Kenbishi Nada no Ki-ippon
By Kenbishi Shuzo
The makers of tonight’s tipple are nothing short of sake royalty! Founded as far back as 1505, Kenbishi are one of the most recognizable brands in the business, and their sake is sold both throughout Japan and overseas.
Their now iconic logo depicts a sword (ken, 剣) and a diamond (hishi, 菱). By the rules of Japanese kanji, when you combine the two characters it becomes Kenbishi. Rumor has it that the sword part (top) of the logo actually represents a man, and the diamond part (bottom) a women. Regardless of its meaning, it is a timeless symbol of their sake, and one that makes their now retro labels instantly recognizable.
The same could be said for the taste. Unlike some kura that choose to move with the latest trends Kenbishi say that their signature taste hasn’t changed much from their early years. Indeed, the company’s motto is, “to be like a stopped clock, 止まった時計でいる”. They believe that by continuing with the traditional methods of brewing, and by maintaining a consistent style, they are staying true to their loyal customers.
The cornerstone of this style is aged sake (熟成酒) made using traditional wooden tanks and tools made from the finest quality Yoshino cedar. This gives the sake a robust, rich feel, that is laden in umami flavours. A large percentage of Kenbishi is also Futsu-shu, often referred to as table sake, and Honjozo, perhaps one of the most underrated styles from the premium categories.
Tonight’s sake, though, is a special limited edition made in collaboration with nine other members of the Society for Nada Sake Research (SNSR). Every year, the participating brewers each produce a sake that conforms to the Nada no Ki-ippon (灘の生一本) standard. All of the sake in the series also carry the Nada-Gogo (灘五郷) geographical indication, one of just a few that exist for sake.
Originally known simply as Ki-ippon, this style has a long history as a representive of the highest quality of sake. The most accurate translation is said to be “pure and unadulterated”. Although the rules have changed several times over the years, and even at one point allowed for the use of brewers alcohol, nowadays, all brands bearing this name must be Junmai, and come from a single brewery within Nada.
Although I am no stranger to aged sake, I was genuinely taken aback by the incredible golden colour of this particular one. It is so bright and vibrant that it actually resembles whisky. To taste, it is indeed every bit as rich and umami laden as the label states it is, and wraps around your palette with a wonderful flavour and aroma of cocoa. If you have ever heard anyone describe sake as, “sherry like” then this is exactly the kind of sake they are talking about.
When I first took an interest in sake I was guilty of some level of snobbery towards large nationally produced brands. As a result of this, I missed out on some incredible sake during perhaps my most informative years as a drinker. However, fortunately for me, this ignorance was soon knocked out of me when I started to work with sake professionals. It is such sake as this wonderful, luscious and complex Kenbishi that makes me grateful to the people who made me first appreciate the importance of leaving your preconceptions at the door when tasting sake