Tickled Pink: Atagonomatsu Harukoi Junmai Ginjo (あたごのまつ はるこい 純米吟醸)

As winter fades into spring, one can enjoy the various expressions of the color pink, starting with plum blossoms, which are often darker, and later cherry blossoms, or sakura. As sakura blossoms are in bloom for a very short time, they are a symbol of mortality and rebirth–the ephemeral nature of existence given a positive twist. In Japan, they are celebrated by the centuries’ old tradition of cherry-blossom viewing, or hanami. Recently, I “discovered” the perfect beverage for hanami season – one that reflects the hues of the sakura blossoms themselves.

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The sake that is literally demanding that spring come quickly.

Atagonomatsu Harukoi Junmai Ginjo (あたごのまつ はるこい 純米吟醸) from Nizawa Brewery in Miyagi is a nigorizake, or cloudy sake, that is salmon-pink in color. The pink color is not the result of some additive, but rather a naturally occurring phenomenon from the use of sekishokukobo (赤色酵母), which means “red-colored yeast.”

#drinkingjapan #drinkjapan #Japanesesake #atagonomatsu #harukoi #nizawashuzo #sekishokukobo
A beautiful peachy color – perfect for the season.

So, what does it smell and taste like? The nose is not unlike a red wine – a Pinotage. Frankly, if blindfolded, I would not have guessed that I was smelling a nihonshu. There is pronounced acidity and sweetness on the palate reminiscent of strawberries and crème. It is slightly frizzante due to secondary fermentation.

According to the Brewing Society of Japan (日本醸造協会), although the purposeful use of sekishokukobo is recent, in ancient times sake brewers sometimes saw their fermenting mixture, or moromi, suddenly turn red due to natural mutation of the yeast. Today, a mutant strain of number 10 kyokai (協会) yeast is bred and used to make pink sake. Kyokai yeast refers to the yeast produced and distributed by the Brewing Society of Japan. Sekishokukobo is weaker than normal “white” yeast. It takes a lot of skill to produce sake that is pink in color, as red yeast can easily be overrun and killed off by white yeast in the moromi. According to a local sake shop, pink sake appears normally during spring time due to the color association with the season. As the yeast imbues strong sweet and sour notes, it is not your typical sake to pair with food. However, it is a delightful beverage for hanami.

Brewing Society of Japan’s article on sekishokukobo:

Click to access Koubo-hanasi-Part-8.pdf

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