On the 8th March 2022, we held a masterclass for Gunma Craft Sake at Sachi Restaurant in Pantechnicon, London.

The masterclass was led by sake buyer and educator, Christine Parkinson, with Master of Wine, Sarah Abbott. The guests included sake educators, importers and buyers with a high degree of expertise in sake, as well as wine professionals with a high degree of knowledge in wine, but who were at the beginning of their sake journey.

The masterclass featured 6 sake from 6 brewers from the Gunma prefecture of Japan. The brewers joined us by video link from Japan, and were able to answer questions from the guests and almost be in the room with us.

The six breweries are Asama Shuzo, Nagai Sake, Nagaihonke, Ooteneshuzou, Tsuchida, and Seitoku Meijo. Sake production in Gunma is characterised by many small breweries, and diversity of styles. Gunma Sake is comparatively unknown in the UK, but is appreciated in Japan where it is bought by many leading restaurants, as well as by ‘brewery door’ customers.

The great River Tone is fundamental to the quality and style of Gunma Craft Sake. It dominates the epic landscapes, with great river terraces that are the largest in the country. The softness of the water from this river and its tributaries is in the famous softness of Gunma sake. The silky texture of Gunma sake was remarked on by many of the guests at the masterclass.

The sakes shown during the masterclass were:

Asama Shuzo
Junmai Daigino Higen Rei
An example of “terroir sake”, this creamy sake is made from Kairyoshinkou local rice rice that the brewery grows. Christine Parkinson pointed out that it is very unusual for a brewery to grow its own rice. Guests commented on the full and expressive nature of this sake, and the floral aromas which may come from the use of the special Princess Mishiko rose yeast.

Nagai Sake
Mizubasho Yukihotaka Awa Sake
Elegant sparkling sake, bottle fermented using a patented technique developed over many years by Nagai Sake company. Awa Sake is now a recognised and protected category in Japan. Guests commented on the delicate but musky perfume and the fine intensity of this sparkling sake.

Mizubasho Yukihotaka Junmai Daiginjo
This sake has the trademark elegance of Nagai Sake. Guests commented on the refined perfume and round creaminess, and found it very soft and well-balanced.

Tonenishiki Koshihikari 90 Junmai Sokujo
This lightly polished sake (just 90% polishing rate) impressed guests with its rich chestnut flavours and rich umami. At 17% alcohol, this is a powerful sake that guests recognised as a good example of the Genshu (undiluted) style.

Sadaijin Koshihikari Junmaishu
This rich and toasty sake had lovely savoury and figgy notes. Guests really liked its body and “enjoyable astringency” and notes of “black olive”. Made from the local eating rice (koshihikari), this sake has a real savour of steamed rice. Guests also discussed that this sake  – which was served at room temperature  – would be delicious at warmer temperatures.

Seitoku Meijo
Houou Seitoku Junmai Ginjo
This large brewery was formed in 1959 from the merger of 4 older breweries. Compared to the other breweries in this tasting (most of which were founded 4 generations ago), Seitoku Meijo is a young company, but with deep local roots. Guests greatly appreciated the restrained, very drinkable style of this Ginjo and commented on the attractive notes of nuttiness and lychee skin. As Christine Parkinson said, this is not a “melon fest”!

Tsuchida Sake
TE TO TE Junmai Kimoto
Guests really appreciated this characterful sake, made using the traditional Kimoto brewing method. As with Nagaihonke Tonenishiki Koshihikari 90 Junmai, this is a 90% polishing rate sake, and also had pronounced flavours of tasty steamed rice. Guests commented on the pure lactic creaminess of this sake, and the sense of freshness that came from the use of white Koji.

Guests also enjoyed a further 5 sake during lunch, and tasting notes for those sake will be posted next week.