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Iwao Shuzo of Gunma Prefecture























 Noteable sake would be the Hon-Nama ( 本生).  A nama-zake in reality.  The "hon" means that it wasn't pasteurized.   In general, most sake usually undergoes two pasteurization processes; once  before bottling and a second time after bottling, or before shipping.   Pasteurization is intended to stop the enzymes from further altering the flavor of the sake.

The green label is a "Junmai Ginjo Hon-Nama Muroka-nama-genshu" ( premium un-pastuerized sake[ raw form] and un-charcoal filtered), and is a sake with pronounced flavor profiles and very drinkable.



 In the world of whisky there's a method used called " chill filtering."   This is used to remove residue and cloudiness from whisky.   Most hardcore whisky drinkers would regard this as the pussification of whisky and shun the actual practice of removing residue.   In the world of sake this is not the case.  Muroka nama genshu is the unfiltered and unprocessed form of sake of which most drinkers have very little experience drinking.    Filtering is for cosmetic reasons and is what give s sake its clarity.    Personally,  I prefer my nihonshu unfiltered and unprocessed so that I can enjoy the natural flavor of the sake the way it was intended.

The breakdown:

Gohyaku-mangoku rice
Seimaibuai ( sake milling rate 60%
Alc. 17%
Nihonshu-do +3.5

Tasting notes:

Rice and umami notes on the palate with the perfect balance of acid all the way passed its elegant tail down the throat.   This is called old school nihonshu - unfiltered and unprocessed that is.




It is not very often you have a chance to sample real locally brewed sake ( jizake )  from a very small brewery over fancy shellfish.   It is  not very often you get to discover really good sake restaurants in Yokohama either.   Yokohamans are not big on sake, but more on craft beer and cocktails, this is true by the way, and if anyone tells you otherwise, you heard it from me first.  Luckily for me I accepted an invitation to take part in a sake tasting with dinner.    I was at one of my favorite restaurants called "Fujisawa."   In Japan, they say "izakaya / 居酒屋" which is a rough translation meaning pub.  There are also different kinds of these pubs.   Fujisawa is a "kaisen" style pub, which means it specializes in seafood.


"Since 1729 Iwao Brewery under Takaika - bushiky - gaisya has been brewing sake in the pristine region of Gunma Prefecture.  Do not confuse this brewery with Niizawa Iwao's sake, they are completely different breweries.   Iwao is the lesser known sake in the sake world, yet it is on its way to greatness, especially with Cambridge elite Mikito Takai as their brewmaster.  "


When you think of regionality different flavor profiles come to mind.   It is said that sake brewed in cold climates have a lighter and fruitier component to them, whereas sake brewed in warmer climate will have bolder and gamier flavor profiles.   I agree that temperature plays a subtle role in the character development of sake, among other things.   If you were to visit Niigata, the premium rice growing region of Japan, a place known for its cold snowy winters, you'll immediately notice lighter tasting sake.   You'll pick up floral notes and soft melon in some sake, or rice notes that are quite delicate on the palate.   In south central Japan, where snow fall tends to be milder, you get fuller flavored sake with more complexity, less delicate.    Of course there are other factors that determine the taste of the final product.


It does snow in Gunma Prefecture, northwest Kanto region, but their winters are milder in comparison to Tohoku and Hokuriku regions where a lot of well known sake hail from.   With that, the sake that is made by Mikito will exhibit characteristics often found in sake made in south central Japan.  Think Kansai.


Whenever I attend a sake and dinner party hosted by a brewer I look forward to trying the "shikomi -mizu" which means water that was used to make the actual sake.   Japanese sake, after it has been brewed,  is 80% water, so yes, water is integral to the production and final product of sake.   Having the water there was good because we could taste it and then use it to rinse our cups for samplings.  Spring water from Gunma is the best in the world, according to me.   I have been there many times and have drank from their mineral spring resources.   The water is excellent.



One thing I wanted to point out was that the brew master for this sake was featured in GQ, a magazine often associated with great looking men and fashion.   A huge name in the U.S.  I was surprised to find Mr. Mikito in a feature with Ben Affleck on the cover.   Wow!  Were the first words that came out of my mouth.  Finally, sake is getting the attention it deserves, and by Japanese men, thank god!
Mr. Takai is the image of cool, and he's young as far as I am concerned.  A real pleasure to talk to and get to know.   The atmosphere he created was warm and convivial.  Everybody enjoyed themselves.  It was a very educational event with copious amounts of sake and food.

The food for the evening was sazae or " grilled turbo."  In America we call it a shell or sea snail.  It's resting on top of a heap of sea salt so that it stays nice and warm.

In this picture you sea a green thingy.   This is the liver and intestines combined.  The most exquisite and delicious part of the shell.  You have to dig towards the bottom to pull it out.  Put the whole thing into your mouth and enjoy the flavors and textures with Iwao sake.   Be forewarned, it is an acquired taste.
Not everybody drinks the juice, but I did.  It was a pricey meal so I didn't want to waste anything.
I was having the blue label Junmai with the tempura in this picture because I thought it would hold up with the mildly spicy jalapeños and the creaminess in the avacados.   It did hold up very well and offered a wonderful balance of rice and hotness.  It is not very common to see large jalepenos on a tempura plate.   Maybe  shishito peppers, but not these large peppers with the seeds still fresh in them.


In this dish the white radish is my favorite.   In Japanese it's called daikon and you dip it in mustard.

This bowl consist of rice, raw fish, and something that looks like cilantro... Hot water is poured in and filled up about half way, then eat.  It was very tasty.   Don't mind the fan, it has the name of another brewery called Natsu Yago.

As the evening wound down we were able to enjoy both hot and warm sake.   By the way, if you are looking for an amazing warm sake go for the "honama junmai-shu."  You won't be disappointed.  All of his sake selections were good and I look forward to more of Iwao's creations.

I do believe that all sake is made with good intentions.   In other words, all sake is good and has its own unique qualities.   Some sake are more notable than others, or stand out as exception brands, but that doesn't mean those sake are necessarily the best.  Certain sake may exhibit a fruity character or a texture closely related to fine wines, and if you are the drinker, this may translate into the so-called "best sake" category.    Not everybody sees it that way, and most certainly many Japanese don't either.   There are a lot of lesser known sake that stand out as exceptional rice brews, but not necessarily for the taste, but for the atmosphere in which the sake is being appreciated and enjoyed.



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