Nihonshu has a rich and long history. The sake we know today is not the same as the sake that would’ve been drunk hundreds of years ago nor is sake being made in the same way or even in the same places.
These days when people think of popular sake brewing regions they are likely to think of Niigata, Iwate and Yamagata; breweries from the Tohoku region to the north of the Japan’s main island. The Kansai region, in the west is often regarded as an area of volume. After all, around 1/3 of all sake comes from Nada in Hyogo and Fushimi in Kyoto. Of course, a lot of quality sake comes from these regions too, but they don’t seem to be quite as “hip” as they once were. Just outside of Hyogo in Osaka there is the small town of Ikeda, a once pumping sake town boasting 38 kura (breweries). A huge amount of breweries for such a small town. To put that in perspective, these days the whole of Osaka only has 16 breweries in total.
Sadly, as a reflection of the decline of sake’s popularity in Japan, of those 38 breweries in Ikeda only one remains: the inimitable Goshun. Named after an artist of the Edo Period, Goshun have been brewing sake since the early 1700’s and they definitely represent the “old school”. One of the first things you notice about a bottle of Goshun Daiginjo is they don’t have “daiginjo” anywhere on the label. This can be traced back to 1943 when a system known as the Nihonshu Kyubetsu Seido or Nihonshu Classification system was put in place by the government. Sake breweries would submit their sake for tasting and would be awarded a classification of Special Class (Tokkyu), First Class (Ikkyu) or Second Class (Nikyu) according to the perceived quality of the sake. Sake was then sold with prices (and taxes) to go with their given grade. However many breweries believed it to be a flawed system as these things are always subject to interpretation. As a result many breweries thumbed their noses at the government and decided not to submit their sake for the classification. This then resulted in many high quality sake sitting out on the shelves at bargain prices because they didn’t have a government awarded classification. In 1990 the laws defining tokutei meishoshu (Special Designation Sake) came in defining the categories we know today and by 1992 the Nihonshu Classification System was a thing of the past.
But the folks at Goshun aren’t too big on moving with the times. They only make three sake: a daiginjo labelled as Toku (special class), then a honjozo and a futsu-shu labelled as Ikeda-Shu. They only bottle their sake in the traditional 1800ml bottle (isshobin). They don’t have a website, e-mail and don’t even deliver. Every year when their sake is ready the shops and restaurants of Osaka fax their orders in, Goshun divies up the allocation and then the restaurants and shop owners have to come get the sake themselves – it sells out every year without fail. Brewery tours or visits are definitely off limits. And the sake rocks!
Sticking to the Osaka motto: “just becuase it’s cheap doesn’t mean it should taste bad”, these guys make very good sake for the price. Goshun is solid, working man’s sake. It’s sake for drinking, not for pontificating. Find yourself eating out in an izakaya in downtown Osaka chowing on good, local food? Goshun is for you. Literally. Because you’ll be hard pressed to find Goshun anywhere but Osaka. They make it for the local market and the locals lap it up leaving precious little for anyone else.
I must admit I spent quite a few years living in Osaka and have some ties to Ikeda so I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for Goshun and everytime I go back to Osaka I find myself drinking plenty of it – but I aint complaining.
Seimaibuai: 50 % Seki-ban Omachi Rice
Steely, minerally aromas don’t give too much away but on the palate it’s a lesson in balance. Not overly dry and not sweet, right in the middle. Sturdy yet round and plush with hints of aniseed and a tight finish. It has a fresh elegance but is not a petite, delicate style of daiginjo. Goshun works as a foil to just about any kind of food and drinks brilliantly on its own. Never pass up an opportunity to try some Goshun.
And if you ever find yourself wandering the streets of Osaka, remember the Osaka Strut-