yoshinogawa from afar! I usually pick up a bottle of their brew at the airport when leaving Japan - after cramming more room in my over-stuffed carry-on luggage. They have a very nice Junmai Ginjo in a gold gourd-shaped bottle that makes a perfect gift - and yet I rarely give it away! Secondly, on my last trip to Tokyo I found a great bottle of Yoshinogawa's Hiyaoroshi sake, which drank great and had a terrific accompanying neck-booklet that described what foods go well with that brew. The over-info-load spoke volumes about the brewer!

Again thank you Liloa and by all means don't forget to see the above article on Organic Sake as two of the brews mentioned were made by SakeOne and their Momokawa label.

Murai Family "Tokubetsu Honjozo"

From Aomori Prefecture. Tokubetsu Honjozo. SMV: +2 Acidity: 1.4

"Tokubetsu" means special and in this case the sake is made from rice milled to 60%. "Honjozo" means that there is a little brewers alcohol added to bring out texture and aroma qualities and does not fortify this sake. In fact with a nose filled with white grape, blueberry, and mineral water elements this brew drinks incredibly easy and user-friendly. Soft lychee and grape tones pair with a hint of berry and melon flavors in a super- soft like-water flow. Thin and slick this sake is pure easy drinking! Look for more fruit flavors when chilled and more grains at room temperature.

WINE: Soft reds/Creamy whites
BEER: Creamy ales
FOODS: Grilled and savory fare, sashimi, crustacean, tofu.

Murai Family "Nigori Genshu"

From Aomori Prefecture. Nigori Genshu SMV: -18 Acidity: 2

This unfiltered or "Nigori" sake has a plump nose filled with sweet cream, grape, honey and yogurt elements. At 19.9% alcohol one would expect a massive punch of a sake, but this creamy and fruity brew is smooth a round for such a robust dance partner. Look for hints of berry, grape, and vanilla tones that are carried on a velvety and expansive fluid. Not overtly sweet and a tremendous finish for a 20% milky madman! Think milky and silky.

WINE: Fruity reds/Chewy whites
BEER: Hefeweizen
FOODS: Big flavored and spicy dishes, creamy and cheesy pasta, desserts.

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