This sake is one of a kind, and has evolved considerably during its time-- roughly 2 years--in bottle. I get a concentrated and beguiling mix of toasted buckwheat, dried cherry, amaretto, fresh sheep cheese, licorice, brown rice, and pink peppercorns. Note that bottle aging is not necessarily what the brewer intended, it didn't catch on when it was first released, but the evolution is beautiful.
Great to serve room temp, warm, or hot. While this is lighter bodied than most 80% polish sake, I don't think it will show its best chilled. Pair this with miso/soy-based dishes, grilled cheese & tomato soup, melted funky cheeses, Fall flavors, Russian cuisine, and German cuisine. I think this would also go beautifully with pork and game thanks to its cherry and almond notes.
- Yamaguchi prefecture
- Local Yamaguchi Yamadanishiki rice
- Seimaibuai (rice polishing ratio): 80%
- Brewing starter: sokujo moto
- Yeast: unknown
- 2 years bottle age (10/19 bottling date)
- Male toji & kuramoto, with several female staff new to the industry
Hatsumomiji / Hatsumomidi Shuzo, home to Harada brand, has undergone a number of ups and downs over the years...landing today in a beautiful spot, where community is the cornerstone of its ethos and purpose, arguably more than sake itself.
In 1945 Hatsumomiji was destroyed in an air raid. It recovered soon after and spent the years 1945-1985 producing high quantity, low quality sake for blending by the major brands. It closed doors in 1985, around the same time that many other breweries decided instead to reinvent themselves. From 1985-2005, the brewery remained empty.
In 2005, 12th generation president Yasuhiro Harada had an idea to resurrect Hatsumomiji in a way that would bring honor to its nearly 200-year history. He spent extensive time studying brewing and reopened the doors in 2005 with intention and passion, devoting himself to junmai sake made from local, Yamaguchi rice. The overarching company philosophy is to use local rice, local talent, and produce delicious sake for local people. The fact that small quantities make it to the US, is probably because someone is pulling strings-- not because Hatsumomiji has any to spare.
The brewery operates through all 4 seasons ("shiki-shuzo"), endeavoring to make brews that are consistent and stable year-round by their nature, rather than the crutch of a clean, cold Winter environment --the more typical brewing season.
The brewery has served as a site for local high school interns interested in learning hands-on brewing techniques, and has hired three female program graduates, giving it an unusually high proportion of women brewery workers. Yasuhiro Harada continues serving as both toji, owner, and mentor.
In addition, local calligraphy artist Nishioka Gassyo was hired recently to create the brewery's new logo, and has since been invited to local events in Yamaguchi to promote the sake and her own work.
Hatsumomiji and Harada are all about supporting their community, and I love that. It's just a cherry on top that their sake is excellent.
You might call it saccharine, but personally, I love the following quote from their website:
Aside from quoting their entire website, I can't do justice to it except to link their company philosophy which is so well written...one of my favorites that I've encountered, right up there with Nishinoseki.