Akitabare Shunsetsu "Spring Snow" Honjozo Namachozo
Akitabare Shunsetsu is, by far, one of my favorite sakes. Top 10, stranded on a desert island-style, favorite. It's inexpensive, bright, clean, refreshing, i...
Akitabare Shunsetsu is, by far, one of my favorite sakes. Top 10, stranded on a desert island-style, favorite. It's inexpensive, bright, clean, refreshing, interesting without being complicated, and even has a slight spritz to it. It's the sort of thing I could drink every day.
On the nose, it's got a solid mix of fruit, rice, herbs, and mineral notes. Things like melon, pineapple, cream, white pepper, and oyster shell come through. On the palate, it's loads more melon (honeydew), as well as banana, oyster shell, and river rock. The texture is medium-bodied, firm, and crisp, with firm but not overpowering acidity. There's also the slightest hint of effervescence. (Something that shows up in nama from time to time.) The finish is long.
Stylistically, Akitabare Shunsetsu is something of a rare bird not seen often in the states. It is the combination of two styles in one sake that makes it special: honjozo and nama.
Nama means "raw" or "unpasteurized". Most sake gets pasteurized twice. This sake skips one of the standard pasteurizations, making it sort of half-raw. Half-raw sake are either called nama-chozo or nama-zume depending on which pasteurization stage gets skipped. Lots of craft sake are actually half-raw, even though it might not be printed on the label. Now, combine a half-raw, nama-chozo with a honjozo, and we have something you don't see too often.
Honjozo is a style of premium-grade sake that is roughly on par with many Junmai, except that it has been brewed using a brewer's technique of adding a small amount of neutral alcohol to the fermented mash. This alcohol serves to break down the fermented rice even further, unlocking more flavors and aromas. It also lightens the body considerably and tends to result in more sessionable sake. The amount of added alcohol is quite small and doesn't necessarily increase the final alcohol content. Many sake have water added at the end of brewing for fine-tuning, which can offset this small addition. (In this sake's instance, the alcohol is 16%. Quite average.)
Honjozo frequently gets a bad rap because uninformed sake purveyors take potshots at it claiming inferiority to "pUrE rIcE jUnMai" in order to play the line that Junmai is the only pure (thus, the only legitimate) way of making sake. This type of promotion works great for elevating Junmai. It's just too bad that it often comes along with misconception and misinformation, and happens at the expense of Honjozo's reputation. This disdain is often borne along with the mistake of conflating the limited amount of alcohol allowed in Honjozo with another type of sake, Futsuu-shu, where there are far fewer limitations to what one can add (alcohol, sugar, amino acids, and other things). The fact of the matter is, Honjozo and Junmai alike belong to the same class of sake. This class of sake is governed by some of the world's most well-defined and strict limitations as to what one can and cannot add to an alcoholic beverage. Please, let's not throw the Honjozo out with the Futsuu-shu.
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