|Nigori is too sweet for this; genshu is too strong|
We drink a lot of nigori, the White Zinfandel of sake, in the States, partly because we have a sweet tooth. But there's a marketing reason as well: Nigori is often described on menus as "unfiltered," a word guaranteed to appeal to wine aficionados.
It's at best misleading, usually an outright lie, and unfair to every other sake. Sake that comes from the press is not that cloudy soup of sweet rice you see in nigori bottles: those little chunks of rice are added in afterward.
You never see nigori sake in Tokyo; people here just don't drink it. But it's a top seller in the US and who can blame breweries for making what sells? Drink it because it's sweet, drink it because you like it, but don't kid yourself that it's somehow more natural; in fact, it's more adulterated.
|Now this is putting power into sake|
The problem is that, like cask-strength Scotch, it may be pure but it's really too strong to drink on its own. While most sake is about 15-16% alcohol, genshus are 18-20%. That's a big difference. There are no table wines at that level, and most people would consider fortified wines with that much alcohol to be too strong to have with dinner.
Genshu is like cask-strength Scotch, but I'd rather have the brewery add its brewing water to it than splash in a few dollops from my faucet.
|Kikumasamune makes a great honjozo|
Honjozo has brewer's alcohol added, but it's not actually higher in alcohol; it's also watered back to about the same 15% level as most junmai (no alcohol added) sakes. That just doesn't sound appealing to wine lovers. I kept correcting American sommeliers last week who called every honjozo "fortified," which is part of the problem. You can't compare honjozo to Port: sure, alcohol is added, but the intent is entirely different.
In fortified wines, alcohol is added to stop the fermentation with sugar still in it, so they're sweet. For honjozo sakes, alcohol is added to make them crisper. The driest sakes on a list are generally the honjozos.
Honjozos are also generally the crispest, cleanest sakes, the better to have with dinner. It's a defined quality level, with a polishing ratio of at least 70%. They're not meant to be as aromatic or fruity as ginjos and daiginjos. Japanese aficionados drink more honjozo than anything else; it goes well with food. They're also a little cheaper than ginjos in Japan, but not in the US because the added alcohol brings on a higher tax rate.
Eating at Tokyo restaurants after visiting 10 breweries, I found myself ordering mostly honjozo. It's great with yakitori (grilled chicken), sashimi, sazae (a sea creature grilled in its giant shell), ramen -- you name it, honjozo goes with it. Genshu would overpower the fish, while nigori is like having Coca-Cola with your meal.
We need a better way of describing honjozo, certainly not "fortified," and even though "alcohol added" is accurate, it's just not sexy. How about "the Tokyo food lover's choice"?