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Sake

Tank Number Matters

Musashino Shuzo’s annual shinshu or new sake tasting dinner the other day started with a really tough quiz. As the guests arrived, we were asked to sit down and try four honjozo bottles in a completely blind tasting. Our first task for the night was to pick SkiI Masamune out of the four. This sake is Musashino Shuzo‘s main brand which has a long history behind it. The other three were Koshi no Kanbai, Hakkaisan, and one other sake, all famous and very distinctive Niigata brews.

I think Kobayashi-san loves these tough quiz games, or rather he trains us consumers to enjoy and to know the quality of the sake itself–not influenced by any other factors. All Asaichi Shibori, or bottles freshly pressed in the morning shipped most Fridays between November through March did not have any grade information before ordering or even on the label. I brought one bottle to the Tokyo Sake Meetup B.Y.O.S in March and I had a chance to try three different Asaichi Shibori. Later I learned their grades and found out the one I liked the best was actually futsushu.

So as you can imagine, the bottles for kanpai on the dinner table had a little trick as well. There were two identical daiginjo bottles, or so it seemed. Both were Skii Masamune Daiginjo Hana muroka nama genshu. For kanpai, we grabbed the closest bottles and poured each other this aromatic daiginjo. “Kanpai!!” After the speeches, then, we heard, “Actually, these are two different bottles. Please try both”. A bit of panic of “I don’t know which one I had” or “How am I supposed to know?” went on. Well, at the right bottom corner of the elegant label, the tank numbers, 401 or 402 was printed in a tiny font. I had tank 401 in my glass first for cheers. Although, all production and ingredients were identical between the two tanks, 401 started clean, then elegant sweetness followed by umami, finally ending nicely with comfortable bitterness. Well, 402 was nice as well, but with more sweetness that spread on the palette, and more nigami was detected too. Being asked which one we liked, I think it was pretty much a split. Kobayashi-san said 401 won a prize at the contest in Niigata this year.

Ski Masamune Hana Daiginjo Muroka nama genshu

This comparison between two different vats, 401 and 402, reminded me of the conversation I had with Fujii Toji, Musashino Shuzo’s brew master. When I visited the brewery in February on a bus tour, Fujii-san took us around the brewery. At the main fermentation room, he scooped some moromi from two tanks and offered them to the group. These two tasted completely different–one had a nicely balanced acidity and sweetness, and the other had the same type of nice balance, but more bitterness lingering. Actually, they were both almost identical daiginjo vats, just one had been started two days earlier. Later that day, when I had a chance to chat with Fujii Toji at dinner, I asked him how he controls this type of variation even from the same ingredients and same process. He said, “Sake is created by living things. It’s all done by natural force.” Then I said, “What’s the secret in blending those different vats to have nice, stable, uniform quality for distribution?”. He grinned rather mischievously but with confidence. I translated his smile as: 39 years of his experience at the brewery and his leading role in the Echigo Toji guild.
Fujii Toji

As far as the blind tasting, I completely failed!! This was the toughest tasting I have ever done! Needless to say, though, we all had a really good time with Skii Masamune. Wondering where this rather unconventional name, Skii Masamune, comes from? I think they will have that info on their English Web site soon!

To see the whole set of pictures from the tasting and the trip, please visit Tokyofoodcast on flickr.

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