A Trio Of Daishichi Sake: Junmai Kimoto CLASSIC, Minowamon Junmai Daiginjo & Masakura Junmai Ginjo
Daishichi is the banner child for the Kimoto method of sake-making - a really laborious, traditional process that almost triples the time taken to make sake and accounts for only about 2% of all sakes made today.
Like all great inventions, the Kimoto method was somewhat of an accident. But first let's talk about what the Kimoto method is.
The Kimoto method revolves around how the fermentation starter (called shubo) is created. Much like bread, sake-making involves the use of a fermentation starter to kickstart the production of alcohol. This is unique to sake versus other types of alcohols because with rice, starch must be converted by the koji (a fungus strain) to sugars, for the yeast to work its magic. With other base materials like barley, the grain is germinated to create sugars which can immediately be fermented; or sugarcane which already contains a high level of sugar needed for fermentation - hence a critical step with sakes is the requirement of a starter.
And so in the Kimoto-style, the idea is to create that starter from scratch. Ask any baker and they'll immediately give you a dismissive chuckle because the thought of making your own starter is outright ridiculous.
Nonetheless, this traditional method starts with two craftsmen who use wooden poles to rhythmically mash a small batch of rice, water and koji in a comically small tub. Now this is the fun part - in the old days, sake makers thought that this intense pounding was turning starch to sugar - that's totally not the case. What they were in fact doing was helping to warm up the mixture to help lactic acid bacteria to grow which actually creates an inhospitable environment for unwanted bacteria, leaving only the desirable yeast; as well as helping to quickly dissolve the rice before it got contaminated.
Today, most sake makers use the Sokujo method which involves a direct addition of industrial lactic acid to the yeast starter to achieve the same effect. So with the Kimoto method, all they were really doing was creating that lactic acid from scratch so to speak.
But of course, it's redundant to keep old methods if they don't actually yield better results, or perhaps would simply be a matter of marketing - you'll be pleased to know that the Kimoto method actually does produce better results! It actually produces sakes that are known to be creamier and softer, generally achieving a richer and more mellow profile. It also tends to last longer and keep its aromas and taste better.
While some breweries do it for select special edition expressions, Daishichi is known to do this for all their expressions. And that's at least one aspect that's solidified the brewery's high esteem.
Daishichi Brewery, which was started in 1752 and based in Fukushima, currently run by the 10th generation heir of the Ohta family, isn't just a one trick pony either. It's not out to do things traditionally for the sake of it - in fact, they've been quite the pioneer in aspects of sake making such as developing the super flat rice polishing method that allows the brewery to eke out the most of the rice grain's shinpaku (a 50% super flat polish equates to a 35% conventional rice polishing ratio), as well as the anoxic bottling system which allows sakes to be bottled without ever having to be exposed to air.
Ultimately it appears that Daishichi's core philosophy is simply to make the best sakes they know how to - be it through traditional or modern means.
So today, we'll get down to trying three expressions from Daishichi - the Junmai Kimoto Classic, the Minowamon Junmai Daiginjo and the Masakura Junmai Ginjo.
Daishichi Junmai Kimoto Classic - Review
As the name suggests, this is supposed to showcase the classic Daishichi house style and is matured for a year before bottling.
It's made using Gohyakumangoku rice that's polished down to 69% using the brewery's proprietary super flat rice polishing method, creating a Rich and Dry expression (+2 SMV, 1.6 Acidity) with Yeast No. 7. This one comes in at 15% ABV.
Aroma: It starts off creamy and lightly sweet, with a very gentle hint of green melons and yogurt. It's quite rich and mellow but the aromas are still pretty distinctive. There's a light nuttiness as well of husks.
Taste: It has a very rich, creamy sweetness, the sort from a raw rice mash grain kind of milky sweetness, but it's also earthier, with a little bit more on soil or old wood. It's umami-ness is reminiscent of Ankimo (or Monkfish) liver pate.
Finish: A lengthy finish that recedes in refreshingly lightly sweet creaminess - think rice pudding.
This is a very lovely starter - it's creamy and just lightly grainy sweet, it gives off a really delightful rawness to it as expressed in the umami albeit creamy flavors. This makes it very easy to appreciate and enjoy without any difficult flavors. A nice refreshing finish keeps the palate clean and not overworked.
This is a great introduction of not just Daishichi, but also what the Kimoto style has to offer - the creaminess, umami and earthiness!
This would go well with meat dishes, oysters or fried foods.
Daishichi Minowamon Junmai Daiginjo - Review
Daishichi which means "Big Seven", has been in the hands of the founding Ohta family, who were once of the samurai class, occupying till this day the castle town of Nihonmatsu - that's where the brewery resides!
The name Minowamon is an homage to the main gate of the Nihonmatsu castle that has stayed resolute since the Edo period. The brewery hence decided this was befitting of the expression that debuted in Japan the first commercial use of the super flat rice polishing technique.
This expression uses the Yamadanishiki rice, polished to 50% using the super flat technique, to create a Semi-Dry expressions (+1 SMV, 1.4 Acidity), at 15.5% ABV.
Aroma: This starts off more aromatic and fruity - candied cantaloupes and pineapples, as well as white peaches. The same creamy rice mash is still present albeit much more in the background to the brighter top notes. Very light tartness.
Taste: It's almost alittle syrupy - tinned fruit syrup, with green pears and juicy cantaloupes and apricots. It's silky smooth and sweet on the palate with almost a cordial-like quality. There's a very light honeyed quality to it.
Finish: It's crisper here with more of the tartness and acidity showing up balancing the sweeter palate.
This is definitely an upgrade and it showcases more elegance - almost a sparkle to it. It's brighter, more distinctive and accentuated and certainly more silky and gleaming on the palate. It's fruitier here as well and tends towards a sweeter profile. The body here is somewhat thinner but still medium-bodied, and this has less of those earthy umami flavors.
Very enjoyable and drinkable, and definitely would make a good gift. This almost compares to champagne. It would go great with sushi (why not an omakase).
Daishichi Masakura Junmai Ginjo - Review
The Masakura is basically the value-for-money top of the line pick for Daishichi. It takes everything Daishichi does but scales it from Junmai Daiginjo to Junmai Ginjo, which simply means the rice is polished down 10% less - that also brings the price of this bottle down by 25% from the brewery's Junmai Daiginjo options.
The rice used here is Gohyakumangoku, with a super flat rice polishing ratio of 58%, bottled at 15% ABV. This creates a Semi-Dry profile (+3.5 SMV and 1.3 Acidity).
Aroma: Bright and fruity with big juicy notes of green pears, green melons and muscat grapes. It balances the creamy sweetness of rice pudding. It's altogether well-balanced between the brighter top notes and the richer base sweet graininess. There's alittle bit of creme brulee here as well - caramelised sugar and custard. Just a touch of earth - summer truffles.
Taste: Creamy but not as sweet, again leaning more towards rice pudding or custard, with just touches of green grape chewy candy (Hi-Chew). There's alittle bit of nougat-y nuttiness here. This has a really nice hefty texture. Also a little bit of brie cheese notes - light creaminess, savouriness and umami.
Finish: It fades very quietly, with a receding creaminess of rice mash, with just a little bit of nuttiness of grain husk.
This just screams balance and complexity - the entire experience has a consistently good contrast between brighter top notes and richer base notes. They're always hand in hand and atop a very smooth, velvety texture that is of sweet and lightly umami rich pudding, whilst not being overly sweet.
The balance here is just fantastic and really nails it on the head - never veering offtrack, all whilst maintaining a lovely creamy body.
Incredibly enjoyable, this would work great as a daily drinker, something you'd just pop open for any occasion or if you're just having a nice conversation. Works great with something like pasta or a cheeseboard.
Having tried three of Daishichi's sakes spanning their range from basic expressions to higher end expressions - it is quite evident that there's something to the Kimoto-style, you can clearly tell that its added alot of seamlessly cohesive creaminess and richness to the entire tasting, creating very rounded flavors.
I've tried Kimoto-style sakes from other breweries that don't do it as a matter of brewery-wide practice - just for select expressions - and I will say they don't ace it as well as Daishichi. It's a very understated cohesive, rounded creaminess that is obvious the moment you taste it.
Of the three - the Junmai Kimoto Classic, the Masakura Junmai Ginjo and the Minowamon Junmai Daiginjo, I'll definitely pick the Masakura as my top choice.
It's not only intermediate in price, it also showcased such elegance and complexity in its balance. This made it so enjoyable and doesn't get old - it had a lovely texture as well. It didn't get as earthy umami as the Junmai Kimoto Classic not as bright as as the Minowamon Junmai Daiginjo - which really lands it perfectly in the middle.
When I tried all three, the Masakura really got me excited and raving about it.