February 2012

Sake Results - What Sake Won The "Value Tasting"?

Posted by Beau Timken in 2012, February, Newsletter
On a cold and rainy January night we held the first ever "Value Tasting" at True Sake. Why? Because as we pointed out in our last Newsletter we are trying to combat the poor economy and the very high priced Yen currency. This double whammy has really stuck it to the current price of sake and we are looking for ways to find some value for those of you who cannot afford to drink Daiginjo sake every day! (Don't hold your breath for me to say something about the 1% Daiginjo people versus the 99%)

Initially I billed the tasting as a "Blind 4 Sake Tasting" to determine a winning sake that would then be included into our inventory! But as many of you know I cannot control myself so I also picked up four Tetra-Pak sakes from 4 different breweries to really push the Tetra-Pak "value" philosophy. When you see a Tetra-Pak or "Carton" sake it screams "cheap!" But I wanted to prove otherwise and show that serious value can be found in a 1.8L box with some pretty solid sake inside.

The tasters tasted all four first sakes and selected their favorite by dropping a green bead in a box in front of the sake. The boxes were closed to prevent ye'ol peer pressure of seeing which sake was popular. Then they tasted the four Tetra-Pak sakes and voted for their favorite with a red bead. I separated the tasting in two for consistency. We also served the sakes at room temperature. Why? Firstly, Junmai sake is really a room temperature sake in general. Secondly, if the brews are too cold it can easily makes flaws or imbalances and the point of the exercise was to find the best balanced and affordable sake. Thirdly, is was really cold out that night!

Finally, I selected all four "Imported" sakes based purely on the price to us from our distributors. I wanted to sell the sake for between $12-$15 and trust me when I tell you that the distributors had plenty of offerings that would have resulted in $20-$25 brews. Not for us! We wanted a value brew!

Herewith were the sakes:
  1. Yaegaki Junmai "Black Bottle"
  2. Hakushika Junmai
  3. Gekkeikan Junmai
  4. Nihon Sakari Junmai
(On a side note I was reminded about Junmai classification standards during the tasting as two of the sakes were milled to 73% and 75%. But wait Junmai has to be at least 70% remaining to be called Junmai right? Nope - about a decade ago they changed the classification standards exactly for the same reasons of our tasting to allow better pricing without sacrificing quality of the standards. So they changed the rule to allow brewers to call a sake "Junmai" even if the milling ratio is 75 or 73% as long as that milling ratio is written visibly on the label. If the consumers can see for themselves that the brew is indeed milled to only 74% it's okay!)

And herewith were the Tetra-Pak sakes:
  1. Ozeki Junmai Shiboritate (1.8L)
  2. Hakutsuru Junmai (1.8L)
  3. Hakushika Junmai (900ml)
  4. Sawanotsuru Junmai "Sakagura"
Many of the tasters said that sakes all had similar qualities but several brews stood out above the rest. Nihon Sakari and Gekkeikan tied for third. Yaegaki was the clear second place finisher, which meant the Hakushika won outright. Tasters said it had better flavor and feeling than the other sakes. I agreed!

In the Tetra-Pak division the tasters all commented about how the sakes didn't suck! The Sawanotsuru finished in last place with one sympathy vote. Third place went to the Ozeki, and second went to Hakutsuru. The overwhelming winner by an extremely large margin was the Hakushika. This made me smile because if you recall we once selected this very same sake for one of our Secret Word sakes.

Basically each of these sakes are machine made Junmais from massive breweries. You cannot hide that fact. There are not a lot of small jizake breweries that can make sake at such a low price point. That said the tasters all complemented the quality of the sakes across the board. I was pleased to hear that.

So which sake will now grace the hallowed shelves of True Sake? Initially I stated it would be the winner of the first four sakes. But the overwhelming winner of the Tetra-Pak division was complemented so much that I feel it deserves the shelf space! The good news is that the Kuromatsu-Hakushika Brewery made both winning sakes! So I have no problem taking the Tetra-Pak. The bad news is that it won't fit in our shipping boxes. Conundrum!

Please say Hello to the "True Sake Value Brew" Hakushika "Paper Pack" Tetra-Pak Junmai from Hyogo (SMV: +2) 900ml for $8 (That's a lot of sake for not that much dough)

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