SAKE STUFFS: A SAKE BREAKDOWN STARRING TENGUMAI
The Brewery: Shata Shuzo
The Sake: Tengumai Yamahai Junmai
Why You Should Try it:
Brewed at the Shata Shuzo brewery in the Ishikawa Prefecture of central Japan, Tengumai Yahmahai Junmai uses the Gohyakumangoku rice variety milled down to 60% and features a full-body, with bold and earthy flavours combined with a pronounced acidity. A popular sake in Japan, Tengumai is not only award-winningly delicious, it also gives us the opportunity to breakdown some sake basics which provide us with a learning experience as rich as the flavour of the sake itself (too lame?)! Okay, let’s pick apart each word of this particular sake:
Tengumai: The word “Tengu” refers to a legendary creature in Japanese folklore that is thought to inhabit the dense forest surrounding the brewery, and “Tengumai” roughly translates “dance of the demon”, with the idea being that even the horrendous Tengu would bust out dancing after having a few sips of this sake. I have no reason to believe this isn’t true.
Yamahai: Yamahai refers to a traditional method viagra prank of sake brewing that utilizes lactic bacteria to produce lactic acid which, in turn, aids in fermentation. Nowadays, the majority of sake bypasses the lactic bacteria step and adds straight lactic acid to create the yeast starter. Technical aspects aside, the main takeaway is that this traditional method results in a much more “gamey” and “wild” flavour. Currently, there are only two sakes in our cooler that use the Yamahai method (the other being Cowboy Yamahai from the Shiokawa brewery) so this is a great opportunity to taste the difference this method makes.
Junmai: You may recall in the introduction to Sake Stuffs that junmai is a specific grade of premium sake that is brewed with only rice, water, and koji mold (as opposed to other grades such as honjozo that add distilled alcohol). Remember that each grade of premium sake is related to the milling rate of the rice used in the brewing process (ginjo uses rice milled down to at least 60%, and the higher grade daiginjo uses rice milled down to at least 50%). Now, in the case of junmai (without “ginjo” or “daiginjo” stated after it it), the rice is often milled down to at least 70%, although any milling rate is acceptable (the brewer will typically state the milling rate on the bottle of junmai sake). But wait! Didn’t I say that Tengumai is milled down to 60%?? Why isn’t ginjo on the label then?? Calm down and I’ll tell you! While this sake is milled down to a rate that can legally be called “ginjo” it is often up to the brewers themselves which grade they designate for a specific sake. Remember that the milling rates for each grade are only minimums.
Sound confusing? No? That’s awesome! If this does seem like a lot of information to take in all at once though, that’s totally okay. Just remember that the easiest way to learn about sake is to grab a bottle and taste it for yourself.
One final note: People often ask whether a specific sake should be enjoyed hot or cold. We’ll explore this idea more in later Sake Stuffs, but for now, I’ll simply state that there are not rules set in stone and it is often a matter of personal preference (I for one enjoy most sake at room temperature or slightly chilled). In the case of Tengumai Yamahai Junmai, I do enjoy it slightly chilled, but its rich and gamey flavours also make it a very nice warm sake as well. Again, there is no right or wrong answer, so try it yourself at different temperatures and see what you like best!
[Stephen is the purchaser of all things cold in the Sherbrooke cooler (beer/sake/cider/Rockstars). He also has an irresponsible obsession with potato chips].