As winter wanes and spring waxes, many rejoice, but for some in Japan, the transitional period between death and rebirth brings with it quite a bit of unpleasantness in the form of cedar-pollen allergy. After World War II, an inordinately large number of cedars were planted in Japan. According to an article published in the Weekly International edition of The Japan Times, there are 11.1 million acres planted with these trees (circa 1997). The same source states that around 10% of Tokyoites are allergic to pollen. That’s nothing to sneeze at!
Fortunately, the sake brewery mentioned in this entry has put the wood from the odious tree to good use. Yamamoto Brewery is located in Akita Prefecture, which is in the northwest corner of Honshu, facing the Sea of Japan. The sake we tasted was stored in a cedar cask made from the wood of a 200-year-old cedar tree. The cask was produced around Showa 50 (1975). The label features a photograph of the actual wood, grains and all.
This sake is a yamahai, which is a process that allows the naturally occurring lactic acid to do its own thing. The lactic acid is a bit of a slowpoke, though, and does not build up enough strength when allowed to develop at its own pace to ward off assorted bacteria and wild yeasts, which take the opportunity to get in on the act. Their presence can be quite positive, contributing to an exciting flavor profile, but it can also be detrimental. The brewer must exercise vigilance. The sake has a seimaibuai of 70%, which means that the rice used had 30% of its outer part removed. This puts the sake in the Honjozo category, not in one of the “premium” categories of Ginjo or Daiginjo, both of which require more polishing.
This is a very enjoyable sake. As could be expected given the age of the wood, there are only traces of wood notes in the nose and on the palate. Licorice notes on the nose are evident but not pronounced. The sake leans more in the direction of dry than in the direction of sweet. There is richness here that expresses itself in subtle ways. The abv is 15%. We paired it with cashew nuts, which proved to be a good idea.
Recommendation level (out of five stars):
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