Usually “never judge a book by its cover” would be considered sound advice. Whether buying wine, beer or of course sake, choosing something solely based on the attractiveness of the label can be a bit of a gamble. However in the case of Miyoshikiku, their bright, comic-esque, wild and occasionally humorous labels give the impression that the sake within is also wild, unconventional and vivid. And indeed it is.
Located in the sleepy town of Ikeda in Tokushima prefecture on the island of Shikoku off the eastern coast of Japan’s main island Miyoshikiku Shuzo is a tiny brewery with a staff of three producing around 400 koku (72,00 litres) a year. Despite the small output they are in fact the third largest brewery in Tokushima giving an indication of how small the overall output is of the area despite having 30 breweries. Around thirteen years ago, current kuramoto 5th generation Mamiya-san decided to (in an all too familiar tale) dispense with the Toji system and take on the brewing himself. What he has since brought to the table is simply some of the most exciting, modern and funky sake going around.
As mentioned, the first thing anyone thinks of when they think of Miyoshikiku is the labels. Influences of manga, pop-art and Mamiya-san’s love of punk and classic glam rock (he plays guitar in a band doing David Bowie and Velvet Underground covers) abound in a colorful, eye-catching portfolio. Interestingly, some of the labels are designed by an old artist friend of Mamiya-san who makes his living as a cop of all things!
But make no mistake this is no case of style over substance. After all it’s what’s in the bottle that matters most right? “Sake for people that don’t like sake” is a phrase I’ve heard used to describe their sake before but I feel that undermines their appeal to folks who do know their stuff and appreciate sake of all types. It just may not be sake that grand-dad likes as evidenced by the reason behind some of their sake being in somewhat non-traditional blue bottles. Mamiya-san explained it is a conscious effort to be unappealing to some of their local drinkers of old school sake that are put off by the the bright, fruity flavors Miyoshikiku is more recently known for. For the old school local market they do actually still make some old school style sake with less obvious labeling. Miyoshikuku is lively, bright, extravagant even. Although I’ve been a fan for years it was at a recent tasting I was lucky enough to get an up close and personal look at a wider selection of their range. The common thread throughout the range is aromatics. Miyoshikiku jumps out of the glass.
The Wild Side Tokubetsu Junmai (muroka nama genshu) was bursting with pineapple, mango and fruit salad aromas and hit the palate with a kiss of sweetness while maintaining an elegance possibly attributable to the shizuku-style pressing.
From their interesting range of sake made with ungraded Yamadanishiki rice (therefore ungraded under tokuteimeishoshu regulations) from Hyogo, the Another View muroka nama genshu was a revelation of soft, fleeting florals followed by a sweet, sexy profile hinting at its 55% seimaibuai. But far from being a one trick pony the ungraded Awa Oga* made with local organic koshihikari (table rice) milled to 80% was an umami-rich, chewy, rice driven workhorse with only background licks of floral aromas. Then it was back to Awa Yamadanishiki Origarami (semi-nigori) a pretty, feminine style with notes of ripe melon; soft and supple.
Like several other breweries, Miyoshikiku have also had a stab at the wine yeast game with their intriguing Marionette, slightly nutty with lemon rind flavors and shades of tea, slightly reminiscent of an aged Hunter Valley Semillon.
While I said before I’m not a fan of the “sake for people who don’t like sake” moniker, I’d agree that for anyone who thinks they’ve tried sake and didn’t think much of it, Miyoshikiku could well be an eye-opener. Equally for those that think they know what sake is all about, Miyoshikiku is a fresh look at how rice, yeast, koji and water can produce vastly different results depending on who and where it comes from.
* Awa 阿波 is the name of the area in northern Tokushima where the rice is sourced