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Sake: Brewing Tradition

01 June 2017

Sake: Brewing Tradition

“We are extremely excited to be offering a range of sakes from Keigetsu Brewery, our first foray into this category. We searched for four years for the perfect partner, which matched our buying philosophy of selecting the top producers of any region when we bring in something new” says Jennifer Docherty MW, Liberty Wines Buyer, also an SSI Kikisake-shi (Master of Sake) and an IWC Sake Panel Chair judge.


The Japanese are known for their work ethic based around the concept of ‘kaizen’, meaning continuous improvement. The concept of striving for perfection results in a country that is pristinely clean with polite hospitality and the guarding of tradition, such as sake brewing, that is improved upon year after year.

Although only 3% of Japanese sake is exported, the export market is increasingly important for brewers due to a decline in domestic consumption. The Japanese youth, like many of their Old World peers shunning wine, view sake as an old person’s drink. Fortunately for the brewers, international consumption is growing. For us, it means we have more access to intriguing, delicious premium sakes than we have ever had before.

Made from rice, water, koji (the fermentation starter) and yeast, sake comes in a variety of styles and flavour profiles from floral and fruity to savoury and rich. It ranges from dry to sweet and can be still or sparkling. It is unfailingly an excellent match with Japanese and other Asian cuisines, overcoming the obstacles that sweet, sour and spicy flavours create when matching these foods with wine. Sake’s lack of acidity is made up for by having ‘umami’, the fifth taste, which the Japanese equate to savouriness or deliciousness. This unique characteristic also means that it can be paired with a wide range of cuisines, not limited to Asian cuisines. It goes extremely well with all sorts of seafood, canapés and even Spanish food, in the same way that fino sherry does.


Keigetsu Brewery: Premium Sake

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Sakes have been made by the family-owned Tosa brewery since 1877. It is currently run by Muneki Matusmoto (of the sixth generation) who still uses the original brewery 138 years later. It is situated in the beautiful mountainous region called Tosa Ryohoku in the Kochi prefecture. The name of their range, ‘Keigetsu’, is a Japanese term which describes the beautiful evening scene created when the moon hangs over Katsurahama shore.

Keigetsu sakes are made from organically-grown local rice varieties (Hinohikari and Gin no Yume) instead of modern rice varieties specifically developed for making sake, such as Yamadanishiki. This is because the brewery predates the development of many of the popular sake specific rice varieties. Mr. Matsumoto also believes that his local rice, grown within 2 km of the brewery, is best suited to Tosa because they grow well on their terraced rice paddies at 300-600 m above sea level which have high diurnal temperature swings. In addition to rice, they also produce a Yuzu sake from organic Yuzu fruit grown by Mr. Matsumoto’s relatives. The Kochi prefecture produces around half of Japan’s Yuzu because it is prized for its water and cool climate.

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The ‘Aikawahomare’ Tokubetsu Junmai is made from Hinohikari rice from the Aikawa region polished to 60%. The nose leads with honeydew melon and sweet chestnut paste. The palate is round and silky with yellow peach on the finish, and is true to its ‘tokubetsu’ (‘special’) designation.

The Junmai Daiginjo is made from Gin no Yume rice with a 45% polish. It has delicate aromas of lychee and rose. It is dry on the palate and has great purity on the finish.

The sparkling “John” sake was made for Mr. Matsumoto’s good friend John. It is made with Gin no Yume rice as a Junmai Daiginjo (50% polish) before it is made sparkling with CO2. The sake is crystal clear with aromas of peach and cherry blossom on the nose propped up by lively bubbles and a bone dry finish on the palate. It won the Sparkling Sake Trophy at the International Wine Challenge competition in 2016.

The Yuzu sake is bursting with Yuzu citrus fruit (an intense mix of lemon, tangerine and lime aromas with a fragrant lift) and is sweet with just 8% ABV. It is made as a Junmai and then blended with Yuzu juice, honey and sugar. It is best served chilled like all the Keigetsu sakes, and is a perfect summer drink.