At the risk of showing bias towards a particular region, yet another sake from Kochi prefecture. Ah, who am I kidding? No apologies, I love Kochi sake!
Akitora is made by a tiny kura by the name of Yuko Shuzo in the small seaside town of Aki City (the name of the sake derives from the name of the city, the tora part means tiger) sandwiched between mountain ranges and the Pacific Ocean. Like many parts of the Shikoku island of which Kochi is a part of, fresh seafood is the claim to fame and often cited as the influence on the Kochi style of dry, solid sake.
Yuko Shuzo make only a small amount of sake and pride themselves on their hands-on approach. This includes their policy of only pressing via “fune”. These days many if not most breweries use a large machine resembling an oversized accordion called an assakuki to press their sake. Although very efficient, breweries often opt for one or both of the two other pressing methods for their high end sake. One of these methods is the sake fune. Basically, the sake mash is poured into cotton bags and then stacked on top of each other in a box. The bags are then slowly compressed from the top in a vice-like process gradually releasing the fermented sake. In this process the highly sought first and second runs of the mash can be separated from the “dregs” and then blended (if desired) to create the perfect consistency. A somewhat time consuming process, Yuko Shuzo spend up to 4-5 days pressing their sake this way.
The Akitora Junmai Ginjo Nama (unpasteurised) is very much a classic Kochi style of sake. While the nama side of the sake shows in the vibrant aromas of strawberry and white rind cheese it hits hard on the palate with a full, bone dry attack but finishes on a more mellow note of marshmallow and coco powder. The mild acidity works nicely with some hints of creamed rice. A great sake for straight up chilled drinking or would be a very flexible food partner. Of course most Kochi folk would recommend fresh seafood and I’d be loathe to argue.
Akitora 安芸虎 Junmai Ginjo
Drunken Whales and Kochi Sake
Oops, it’s been a while…
I’ve made no secret of my love for Tokubetsu style sake so I thought I’d continue on that road and take a look at a Tokubetsu from one of my favourite regions, Kochi.
Kochi prefecture is on the small island of Shikoku to the southern east of the main island of Japan. Not a particularly big place but Kochi is known for having one of the highest rates of sake consumption per capita in the country. And if you ever meet someone from Kochi they’ll probably slip that bit of trivia into the conversation, they’re rather proud of it.
Kochi is a relatively warm area so in years gone by it was a difficult region for brewing sake as brewing usually takes place in the winter months when fermentation is easier to control. But with the introduction of refrigeration Kochi is firmly on the map as a region capable of making good, consistent sake. Due to the unique conditions of the region it is also maintains it’s ties with the local brewing guild, Tosa (Tosa is the original name for Kochi) more than some other regions. Regional guilds were developed years ago where the brewers would trade secrets and techniques and work together to strive toward a sort of common goal as to how they wanted to define the sake of their region. As time has gone by, brewers are now spread all over the country taking the techniques of their guild with them and combining them with the ways of other areas. This is lamented by some as taking away from the once distinctive regional characteristics. But Tosa seems to be going stronger than others. As a result unlike many other regions it is safe to say there is a recognisable Kochi style. Dry, clean and sturdy without too much fruity aromatics* are the main features. That’s not to say you can spot them easily in a blind tasting but more of what you can expect if you stumble across a sake from Kochi.
Being surrounded by mountains and close by the sea, Suigei 酸鯨(written with the characters Drunken Whale) delights in its nature-rich environment and sees it as a major contributor to the character of their sake. Sake for putting in the middle of the dinner table and enjoying with friends rather than sake to pontificate over, Suigei are about down-to-earth sake for the everyman. My kind of sake!
The Tokubetsu Junmai follows Tosa suit showing muted aromatics but a fresh, dry palate with a crisp, cleansing finish that makes this a perfect sake for simply prepared seafood and plain old drinking.
As you may remember Tokubetsu means special and in order to be labelled Tokubetsu the brewer has to have done something specific to use this tag. In this case the rice used has been milled down to 55% effectively putting it into the Ginjo (premium) category but the brewery have decided to put in the middle and go with Tokubetsu.
Suigei Tokubetsu Junmai is available in Australia in various Japanese restaurants – if you spot it, it’s worth a go.
* A bit of a caveat; although Kochi sake is traditionally dry and not overly fruity, a recent discovery by the Kochi Industrial Research Centre resulted in a yeast strain called Cel 24 being used in a few breweries. This use of this particular strain produces sake with massively rich, candy-like aromatics. Sake using this yeast also tend to be on the sweeter side in consistence with the aroma. Kameizumi is a popular example. Often sake with this yeast will have it labelled so keep an eye out! It’s interesting if not to everyone’s tastes.