Mukyu- Tenon Kimoto Ginjo
By Itakura Shuzo, Shimane Prefecture
The fantastic Tenon one-cup, a humble Tokubetsu Junmai from Itakura Shuzo 板倉酒造 in Shimane Prefecture, has been a regular fixture in my household for quite some time. To celebrate the end of 2020, however, I decided to splurge on something from the other end of their price spectrum.
Described as a culmination of all of their brewing know-how, Mukyu-Tenon 無窮天穏 represents the latest and most exclusive series in their line-up. The three principles of which they stake it's quality are as follows: brewed according to the San-In Ginjo 山陰吟醸 style, using tsuki-haze koji (a variety of koji in which the spores have penetrated deep into the grain) that has been cultivated for 3 days, and made without adding any cultivated yeasts or lactic acid 無添加.
San-In Ginjo is the signature style of the Izumo Toji, the local brewers guild of Shimane Prefecture. It is said to eschew modern mechanisation in favour of more careful, labour intensive techniques that have been handed down from previous Izumo Toji. In keeping with orthodox Ginjo brewing, this particular sake, called Saka齋香, was allowed to ferment for over 35 days at cool temperatures. Furthermore, it was brewed by the traditional Kimoto method of making the yeast starter, thus adding an additional 35 days onto the total production time. Although not uncommon in Ginjo production, this at least justifies Itakura Shuzo's claim that making faithful representations of San-In Ginjo requires both significant time and effort.
In order to ferment for such a long period of time vigorous koji is a necessity. The powerful enzymes from tsuki-haze ensure that there is ample fuel to keep all the vital components happy within the complex micro-climate of multiple-parallel-fermentation. Using a brewers rice with a pronounced shinpaku (white starchy centre) accentuates this process, and Saka is made with a local variety called Saka-Nishiki佐香錦 that has just those very characteristics. A fragile, large grained varietal with a prominent shinpaku, it is said to be a particularly challenging rice to handle, prone to breaking during the precarious process of washing and soaking.
The reward for this extra effort, however, is that this kind of combination very often lends itself to a much richer style, one that I personally feel typifies the wonderful idiosyncratic sake of the San-In region (Shimane, Tottori, Northern Yamaguchi, and sometimes the northernmost areas of Hyogo and Kyoto). That wonderful richness is evident from the get-go, with Saka displaying a sweet, complex aroma that seems to develop further with every sip. It is bold, yet mellow, and is the perfect example of a sake that will offer up something new and appealing when served at any temperature within sake's unparalleled spectrum.
The makers of Tenon say that this series is as close as they have managed to making Omiki 御神酒, sake that is offered to the gods. This tells you everything about how highly they regard this sake in their line-up. For me personally, I have always maintained that the pinnacle of sake brewing is brewing without the use of cultured yeasts. To be able to develop a relationship with the numerous delicate microorganisms that make sake the fantastic beverage that it is takes incredible skill, patience and nerves of steel. To have produced such a refined and elegant sake, in spite of all the challenges that this wilder style of brewing entails, is a testament to the wonderful craftsmanship that goes into each bottle. For that alone, I might just be inclined to agree with their lofty assessment.