Late last year I went shopping at one of the USA’s only sake specialty retailers, True Sake in San Francisco. When I mentioned that my favorite sake is Takasago’s Divine Droplets Junmai Daiginjo I was told some unpleasant news: 2018’s batch would be the last one. Devastated, I emailed importer Vine Connections looking for answers.
But first, a little background on why Divine Droplets is so special. The Takasago brewery is in Hokkaido, the most northerly prefecture of Japan, where snowy, cold winters are the norm. When the weather is right, brewers at Takasago build an ice dome to drip-filter the sake inside of it. Drip-filtration, called “shizuku,” produces a sake of extreme finesse. The one downside to this method is the time required to allow gravity to separate the juice from the solids. During this time the sake can oxidize, or bacteria can spoil it. However, the temperature inside of the ice dome mitigates these risks. Building the ice dome is extraordinarily labor intensive but the results are marvelous.
So why is Takasago’s Divine Droplets no more? Sadly, due to climate change the ice dome is no longer sustainable. But rather than let the Divine Droplets legacy fade, Takasago has given shizuku specialist Toko, based in Yamagata prefecture, the green light to take up the mantle. There are some changes in store: Toko is using different rice and yeast varieties, for example. And the ice dome? Unfortunately it is no more. Toko is replicating the conditions of the ice dome in a more controlled environment to create a consistently high-quality sake. Not as charming of a story, but the bigger question is whether it’s any good. To find out, I put the two expressions side by side.
Takasago Divine Droplets Junmai Daiginjo is a masterclass in elegance. The nose is at once subtle and complex with an even balance of fruit and rice aromas. Classic daiginjo descriptors like pear, fuji apple, and honeydew meets steamed white rice and honey. The texture is like no other sake. It’s light bodied with understated acidity and umami. Typical of shizuku sake it feels plush and silky without a hint of bitterness. The finish is ethereal; the sake merely dissipates off the palate. A+ / $30 (300ml) while it lasts
Toko Divine Droplets Junmai Daiginjo is a different animal. The nose offers more intensity and riper fruit. Apple, pear, and honeydew are here along with green grape and lychee. While Takasago is a distinctive blend of fruit and grain aromas, Toko is unmistakably a potent, fruity daiginjo. It’s also less understated on the palate. A distinct vein of acidity persists from the entry to the finish. Not to worry though, it’s refreshing rather than sharp, which lends the sake well to food pairing. There is a touch more weight on Toko but it still feels light. Fortunately, like the Takasago, it is extraordinarily well made without bitterness or burn. Its finish is also longer, rivaling the length of fine wines. A+ / $80 (720ml)
I admit to feeling disillusioned when I first tasted Toko’s effort, the only reason being that this new Divine Droplets shares little with the old expression. The original is subtle, complex, and delicate. The new is fruit-forward, flavorful, and structured. But what they share is this; they are two of the finest sakes I have tasted. Well-deserved top scores for both.