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Sake Reviews

Masumi Sanka Junmai Daiginjo | 真澄 山花 純米大吟醸酒

 

Masumi Sake comes from the Miyasaki samurai family based in the Nagano Prefecture. The family had for centuries supplied their sakes to key historical figures and was well-loved. Nonetheless, after some two centuries, the brewery had begun to struggle - that is until the brewery was almost shuttered for good when Masaru Miyasaki, an heir to the family, decided to pull a hailmary - he appointed a young Chisato Kubota as the brewery's Master Brewer. 

Together they embarked on a journey to learn from breweries around Japan and kept of working at improving the quality of their sakes and sure enough, they had begun to win major national awards!

Now, little did they know that they had incidentally captured lightning in a bottle. Now, hold that thought.

 

The Masumi Brewery - a tale of overcoming the odds and triumph. (Image Source: J Passport Selection)

 

Taking a little segue, sake brewers today often harp on the use of high quality rice - that matters certainly, but something perhaps even more powerful that is is less spoken about, almost microscopic, is the yeast used.

Up until 1906, most sakes were brewed in a fairly haphazard manner, where brewers would leave the rice mash to the hands of natural ambient yeast. This was of course prone to creating sakes of inconsistent quality - it was ultimately the job of the toji to control (or at least act like it) the brewing process.

Around the turn of the century, there was a growing consensus that things had to change if the industry was to survive, and so the Brewers Society of Japan was created to figure how to protect the tradition of sake-making.

 

Deep in the cold Nagano climate lies a hidden treasure. (Image Source: Readers Digest Canada)

 

One of the first things they did was to isolate a reliable yeast (called seishu kobo) that could be widely distributed and used by sake-makers. Unlike beer or wine, sake requires yeast that can perform under the low temperatures at which sake is made, and still possess the hardiness to produce high levels of alcohol. In fact, sake is actually the strongest naturally fermenting alcoholic beverage in the world.

In the first year of its founding, the Society was able to isolate its first yeast strain from studying some of the best and most consistent breweries of the time - this was named Association Yeast #1 (or kyokai kobo).

 

Association Yeasts, also known as Kyokai Kobo. (Image Source: Origin Sake)

 

As the decades went on, more Association Yeasts were isolated and distributed across breweries, however, most of them eventually were phased out for being too acidic and didn't gain much traction with breweries. It wasn't until #6 that things really got heated, as the new strain at the time was said to be lower in acidity, more consistent and hardy, given that it was discovered in a brewery from a much colder climate.

That lucky brewery was not Masumi. No, Masumi's Miyasaki and Kubota were far luckier - they had discovered Yeast #7. 

While #6 was popular, being the only yeast used throughout the war era, #7 was far more popular (and remains the most popular strain used today) as it wasn't just operationally good, it was also a hit with drinkers for its ability to produce fragrant fruitier ginjo aromas. It was so popular in fact that it was at one point the yeast of choice for breweries submitting entries to the Annual New Sake Competition.

    

  

As Miyasaki and Kubota toiled away at improving Masumi's sakes, they have unknowingly struck gold. This Midas touch caught the eye of the National Brewing Institute's chief yeast scientist, Dr Shoichi Yamada, who had suspected that Miyasaki's brewery had surely stumbled unto something far greater than the sole efforts of the dynamic duo. As we now know, Dr Yamada was right - his visits to the brewery had found in their fermentation tanks the yeast we now know as Kyokai #7. It is this discovery that has enshrined Masumi into the sake hall of fame.

As a testament to the brewery's underdog story, Masumi continues to singularly use Yeast #7 in all its sakes.

Today, we'll be sipping on Masumi's Sanka expression that uses Yamada Nishiki rice polished to 45%, and of course Yeast #7, and bottled at 15% ABV. 

This Junmai Daiginjo is said to be "as fresh as an alpine meadow in the spring", hence the name Sanka, or Mountain Flowers. 

Masumi Sanka Junmai Daiginjo | 真澄 山花 純米大吟醸酒 - Review

 

Tasting Notes

Color: Clear

Aroma: Fairly bright, with light touches of green melons and banana candy, pears and grapes - leans more towards the tart and dry profile. There’s a very light touch of dried oregano.

Taste: Dry but still with a good weight to its body, with a good balance starting with tartness that lets up into a deeper autumnal sweetness - think cedar oak or autumn leaves. 

Finish: It turns deeper and sweeter with a mellow but not astringent woodiness of fallen autumn leaves and more on ripened pears and kuromitsu (a kokuto or Japanese brown sugar -based sauce often used on Japanese mochi). The tart-sweetness on the palate turns into more of an umami-sweetness of cooked chestnuts here.

 

My Thoughts

My Rating

🍁🌟

This was just absolutely wonderful! Lovely autumnal notes with lots of depth and evolving complexity - rich, creamy, sweet-umami glow, fading into a gentle, aromatic kuromitsu (Japanese brown sugar syrup).

What's best is that you can find this easily, all year round at most Japanese specialty supermarkets or sake stores at an incredibly good value.

This was absolutely wonderful - this evolved along the way starting out more dry and tart but kept getting sweeter and richer along the way, and by the end of it showcased a beautiful “autumnal” rich, creamy, umami-sweet glow. 

This was incredibly enjoyable and rather than balance in the conventional sense, its splendour comes more from its ability to take you on a journey that keeps blossoming to reveal new flavours. Each sip felt like a rollercoaster addict going right back for another ride. 

It’s effortlessly easy to enjoy - not overly tart or sweet, but with such crisp fruitiness at the start ending with such rich glowing depth at the end. This has so much complexity and yet isn’t hard to pick out flavours, with an overall rounded and smooth profile, that is great for beginners and seasoned drinkers. 

That simultaneous complexity in how it evolves while possessing simple, easy flavours also makes it a good daily drinker - and at a really affordable price and is easy to find! 

This is probably my favourite sake by far considering enjoyment, price and availability.

 

Kanpai!

 

@111hotpot