Sake’s Purest Expression, Crafted in an Igloo
Our Saké expert, Certified Saké Professional and Judge in the U.S. and Japan and former global beverage director for Morimoto Group, Eduardo Dingler has selected this magical Saké. Saké enthusiast and Vinous reviewer Stephen Tanzer rated the Ginga Shizuku “Divine Droplets” a glowing 94 points. This Junmai Daiginjo — the top-shelf premium designation reserved for the most pure sakés available — is “wonderfully subtle, complex and precise, with a distinctly ethereal quality,” raves Tanzer. This “Divine Droplets” saké is even featured on the wine list of 3-Michelin-starred The French Laundry. So, read on to learn more about this saké, and how saké is made, but first, hit “Buy” because we have a very limited allocation and many saké enthusiasts who have been wondering when their day in the sun would arrive. Wonder no more.
“Divine Droplets” hails from the Takasago Shuzo brewery, which was established in 1889 in Asahikawa City in Hokkaido — making it the oldest brewery in northern Japan and older by most U.S. wineries by a long shot. But what is incredibly unique about this brewery is that from its central location in Hokkaido, they benefit from extraordinary snowfall, which feeds into 120 rivers amidst majestic terrain — pure sources of high quality water used for this saké. Additionally, they have developed a practically unheard of, truly innovative final stage of production from WITHIN AN IGLOO. You read that correctly. The Igloo remains at 28°F (just below freezing) but with 90 percent humidity, and fully protected from the immense wind currents outside, the saké mash (like wine that’s been sitting on the lees and needs filtration) hangs in specially-crafted burlap bags, slowly dripping out pure, filtered saké, in a pressure-free, wholly sterile environment — it’s an absolutely incredible sight to behold.
“What most people don’t realize is that saké can taste a lot like wine,” Dingler told us. “Some styles are rich and earthy, like Cabernet Sauvignon, while others deliver a fragrant and elegant style with a touch of sweetness similar to Riesling, or crisp and dry calling to mind Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc,” he said.
Saké is made from four main ingredients: water, rice, yeast and koji. And the process of producing a saké is actually quite similar to brewing beer in the sense that you start with a grain and not fruit. When it comes to categorizing saké in quality-categories, everything depends upon the milling of the rice. As brewmasters mill the rice (stir it) the outside layers of each rice kernel begin to peel — or are “polished” — away. The brewmasters’ trick is to polish just enough to reveal complexities and to unlock richer flavors. Premium sakés — like this Divine Droplets — are made from rice that has been polished beyond 30%. Junmai Ginjo or Ginjo sakés must be polished at minimum 40%, while Junmai Daiginjo or Daiginjo means a minimum of 50% of the rice has been polished away — reaching the heart of the rice kernel and delivering the purest expression of saké. Alcohol levels meanwhile oscillate between 7 and 20 percent generally.