Episode 31 Show Notes
Season 1. Episode 31. This episode can be summed up in a word: “Tokubetsu”… now that just means Special. If you want a short and sweet version you are done! But looking a little deeper, there are a few reasons why a brewery might label a sake their “tokubetsu” or special sake. In almost all cases, Tokubetsu is applied to either Junmai or Honjozo sakes. These two classifications allow for upgrades to a “special” classification for a few (sometimes vague) set of circumstances. To qualify as tokubetsu sake must be milled to 60% or less remaining for either the junmai or honjozo category. Another way to qualify for Tokubetsu is to use a special or unique premium sake rice. Finally you can also use a special process or production step and print this on the label. It’s a little vague but it boils down to a special process for a special sake. The majority you will find will be junmai or honjozo that are having a serious glow up! Look for anything “tokubetsu” to find a special sake – guaranteed!
Skip to: 00:19
Welcome to the show from John and Timothy
What “special” sakes did Timothy and John have on hand to taste?
Taka Tokubetsu Junmai
Brewery: Nagayama Honke Shuzojo
Classification: Tokubetsu Junmai
Importer: Vine Connections (USA)
Rice Type: Hattannishiki, Yamadanishiki
Brand: Taka (貴)
Mimorusugi Tokubetsu Junmai
Brewery: Imanishi Shuzo
Classification: Tokubetsu Junmai
Rice Type: Tsuyuhakaze
Importer: Mutual Trading (USA)
Brand: Mimurosugi (みむろ杉)
This is it! Join us next time for another episode of Sake Revolution!
Episode 31 Transcript
John Puma: 0:00
Hello and welcome to Sake Revolution. America’s first sake podcast. I am your host, John Puma from the sake notes. Also the administrator at the Internet Sake Discord and our resident sake nerd.
Timothy Sullivan: 0:35
and I’m your host Timothy Sullivan. I’m a sake samurai sake educator, as well as the founder of the urban sake website and together John and I will be tasting and chatting about all things, sake and doing our best to make it fun and easy to understand.
John Puma: 0:50
That’s right, Tim now, we have gone over Junmai and aruten and what all that means that was for people keeping count at home. That’s episodes four and five, uh, of our show a very, very long time ago, Tim. so we went through all that. We went through their classifications the Ginjo, the DaiGinjo, and what that all means. And, um, but, uh, Tim, there’s a bottle of my hand and it says something that is. not exactly. Just a junmai, um, it says something a little bit different. So I think we need to take a little stroll, a little walk, and we’re going to have a seat in the suck education corner. And we’re going to suss this all out because this bottle says, Tokubetsu
Timothy Sullivan: 1:29
ah, Tokubetsu. Well, you know, We could sum this whole sake education corner up in just one word means special.
John Puma: 1:40
that that’s it. That Tim, we need more than that. This is gonna be a really short episode. If we don’t do more, what it tell me there’s more to it.
Timothy Sullivan: 1:49
Well, the word Tokubetsu literally means special and we could end the education corner there, but. It’s really interesting because on the one hand, Tokubetsu means special and there’s a kind of a. Industry-wide understanding of what a tokubetsu or a special sake means, then there’s also what the letter of the law or what the regulation actually say about Tokubetsu. So why don’t we dive in a little bit and pick this apart because Tokubetsu is something that you’re going to see on the label when you buy certain sakes and the sake that you have, you mentioned as a tokubestu sake as well.
John Puma: 2:33
Right, right. So, um, all right, so I’m going to have a seat. All right.
Timothy Sullivan: 2:36
John Puma: 2:37
I’m comfortable. I’m now I am ready to learn,
Timothy Sullivan: 2:40
you mentioned about junmai before and to sell a sake as a junmai, there’s a legal requirement about what the ingredients have to be, right? No added alcohol rice, water Koji only. Or if you call a sake a honjozo, you know, you need to mill the rice down to 70% or less remaining, and you have to add distilled alcohol. So there’s rules and regulations written into the law about certain words that we use to describe sake
John Puma: 3:06
Yeah, we, we went, we went over all of this. There are, there are rules, like you mentioned, there are, there are hard and fast rules
Timothy Sullivan: 3:12
yeah, Tokubetsu means special and a brewer can apply this word to any sake where they do a different or unique or special process on the sake So, so I’ll give you what the industry understanding of this term is. So 99 times out of a hundred, when a brewer labels a sake as tokubetsu, what they’re really saying is that they Polish the rice to a smaller size so, for example, if you make a Tokubetsu honjozo, the minimum to be a Honjozo is 70% or less remaining, right? So if you go down to let’s say 55 remaining instead of 70, that’s a significant difference. So that could be a Tokubetsu Honjozo, because you’ve milled the rice to a much smaller size than the bare minimum. You need to get into a category.
John Puma: 4:08
But we have a name for the, for sakes that that are milled down to 55% and, and have alcohol added and that’s Ginjo.
Timothy Sullivan: 4:20
Right. You got right to the heart of it. So sometimes you make a sake it could qualify for a higher grade, but you downgrade yourself and you make a really luxurious example of a different lower grade.
John Puma: 4:38
Hmm. Oh, we did talk a little bit about how, uh, based on the flavor profile that brewery’s going for, given sake they might choose to utilize another classification that they are qualified for. Like, for example, if you can have a ginjo and you choose to say it’s a honjozo still, that’s fine. But apparently you can also say Tokubetsu on top of that.
Timothy Sullivan: 5:00
yes, exactly. the way it most often shakes out is that if you make a Junmai sake that technically could be a Junmai Ginjo. Based on the milling rate, but you still sell it as a junmai technically the lower grade, you can add a tokubetsu to that to indicate that there’s something special or different about that sake that may be a little bit more than you would be expecting. So if you see something called a Tokubetsu Junmai, or a special Junmai, I always first look at the milling rate to see how low it is. So when we look at this milling rate, We want to look at two things first, junmai and honjozo. So, so according to the regulations, junmai has no minimum milling requirement, but to qualify for a tokubetsu or a special junmai, we’re looking at junmai ginjo quality. So that would be 60% or less remaining. So to qualify for a tokubetsu Junmai we’re generally looking at 60% or less remaining. And for honjozo. The rules are 70% or less remaining. And again, honjozo is the alcohol added style. So if you have 60% or less remaining, what would normally be a Ginjo Sake again, the alcohol added style, 60% or less remaining. You also have the option of calling a sake like that a tokubetsu honjozo or a special
John Puma: 6:38
so does that mean if you take a Ginjo and you mill it down at 45% before, whatever reason you still want to call it ginjo, can that be a tokubetsu again, Ginjo?
Timothy Sullivan: 6:47
Yes, it can. Uh, but that’s, that’s not common. I’ve heard of tokubetsu daiginjos as
John Puma: 6:53
I honestly have never, seen it used for anything that wasn’t a junmai or a honjozo, so that’s very interesting. I didn’t know that.
Timothy Sullivan: 6:59
Yes. but 99 times out of a hundred, it will be applied to the Junmai and the Honjozo grade. So Tokubetsu Junmai, Tokubetsu Honjozo this kind of lives in that zone hovering between Junmai and Junmai Ginjo and Honjozo and Ginjo so. In between those two layers for both the pure rice and the alcohol added style, you can have this special grade. This Tokubetsu Junmai, tokubetsu Honjozo. we are talking a lot about rice milling here, but Tokubetsu doesn’t have to do necessarily with rice milling
John Puma: 7:35
what else it be?
Timothy Sullivan: 7:37
well, The next most common scenario to use this term tokubetsu is if you use a special Sake rice to make your Sake. So if it’s a Sake rice that is not your usual or something, that’s really, really premium or unique, that’s another time you can bring in this term tokubetsu. And the regulations also say that if you do something else special to the sake, something that’s an approved production step. You can list that on the label and then call your sake tokubetsu, but you don’t see that as much. It’s more either the rice milling is at a Ginjo or a Junmai Ginjo level, or the rice that you used was special or unique for making that sake.
John Puma: 8:21
All right. Well, as I mentioned earlier, I do have a bottle in my hand that that features, the word Tokubetsu on, it Tokubetsu Junmai Tim, I understand that. even though we completely just, I randomly had this bottle handy. I understand that you have also have one right near you.
Timothy Sullivan: 8:38
It’s such a coincidence, but I do have a Tokubestu Junmai with me as well. So why don’t, why don’t we introduce our sakes John, you can go ahead and go
John Puma: 8:47
Sure. Sure. so the name of the sake is Mimurosugi, uh, Tsuyuhakaze. And that is actually the name of the rice that’s used. It’s a Tokubetsu Junmai, from, Nara prefecture. That’s a still South of Kyoto. If I’m not mistaken and it’s made by, Imanishi, Shuzo.
Timothy Sullivan: 9:10
John Puma: 9:11
Yeah, I’m a big fan of this breweries, sake And what do you have?
Timothy Sullivan: 9:15
the sake that I have is called Taka, Tokubetsu Junmai, the English name here is Noble Arrow. This is a brewery that is from Yamaguchi prefecture. That’s in the far West of the main islands of Japan and the brewery name is Nagayama Honke Shuzojo. Now the current brewery president, his name is Takahiro Nagayama. And you may, I noticed that the brand name of this sake is Taka and that’s the first part of his first name takahiro. And one thing that really differentiates this brewery from other breweries is that they have started. An agricultural business as well. And they’ve begun to grow estate grown, Sake rice, especially Yamada Nishiki. So they’ve dedicated acreage around their brewery to grow sake rice that they use in making their own sake.
John Puma: 10:18
that’s interesting. since, you’re telling us all about these special sakes why don’t you open your special Sake. First.
Timothy Sullivan: 10:24
All right, so I’m going to go ahead and open up this taka. And I’m going to give it a pour. Alright, smells good.
John Puma: 10:41
Hmm. So what are you, what are you thinking? Uh what’s what are you picking up on the aroma?
Timothy Sullivan: 10:45
Well, you know, I read some information about this brewery and, one of the key words that came across for this sake was minerality. And you really get a sense for that in the aroma. When you think of like slate or stone, little bit of a minerality driven note on the aroma. Overall, it’s very restrained and light, but very engaging. There’s just a hint of fruitiness there as well. Not much overt rice and not even any kind of like a lactic or dairy character, but some gentle fruit, but a little bit of a minerality note on the aroma. Really, really lovely. Let me give it a taste. Mm. So it’s got, uh, on the palate, it has a bit of dryness to it, and I’m just looking here at the SMV or the sake meter value, how sweet or dry a sake might, come across. And this is a plus six, which gets us just a hint on the dryer side. And that really comes across on the palate. There’s a lovely, engaging dry character to the finish on this But it has some body and weight to it. So it’s not just dry and disappears. There’s a little bit of ricey-ness and let’s look at what the rices are for my sake We have two there’s Yamada. Nishiki the King of sake rice, and also hattan Nishiki, which we’ve talked about a lot in regards to Hiroshima, right. Yeah. So this prefecture Yamaguchi is very close to Hiroshima.
John Puma: 12:12
I like a neighboring, prefecture, if I’m not mistaken.
Timothy Sullivan: 12:15
That’s absolutely right. So it makes sense that they would have access to some pretty darn good Hattan nishiki. So we’ve got this combination of rices really delicious. There’s a nice depth here too. It’s not just one note, not light. There’s a dryness. it’s got good body and, uh, medium finish. So it, it doesn’t disappear too quickly, but it doesn’t linger too much as well. Really nice medium finish as well.
John Puma: 12:42
Hmm. Sounds really well balanced.
Timothy Sullivan: 12:44
yeah, and that note of minerality pervades this whole sake So you really get a sense of this lovely, depth of flavor and a really good structure. I’d say could structure to this sake too.
John Puma: 12:58
nice. And, did you mention what the milling rate was on this?
Timothy Sullivan: 13:02
this is a 60% remaining. So when we talk about tokubetsu, what makes something special? When a junmai sake is milled to 60% that could qualify for the next grade up, right. 60% could be a Junmai Ginjo So this sake that Taka Tokubetsu Junmai If it, you know, sold in Japan could legally sell as a junmai ginjo, but they’re selling it as a Junmai so kind of one grade below what it could qualify for.
John Puma: 13:35
Timothy Sullivan: 13:35
see And often when that’s the case, they sell it as a tokubetsu Junmai, or a special junmai.
John Puma: 13:42
And in your case also using this using Yamada Nishiki in a Junmai also could be something that would be construed as special, perhaps
Timothy Sullivan: 13:52
yeah. when a sake can qualify for a higher grade and it sold us lower grade and called Tokubetsu, then chances are very, very high. The reason they’re employing that Tokubetsu is because, you’re getting Junmai ginjo quality in a Junmai Yeah. So, John, how about you? Do you want to give yours a try?
John Puma: 14:14
Uh, I would love to, so I can get this opened up and give it a little poor. Uh, coincidentally, this is also milled to 60%. and, uh, the back label, the English label actually, notes that this is being defined as karakuchi. So I believe we’ve talked about this in the past, on the show that basically is letting you know that they think it’s quite dry or that’s what they’re going for is quite dry. and the sake meter value on this, it goes to plus five. So just to hint shy of yours, does that I’m expecting some similar, uh, similar dryness. Okay. It’s interesting that there’s a, a nice hint of fruit on this, on the nose. It’s not bowling over. It’s not like, like ginjo style fruit. but when you go looking, it’s kind of hard to mess it’s in there. A little bit of, a little bit of that, that ethanol kind of accompanying it. The flavor is very, very interesting. It’s it is dry. most of the tasting comes across really light though. So it’s dry and light a little bit fruity, and it’s got a nice kind of, umami linger going on as you sip it. That’s kind of something that you, that as you have more, more sips of it, it’s kind of doubling up and tripling a little bit. Very nice. This is very interesting stuff. this rice, the, um, tsuyuhakaze I don’t see it a lot. have you had any experience with that?
Timothy Sullivan: 16:03
No, it’s not a common rice at all. We’d need to look into that a little bit more. I don’t know much about this at all.
John Puma: 16:08
Yeah. That’s interesting. I’m going to have to, uh, Can I need to do a little bit of research on this because, it looks like I only at least in the States. I only know of two sake that we get here that use this rice. And in a future episode, we’re going to talk a little bit more about that, but this is really a unique flavor. Like I said, a little bit dry, very dry and crisp in that way that when you describe like Niigata sake but then there’s this like really nice flood of umami. and, and a hint of fruit, really nice. It’s I don’t want to say it’s restrained all the way in the same way that Niigata is known for, but is, definitely flirting with that. And maybe it’s like that with a little bit more punch to it. Very, very interesting combination of, uh, of qualities.
Timothy Sullivan: 17:01
Yeah. And you know, our sakes actually have a lot in common. Yeah. they’re both Tokubetsu Junmais milled to 60%. the alcohol percentage is 15% for both. the acidities are both one point over 1.5 year, 1.9. And the sake I have the Taka is 1.6. And they’re both a hint on the dryer side you’re plus five and plus six. So they’re very similar from the statistics, which is interesting. Um, and I think what ties them together being Tokubetsu, is that they are giving that Junmai Ginjo grade, but selling as a Junmai, you know, listeners may be asking themselves why, when you could sell it as a Junmai ginjo. Why would you sell it as a Junmai My, why would you technically like downgrade that level? Why,
John Puma: 17:54
idea here. Uh, I don’t know about yours, but I feel like this is a very, very food friendly sake And this brewery in particular makes a wonderfully delicious junmai ginjo already. That is a little bit less food friendly, like that is a sipping sake and that’s their, that is their premier, Junmai Ginjo. So this being a food friendly sake even though the milling would allow for it. Saying like, no, no, no, no. This is the one for food. I think that that’s kind of what they’re going for here. Or at least that’s my that’s in my head cannon, but I’ve decided, um, and that’s kinda where I’m at with this. I think at least that’s my thought on it. What do you think
Timothy Sullivan: 18:38
Well, you’re very close to what I was thinking, which is that, not necessarily that it’s food friendly, but that, you may already have a Junmai ginjo on the market. And if you’re making another Junmai Ginjo, they can compete at the same level and cannibalize each other’s market. But if you make one of your junmai ginjos a “Tokubetsu Junmai” it’s like another category. You can put the sake into that won’t directly compete. So if you make, if you’re a brewery and you have two junmai, ginjos on the market, then they may go up against each other, but if you make one of them a special junmai, uh, it brings it into a different category and that way you can have a broader appeal.
John Puma: 19:27
In my case for this one, I was thinking specifically about their junmai Ginjo, which I know is a really good sipping sake. Or at least in my head, I see it that way. Cause I, I love to sip it. So I have a bit of a bias, but, uh, with this one, I just think like I’m just thinking food is a very different flavor and a very different look from the brewery for this, uh, on the sake compared to their, Junmai Ginjo offering. So I do like that. They kind of separate it out like this at different, this is a different thing. Um, and it’s a great idea.
Timothy Sullivan: 20:00
And that’s exactly what this term Tokubetsu or special is all about. It gives brewers away to differentiate. A specific formulation of their sake and say, this is a special batch. You can also think of it. Sometimes. I say like, think of it like a reserve, you know, like, uh, this is, uh, a reserve batch or something special different about this. it gives the brewers a wonderful way to say, uh, this is a unique formulation in some way, we’ve done something different or special to this batch. So that’s a way they can call that out using this term Tokubetsu. Yeah. So let’s talk about food pairing I I’ve had your sake before, but not for a long time. So I really love to talk about what, what foods might pair really well with that for mine. Oh gosh. It’s really got such good balance to it. And I think this is a super versatile sake The one that I have to taka noble arrow Tokubetsu Junmai
John Puma: 21:03
I have had that, that as well, but not for quite a while. And I do, I agree with you. It is, it is a versatile sake. I don’t know. Again, I haven’t had it for quite a while, but, uh, based on my own memories of the flavor, if I would, if I would do go all spicy with it, but I think something heavy, it would really cooperate with. What do you think.
Timothy Sullivan: 21:21
So, you know, we’re getting into the more autumnal months right now. It’s getting a little bit chillier outside. And, um, around this time of year, I’d love to eat things like roasted. Foods. So I think about roast chicken and root vegetables, you know, that very classic American dish of a roasted chicken, so good. And that type of roasted chicken with a little Rosemary in there, and then roasted root vegetables underneath that type of. Dinner is one of my absolute favorites. And I think breaking this out with the very light minerality here, the hint of dryness, but still the body and the structure would be a wonderful pairing with like American roast chicken.
John Puma: 22:05
Oh, all right.
Timothy Sullivan: 22:06
I think that would be great. Yeah.
John Puma: 22:09
I. I wish that I had waited to eat dinner until after I opened this because, so I ate, um, we had a hearty meat sauce, pasta, like a bolonaise and it was like a veal pork and beef blend ground, uh, you know, kind of ground meat into a, into a sauce. And. I want to go back and have that again with this sake Um, since I started tasting it, I can’t stop thinking like, Oh, that I had some wine with it, but I think this would go even better. I think this is this isn’t going to be very friendly for that style of food. I wait both. Yeah. It seems like we both have ideas towards, uh, you mentioned that roasted chicken, so things that are a little bit heavy, very American. I want to say. Which is great. I think it’s, you know, it’s, um, finding sakes that pair really well with American food is wonderful. And being able to go out and tell people like, Oh, you don’t need to be having Japanese food with your, with your sake You can have American food. Just make sure you pick the right food. That’s okay.
Timothy Sullivan: 23:11
Absolutely that that’s a hurdle. We went over a long time ago for, for you and me. we always have sake in our homes and I’m ready to get it out with just about anything we’re cooking. And I’ll be very happy when the rest of society catches up to us and wants to have, have that, that bottle of sake ready to go with pretty much anything you’re going to cook at
John Puma: 23:35
Yeah, getting hungry again. I didn’t eat that long ago, guys. This is it’s.
Timothy Sullivan: 23:42
Well, this has been a very, very special episode.
John Puma: 23:45
very, uh, very Tokubetsu
Timothy Sullivan: 23:47
John Puma: 23:49
Uh, I need to take that one back. I’m sorry, everybody. That was awful.
Timothy Sullivan: 23:54
a very, very special episode of sake revolution.
John Puma: 23:59
Timothy Sullivan: 24:00
All right. Well, I want to thank all of our listeners so much for tuning in. We really do hope that you’re enjoying our show. You know, if you’d like to show your support for sake revolution, there’s one way you can really help us out. And that would be to take a couple of minutes and leave us a written review on Apple podcasts. It’s really the best way for us to get the word out about our show.
John Puma: 24:20
Please be sure to subscribe wherever you download your podcasts so that our show will magically show up on your device of choice every single week. Let me release it.
Timothy Sullivan: 24:28
And as always to learn more about any of the topics or any of the sakes we talked about in today’s episode, be sure to visit our website, sakerevolution.com to see all the detailed show notes.
John Puma: 24:40
and if you have a suggestion for us or a sake question that you need answered, please reach out to us at [email protected] because we want to hear from you. so next time, please remember to keep drinking sake and kanpai
Timothy Sullivan: 25:01
keep it special.