SAKE STUFFS: THE HONJOZO SHOWDOWN
Hello again, and welcome back to you new favourite bi-weekly-ish Sherbrooke-curated Sake-focused blog series!
So far, we’ve touched on the different grades of premium sake (Junmai, Ginjo, Dai Ginjo, etc.) and how they relate to the percentage milled away from the rice grains used to make sake. This time around, I’d like to focus on one specific and often misunderstood style of premium sake: Honjozo.
For starters, you may recall that Junmai denotes premium sake that is brewed using rice, water, and koji mold ONLY. However, in the case of Honjozo, there are small amounts of neutral distilled alcohol (aka “brewer’s alcohol”) added during fermentation as well.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking: “Distilled alcohol? That must mean that Honjozo is super boozy and of a lesser quality than Junmai right? Why would I buy that? Are you crazy!!??” First of all, stop yelling at me. Secondly, you are wrong!
In reality, sake brewers know that this addition of distilled alcohol serves to enhance certain aromas and flavours inherently found in the sake. Also, like most styles of sake (Genshu excluded), Honjozo is diluted to get it to the typical 14%-16% ABV range. Finally, Honjozo tends to be lighter on the palate and is typically very clean, crisp, and refreshing.
If we were to use official beer terminology to describe Honjozo, we would say its very “sessionable”. Indeed, you can (responsibly) crush a bottle of Honjozo in the same way you can totally take down a nice pint of Pilsner or India Session Ale so to speak.
To date, we have four different Honjozo options in our expanding sake collection, and here’s a brief rundown:
Eiko Fuji (Glorious Mt. Fuji) Ban Ryu “Ten Thousand Ways” [720ml Bottle; $25.10]: Brewed in the Yamagata region of northern Japan, Ban Ryu is light and crisp with notes of cherries and black currants.
Hakkaisan “Eight Peaks” Tokubetsu Honjozo [720ml Bottle; $31.70]: We’ll take a look at exactly what Tokubetsu is in a future edition of Sake Stuffs, but essentially it is used to denote a “special” form of Honjozo or Junmai. With a high rice polishing rate down to 55%, this Tokubetsu Honjozo is brewed using the naturally soft water from the snow-capped Mt. Hakkai to create a remarkably smooth, crisp, and refreshing sake.
Kaiun “New Fortune” Iwaizake Tokubetsu Honjozo [330ml Bottle; $17.90]: The recipient of the Gold prize at the 2014 Toronto International Sake Challenge, this Tokubetsu Honjozo is bright, easy-drinking, and dry with notes of pear, banana, and melon.
Yoshi No Gawa Toji No Banshaku “Brewmasters Choice” Honjozo [720ml Bottle; $22.20]: The latest Honjozo to hit our shelves comes to us from the renowned Yoshi No Gawa brewery in Niigata. Like the name suggests, this is the Honjozo that the sake brewmasters would select for themselves. Smooth and clean, this sake can be enjoyed chilled or heated.
Kampai, and happy Sake-ing!
–Stephen Bezan is the manager and purchaser of all things cold in the Sherbrooke Cooler (Beer, Sake, Ciders, Rockstars, etc.). Also, he probably adds too much gravy to almost everything he eats.