Thursday, February 7, 2013

Izumi Ontario Spring Water Sake Company

Left: Karakuchi Genshu
Middle: Nama Nama
Right: Teion Sakura

The beautiful trio.

Izumi makes stunning sake, and in Ontario of all places. Firstly, the name - izumi means spring in Japanese, which is the han character you see. The pronounciations are different, but proper Japanese uses Chinese characters in their writing; a whole different topic altogether, so we won't get into that. They're located in Toronto's Distillery District, but the important things to know are that they use California rice, Japanese koji, and Ontario water. For those who've drunk some sake, these will be a totally different experience. They're pure rice wines, with that incredibly fragrant sweet/sour character any good Chinaman will recognize. Stunning drinks, really, a taste of the motherland. They make different brews, and when I went in just before Christmas, these were the offerings.

There has to be a bit of a burn in sakes, and indeed in rice wines - you have to feel that alcohol. It's not a drink for pussies. But yet you want that purity, that almost mineral element from the water. A combination of sweet and sour flavours, all coming together, complex, yet at the same time, utterly minimalist. We had my cousin over during the holidays, and being a citizen of the Empire of Japan (just can't resist), I had him translate the names.

The first, the Karakuchi Genshu. Genshu refers to 'cask strength', where the sake is not diluted and therefore slightly higher in alcohol. Karakuchi means 'dry', which the Japanese usually refer to beers, Asahi or whatever watery lager they like. This particular bottle has a subtle sweetness on the palate, with the alcohol almost forming a more rigid structure, finishing quite dry in fact. A stiff one. The Nama Nama, sort of the standby, which means what the han character to its left says, essentially 'raw'. It refers to the fact that the sake is unpasteurized, which would sterilize the sake but strip it of so much character. This is an absolutely delicious sake, round and with an intense rice aroma on the nose and palate. And finally, my favourite of the three, the Teion Sakura. Teion means 'low temperature', referring to the fermentation conditions. This was the lowest of the three in terms of alcohol level, and the most delicate. Floral and so fine, yet quite sturdy on the palate, finishing linear and the most wine-like. A beauty.

Man, I can't say enough about how exciting Izumi sakes are. They give so much pleasure to this wino, and remind that sometimes a taste of home can come from the most unexpected of places.


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