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Sake

Sake of the week #020: Juji Asahi Junmai Ginjo Revisited

Over the years I have been gradually accumulating lots of sake labels. Some have become bookmarks, other stuffed into desk drawers, and some lucky survivors actually make it into my notebook. The original plan was to soak them, add them to an album, and take copious notes. Please note that that was the plan. In reality, I just have a bunch of labels folded in the pages of magazines and notebooks. Not only have I been slow to create anything with these labels, I’m usually quite slow in even getting around to soaking the labels off. So, once in while when four or five empty bottles begin to take up too much space in the hallway and Et-chan starts itching to take them to the recycle, I get out a bucket and pop the bottles in.

The other night I was doing just that: uncapping old bottles and filling them with water so they don’t float, then crowding them into the water-filled bucket. When I re-opened the Juji Asahi I was immediately overcome with the aroma wafting from the bottle and reminded of just why this brewer creates such an excellent nihonshu with a confident personality.

Last year as part of our Sannin Sake Tour, Et-chan and I visited Juji Asahi and were given an extensive personal tour by Eriko Terada, the shacho’s daughter and all-around manager. We saw everything: the tobin being prepared for exhibition, old marketing materials and promotional chokko with the original mark, and the tanks. What tanks!

Originally just Asahi, the company was forced by a well-known competitor to change their name, thus adding the “Juji / 十” to their label. This venerable brewer is set right in Izumo City, Shimane. This area of Japan is full of legends and known as the Home of the Gods. The rich history and web of myths is palpable everywhere, and maybe just a little bit in this kura too. They have been brewing sake here in the same way for generations with a very particular style and flair.

Many of the sake they brew are aged, but at Asahi Shuzo, they are bold in how they go about it, trusting to the elements of the kura itself. We saw several tanks of nihonshu that were just sitting quietly in the dark waiting. Many lines here are aged in the tank for a year to a year-and-a-half or longer without any special refrigeration. Something is different about letting the currents and flows of the sake find their own way in that large tank in the corner. For some kura, trusting their brew, a large investment in time and resources, to the vagaries of less controlled aging would be unacceptable. But here something makes it work; creating a rich complexity of fragrance and flavor that is unique. When we asked for details about the aging process, Terada-san just showed her real faith in the traditions of her kura. There is some magic in these tanks, in these old rooms, that just can’t be replicated. They really trust in their craft and rely on the particular environment of the kura and the substantial character of the sake that all conspire to create a nihonshu that is stable enough to develop well for long periods in the tank, or then the bottle.

After the tour, I was treated to a wonderful tasting as well. This was really too bad for Et-chan, since she had sought out this brewery in particular, but it was her turn to drive. For me, tasting these powerful sake–from newer releases to year-and-half, three year, and even eight year old–was a real eye opener. Never heavy, but full of a character that is instantly recognizable. Ever since this visit, I seek them out. You may not be able to find them in your local shop, but you can order online, or for Tokyo residents, Shimane-kan in Nihonbashi always keeps them in stock.

So, the other night I uncapped the empty bottle of Juji Asahi Junmai Ginjo and that special aroma that accompanies their well-balanced sweetness, depth of character, complexity, hints of vanilla, and enveloping mouth feel came bursting out reminding me again of our visit. Even though the empty bottle had been languishing in the back hallway through the Tokyo summer heat, the dregs were sturdy enough to still entice. I was sorely tempted to try to tip out the last few drops, but didn’t. Maybe I should have?

Note: I was so excited to write about this that I forgot that Et-chan had already written about this one for SOTW #013, so please just take this as an extra recommendation.

Information

Asahi Shuzo Homepage [JP]
Eriko’s husband is honing his craft as he assists their Toji.
He blogs prolifically in Japanese, but with lots of pictures too, at Kuracco.

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  1. [...] visited Juji Asahi right in the shotengai in front of the JR station. As you may remember from our previous posts, there’s something about the brew that keeps us going. I call it as my energy booster. [...]

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