Toyobijin no Kai Event

In my recent pursuit to learn as much as possible about the local sake world, I’ve tried to join as many events as I can. It’s not only a good chance to drink some sake, but also to experience the cultural and social aspects of the drink, as well as meet some great people.

This has led me some places I never otherwise would have gone–high end sushi restaurants, tiny hidden sake shops, and Saturday it took me to one of the poshest wedding venues in the area.

Saturday May 26 marked the 3rd annual Toyobijin no Kai dinner, an event sponsored by Nakashimaya Sake Shop and featuring a wide spread of Toyobijin sakes from Sumikawa Shuzo. The venue is Shunan city’s Toishi Kaikan, a wedding venue attached to the Toishi Hachimangu Shrine.

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Toishi Hachinmangu

The evening included a meal prepared especially to match the sakes on offer, although I did request one that wouldn’t be so seafood centric because I actually wanted to eat.

I’m glad I did…the meat was simply amazing. But! I wasn’t there for the food. I

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President Takafumi Sumikawa of Sumikawa Shuzo

was there for the sake, and to hopefully get a chance to talk to President Sumikawa about his fantastic sakes. I was lucky in that I got some very good chances at both.

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Toyobijin is known lately for it’s Ippo Junmai Daiginjo, which is of course very good, and was there in not only the regularly available style but a special Ippo Mirai Aiyama Nama. There were also Daiginjo Jipangu, a Tokuginjo Aiyama, Ichiban Ginjo, and more…

I could go on forever about the sake list: there were 8 different varieties available, all of them, frankly, outstanding. However, I want to focus on two in particular, which were made specially available just for this evening.

The first is Tokuyama Monogatari Nama.

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Tokuyama Monogatari Nama

Tokuyama Monogatari is a retired label used by Sumikawa until 2013. The owner of Nakashima Saketen, a local sake shop with perhaps the best selection of sake in Yamaguchi, convinced the owner to revive it and the first bottles were made available for this event. It was lovely, of course, a smooth and mellow aroma of banana and melon, with a touch of astringency to balance the sweet. It was a very fine ginjo nama, of course, and I hope it will remain available as a pasteurized drink, as well.

But I’ll have to be honest, the one sake that slapped me across the face and made me take notice was this one:

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Toyobijin Yamadanishiki Tobin Shibori Junmai Ginjo

This is a junmai ginjo tobin shibori. Tobin shibori means that instead of being normally pressed in a big machine like most sakes, or even a more traditional wooden tank, for this one the thick moromi mash is put into cotton bags and hung over a tank. The sake that drips out is funneled directly into bottles for processing.

What does all this mean for the sake itself? Well, first thing is it means this sake is super, duper rare. Notice that these bottles look kind of small? For this event, every other sake was provided in huge 1.8 liter bottles. This one was in tiny bottles (I didn’t check, but they look less than the normal 720ml, even) –the reason being is that production of this sake is limited to 18 liters a year. 18. Yes. I would imagine we put almost an entire year’s production away that one evening.

The rarity means this sake is not available for sale, anywhere. It’s reserved for special events and the occasional brewery visit…so, yeah. Special.

The second thing this means is the flavor is incredible. Because there is no pressure involved in the pressing, this sake only has those esters and components that are released from the rice and yeast naturally. Despite the fact that it’s a ginjo, it’s much less bright than most, with an incredible full body with deep umami and berry overnotes that, frankly, made me want to ignore every other sake on the tables. It was that good.

I also got a very good chance to talk to President Sumikawa about this sake, other events, and my Kikisake-shi studies. He was alsokind enough to invite me to visit the kura. I hope I can arrange that soon, because I want to get my mouth around some more of that Tobin shibori.

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