October 15, 2016
October sakes ship today for Sake Gumi, our monthly sake subscription club. If you like what’s on deck here, you should join!
To coincide with the coming of Halloween, this month’s Sake Gumi theme highlights the images of Japanese legends and folklore that often adorn sake labels. From the Gegege no Kitaro characters that appear on one-cups sakes we sell at the store to the wildly popular Onikoroshi (Demon Slayer) sake style, so many sakes are named after ghoulish characters or ruthless warriors.
Japan is a country with deep-rooted beliefs in legends and folklore. As I drove through small towns in Hokkaido, oni (mountain ogre) statues with huge clubs are everywhere intimidating outsiders and passersby. And to the south in Okinawa, I was charmed by all the shisa (lion-dogs) that guard many of the rooftops and gates of homes. These characters add a sense of playfulness to the landscape, but stem from an ingrained belief that non-humans and animals deserve personification.
The sakes that I chose all feature characters on their labels or in their names. They all happen to be relatively dry with a crisp ending. Appropriately, all four characters, the Yuki Otoko (Snow Yeti), the oni (demon), the Kabuki villain Hyakujuro, and the powerful warlord Hidetora Ichimonji from the Akira Kurosawa movie Ran have a dry personality and meet a crisp ending!
The notes on the reverse side are divided into two parts: some background on the characters and notes on the sakes themselves. Perhaps parallels can be drawn between the personalities depicted on the labels and the profiles of the sakes. You be the judge.
LEVEL 1: Introductory Membership (Two 300ml bottles)
In addition to being elusive in the wild, this Yuki Otoko (Snow Yeti) sake took over a year for us to arrange a “sighting” in the U.S. (it was one of our favorite sakes during our 2015 trip to Japan). Yuki Otoko has a basket on its back, which he uses to rescue folks who are lost in the snowy mountains of Niigata. Despite having a very dry and clean finish, this sake has a creamy mouthfeel that is dangerously easy to drink. My favorite way to enjoy this crisp sake is chilled, alongside umami-rich sun-ripened tomatoes or toasted pecans.
Onikoroshi (Demon Slayer) sakes are said to be so cuttingly dry that they can kill a demon. To go one step further, it is said to kill the demon inside of us. There are currently over 100 breweries making their own Onikoroshi sakes. The Wakatake Onikoroshi is unique in that it is a genshu, therefore, it is not diluted with water before bottling, boasting a high ABV of 17-18%. This sake drinks like a fruity tequila and I enjoyed this chilled with pickles, slices of parmesan cheese, and chips with hot green salsa.
LEVEL 2: Premium Membership (Two 720ml bottles)
The impression depicted on the label is of the Kabuki actor Hyakujuro, who reached the peak of his career at the turn of the 20th century. The style of makeup shown here is the kumadori style, which was painted onto actors’ faces who played villians and yokai (monsters). This daiginjo has a subdued floral nose with the acidity of blackberries and ends smooth, long, but subtle. The acidity allows this daiginjo to pair with rich fish, like salmon and sardines. Drink chilled or at room temperature.
If you are an Akira Kurosawa fan, you will recognize Hidetora Ichimonji on the label. Ichimonji is the ailing, but powerful warlord from Kurosawa’s last epic Ran (based loosely on King Lear), who is faced with the burden to divide his kingdom fairly amongst his three sons. Although he is introduced to us as an invincible warlord, his vulnerability to family and devoted servants are quickly revealed. Watch this 162-minute epic to find out what happens! This sake is a reflection of Ichimonji: it looks tough on the outside, but has a smooth, soft, peachy core that ends abruptly (crisp and clean). Enjoy chilled with a soft milky cheese, like a brie, or with spinach dressed in shira-ae.