September 2011

Sake Focus - Wakatake "Onna Nakase" Makes Us Cry!

Posted by Beau Timken in 2011, Newsletter, September
We all know the name. We've heard it plenty. And most of us have consumed plenty of it. Why not? Historically it has been the number one imported and selling Daiginjo in the US. And that bottle! Yes indeed, perhaps one of the most recognized sake bottles in the industry. Yes, the square one. But there is nothing "square" about the "Demon Slayer."

The Omura Brewery has been exporting sake to the US for over 30 years from their small kura in Shizuoka Prefecture. They capitalized on a general term for sake in Japan by branding it in the US. That "term" is Onikoroshi, and it translates loosely into "The Demon Slayer." Add that to their marketing name Wakatake (For years I used the words Walkie-Talkie to help me remember it) and you get the powerhouse sakes known as Wakatake Onikoroshi "Demon Slayer."

I personally have had a great relationship with the Mastunaga family. In fact, when I stayed at their brewery/house as a guest I once left a token of my appreciation in the form of a red leather guest book for others to sign after visits. I had "Hotel Wakatake" embossed on the leather. They are simply a great family with a great track record for helping the West discover premium sake. Their efforts have been extremely instrumental in the education of the US market, and I am honored to sell their Junmai Genshu, Junmai Nigori, Tokubetsu Junmai Hiyaoroshi Fall Draft, Junmai Ginjo, and of course their Junmai Daiginjo. It has been a wonderful almost decade-long relationship.

When I was last at their brewery, perhaps five years ago, I was not only treated to a brilliant working tour of their operation, but was fortunate enough to be "admitted" into their tasting room. Ha! What an experience. (At times though I get sort of sad, because you get to taste all of the items that you cannot have at home.) There I was tasting away, the brews that I knew and sold, and the "others." Well at that time the Junmai Genshu was an "other." It was not exported, and after my trip I highly recommended that they should indeed get that brew to the US. (Dry, fat and velvety with a good acidity play it is a very solid food pairing brew if you have not yet explored it. Great with artichokes) Lo and behold the powers that be, namely the importers, agreed and they did export the Junmai Genshu. Success people! I'm always looking out for good attainable sakes for us and the US.

But also in the tasting room, in a familiar green square bottle was another "Other" sake that would never make it to the West. In fact the brew that I was looking at, the one that had the coolest label and box is a sake that typically sells out in one week in Japan. It was the king of the "Other" sakes and after tasting it, I knew why. The Wakatake brewery makes a Junmai Daiginjo that has legendary standing in Shizuoka and all of Japan and rather than being called the "Demon Slayer" it is referred to as the sake that is so good it "Makes Women Cry." How about them apples? What a name! "Onna Nakase" I sort of wish that I had that nickname. I remember tasting the special sake, but tried to forget it on account of the fact that it would never be exported to the US.

Never say never.

Fast forward to three weeks ago, when the importer called and said, "Hey Beau!" - He always says that - "Hey Beau!" What? "I have a very special sake for you." Okay. "I will send you a sample." Great. Thank You. Two days later I was looking at a bottle of Wakatake "Onna Nakase." I called him back. "Hey you!" What? "Why did you send me the Onna Nakase? It's not available here." Oh yes it is! "Are you serious?" Yes. "I thought that they didn't export it." They are doing me a favor because we have done such a good job selling the Wakatake Junmai Daiginjo for so many years. "No way!" Yes. "Who gets it?" Only you and one place in New York. "Wow." Are you happy? "This makes a man cry!"

So there you go people. True Sake is now sporting a truly remarkable sake that was formulated in 1980. The box reads: "We came up with the flavor of this sake for people who like the true flavor of real sake." And it makes women cry for the deliciousness of the sake. The image of the woman on the label may portray a lady weeping whilst reading a love letter. Or she is weeping reading the restaurant bill after a long night of drinking Onna Nakase. Who knows? But at least we now know that you can try this brew for yourself to see if the tears flow.

How is this brew different from your beloved Wakatake Onikoroshi Junmai Daiginjo - the Demon Slayer? Well, on paper they are sort of similar except for the rice. But in the glass they are vastly different. They both are Junmai Daiginjo, and they both were rested for 6 months before release date. Of course they both use the same brewing water and share the same brewing yeast (kobo): Shizuoka HD-1. Their milling percentages are both 50% and the alcohol content is generally the same at 16.0 - 16.9% They have similar body measurements. (Wakatake Demon Slayer: SMV: +3 Acidity: 1.4 Amino Acidity: 1.2) (Wakatake Onna Nakase: SMV: +2 Acidity: 1.3 Amino Acidity: 1.1) But the big difference is the rice varietals.

Wakatake Demon Slayer uses a rice varietal called Aichinokaori, which I believe comes from next door Aichi Prefecture. Wakatake Onna Nakase uses two varietals one for koji and shubo called Yamadanashiki and one for steaming called Gohakyumangokyu, which are both polished to 50%. In a word the "Onna" uses more expensive brewing rice, but this doesn't necessarily translate into better sake if it is not crafted better. These two sakes should be considered companion brews, and not one being better than the other, just different! I sound like such a dad there. No, jimmy is not better than you Stevie, you are just different! In any case both sakes are superb, and that is evident in the fact that the Wakatake Junmai Daiginjo "Demon Slayer" just won a Silver Medal at the International Wine Challenge. (So too did the Wakatake Junmai Ginjo - please see the other IWC winners in the Newsletter section below.)

Wakatake does not put release dates on their bottles, but I know the date of the release for the Onna Nakase. It was made last spring and rested over the summer and was released late last Fall. The new Onna is not yet released. Many who have tried the sake feel this extra bottle aging gives the sake an even richer and more full-bodied complexion. I personally feel that it gives the brew far more personality and complexity. The good news is that you will taste the irony in the names as the Demon Slayer drinks bright, light and fruity, almost tropical, whilst the sake that "Makes women Cry" drinks masculine, rich and full. But what's in a name?

If you are a fan of Wakatake this is an experience that you should not miss. Will we get more cases in the future? I cannot say. All I can say is that I was extremely pleased when I saw the bottle, and even more pleased when I tasted the sake that I had not had in over 5 years. Now you can too!

Herewith is my review of the Wakatake "Onna Nakase"

Wakatake "Onna Nakase"

From Shizuoka Prefecture. Junmai Daiginjo. SMV: +2 Acidity:1.3

The nose on this "Exclusive" and sold out sake in Japan is a collection of oatmeal, cooked grains, steamed rice, cantaloupe and chestnut elements. The name of this sake translates to "Makes women cry" and for good reason as the complexity and drinkability of this sake is second to none. Far more masculine than the Wakatake Daiginjo this brew drinks rich, and round with a long tail. So many flavors on so many levels behold raisin, dry figs, vanilla, noughet, brown sugar, overly ripe fruit, and touch of breakfast bar. A true red wine drinker's Daiginjo with a full- bodied personality and a long finish, which does better in a larger glass. More rich and creamy characteristics come forth as it warms, and actually warming this sake makes a nice rich and bright drinking experience. WORD: Complex WINE: Bordeaux BEER: Large ales FOODS: Savory dishes, grilled fish and chicken, exotic sushi rolls, rich sauces. $54/720ml

And when you do taste this beauty please be sure to take a photo of yourself crying so that you can share it with all of your fellow Newsletter readers.

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