Today we have yet another very local brew, a Soushibori Tokubetsu Junmai from Hatsumomidi Shuzo in Shunan, Yamaguchi.
This brew is a Tokubetsu Junmai with 60% seimaibuai. This actually is a really good example to illustrate one of the most common confusing points about sake labeling, one that I didn’t properly understand myself until fairly recently.
Most people see 60% or lower seimaibuai and think “Ah, ginjo!” That’s what I did, anyway. However, clearly this bottle says nothing about being ginjo, despite the seimaibuai. Why? Because ginjo and daiginjo sakes are actually defined by a very particular flavor and aroma profile, called ginjo-ka, and not just the seimaibuai. The semaibuai is an important part of achieving proper ginjo-ka, but so is the steaming process, the shubo making process, the yeast used–making ginjo sake is a unique subset of the entire sake making process, not just the seimaibuai. For an excellent write up about this by the inestimable John Gauntner, check out the Sake World blog.
Thus, we get sakes like this “tokubetsu” junmai. That tokubetsu label just means “special” and by using it, the brewer can point out that this sake has that very popular seimaibuai (which does impact the flavor and aroma!) but isn’t made in the typical ginjo process. You can see the same on tokubetsu honjozo (which are made with some added brewer’s alcohol, thus no longer junmai).
Now, how is the sake? On opening, the aroma is deeper than a ginjo, and it is a gentle straw color. In the mouth it’s rich and flavorful, with a mellow sweet note of cooked apple/very light raisin on the top notes. It drinks somewhat heavy, with a bit of bite in the throat.
It has a strong umami, and the aftertaste is mild with a good balance of sour and mellow prune sweetness.
It lacks the bright apple/banana balance of a ginjo ka, and instead makes for a more full bodied drink just as good for salty snacking and meaty meals as for enjoying with friends over hearty conversation.
It’s good, and a welcome change from the junmai ginjo fever that seems to be taking over sake these days.