Tasting SakeOne Imports: Hakutsuru Draft, Tanrei Junmai, Superior Junmai Ginjo, and Sho-Une Junmai Dai Ginjo

Hakutsuru Sho-Une Junmai Dai GinjoSakeOne doesn’t just make interesting sakes in its Oregon home base, it also imports them — lots of them, in fact. In May 2014, SakeOne began importing the Hakutsuru line, which is Japan’s biggest export sake. All four of these sakes come from Hakutsuru collection. Let’s dive in, reader-san!

Hakutsuru Draft Sake – Draft sake is aged for 1 month at 41 degrees Fahrenheit before bottling and is unpasteurized. Dry, fresh, and uncomplicated, this is a basic, crystal clear sake with light notes of melon and (heavier) solvent character. Overall, its uninspired entry-level stuff that I’d recommend primarily for use as a mixer. C- / $3 per 180ml bottle

Hakutsuru Tanrei Junmai – A basic junmai sake but nonetheless a step up from the Draft, featuring clearer and stronger melon character, a creamier body, and mild hospital notes on the finish. Definitely easier to sip on, this is your basic sushi bar sake, dry with just a bare hint of sweetness. B- / $4 per 180ml bottle

Hakutsuru Superior Jumnai Ginjo – Stepping up the quality ladder is this junmai ginjo, which is made with more of the rice grain polished away before it hits the brewery. Big, fresh melon notes are punchy on the nose, but the body is oddly more astringent than the Tanrei bottling. Enjoyable at first, it ultimately gets a bit hoary on the finish, with a slightly sour milk character. B- / $8 per 300ml bottle

Hakutsuru Sho-Une Junmai Dai GinjoJunmai daiginjo is one of the highest levels of sake production, with considerably more of the rice grain polished away before it is brewed, but otherwise made in the same style as all junmai sake. Here the melon notes take on a deeper and much more brooding character, featuring some mushroom notes plus various herbs. B+ / $11 per 300ml bottle

hakutsuru-sake.com

Review: Kibo Junmai Sake

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Canned beer is old news. Canned sake, now that’s something else.

Kibo, made in Japan and imported by Oregon’s SakeOne, is released in memory of the 2011 earthquake that devastated Japan and the Suisen Shuzo in which this sake is made. Rising from the rubble, Suisen Shuzo is now exporting Kibo (the name translates as “hope”) to the U.S. — its first ever product for our country.

The choice of a can is unique and intriguing; Kibo is designed for outdoor festivals and the like, for party-goers tired of the usual beer and wine options.

As for what’s inside that can, it’s a largely traditional example of Junmai sake, heavy with melon overtones, somewhat earthy and mushroomy as the palate expands, and lightly sweet on the finish. It’s pleasant enough for sipping while you’re watching Arctic Monkeys jam and you’re grooving with the masses, but Kibo doesn’t even pretend to offer the refinement of a more elegant sake. Totally worth 6 bucks.

15.5% abv.

B / $6 (180ml can) / sakeone.com

Book Review: Sake Confidential

sake confidentialTo say that sake is a poorly understood beverage in the U.S. is an understatement. Never mind understanding the various grades and styles of sake, how to drink it (hot or cold?), and what kind of food to drink it with, there’s the not-so-little matter that most imported sakes don’t have anything written in English on the label.

John Gauntner’s Sake Confidential can’t teach you Japanese, but it can give you everything you really need to know about sake in one slim tome. Just 175 spare pages in length, the book breaks sake down by topic; each chapter is a myth about sake that Gantner is prepared to debunk. Is cheap sake supposed to be drank warm and good sake cold? (Not necessarily.) Is non-junmai sake garbage? (Not necessarily.) Should you only drink sake out of one of those little ceramic cups? (Not necessarily.)

Gauntner’s world of sake is a complex and decidedly confusing place, and even in the end the writer confesses that there are no clear answers to anything in this industry. At the same time, the book works well as a primer for both novices and intermediate sake drinkers who want to know more about this unique rice product. While the book’s design — slim and tall like a pocket travel guide — makes little sense for a topic like this (and, in fact, makes it unfortunately difficult to comfortably read), Gauntner nonetheless does us all a much-needed service by digesting all of this material into one place — and inexpensively, too.

B+ / $10 / [BUY IT HERE]

Tasting Report: When Sake Met Cheese

Sake is traditionally thought of as a pairing for Japanese cuisine… but how about cheese? SakeOne put together a little sampler in conjunction with the Marin French Cheese Company (plus friends) — an amazing producer that’s all of 8 miles from my house here in Northern California.

We’ve reviewed most of these sakes before, so today I’m just looking at the concept of pairing rice wine with rich cheese. Here are some case-by-case thoughts on a quartet of duos.

Momokawa Organic Junmai Ginjo ($14) with Marin French Petite Breakfast Brie – This is an interesting combination and great first exploration, coming across a lot like the way that melon and parmesan cheese can match up swimmingly. The brie is beautiful alone, and the sweeter sake does work as nice foil to the umami in the cheese.

Momokawa Organic (Unfiltered) Nigori ($14) with Laura Chenel’s Chévre – Fresh, moist, and creamy, this slightly grainy cheese pairs nicely with the cloudy, more savory sake. Overall it’s less of a counterpoint though, and more of a happy companion with the cheese.

Kasumi Tsuru Kimoto Extra Dry ($27) with Laura Chenel’s Ash-rinded Buchette – This very pungent cheese might have been a bit spoiled during shipment to me. That said, this sake is also more pungent than those preceding it here, balancing its melon notes with some deeper, funkier character — so I can see how the combo would work.

Yoshinogawa Winter Warrior Junmai Ginjo ($27) with Rogue River Blue Cheese – Sake + blue cheese? Another surprising winner. This recalls the first pairing — a little sweet meets salty/savory — but amps things up quite a bit. Winter Warrior is a lively and balanced sake on its own, but this is a wonderful example of how a big, punchy cheese can elevate a quality sake into new and exciting territory.

Review: Ty Ku Silver, Black, and Coconut Sake

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One of the bigger names in imported sakes (in addition to a panoply of other spirits like soju and other Asian-inspired liquors), Ty Ku hails from Nara, Japan, where it’s produced in iconic, triangular-base bottles.

Ty Ku produces four sakes (one flavored). Only the white bottling (Ty Ku’s highest-level sake) is not reviewed here. The three bottlings below are also available in a gift pack (pictured) of three 330ml bottles ($39).

Thoughts follow. (Prices are for individual 720ml bottles.)

Ty Ku Sake Junmai (Silver) – Slightly brooding on the nose, with more of a winter squash character to it. Modest honeydew notes emerge on the body, with a very gentle sweetness to it. Initially a touch jarring, it grows on you over time. Drink very cold. B- / $16

Ty Ku Sake Junmai Ginjo (Black) – Gentler, with notes of melon and coconut on the nose. More fruit, with cantaloupe and some pear character, emerges on the palate.  Quite fresh, it’s a classic, if simple, junmai ginjo. B+ / $22

Ty Ku Coconut Sake – A nigori (cloudy) sake produced at junmai quality and flavored with, of course, coconut. Pina colada on the nose, but tempered with melon notes on the body. It’s sweet, but not as sweet as you might expect, with the coconut notes coming off as rich and filling. The finish, however, gets a little mouth-coating after awhile, leaving one running for the water. C+ / $13

trytyku.com

Review: 4 Imported Sakes from SakeOne

WinterWarriorKOOregon-based SakeOne is America’s largest producer of sake, and it’s one of its biggest importers of Japanese sakes, too. Recently the company added two new imported sakes to its lineup. We tasted them both (plus two previously available expressions), and have some opinions to share.

Here are thoughts on the four new products, which should all have fairly broad, national distribution.

Kasumi Tsuru Kimoto Extra Dry Sake – A dry style, with fresh melon and light almond notes on the nose. Some earthiness adds curiosity (particularly on the nose), but the fruit is solid, with a big cantelope finish. Refreshing and easy to drink, with plenty to explore. B / $30

SakeMoto Junmai Sake – A bit more rustic, with some bite on the back end that you don’t get in more refined sakes. Still, at this price you’re getting a surprising level of quality: mushroom layered with melon and some floral notes, with a fresh, honeydew-infused finish. B- / $11

Murai Family Nigori Genshu Sake – Undiluted (genshu) sake bottled at 19.9% alcohol. Unfiltered also, which makes it creamy and cloudy, an increasingly popular style. Big nose, bigger body. Melon meets roasted nuts, with a palate that features tapioca, sweet mango, and cotton candy. Easy to love. B+ / $25

Yoshinogawa Winter Warrior (pictured) – Nigata (snow based) style sake, this sake has perhaps the most fruit of the bunch, as well as the best balance. Tropical notes with melon, lightly floral aromatics, and a lightly oily body that is still refreshing and clean, this is my favorite sipper of the lineup. A- / $27

sakeone.com

Review: Hiro “Blue” Junmai Ginjo Sake

Hiro Red Blue sakeHiro is a Japanese sake brand that comes in two varieties — “Red” (Junmai) and “Blue” (Junmai Ginjo). We tasted the Blue variety

Very fresh on the nose, Hiro Blue offers big cantaloupe character. Some lemon peel notes on the finish, and a mild green character follows. Overall a modest body. Some vegetal character on the finish mars an otherwise fine little sake.

B+ / $35 / hirosake.com