George’s Rants & Raves: Gekkeikan Sake and Zipang
There I was looking at the green bottle with the colorful labels and Japanese writing and art when in the corner I spied, “Product of USA produced and bottled in Folsom California 95630”. WTF? Gekkeikan authentic Japanese Sake is brewed and bottled in the good old USA, in Folsom California, a place made famous by Johnny Cash when he sang the “Folsom Prison Blues”. In this day and age of globalization that just may not be so strange. After all, Toyota manufactures Japanese cars all over the USA.
However, some things just can’t be screwed with under penalty of the laws of man and those of nature. By holy decree sent down from Mt. Olympus by the French Gods (talk about your mixed metaphors!), Cognac only comes from a certain area of France and is only produced with certain types of grapes in a very specific manner – all the other stuff from everywhere else is just brandy. Same goes for Champagne, all those wonderful bubbles from Napa Valley and everywhere else in the world are legally just sparkling wine. If it ain’t from Mexico, it ain’t Tequila. Scotch Whisky (no, whisky without the “e” is not a misspelling but the correct Scottish spelling) can only come from Scotland and bourbon can only come from the USA no matter how you spell it.
Sake complicates these matters even further. The Japanese word sake or 0-sake can literally refer to any kind of booze, while the Japanese word Nihonshu specifically refers to this type of “Japanese Sake”. Interestingly enough, the bottle never identifies the contents as anything but a “versatile beverage” and shows it to be 15.6% alcohol by volume. After digging around on their website, I finally discovered that they finally get around to calling this stuff “rice wine”. Rice wine, per say, really doesn’t exist. You see, normal wine is made by the fermentation of grapes or other naturally sweet fruit. Beer is brewed employing a mashing process. Rice alcohol is produced through a method closer to beer making called an amylolytic process. Rice doesn’t have much sugar and you need sugar to produce alcohol. However, rice has a lot of starches, and they are converted through the amylolytic process into sugar which can then be brewed to produce the alcohol. So you see “Rice Wine” is more closely related to beer than wine and should more correctly be called rice beer. Whatever!!
All that historical, scientific insight has made me thirsty, so I finally popped the top on this bottle of whatever it really is. It has a pleasantly yeasty smell that isn’t cloying with definite notes of rice grain. It could never be mistaken for anything other than sake.
It is pleasing upon the palate with the feel of fermentation. It has the taste of a white wine without the oak and the sulfites and has just a bare hint of sweetness. The finish is neat and affable.
Although there is certainly more interesting sake out there, this is a good every day, very drinkable, all purpose kind of sake that’s tasty but not terrific. It’s actually decent enough to stand on its own as a sipping sake as I am sipping it right now and enjoying it. The price of around $8.00 per bottle is just right. I would definitely stock up on this and serve it regularly as accompaniment with any Japanese fare for any day of the week for me and the wife, but I would definitely go with a special sake for those occasional meals with the mistress.
I was also presented with a teeny tiny 250ml bottle of Zipang, Gekkeikan’s sparkling sake. This product is only 7% alcohol by volume just half of the full strength sake reviewed above and will probably be available at 7-11’s everywhere sooner than later. By sparkling they mean carbonated. Well, actually their term is “naturally carbonated”, and with no further explanation from them as to what that might really mean I am left to my own devices and inventions and can only envision drunken sumo wrestlers who have eaten mounds of beans and from there I will let your imagination take over and dare you to enter the 7th level of hell with me.
The bottle is covered with a frosty silver label and has a cap with what resembles a pulling device on a hand grenade. Unafraid of terrorists after having dealt with my family for decades, I pulled the tab.
Yup, it was a diluted effervescent version of the above, sort of like a very interesting 7-UP. Pleasant, unoffensive, not too sweet, not too tart, not too much alcohol, not overly carbonated and would probably be best friends paired with any food from 7-11. It was sort of an adult soda pop.
By George Brozowski
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