Hakkaisan Vertical Tasting at Sake Hana

Hakkaisan Sakes

Hakkaisan Sake

Nobody was more excited than me to learn that Sake Hana was hosting my beloved Hakkaisan Brewery for a “vertical” tasting of their sake. From Futsu-shu up to Junmai Daiginjo… we were going to taste it all. So, you can imagine, I was psyched!

This event was part of the education series put on by Toshi-san at Sake Hana Sake Bar. I was lucky enough to teach a sake 101 class there last month, which was a lot of fun and where we tasted TEN delicious sakes.

What Makes a Hakkaisan?
This class was lead wonderfully by Hakkaisan’s special envoy in the U.S., Ms. Kumino Kurosawa. Kurosawa-san instructed us in several interesting points that all focus in on one interesting question: How can a large and famous sake brewery like Hakkaisan produce the quality of hand-crafted sake you find at small jizake micro breweries?

Kurosawa-san with Hakkaisan Junmai Daiginjo

Kurosawa-san with Hakkaisan Junmai Daiginjo

In my opinion, it all comes down to effort of the brewery to produce the best quaility with no cutting corners. Several great observations were made that raised my awareness of what goes into this scale of production:

  • Best quality Sake rice. Working with local rice farmers to ensure the best of the crop is used in Hakkaisan Sake.
  • Special Milling Rates (seimaibuai). Using higher than usual milling rates help ensure a superior product.
  • Hand crafting Koji. All Koji used in Hakkaisan production is make by hand.
  • “Long and Low” fermentation. Using low temperatures and a longer time frame helps achieve that special taste.
  • Accomplished staff. Full staff of well trained artisans help maintain quality of koji and sake production.

The Hakkaisan Sakes
Well, what did we taste? It was a wonderful journey up the offering of what Hakkaisan has to offer:

hakkaisan_futsushuHakkaisan Futshushu Futsushu is often considered “table sake”. Most Futsushu is rough and tuble, but Hakkaisan is dry and clean and not your average futsushu. Much more elegant that you would usually find. You can tell this sake is a younger brother to the more elegant Hakkaisan Ginjo sake. Great for pairing with richer foods.

hakkaisan_honjozoHakkaisan Honjozo Delicious and slightly rich honjozo. On the dry side with plenty of body to stand up to hearty food. you could enjoy this honjozo both chilled and gently warmed.

Hakkaisan Ginjo Truly one of my very favorite sakes. 2007 Urban Sake Golden Masu winner for “best in show” sake. The added alcohol in this sake gives a more floral character to the nose and a touch of added richness to the body while staying true to it’s smooth and lighter Niigata roots. A fantastic argument for premium ginjo-shu style sake if there ever was one.

hakkaisan_ginjoHakkaisan Junmai GinjoI have a real soft spot in my heart for this sake. It’s a touch dry with tremendous balance and a crisp refreshing finish. Elegant and not to be missed! A perfect example of Niigata class and elegance.

hakkaisan_junmai_ginjoHakkaisan “Kongo-shin” Junmai Daiginjo This sake was a surprise for class attendees. It’s not available in the US, and I have never had a chance to try it! It presents in one of the most beautiful sake bottles you’ll ever see. The taste is quite rich and full with tremendous depth of flavor. It goes down extremely smooth – this is accounted for by it’s fantastic milling rate of 40%. Balanced and deep, I found my glass empty much too soon!

Even after spending a fantastic day personally touring Hakkaisan brewery last October, I still found myself learning more and more about this wonderful sake producer. I left feeling lucky we have it here in the States, so if you haven’t yet, be sure to try Hakkaisan first chance you get. It’s an incredibly well known brand in Japan and you don’t reach that level of brand awareness without a lot of hard work and passion for sake making. I feel it’s a wonderful marriage of small scale commitment to detail and larger scale quality production that creates that something very special. And nothing beats the chance to taste these sakes all side by side… Delicious!