During the Golden Week holiday, which is a week-long hiatus from the daily grind in Japan and runs from late April to early May, we went hiking on Mt. Mitake. Mt. Mitake is a medium-sized mountain with beautiful trails and is only two hours from central Tokyo. For our picnic at the top of the mountain, I brought the 59 Takachiyo Junmai Ginjo Mori-no-Kumasan (たかちよ 純米吟醸 森のくまさん) pictured above from the Takachiyo Sake Brewery of Niigata Prefecture. Mori-no-kumasan means “bear from the forest,” which also happens to be the name of a children’s song whose English lyrics go like this, “The other day, I met a bear…” Mori-no-kumasan is also a type of high-quality rice, grown primarily for eating, in Kumamoto Prefecture. As we were heading into the wilderness, we thought a sake made from 100% Mori-no-kumasan rice was the appropriate sake to enjoy.
The 59 Takachiyo series is interesting in several respects. The different renditions, which the brewery calls “chapters,” are brewed using exactly the same method, with the same seimaibuai (精米歩合), or rice-polishing ratio, the same method of polishing rice, and the same yeast. After returning from Mt. Mitake, I purchased another sake from the same series, 59 Takachiyo Junmai Ginjo Hanafubuki (59 たかちよ 純米吟醸 花吹雪). Hanafubuki is rice used primarily for sake brewing that is grown in Aomori Prefecture. The information common to both of them is as follows:
Polishing Ratio: 59% (flat rice polishing)
Yeast: Kyokai 1801
There are two ways to polish rice for sake. The more common method is spherical rice polishing, called kyukeiseimai (球形精米). Flat rice polishing, called henpeiseimai (扁平精米), is more challenging and labor-intensive. It requires care to prevent the rice from breaking. However, recently with new technology, this method has become more affordable and common. The reason henpeiseimai is preferred is that the protein that causes the unpleasant taste exists at both ends of the long axis of the grain. Through flat rice polishing, a rice polishing ratio of 60% would have the same amount of the undesirable protein as a conventional 40%. In other words, a Ginjo sake (rice-polishing ratio: 60% or less) will taste similar to a Daiginjo sake (rice-polishing ratio: 50% or less).
Regarding the yeast used, Kyokai 1801 is considered a highly aromatic yeast. Kyokai means it comes from the Brewing Society of Japan (Nihon Jozo Kyokai; 日本醸造協会).
Color: Both slightly yellow with some cloudiness from the fact that they are not filtered with charcoal.
Aroma: Compared to Mori-no-kumasan, the Hanafubuki had stronger yeasty and floral aromas.
Flavor: Sake from Niigata is often dry, so the fact that these two drinks are sweet with strong bodies is somewhat unusual. Mori-no-kumasan is a bit sweeter, and its sweetness lingers longer.
The 59 Takachiyo series is interesting, as it allows the consumer to experience the difference that the type of rice makes in the flavor of the sake. The two types we tasted were quite similar in fragrance and flavor. We are looking forward to drinking these again and “reading” the other “chapters” in their interesting “book.”
Unlike the type pictured above, this is definitely a bear we’ d like to meet again in the woods, or anywhere for that matter!