Saké Insanity [Booze]

2010 Mar 15
Okay, so I went a little overboard...

I'm having a tasting with friends next week. I went to Montreal Saturday to get several bottles not available locally.

Not available at all here are (from the left) #2 and #9 straight from Hiroshima - I don't even know the brands, a co-worker picked them up and she didn't remember - and #6 from a US ShopRite liquor store.

There are three varieties present: basic junmai, junmai ginjo and junmai daiginjo. The difference is the amount of the rice grain milled away to get less and less of the "impurities" and have almost only the starch at the centre, making for purer taste of the grain itself - yes, same as grapes or cocoa beans. I sense a trend in what I like. :) None of these have brewers' alcohol added, being all junmais. So ingredients are rice, water, and koji, and some indicate yeast as well. Some have an English sticker added to the all-Japanese label, others have an export sticker with English on it.

All of these should be interesting in comparing. I also know that saké is better drunk fresh, but some I know aren't fresh (the Born was bottled in 2007...) and others don't have a bottling date at all.

Basic junmai: #5
Junmai Ginjos: #1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 10
Junmai daiginjos: #4, 6, 11

Brands, left to right: Masumi Karakuchi Ki-Ippon*, Unknown, Masumi Karakuchi Ki-Ippon*, Tamonohikari Omachi, Hakutsuru, BORN, Bizen, Masukagami, Unknown, Hakushika Gouka Sennen, Hakutsuru

*The two Ki-Ippons show a different alcohol %, and on the Japanese website the smaller 180ml bottle is shown as being a completely different brand. Maybe the English sticker is wrong.

Total price: $180. $50 for the Born bottle, and $130 for the rest. Standard price is over $10 to $18 for the 300ml bottles. Each of the Hiroshima bottles were $5 and will probably knock the socks off of the rest. :)

Better quality photo:

2010 Mar 15
Please keep us posted about how the tasting went and how they were!

2010 Mar 15
Haha, wow, sake insanity indeed! I look forward to the reviews as well.

2010 Mar 15
I am certainly looking forward to this and shall bring some renumeration to cover the costs.

2010 Mar 15
No need for remuneration, Jagash. I can afford it. :)

I already know I really like the Bizen, having tried it last month. Fruity, a long finish, extremely pleasant in the mouth, definitely not bland but not overpowering either. The 300ml Ki-Ippon was pretty nice too, but not as flavourful. The Hakutsurus, in comparison, are pretty bland. The rest I haven't tried yet.

The Masukagami, #8, had the distinction of being found in only one store in all of the SAQ, on Papineau just north of the 40. They had 4 bottles. It seems a Canadian-only export label, as the japanese website has a specific page on it with a Canadian flag: So I took two. Not often I can say I took half a province's supply. :) It won a Canadian award, so it's probably a good bet.

2010 Mar 15
Sorry Niall my PC died from virus infection and I couldn't check your message any sooner.

Answers for your questions:

#9: Junmai Ginjyo "Miwazakura" 16%~17% alc, made in Hiroshima
Miwa is name of the city in Hiroshima and zakura(sakura) means cherry blossom.
Rice has been milled and purified to 50%

#2: Junmai Ginjyo "Houken" Hou means treasure and "ken" means katana.
15%~16% alc, rice has been milled and purified to 55%
Rice was grown in Hiroshima.
Company name: Houken shuzou

2010 Mar 16
Thank you Aisu Kurimu!!

It's difficult to find more information on all those brands, and I'm not too surprised that I can't always find the same bottles on the brewers' Japanese websites. I wish I could have all the sakamai (rice variety), nihonshu-do (sake meter value, or specific gravity level) and acidity level values for all bottles I have, just to see how they correspond to changes in taste. But like John Gauntner (a somewhat-respected american voice on sakés, says, most often the only thing to do is go "I like this bottle better". :)

The "sad" part is that once all these bottles will be opened, it is said they will stay good about a week, and I'm fairly sure we won't finish them all. I wonder if I can find more people to "help" me within that timeframe... :)

2010 Mar 21
Insanity. Yeah, it ended up a party pretty close to that - insane FUN. :)

I'll focus on the saké bottles though, pictured here...

I started with the Hakutsuru draft, a baseline taste that was still a junmai - no alcohol added. Going from there to the Hakutsuru Junmai Gingo, with the only difference (more or less) being the rice milling degree, we could taste the difference, though it was still "pretty close to water". The next bottle, in comparison, seemed to explode with flavour - now we had started on the Good Stuff. :)

Doing the two Ki-Ippons also seemed to show another major difference: the 300ml was dated mid-2008, and the 180ml was dated Sep 2009. It's still unclear if they are exactly the same otherwise, but we could all taste the difference that freshness makes.

On that note, the nice-looking and expensive Daiginjo BORN had a bottling date of 2007, and as expected, it had turned and was somewhat sour and unpleasant. But now I know to check dates while in a store, not at home. It's a shame, because otherwise, the very back of the taste seemed pleasant enough.

The two bottles identified by Aisu Kurimu above really, really showed what difference freshness makes, as they were bottled 1 and 2 months ago. WOW! Clean, crisp, very different from each other - the Miwazakura was bold and took your mouth sideways in interesting directions, while the Houken was so soft and clean no one could dislike it - it would be a perfect one to introduce people to sakés with, if it were in any way available to North America... :)

When we opened the first Junmai Daiginjo, the difference in milling rate once again was immediately noticeable - a little more unctuous, a little thicker on the tongue, since it's more of the starches and far less impurities allowing the texture to be purer. (Or so we figured, but the texture difference was agreed all-around.) Some ginjos were found to be equal to or better than one of the daiginjos, though, so it's not in and of itself a gauge of higher quality.

The top winners by consensus were:
- Bizen Junmai Ginjo: floral, well-rounded, nice mouth texture and for something at 15% abv, a really nice lingering finish of at least 20 seconds. Available at the SAQ only: (I got mine in Hull next to the Cinema 9, but they currently don't have any. I think you can go to any SAQ with the code and ask to get some, though.)
- Tama No Hikari Junmai Daiginjo: very smooth, it almost dances on the tongue, curls in a pleasant way - no one could agree on what made it so nice, but we all agreed it was very, very, very nice. Even the person who normally hates alcohol (can taste the molecule and has a near-gag reflex) found out saké does not give her that gagging, and that this one was better than most. Available at the SAQ only again:

- Masumi Karakuchi Ki-Ippon Junmai Ginjo, 180ml: the much fresher version of the 300ml, the taste difference in unmistakeable - the 180 was finished that evening while the 300ml barely has a quarter taken. Available at LCBO quite readily - look at the top of the cap for the bottling date:
- Hakushika Gouka Sennen Junmai Daiginjo: Not quite as full, complex or rounded a taste as the Tama No Hikari; it was overtaken by the Bizen. Still no slouch on the satisfaction range, though! It would be an excellent introduction to junmai daiginjos, before going to the other one for showing the taste complexities. Available at the SAQ:

Special Mention:
- Masukagami Special Junmai Premium: this was an odd one. The company's website seems to indicate it's a Canadian-only export ( and it states it has won a Canadian award on the label. It seems it has two rice of two different milling rates in it. The net effect was a slight harshness to the taste, without making it actually bad - some said it seemed to have a rye-like roughness to it compared to the other sakés, similar to the way rye whisky feels different than barley whisky. Definitely unique! Available at the SAQ:

2010 Mar 21
Important things to look for in a saké:

- the "ginjo" appellation, as the millling rate is primordial for the lightness and quality necessary for a good cold saké
- freshness - look for a date if possible; if there is one, it should be less than 12 months. If there is no bottling date, it can still be good, but it's a crapshoot.

I seem to prefer the junmais (no added alcohol) but on my next swing through Montreal, I'll try one or two of the ginjos and daiginjos that aren't junmais to see what it changes.

The party started at 7:30, and lasted til past 1am - I ended up bringing out (see picture!) my high-end chocolates, then the ice ciders, then the ice mead, the mead, the Sortilčge, the canadian whisky (Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve), and a blueberry liqueur. All in all: 8 people, 22 bottles, 7 chocolate bars and 1 box of hand-made soft-fillings chocolates from Montreal. There was some dancing, some videos shown, lots of laughter and silliness. Quite the party. :)

We emptied 4 saké bottles - the basic Hakutsuru draft as one person found it a great "palate cleanser"; the fresher Ki-Ippon; and both Hiroshima sakés (Miwazakura and Houken) due to their incredible freshness and quality. As expected, they blew most of the rest out of the water. And no, they're not sold at any US saké stores, I already checked...

(We also finished my bottle of Domaine Pinnacle Signature ice cider and of Sortilčge, but they were 3/4 dead already.)

2010 Mar 21
Aisu Kurimu, that recipe for the miso dip is really, really good! I had to leave out a few ingredients due to allergies, but the basic dip itself is refreshing and tangy and really nice!

I had carrots, red bell pepper and zucchini, all organic.

(On the left were the handouts I made from various guides online to explain about sakés, and listing all the ones we tasted.)

Oh, and since I forgot to put them in the above posts, here are bigger versions of each photo:

2010 Mar 22
That was an excellent evening on a whole and I wish to thank you Niall.