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Asamai Shuzo is located deep in Akita Prefecture, in the northern part of Honshu, Japan's largest island. Akita is known as snow country, with very cold winters due to to winds blowing off the Sea of Japan-perfect for sake brewing. Asamai Shuzo uses only Akita-grown rice, which is quite rare; many breweries will source rice from all over Japan. Each year they produce a small amount of sake, but it's very well regarded both locally and nationally, and we're very happy to find some here in New York. The Amanoto Tokubetsu Junmai is a blend of Ginnosei and Miyamanishiki rice polished to 55%. The nose explodes with notes of fresh-cut grass, melon, grapefruit zest and a medley of floral tones. The palate is equally vibrant, introducing more herbaceous green notes. This sake has great acidity, and equally great resonance on the palate. Delicious on its own, this would also be great with a variety of spring salads, greens, or lightly-fried fish. Oskar Kostecki
A new batch of the Junmai Ginjo Nama from our friends at Brooklyn Kura. This sake is aromatically very complex, with cantaloupe, cantaloupe rind, banana, citrus, lemon rind, yellow flowers, yogurt, and a slightly green, grassy quality all present on the nose. The palate is bright, with great acidity, but still has the mouth-coating quality I've come to associate with Brooklyn Kura sake. It is drier than previous versions, but still comes in at a Sake Meter Value (Nihonshudo) of -1, making it just a tiny touch off-dry, though this is balanced fantastically by the vibrant acidity. This sake is perfect as an apéritif, or with light fare, salads, crudo, or creamy cheeses. Oskar Kostecki
A richly textured nama (unpasteurized) sake from Fukucho, a small brewery in Hiroshima prefecture operated by Miho Imada, one of the only women to hold the title of both toji (head brewer) and brewery president. Made from 100% Yamadanishiki rice, polished to 55%, this junmai ginjo shows beautiful tropical fruit notes (pineapple, mango, melon) along with pear and a hint of spice, pepper, and anise. The rich and palate-coating texture is balanced by bright acidity, and a hint of effervescence. Very lively and engaging. Oskar Kostecki
I'm not always the biggest fan of genshu (undiluted) sake. Due to not being proofed down post fermentation, these sake can be quite intense, and occasionally be marred by the taste of alcohol. Not this one though! The nose and palate are both savory and earthy, showing notes of toasted rice, toasted sesame, a hint of banana peel, dried lemon peel, cedar, underbrush, a hint of nuttiness and dried mushrooms. Viscous and unctuous, this is an incredibly rich and palate-coating sake, with really good acidity to balance all the bold and dense flavors. Pair with fried foods, soba noodle dishes, creamy pungent cheeses, or, and this might seem a bit wild, I think this sake would go beautifully with a dry-aged steak. Oskar Kostecki
Located just south of Tokyo in Kanagawa prefecture, Izumibashi is a sake brewery dedicated to their farming practices. While most producers buy their sake rice through a government controlled apparatus, and the ones that work with local farmers are few and far between; it is almost unheard of for a sake producer to also farm all of the rice they use. As a registered "Cultivation Brewery", Izumibashi oversees every aspect of the sake making, from growing the rice, to milling, to the brewing process. Their sake is hearty and deep, with the junmai ginjo expressing balance and poise, as well as great intensity. With notes of under-ripe melon, sugar snap peas, faint citrus, lemon and lemon peel, a gentle aroma of steamed and toasted rice, it carries great texture. Very dry, full-bodied, and becoming more expressive as it approaches room temperature, there is also a certain rocky minerality expressed on the long finish. There is a sharpness and directness to this sake, but it's also palate-filling and generous, and certainly delicious. Definitely one to try if you are looking to expand on the more classic junmai ginjo profile. OskarKostecki
Another wonderful sake from Kokken, this Tokubetsu Junmai is make from 100% local Yume no Kaori rice, a specialty of the region. Polished to 60%, this is a very fresh and lively sake, with juicy fruit notes balanced by a hint of toasted rice and a slight savory edge. A bit softer on the palate than the Yamahi, this is very sessionable, and very delicious on its own. Oskar Kostecki
Made from 100% Miyamanishiki rice, this is a wonderful example of yamahai sake from Kokken, a renowned brewery from the south of Fukushima prefecture. While most sake is made by adding lactic acid to the moto (mash of rice and koji that is a "starter" for fermentation) the more time-consuming yamahai method allows ambient lactic acid bacteria to influence and proliferate within the moto. While the population of lactic acid bacteria is building within the starter mash, it comes under the influence of other ambient yeasts and bacteria. Once commercial yeast is added and fermentation properly starts, those ambient yeasts and bacterias are quickly overtaken, but their influence remains in the finished sake, giving yamahai sake a distinctly savory, wild, and gamey character. An "old-school" way of making sake, yamahi is prized for its robust character and deep flavor. That being said, this example by Kokken is quite a delicate and easy-drinking yamahai, with a slight savory profile, a hint of fresh cut grass, nice citrus fruit on the palate, and a bit of a lactic quality. With good acidity and a slightly more robust mouthfeel, this is a wonderful food sake which will pair with a number of different dishes, but is also delicious on its own. Oskar Kostecki
While regionality in sake is only beginning to be discussed, sake from Niigata is undisputedly the most distinct and recognizable "sake region" in Japan. Niigata sake is characterized by clean, dry, and crisp sakes, a profile called "tanrei karakuchi". One of the factors that contributes to this style of sake is Gohyakumangoku rice, a rice strain developed to withstand Niigata's cold climate and short growing season. Kubota Junmai Daiginjo, using 100% Gohyakumangoku, is a pristine example of the Niigata style in premium sake. Showing up-front aromas of ripe pear, green melon, green apple, with a slightly floral, honeysuckle quality, and a touch of the classic anise on the finish, this is a quintessential junmai daiginjo at a fantastic price. When one of our sake distributors told us they were closing out the 300ml bottles, we knew we had to snag some to offer at this great value. Oskar Kostecki
Kubota Tokubetsu Honjozo is made with a combination of Gohyajumangoku rice and local Niigata rice milled more than is required to earn the classification of honjozo, hence the "tokubetsu" or special distinction. A light and dry sake, it exemplifies the Niigata style. Muted aromatics make it a sake that is easy to pair with a variety of dishes and a pleasant green bell pepper note gives it a dry and lightly spicy finish. This is a versatile sake that can be served lightly chilled or warmed up. Oskar Kostecki
This sake is part of a series of Junmai Daiginjos made using the same yeast strain, water source, and rice polishing rate, altering only the rice variety. Nanbu Bijin "Shinpaku", named for the starchy white heart of the rice grain, is made using Yamadanishiki, a rice known for its concentrated starch content and ability to hold its shape after extreme milling. Showing the classic junmai daigino aromas of tropical fruit, particularly cantaloupe and pineapple, it's the velvety texture of this sake that makes it stand out. While this is a sake that can be enjoyed on its own as an apéritif, it also goes well with white fish or other delicate foods. Oskar Kostecki
Omachi is quickly becoming my favorite sake rice. It is the oldest known pure (i.e. non-crossbred) variety, and when brewed to its full potential is wonderfully balanced. Integrating earthy and herbal tones with a subdued fruit profile; less flashy and effusive than Yamada Nishiki, but with depth and complexity. This beautiful namazake from Rihaku Shuzo in Shimane Prefecture is one of the most elegant namas I've had, with notes of white blossoms, pear, white peach, and fresh cut grass on the nose. For "Origin of Purity" they are using flower yeasts, isolated from Japan's natural flora by the crazy cats at Tokyo Agricultural University and used in sake production since the late '90s. Flower yeasts add a heightened aromatic quality, which coupled with the savory undertones of the Omachi rice makes this a very complex sake. The palate opens with more earthy tones of radish and steamed rice, along with citrus and citrus rind, and a slight lactic quality I associate with nama. It's vibrant but elegant, with notes of raw cacao and hazelnut as it warms up in the glass. Very limited in quantity, this is a must-try on my list. Oskar Kostecki