Gozenshu…Taste with the Toji with an ancient twist

Last year, somewhere between sitting our WSET Level 3 exam and receiving our results, Super Sake Boy and I had the privilege to be asked to pour sake at the Melbourne Sake Matsuri. It was a great deal of fun. It was also an excellent learning experience and we had the opportunity to work alongside the brewers who had made the sake we were pouring. The exceptional Sake Mistress, Simone, invited us to work alongside her for Super Sake, an Australian distributor. We were lucky enough to be pouring sake from excellent breweries, and two of the brewers were pouring alongside us. Maiko Chikamochi, from Tsuji Honten (Gozenshu) and Darryl “Cody” Brailsford from Watanabe Shuzoten (Hourai). And so the scene is set…

Monday night, 25th May, we attended (online) the fourth event in the series of Taste with the Toji, the excellent online sake events currently being organised and facilitated by Simone, the Sake Mistress. (For those following the story, I have missed writing about one of the events, as my very occasional guest blogger, Super Sake Boy, is going to cover that story). This week’s brewery was Tsuji Honten and the tasting, tour and education, conducted via Zoom, was with brother and sister team, Maiko Chikamochi and Shoichiro Tsuji. Maiko-san is the Toji and Shoichiro-san, who is the brewery’s President.

Tsuji Honten was established in 1804 and Maiko-san and Shoichiro-san are the 8th generation of their family to work in the beautiful kura (brewery) in Katsuyama, in Okayama prefecture, Japan. Maiko-san is the first female Toji in Okayama, and Gozenshu sake is unique and super delicious. The “ancient” twist is that much of the sake made by Maiko-san is bodaimoto. This is an ancient (1100s) brewing method, and Maiko-san makes her bodaimoto a little differently to anyone else in Japan. She starts by making soyashimizu, or sour water, which relies on the capturing of natural ambient lactic bacteria. This is done by soaking koji rice, in a bag, in water, for around 20 days. The lactic bacteria consume the nutrients from the koji in the water, producing lactic acid which results in an acidity level of 5.5ph that is then pasteurised and used to make the moto (starter). The lactic acid protects the starter from other marauding and unwanted bacteria. Maiko-san’s predecessor, Harada-san, who was Toji for 40 years, began brewing with this method after being gifted an antique book by Maiko-san’s aunt. Maiko-san’s aunt was married to an antique dealer who happened across an old book that described the method to make bodaimoto. The book was released in 1799. Tsuji Honten were the first brewery to revive the method, and the only ones to do it in this way.

One of my favourite sakes, Gozenshu always has an amazing depth of flavour and a liveliness that makes it instantly recognisable. It is a wonderful sensation of familiarity that greets me with the first waft of aroma and then the complex and captivating flavours that skip happily across my tastebuds. I am a big fan of Omachi rice, and many Tsuji Honten sake are made with Omachi rice. Renowned for being difficult to grow and difficult to work with, Maiko-san suggests that the required energy and effort to work with Omachi means that the sake is imbued with a little bit of each person involved in the process. Omachi is rich in umami and many Gozenshu sakes have a very distinct, almost pickled richness, which is so very delicious.

The two sake we tasted for this event certainly did not disappoint. The 1859 Prototype, named for the year Omachi was discovered and the Akihikari, which sadly has been discontinued, were both delicious. We shared a small tasting of the 1859 with my mum and step-dad, and they were blown away, and have decided they are sake converts, based solely on this sake and a nigori from Fujioka Shuzo. The 1859 Prototype is a Junmai (no added alcohol) Muroka (no charcoal filteration) Nama (unpasteurised) Genshu (not diluted) Bodaimoto (starter). The Akihikari is a Junmai Ginjo (polished to 50%) Muroka Namazake. I add them to the list of Gozenshu’s sake that I have thoroughly enjoyed, including the Nigori Hiire, The Silence Fuzz Face, 9 Regular, 9 White Label and the very excellent 9 Blue Bottle Junmai Namazake Summer release, as well as the Mimasaka and the very, very delicious Yuzushu. I highly recommend all of these sakes and look forward to trying more Gozenshu in the future.

These wonderful sessions that Simone is hosting have given us an opportunity to experience sake in a different way and to meet some wonderful, knowledgable and fun people who share a passion for not only sake, but the brewing, the promotion of sake around the world and the sharing of this exceptional beverage… Super Sake Boy and I were booked to be in Okayama with Simone last month. We had organised to visit Maiko-san in Katsuyama, and to see the brewery. I wholeheartedly hope that we can revisit this plan and visit Tsuji Honten in the future. I look forward to being able to go to Japan again, but must congratulate and thank Simone and all the Toji who have been involved in these events, and given up their time, which I believe for many attendees lessens the blow of not being able to travel.

You can purchase Gozenshu in Australia, through Supersake. You can contact Simone for any of your sake questions, advice or to become involved in these sessions at Sake Mistress.

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