On sale as of Sept. 2023, this delicate taruzake is yielding its resinous taru notes to buttery mature junmai notes. Frankincense, white pepper, vanilla, orange peel and brown butter are the defining characteristics, finishing with a delicate grip-- something akin to Burgundy tannin.
In its current maturity, serve with spiced braises, roast chicken; ras el hanout-spiced, butter-drenched, squash and potato; Ishikawa-style seafood oden and fresh crab with drawn butter and black pepper.
Some taruzake is driven by intense notes of black pepper, pine-- at times, the flavor and body of the rice get lost in the mix. It’s like a mulled wine that only tastes of orange and cinnamon, not of the wine itself.
Hitotoki is unique in that you can clearly taste the premium junmai sake beneath the cedar notes. There is a resonant umami that reminds me of kombu dashi, almond, and hazelnut. Overlaid on the junmai base is an intricate tea-like infusion of taruzake’s best qualities: vanilla, white pepper, orange peel, ginger, lemon butter, and sandalwood. The body is moderate, acidity moderate, and balance absolutely gorgeous.
Portland happens to be one of the top consumers in the world of taruzake: cedar barrel brewed sake, and this is one of the best versions of taruzake I’ve ever had the pleasure to enjoy.
- Brewery: Imayo Tsukasa, est 1767
- Location: Niigata City, Niigata
- Water: Soft subsoil water of Mt. Suganatake is brought to the brewery by truck for brewing. Niigata City (Agano river) tap water is used for cleaning.
- Rice: Local Gohyakumangoku
- Polishing: 65%
- Grade: Junmai Taruzake
- Yeast: 8
- SMV: +9 (very dry)
Despite being established in 1767 and its long history and tradition of sake brewing, Imayo Tsukasa takes a very innovative approach to crafting and marketing sake, hiring renowned artists for labels and designing sake specifically to pair with certain dishes, such as oysters. This approach has led to their popularity not only in Japan but also in Europe and the US. In fact, Hito to Ki to Hitotoki just won the gold medal at Kura Master 2022, a French sake competition. Brewed in two handcrafted 4000-litre cedar tanks made from the best source of cedar in Japan (Yoshinosugi, Yoshino Forest, Nara), Imayotsukasa wanted to step into the past and craft a truly traditional sake while also supporting the dying art of Japanese cedar cooperage (making of barrels/casks). Brewing staff apprenticed at the last remaining Yoshinosugi cooperage to learn the art of building cedar tanks in the hopes of reviving and supporting its craft. Imayotsukasa also supported the endeavor with a crowdfunding campaign, drawing attention to the dying art and generating renewed interest in it.
The sake’s name is a play on words: “Hito To Ki” translates to “people and tree” as well as "Hito Toki", meaning “a moment in time." The label on this sake was designed by artists Aya Kodama and Ryoya Yamazaki; on it, beautiful wood grains are impressed on a special paper called pachica, which melts and turns translucent when heated in the de-bossing process (reverse embossing!). This results in a tactile finish with glints of light shimmering through the frosted glass bottle. The label won the Good Design Award (AUS) in 2021.