Betting on Sake
Exploring America's Blossoming Sake Culture
“Spirit of the Sky” Junmai Ginjo
Blue Kudzu Sake Co.—Asheville, NC
The first word that comes to mind here is “funk.” It was quite an unexpected experience, inhaling a bit of yeasty wildness in something as (generally) subtle as a junmai ginjo, but there it is. The nose has very distinct hints of a mildly pungent French farmhouse cheese. The first sip reveals a hit of sharp acidity that lingers a few moments as it makes way for a moderate sting of alcohol. Once that mellows, the finish is all sour apple and pear.
Yaegaki Black Bottle Kuro-Bin Junmai
Yaegaki Corp. of the USA —Vernon, CA
This junmai starts off a bit boozy on the nose—very deceptive because this medium-dry ends up being extremely smooth on the palate, with a silky smoothness that helps it glide across the tongue. I’m also getting a few inexplicable hints of salt on the finish—not unlike pickled pear or daikon—which actually makes it an impeccable pairing partner for miso soup—a theory I immediately tested (and proved).
Momokawa Organic Junmai Ginjo
SakéOne—Forest Grove, OR
This is the one you’re going to want to drink in a couple of months when you start feeling your first pangs of spring fever. The citrusy, medium-bodied organic sake, characterized by a touch of freshly peeled tangerine—maybe a little bit of pineapple or lychee—is the very essence of crisp refreshment. The finish alternates between medium dry and mildly sweet. It holds up to less intense sushi like salmon, fluke or yellowtail.
Momokawa Ruby Nama Junmai Ginjo
SakéOne—Forest Grove, OR
Nama, which refers to sake in its unpasteurized draft form, is usually available for a limited time. Luckily, I got to try the Nama version of Momakawa’s Ruby variety. The bottled, pasteurized Ruby tends to be on the fruitier side, but the Nama version brings some umami to the equation—it reminded me a bit of a plate of assorted oshinko (Japanese pickles), specifically shibazuke (eggplant and cucumber in ume vinegar). It also has the faintest trace of effervescence, given some slight residual carbon dioxide from fermentation. It also pours a pale straw color, thanks to the lack of additional fining agents that go into the bottled version.
—Tasting notes by Jeff Cioletti
Alastair Bland is a freelance writer who was born and raised in San Francisco, where he lives. He writes about the environment, agriculture, fisheries, cycling and drinks. Alastair has fermented his own mead, wine and beer for a decade. Most recently, he has begun to brew sake.