Gokyo brewer Sakai Shuzo’s Ride? Black was my favorite sake of 2020. This super-limited release is part of the brewery’s annual Nomi no Ichi event, which in past years focused on bringing together its contract shops to taste special, rare brews to bid on which shop would carry them. The last two Nomi no Ichi events themselves have been limited in scope due to the Coronavirus epidemic, but the brews are still coming.
I have been waiting for this particular bottle ever since August of last year. This is such a special, peculiar sake that I had to see how the idea would manifest this season. To recap, this sake is a nama genshu brewed from Yamaguchi-grown rice polished a mere 4%, meaning it has a seimaibuai of 96%. That is less polished than table rice! I actually saw this sake in the tank when I last visited Sakai Shuzo, and there was clearly rice bran floating in the mash.
The sake is also made with black koji, which brings a very strong jolt of citric acid to the moromi, and that translates into a real sourness in the finished sake. Last year, I called the flavor “tart banana bread,” because the acidity and the malty graininess of the rice meshed so well.
How about this year?
This year’s iteration seems to bring more acidity than last year, with less rice-forward grainy notes. That means that, rather than the banana bread of last year, it’s more of a zippy banana spritzer. The aroma is quite reserved, with only some citric notes of the black koji coming through, while the initial attack is all sour. The acidity pulls back into some mild ricey notes with a firm umami core, and fades relatively quickly into a very moreish, sweet finish. It is, in other words, delicious–but not the same kind of delicious I had last year. Which is fine!
This was a great sake, no doubt, but also a good reminder that small batch, craft sake is always in flux. What you get one year you might not get the next. Sake brewing is often guided as much by the vicissitudes of weather, rice condition, and the chaos of microbial gustation as it is the skills of the brewing staff. Best just to roll with it, and enjoy the Ride(?)!