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Sake of the Week #043: Hokushika Junmaishu “Icehouse”

This sake is a special one for me. Not just because it is a complex and enjoyable brew, but because of where–and more specifically who–it came from. One of my students who will graduate next month brought me this bottle from her hometown because she knew just how much I’d enjoy it.

Hakushika is located way up in snow country, Odate City, Akita, not far from Towada-ko. It has been a long time since I visited Akita, but I remember the stark, snowy hills surrounding the lakes, especially near Nyuto Onsen at Tazawa-ko. That was many years ago now, but we kept a bottle or two of nihonshu cool in the snowbank outside as we warmed ourselves by the real woodfire irori. The fresh fish cooked over that fire was so good. This bottle also spent some time in the snow. All summer in fact.

The label is marked Hakushika Junmaishu in small letters, but the front and center, in big, bold characters it reads 雪中貯蔵 (secchuuchozou, or laid down in snow) and the banner label at the neck reads 氷点熟成 (hyoutenjukusei, or aged at freezing). This brew is only seasonally available after storage in an icehouse. I couldn’t find pictures of Hakushika’s specific storage methods, but generally a tank is buried in a large mound of snow and then insulated with straw to get it through the part of the year there isn’t any snow in Akita. This lets the sake age gently at an even 0℃ until it is ready.

The aging is very gentle and mild giving a just slightly less than transparent and a delicious complexity. I tasted just a bit of honey and almost a pear flavor. It didn’t linger long, but just long enough. Though not a desert sake by any means, a glass or two did go down very nicely after dinner the other night.

Tonight it is cold in Tokyo and the wind is howling through the sliding doors and it is chilly enough in the back room that “room temperature” is a decidedly icey 13℃ which suits this sake just fine. But I need something warming, so where is my trusty kansuke?

A quick trip up to 55℃ revealed a balance consistent with room temperature. Maybe a bit less sweet and just brightened up. But, dropped back down to kanzamashi at around 42℃ made me wish I had another bottle handy. Luckily this is sold at a price that even a student can afford and is distributed nationwide, so I will look for it again.

I don’t encourage gifts from students, but this was the best omiyage any of them have ever given me. I’ll have to find something nice for a graduation present!

Hokushika Homepage: http://www.hokushika.jp/index.html


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