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Shichi Jyu Ni Kou: Sampling unusual finds on the sake list

by Robbie Swinnerton

Perhaps the most singular aspect of Shichi Jyu Ni Kou (72 Kou) is its drinks list. No other kaiseki restaurant we know of this sophistication lays such emphasis on sake produced with organically grown rice — and to a lesser extent organic wine — to the point of devoting special sections in the menu for them.

One of the breweries that provides 72 Kou with organic sake is Tsukinoi, a small, family-run business in Oarai, a community close to the coast of northern Ibaraki Prefecture that was devastated by the March 11 tsunami. The waters apparently reached the very entrance of the main building, but fortunately rose no further. The warehouses and stocks escaped with only relatively minor damage.

Of the grades of Tsukinoi sake carried at 72 Kou, the most unusual of all is Nanotsuki 80. First it is brewed from rice polished only superficially (a mere 20 percent; top-grade sake rice is often polished 60 percent or more), then aged for three years. This imbues it with a light amber color, a rich nose reminiscent of oloroso sherry and a flavor that’s demonstrative but far from coarse.

Most high-end restaurants in Tokyo pride themselves on serving only the finest, most refined and elegant grades of sake, so as not to overwhelm the subtlety of the food. To find a brew with such pronounced character at 72 Kou is another indication that things may be starting to change in the overly rigid, codified world of kaiseki cuisine.

For more information about Tsukinoi, visit www.tsukinoi.co.jp.