Despite Australia seeing barely a fraction of the range of sake available in Japan it’s funny how some people are so quick to already look for something new, different or off the wall. When talking to folks interested in sake I’m coming across more and more people who want to know about barrel-aged sake, long-term aged sake, sake made with ridiculously low seimaibuai, wild yeast strains and also unusual rice varieties. Which brings us to Ine Mankai’s Red Rice Sake.
Relatively speaking, this sake seems to garner quite a bit of attention. So what’s it all about? You may remember we actually looked at Hitachino Nest’s Red Rice Ale, a beer made with an addition of a particular rice with a red/purplish hue. Well, this is pretty much a sake version. Although red rice sake is certainly rare it is not new. Red Sake or Akazake (or sometimes Akaisake) has traditionally been made in a number of ways.
1. Probably the most famous style is that which originated in Kumamoto prefecture where the sake was made in the usual way with ash added to the sake mash traditionally to prevent spoiling but also adding a reddish tint to the sake.
2. Another type, popular in Niigata is made using a type of koji that has a natural red pigment.
3. Finally, there is the method of using actual red rice, usually in conjunction with regular sake rice. Often differentiated by being referred to as red rice sake instead of red sake. Makes sense huh?
Ine Mankai is made by Mukai Shuzo in Kyoto. With a rich history dating back to 1754, Mukai Shuzo also boasts the honour of having one of Japan’s first female toji Kuniko, daughter of the brewery owner who stepped up to take over brewing duties. One interesting thing about this sake for me is that it really cries out for food. Sure you could drink it on it’s own but the flavour profile lends itself to food matching. And this is where it’s popularity seems to stem from with restaurants picking up on it’s ability to be a sake that goes with dishes perhaps not normally associated with sake or Japanese cuisine.
Yeah, yeah so what does it taste like?
Different for sure. Firstly, with its rosy pink hue it looks gorgeous. Pomegranate and olives are the first aromas to jump out followed by hints of macerated cherry and whiff of marshmallow. Best served chilled; on the palate it hits sweet almost like port but without the heat and again with cherries and a bit of plum. My first instinct is to go with some pickles to munch on with this sake but I’d also go for sauce-heavy Chinese food of the sweet variety. An interesting sake for sure and well-crafted but definitely one for a certain occasion or meal. Sure it has “sake” traits but it feels like a sake for wine drinkers and as it turns out it’s mostly wine drinkers who have been talking about this sake here and in Japan. Some may consider it a “gateway sake” ie. punters who like this may be tempted to try other sake, however as this type of sake is something of a rarity it’s unlikely they’ll find much out there similar to Ine Mankai, as lovely as it is.
It’s also interesting to note that although the English label describes this sake as Junmai Genshu (pure rice sake, undiluted), the use of the red rice variety actually prevents it from qualifying for Special Designation status (Tokuteimeishoshu) so legally in Japan it cannot be (and is not) labelled as Junmai. All rice used in Tokuteimeishoshu must be inspected by the government and be of a specific grade to qualify.