A really lovely and well priced junmai daiginjo, especially when you consider that it is genshu (undiluted) and made in a tiny brewery with only 4 full-time brewers!
This daiginjo lands squarely in the "slightly sweeter" category (in wine terms, I'd call this off-dry). It's just a tad sweeter than its Yamaguchi neighbor Dassai, but a ways off from profoundly dry daiginjo like Hakkaisan. Regardless of sweetness, it's very well balanced-- there's just a bit of zingy acidity and pop to keep you coming back for more.
I get flavors of melon, muscat, anise candy, ramune soda, vanilla, pandan and white peach. The Yamadanishiki shows itself with billowing largesse, plush and soft, finishing with a touch of astringency and therefore not leaving a lingering sweetness. There is a broad umami here, like a fat pillow of mochi stuffed with chestnut, satisfying and rich. Harada does remind me of Dassai, but it's more complex and has more personality.
A great choice and a great brewery. This definitely isn't a sake that needs food although it is an extremely versatile daiginjo and will show well with all sorts of food.
- Yamaguchi prefecture
- Local Yamaguchi Yamadanishiki rice
- Seimaibuai (rice polishing ratio): 50%
- Brewing starter: sokujo moto
- Yeast: unknown
- Unaged, fresh
- 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 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.