Houken Junmai (Retro Label)
By Houken Shuzo
Houken Junmai (Retro Label) / Houken Shuzo, Hiroshima
寶劒純米(レトロラベル) / 宝剣酒造、広島県
Houken Shuzo is located in a small village called Nigata on the outskirts of Kure City, a coastal town in Hiroshima prefecture. This region, like the more famous Saijo to it's north, is famous for soft water 軟水, and the makers of Houken say that their kura is a place where this precious water "comes gushing forth".
Houken Shuzo, who already boast an impressive record of winning medals at the annual National New Sake Tasting Competition, have recently gained further prominence nationwide thanks to receiving the top prize in the junmai category at last year's Sake Competition. And that winning sake is none other than the one in question today!
Houken (宝剣) means treasured sword in Japanese, and for this Limited Edition retro design label, they decided to go with the traditional characters 寶劒 instead. Originally intended only for the local Hiroshima market, this sake is actually a blend of the seme 責め from both a Junmai Daiginjo and Junmai Ginjo tank. I'm also told that the rice is purely Hattan-Nishiki, however, there are some retailers who list it as also containing some sake made from Yamada-Nishiki.
The seme, or final part of the press, is usually considered to be the least desirable, with the naka 中, or middle, being the most highly prized. However, this sake is yet another example of how personal taste will always prevail over opinion, and goes to show what amazing sake can be produced from what was at one time considered to be merely the dregs at the end of a tank.
In terms of characteristics, this sake is best summed up with the Japanese word sukkuri すっきり, meaning cleanly refreshing. It's dry, has superbly balanced umami, and has that juicy easy drinking quality that makes it very difficult to put the bottle down after you start drinking.
I opened this in February while I was still consuming nabe (Japanese hot-pot) virtually every night, and it made for a perfect companion. However, it is also great when you just simple want to enjoy a nice glass of sake on its own. Perhaps surprisingly for me anyway, I actually prefered it when it was super chilled just out of the fridge, which seemed to accentuate it's crisp, clean quality. However, moving towards room temperature, it openes up the slight sweetness from the rice, and it displays a lovely flavour of icing sugar as well.
The only bad news regarding this wonderful sake is that, perhaps due to its newfound fame, it is not particularly easy to find. Only recently has it been more widely distributed to regions outside of Hiroshima, and it is only released once a year in relatively small quantities. However, due to it consisting of seme, it is very reasonably priced, and this low price belies its true quality.
Over the years, I have accumulated a small but focused list of seasonal sake that I seek out as they are released at different times throughout the year. Enjoying them now serves as a kind of marker for the changing of the seasons. The highest praise that I can give this sake is that after trying it there was no question that it has made its way onto my list. I look forward to enjoying it every spring now, that is of course if I am lucky enough to find it...