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Sake drinking in Tokyo

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Sake drinking in Tokyo

Rachel M. | Nov 14, 2002 08:26 PM

Over the past few weeks I've had the pleasure of drinking lots of new types (to me, anyway) of sake, so I thought I'd write up my impressions (if I can remember them).

Two really stand out: Kikuhime's Kukurihime, and Daruma Masamune's Showa 54-nen Jozoshu. Both of these are aged sakes--the Kukurihime was a 11-year-old sake, while the Daruma Masamune was 23 years old (Showa 54=1979, if I'm calculating correctly)--and both are very expensive, but that's about where the similarity ends.

I tried the Kukurihime at a dinner held by Aji no Machidaya, a sake shop near Nakano. The owner of the shop also owns a restaurant nearby, and they have tasting dinners twice a month or so. Kukurihime is Kikuhime's top brand, and is extremely rare, and the price reflects it at 50,000 yen (roughly $420) per 1.8 litre bottle. As a Kikuhime fan, however, I'd been wanting to try it, and couldn't pass up the chance. We started out the dinner with two other sakes by Kikuhime, first a yamahai genshu (undiluted) junmaishu, then a yamahai ginjo. Of the two, I prefer the former, as it's got a little more acidity and kick. The third sake was from Kariho (Akita Pref.), a yamahai junmai genshu that ranks a +23 on the Nihonshu (dryness/sweetness) scale. I prefer my sake to have some balance, but this was just dry, dry, dry, and I ended up pouring mine into the glass of one of the people I went with.

Finally, with our mouths somewhat numb, the Kukurihime arrived. Similar to Kikuhime's other offerings, it was a pale yellow color, and had an aroma that's referred to as "hine-ka" ("old/aged smell"). The sake itself was very smooth, with the flavor spreading out nicely. Usually I find such smooth sakes to have little aftertaste, but this one lasted a long time, ending up on a slightly sweet note. Overall, it's a very well-balanced sake, with the acidity and alcohol playing off each other nicely. It's not a sake that should be drunk straight out of the fridge, though, and the flavor definitely improved as it got closer to room temperature. (I was told later by the manager of the sake shop I normally go to that it really should be left out a full day at room temperature, open, so that it can breathe.) Was it worth 50,000 yen per bottle? Hmmmm.... it was very good, though.

I tried the Daruma Masamune at my favorite izakaya, Akaoni, during their 20th anniversary. All drinks were half-price, so the normal price of 3000 yen per glass became more reasonable. I wish I had taken notes, but I can say that it was definitely the nicest aged sake of this genre that I've had; many aged sakes take on a brown color, and become thicker and sweeter, with a flavor similar to sherry, and the Daruma Masamune was in this vein. (Kukurihime, although aged, is a very different flavor, closer to "normal" sake.) Unfortunately, I found out afterwards that the brewery has stopped selling the Showa 54 version, now marketing one from Showa 59. I'm curious to try it but 10,000 yen for 720 ml is a bit disconcerting if you've never even sampled it.

As the temperature drops, I've also been enjoying some hot sake. Ones that I've particularly enjoyed heated are Toyo Bijin's yamahai junmai and Gunmaizumi's "Oke Ichi-go" (first barrel?) yamahai honjozo genshu. The Toyo Bijin is slightly sweet, with an aroma similar to a ginjo sake, while the Gunmaizumi is a more typical yamahai type, with a stronger flavor and acidity. Both of these are in a much more normal price range (both less than 3000 yen per 1.8 litre bottle).

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