So to put to rest any doubts that I am a fan of junmai despite my post singing the praises of aruten, today I’m going to talk about a brewery that’s about as junmai obsessed as you can get. The curiously named Shinkame (holy turtle) is located in Saitama just next to Tokyo, a prefecture with quite a few breweries but not exactly the place people think of when talking about great brewing regions. However among these breweries Shinkame stands head and shoulders above the rest. These guys are known across Japan for brewing nothing but Junmai.
You’ll remember that up until WWII most sake was made in the junmai style of using rice, koji, yeast and water and nothing else. It was basic practice rather than passion for the style, in fact the term “junmai” wasn’t even used, it would have been a redundant moniker like say, “grape wine”. But rice shortages during WWII forced breweries to use alcohol and adjuncts to increase yields under laws handed down by the government. Breweries continued with the brewing practice of adding large amounts of alcohol to augment yields which didn’t do much for the general perceived quality of sake as being hot and sweet. Some believed, including Yoshimasa Ogawahara owner of Shinkame, that throwing back to sake of old and stopping the practice of adding alcohol was the future for sake. In 1967 Shinkame received a permit from the Taxation Office to begin brewing small batches of junmai sake. By 1975 Shinkame were the first brewery to begin making moves to restructure their entire portfolio to solely junmai sake. The translated article on Shinkame’s website details his struggle to become the first all-Junmai sake brewery in Japan which he achieved in 1987.
These days Shinkame has a solid reputation for making sturdy, structured sake that lets the rice sing rather than be overcome by pretty yeast aromatics. The Hikomago Junmai (aged 3 years) I had recently was all things Shinkame is renowned for; solid with a ricey grit and plenty of umami-rich body. Interestingly, it held up best at room temperature rather than chilled where it seemed to lose its balance. Warmed, it also gave a lovely tannic astringency lined nicely with low acidity and pleasant dryness. Shinkame is well-worth trying as a great example of the kind of sake junmai fanatics rave about. And it definitely is worth raving about.
Stats: Shinkame Hikomago Junmai, Saitama Prefecture
Seimaibuai: 55% Yamadanishiki rice.
Available online along with other Shinkame sake from Sakenet Australia