September 2012

Sake Spotlight - Tamiko Ishidate Looks at Yuki no Bosha Yamahai

Posted by Beau Timken in 2012, Newsletter, Sake Spotlight, September
True Sake "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's very passionate Sake Spotlight comes from one of our favorite Sake Spotlight contributors, who is a star in the sake world. Tamiko Ishidate has come a long way in the past 7 years selling sake to not only the Bay Area but to the world. She is currently the Sake Sales Manager for Young's Market Company in Northern California, and has this signature at the end of her emails: "A glass of sake a day keeps bad spirits away." We at True Sake are lucky to call Tamiko a sake buddy.

Tamiko has chosen to write about an amazing sake from a killer brewery. The Yuki no Bosha is not only a superb Yamahai sake, but it just won a gold medal at the IWC that I judged in Tokyo earlier this year. Take it away Tamiko:

Yuki No Bosha Yamahai Junmai "minimalist brewing makes true Yamahai"

The word "yamahai" evokes in the minds of sake drinkers either "hmmm...." or "uh-huh" - it's one of those sakes that people either love or shy away from. A typical impression of Yamahai sake is on its distinct gaminess, wild, mushroomy notes, assertive acidity, and richness of flavor that can be either "umai" (delicious) or "shitsukoi" (cloying).

Then there is a Yamahai sake that's not at all like Yamahai.

Yuki No Bosha ("Cabin in the Snow") is the beloved brand from Saiya Brewery in Akita prefecture, and is imported into the U.S. by Joto Sake ( Yuki No Bosha brand is known for its pronounced aroma, silky and balanced body, clean acidity, and rich umami. Mr. Toichi Takahashi has been their brewer master since 1984, and is inarguably the architect of this brand profile. When I first met Mr. Takahashi in January of 2007, he passionately explained in his thick Tsugaru (Aomori) accent that, the more experience he has gained as a brewer master, the more "hands-off" he has become. After reading the book "Bishu no Sekkei" or "Architecture of Beautiful Sake" (my own translation), written by the famed journalist and food/sake writer Chieko Fujita, I have come a little closer to understanding the meaning behind these (Mr. Takahashi's) words.

During his career as a brewer master, Mr. Takahashi, with a full support of Kuramoto (brewery owner), has evolved his brewing technique in such a way that allows him to treat Sake minimally. Saiya brewery was the first brewery in Akita prefecture, which started culturing its own yeast. By isolating and re-culturing the healthy and hardworking yeast out of moromi tanks, they were able to come up with a strain of yeast that can survive under a strenuous environment of low temperature and higher alcohol content as the fermentation progresses in the tank. Mr. Takahashi discovered that this "mutant yeast" enabled him not to stir the "moromi" (fermenting mash), and he gradually reduced the stirring until he completely stopped the practice altogether in mid 90s. This is quite radical, as it is generally believed that the moromi needs to be stirred a few times a day to give fresh oxygen to the yeast and help break down the rice solids. Mr. Takahashi keeps the temperature of the moromi low, allowing the yeast to do its job quietly and gradually at the dark, cold bottom of the tanks over prolonged period of time. Mr. Takahashi's sake brewed this way comes out around 16 to 17% alcohol by volume, allowing him to bottle as-is without an addition of water. "The addition of water (kasui), even a small amount, inevitably compromises the aromatics of the Sake, so I brew in such a way that I can bottle the sake as is," says Mr. Takahashi. It's easy for him to say - you ask any brewers - to have such control over yeast's activities is not an easy task at all.

Bottled without an addition of water, and also without filtration with charcoal/micro-paper, Yuki No Bosha sake is highly aromatic, laden with pleasant acidity, clean alcohol and rich umami on palate. I vividly remember Mr. Takahashi saying how he "indeed doesn't do much work at all" and that it's all "their hard work", pointing to the tanks. I realized later that he was referring to the enzymes, bacteria, yeast - the magnificent and mysterious microbes that turn starch into beautiful sake.

Mr. Takahashi is adamant about keeping the brewery spotlessly clean at all times. With a use of only a simple wet cloth, he is proud that his brewery is one of the cleanest breweries around. Every living organism is an integral part of the brewing process, and hence he slowly reduced the use of chemical disinfectant so commonly used among the industry to zero over the course of 5 years since he started brewing Yamahai sake in the early 90s. This, along with the fact that the entire brewery building is the original structure without a use of composite wood or any other manmade material, Saiya Brewery was the very first Sake brewery ever to receive organic certification. "We didn't do anything special or differently - we just realized that what we were doing was 'organic', naturally" Mr. Takahashi explains with a grin.

True Sake Yuki No Bosha Yamahai Junmai is the ultimate expression of Mr. Takahashi's mastery and the practice of "hands-off" natural fermentation. Instead of raising temperature of the moto, he keeps his moto temperature considerably low. "By raising the temperature", he says, " the sake becomes 'heavy' and the moto invites the foreign microbes (including wild yeast) which contribute to the gaminess and the funky flavor profile". By keeping the temperature to minimum, and letting the saccharification to occur more gradually and naturally, he makes yamahai sake that's "un-yamahai-like" yet in some way, is more "true" to how it should taste. "True Yamahai can be tasty and rich yet clean and mellow," said Mr. Saito, the president of Saiya Brewery, in a phone interview. He likes to enjoy this sake slightly warmed when he wants to get into a calm, mellow mood.

Indeed, Yuki No Bosha Yamahai Junmai can be an unassuming companion to any meal and occasions, unlike "in-your-face" assertive yamahai's more commonly available. The sake invites you with a whiff of roasted chestnut, fresh musk melon and brown butter, then coast your palate with rich umami. With amino acid kept at 0.8, the sake is impeccably balanced while being exceptionally flavorful and luscious. I had this sake with heirloom tomato with shio-koji (salt koji), and it keeps good pace with the super-umami of the shio-koji and ripe tomato combination. One of my favorite ways to enjoy this beautiful sake is with a ripe and funky goat cheese, like Besace du Berger - a small dome shaped aged goat, a rare import from France. "Rich on rich", "umami on umami", results in greater than a sum of two. The ripe fruity notes of the sake lingers long after the last flavor of the cheese dissipates from the palate - a perfect "chaser" effect that prolongs the enjoyment of the fantastic pairing.

"I am blessed," Mr. Takahashi said in an interview: "Kuramoto (brewery owner) trusts me and let me experiment a bit to try new things." At age 67, Mr. Takahashi doesn't show any sign of slowing down. We, Yuki No Bosha fans, will all look forward to what's new in the horizon with this super brewmaster.

Specs info below:

Semaibuai: 65%
Nihonshudo: +1.0
Acidity: 1.9
Amino Acid Level: 0.8
Koji rice & origin: Yamada Nisiki (Hyogo)
Brewing rice & origin: Akita Sake Komati (Akita)
Yeast: Special House Yeast
Shubo method: Yamahai
Shubo making time: 30days
Fermentation time: 30days
Pressing Method: Yabuta
Filtration: Sf Filter
Pasteurization: Once
Genshu/Diluted: Genshu
Wow!!!! Awesome stuff Tamiko! What a splendid look at a terrific sake. Thank you very much! Herewith is my store review for the Yamahai:

Yuki No Bosha "Yamahai"

From Akita Prefecture. Yamahai Junmai SMV: +1 Acidity: 1.8

The nose on this "traditionally" made sake is a collection of cooked rice, cream, chestnuts, cocoa and mint tones. This is a very balanced and tasty Yamahai that is solid and richly confident. There is a gentle sweetness of powder sugar, honey, sweet nuts, and milk chocolate that rides on a round body with a quick finish. Dig deep amongst the candy bar flavors and find a vein of mint hidden in the creaminess. Just a very well balanced and a supremely drinkable Yamahai that shows a little acidity in a larger vessel. WORD: Flavorful WINES: Bordeaux/Deep Whites BEER: Creamy Belgians FOODS: Big dishes as well as small, from grilled to raw $30/720ml
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