Text: Dakki Kong
If you’re about to enter the world of sake, you’d get to know these five persons and their personalities sooner or later. We’re referring to the five most used rice grains for sake brewing. These five rice grains have characters of their own and try their best to perform in a sake bottle, creating a fascinating world for sake drinking. Now let’s give you a heads up by talking a little about the characters of these five key players. So that you could drink, be merry and enjoy the encounter!
Charismatic Leader - Yamandanishiki
Here comes the first one, Yamandanishiki. This competent "gentleman" beats a group of sake rice grains to be Japan’s best rice for brewing sake. Yamandanishiki features a tenacious look with a muscular and big-boned build while having a resilient and flexible character. Yamandanishiki got a big heart as its shinpaku (i.e. the starchy centre core) is larger than most sake rice grains, which makes him ideal for a lower rice polishing ratio that brings a classy style with vibrant fruitiness in the junmai ginjo or junmai daiginjo.
Acclaimed as ‘the King of sake rice’, Yamandanishiki is accomplished at creating an intense and balanced style of sake. That’s why it’s not only gaining popularity in its origin, Hyogo prefecture but also being widely planted in other prefectures in Japan. Taste some of the best Yamandanishiki crafted by the celebrated brand names such as Juyondai, Shichiken, Fukuju and Senkin. If you’re in the mood for an upgraded enjoyment, go for Hakuko which brews a rich, soft and fruity junmai daiginjo by using the premium A-grade Yamandanishiki and the soft water from Hiroshima.
Famous and Sophisticated Socialite - Gohyakumangoku
The second most important friend you have to meet is the sophisticated Gohyakumangoku, a completely different character from the matured and generous Yamandanishiki. Gohyakumangoku is truly a trendsetter. “She” is the one who leads the way towards the clean and light style of sake. Originated from Niigata, Gohyakumangoku is slightly slimmer than Yamandanishiki but possesses an equally big heart as Yamandanishiki does. In spite of being harder than Yamandanishiki, Gohyakumangoku is admittedly fragile and easily cracked during high-level rice polishing. So, in general, Gohyakumangoku would rather stay intact and perfect by accepting a maximum of 50% rice polishing ratio. When compared to Yamandanishiki, Gohyakumangoku might show less sweetness and fruitiness, but it successfully creates a fresh palate that is light and smooth, filled with melon and floral notes. A taste of elegance. And you cannot miss Manotsuru from Niigata which crafts a range of aromatic sake by polishing Gohyakumangoku to various ratios.
Reticent Teen Girl - Miyamanishiki
Miyamanishiki is a true beauty from Northern Japan. She’s found mainly in Nagano or other Northern East areas such as Akita or Yamagata. This medium-sized pretty girl features a 3-feet height and a moderate size of rice grain. Introvert and restrained but persevering and highly resistant to strong wind. Sake crafted with Miyamanishiki tends to be light and fresh. The aroma might be less expressive than sake made with other rice varieties, but Miyamanishiki wins drinkers’ heart by its crispiness, mild sweetness with a touch of racy and delicate smoothness. Appreciate her radiant purity as there’s nothing complicated about her. Similar to most youngsters, Miyamanishiki loves to explore the world and continues to gain popularity in overseas countries. The annual production volume of Miyamanishiki falls behind only Yamada Nishiki and Gohyakumangoku.
The century-long Shinshu Meijo crafts two brands, Kikusaki and Takizawa, in Nagano by utilising the well-known ultra-soft natural water named Kokuyo water, adding extra sweetness and velvet-like mouthfeel to Miyamanishiki.
Warm-hearted Uncle - Omachi
If you think Yamandanishiki and Gohyakumangoku are chart-topping in the world of sake, get to know Omachi from Okayama Prefecture as “he” is praised as “the Guru of brewery rice”. Being one of the oldest rice varieties in Japan, Omachi is proved to be the ancestor of Yamadanishiki and Gohyakumangoku. This uncle-like character in the sake world has got a large-boned build as the rice stalks grow relatively tall while bearing prominent ears of grain. This turns the cultivation difficult and the production quantity low. Omachi is brewed to express a taste of earthiness with a robust and dense texture. But there’s nothing too heavy for his hardcore fans as they see this character as firm and rich.
As an ancestor of the superior varieties, Omachi also features a large core of shinpaku with a good ability to absorb water, which is critical for brewers to make an outstanding sake. For instance, with the extraordinary craftsmanship, the renowned "Dan" and "Hakuin Masamune" has turned the masculine Omachi into a gentle and benevolent style, reminiscent of pear and pineapple. Soft, delicate and structured with a touch of umami flavour.
Entrepreneurial Millennial - Kamenoo
Strictly speaking, Kamenoo was not born in the 1980s but the same generation of Omachi. Possessing superior genes and large shinpaku, the two guru-graded rice varieties have been recognized as the finest rice with the best potential for brewing high-quality sake. Unfortunately, Kamenoo was born physically weak. “He” cannot sustain the severe weather and hazards that led to extinction finally. With improvement in technology and farmers’ expertise, Kamenoo has been revived in the 80s and officially reborn in Niigata prefecture. Kamenoo, like a natural-born entrepreneur, is very willing to accept challenges. When it comes to the rice polishing procedure, Kamenoo demonstrates his endurance and resilience by sustaining the extremely low rice polishing rate, destined for making junmai daiginjo.
Kikusaki Nana Junmai Daiginjo is a great achievement by attaining a 7% rice polishing rate. With one extra year of ageing at zero Celcius degree, this elegant sake is delicate and layered with flashes of musk grape and lily. Don’t miss the Kamenoo sake brewed by the innovative Senkin – Senkin Tsuru-Kame 19 Junmai Daiginjo, smelling amazing like a bottle of the classic fragrance.