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Sake Spotlight - Carlin Kumada Does Micro vs. Macro Jizake Style

"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's 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 a fellow sake retailer - Mr. Carlin Kumada - based in Hokkaido takes a poke at one the "shhhhh" aspects within the sake industry. At point is what really defines a "Jizake" brewery vs. a larger brewery. Yes there are some sake breweries that you know that should not really be considered Jizake. Carlin takes a look at two sakes from two of these types of Jizake breweries - one far larger than the other. Herewith is an awesome perspective on sake from way up in Hokkaido:

Meishu no Yutaka Hi I'm Carlin from the Sapporo, Japan based specialty sake store, Meishu no Yutaka. Born and raised a California boy, I now spend my days studying and selling my favorite drink, Sake! I don't hold any fancy sommelier certificates, but I spend about a month a year in sake breweries, working side by side with the brewers in order to learn the brewing craft and the feelings that go into a bottle of sake, as well as attending countless sake events, and blind tastings. I am currently Meishu no Yutaka's Webmaster, and English sales manager, and write a sake blog in my spare time at: www.meishu-no-yutaka.

Jizake? "Jizake," a term that flies around the sake scene a lot, but what constitutes a jizake? Jizake stems from a time in Japan when it was not possible to ship sake more than a few towns away, due to slow shipping (mainly person drawn carts, or horses if wealthy enough), and poor preservation methods, and was used to differentiate small country breweries from larger scaled breweries located near large cities. The term jizake has since evolved into a term similar in meaning to the French wine term Terroir, to mean a sake that exhibits a distinct regional style or characteristics. Although regional styles have blurred considerably due to the increasing availability of sake rice, yeasts, and koji molds from all over Japan, there are still strong regional characteristics found in many small production breweries sakes in Japan.

In order to give a general outline for what a Jizake is, I have picked out two sakes from extreme ends of the jizake spectrum: the Micro brewery "Artesian sake," and the Macro "super brewery" (Both available at True Sake, and I definitely suggest drinking them both and comparing the styles!).

Micro In the blue corner,
Gassanryu Goku-Getsu from Yamagata prefecture's Shindo Shuzo:
Gassanryu Goku-Getsu Junmai Daiginjo
Rice: DEWA33 (DEWA-San-San) Polish rate: 40% SMV: +1
Alcohol: 16~17% Yamagata Pref. Shindo Shuzo

This sake has a light and fruity inviting nose. On the palate, It is soft and smooth, medium bodied with a little bit of a fruity sweetness that helps to spread the flavor throughout your mouth. Light and quick finish. Note: This is a very limited release sake, and often sells out at the brewery level about 2/3 of the way through the year (currently sold out), so being able drink this sake in America is really lucky! The Gassanryu line of sakes is an excellent example of the small end Jizake brewery today (total brewing capacity around 650 koku, 1 koku = 180L). All sakes under the Gassanryu label are brewed using only ingredients from Yamagata Prefecture. The rice used in all Gassanryu sakes is called Dewa-san-san, one of Yamagata's most famous sake rice varieties. DEWA33 makes a lighter bodied sake with good structure, and is perfect for the light and fruity Yamagata style. Yamagata yeasts generally bring out fruity tones like melon more than citrus, although there are currently countless varieties under development and in use. By utilizing the best of what Yamagata has to offer, Gassanryu has crafted a truly Yamagata style Jizake.

Macro In the red corner:
Kubota Senjyu from Niigata Prefecture's Asahi Shuzo:
Kubota Senjyu Tokubetsu Honjozo
Rice: Gohyakumangoku Polish rate: 55% SMV: +6
Alcohol: 15~16% Niigata Pref. Asahi Shuzo

Soft and bright nose with subtle hints of rice and earth tones. Light and dry on the palate, very smooth with accents of dark sugar or caramel. Clean and crisp finish.

With Such a large scale production (about 40,000 koku, roughly 61.5 times bigger than Gassanryu), many argue that Kubota is not a real Jizake, However, Kubota still falls into the lines of a jizake as it fallows the light and dry Niigata style, and uses primarily Niigata Gohyakumangoku rice. One of the main things that sets Kubota apart from many of the other macro labels is that they are closed route sakes. This means that Asahi Shuzo hand picks all of the stores that sell Kubota, and ensures that those stores are properly storing and selling the sake they receive. In return Asahi Shuzo has set up a parliamentary like system consisting of all the sake stores selling Kubota (currently around 700), in which the rules and regulations for Kubota are decided, called the Kubota-kai (currently our store president is in the prime minister position).

Also all Kubota sakes are under a strict word of mouth only advertising policy, in which listing Kubota sake (name or picture) on the net, newspaper adds, mass distribution flyers, and any other medium that doesn't go directly from your hands or mouth to your customer is strictly prohibited (Television, radio, and newspaper / magazine interviews are ok as they are not strictly advertising). It is a rather unknown aspect of the Kubota label, however Kubota's current popularity came from a lot of sweat, blood, and tears, over a 25-year grass roots word of mouth campaign (Kubota turned 25 this year!!).


Is having Extremes like this a bad thing? I don't think so, maybe a little confusing at times, but certainly a good balance between small artesian sakes, that although have the same basic taste profile from year to year, will always be different, and larger scale sake, that through careful blending has almost the same flavor from year to year, one you can always depend on as a fall back familiar face, and safe bet. These are just the extremes, and I strongly encourage you to drink your way from end to end. There are a lot of sakes out there just waiting to be discovered, even some you may have not thought you would like. Always remember, when drinking or tasting sake, there is no right or wrong, no good or bad, it all comes down to what you think and what you like!

Thank you very much Carlin - that was a good take on this micro vs. macro brewery issue. Does it matter in the end? Nope! As you pointed out, but there is still a mystique about drinking a sake made by four kurabito versus a fifty kurabito kura. I will include my two reviews plus their price points here:

Gasanryu "Gokugetsu"

Gasanryu Gokugetsu From Yamagata Prefecture.
Junmai Daiginjo. SMV: +1 Acidity: 1.4

This single-pasteurized sake has a very sneaky nose filled with rose pedals, purple grapes, and blueberry elements. Ahhhh smooth and bright! A very unique combination in the sake world. This is a chewy and viscous sake with a gentle tingle that drinks more like a pure nama or unpasteurized sake with a crispness that highlights all of the fruit flavors. A "one of those" sakes that makes one wonder how rice and water can taste like all of these fruity and semi-sweet elements. In a word - a very smart Daiginjo with ripe melon and berry elements that flashes across the palate in a bright fluid that zings flavor and fun! WORD: Bright WINE: Zesty reds/ Crisp whites BEER: Pilsners FOOD: Sushi/sashimi, grilled white fish, oysters, and shellfish. $42/720ml

Kubota Senju "1000 Long Lives"

Senju From Niigata Prefecture. Tokubetsu Honjozo. SMV: +6 Acidity: 1.2

The nose is a party of dried fruit, minerals, nutmeg, ripe plum, and banana cream pie. Oooooh the Kubota legend brings forth a honjozo that belts around flavors such as caramel, cotton candy and cocoa in a very dry and of course clean package. There is a bit of back door acidity and an unmistakable aftertaste that revisits the cotton candy elements. Clean and clear this honjozo gives one a good impression of a layered sake that works better at or near room temperature. WORD: Clean WINE: Dry reds/crisp whites BEER: Dry ales FOOD: Sake pub fare, salty and savory, grilled everything! $25/720ml

You can review many of our sakes on our web site.

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