Contrary to wine labels, sake labels are not straightforward affairs. Apart of a very few pointers, brewers don’t seem to fall under stringent laws as far as the contents of the bottles (and casks) are concerned. More than often, you have to go around the label and decipher the small sticker at the back to find out what’s inside.
Fine by me as it adds spice to the investigation.
As I do not have Melinda’s or John’s ultra sensitive taste buds to find my way through a tasting labyrinth, I make use of my (very) few social skills and ask questions until I get the answers.
Now, labels serve many purposes. Frankly speaking, one can be easily fooled or misled as many Breweries employ different names and labels for their creations, regardless of their own company names.
I have created my own subjective label classification as follows:
« Private labels »
These are the most problematic. The sake they refer to are ordered by individuals to Brweries with specific instructions. Their quality can wildly vary, and their purpose sometimes denotes a crass motivation.
Below are three examples to illustrate my argument.
(I take full responsibility for my comments as I have to cite names!)
Iira: Ordered by Restaurant gentil, Shizuoka City. Brewed by Doi Brewery (Kaiun) in Kakegawa City.
A top-class Dai Ginjo brewed according to very exacting biological specifications. Would win prizes anywhere. Pricey, but fully deserves it!
Ashikubo: Ordered by Mochizuki Shoten, Ashikubo, Shizuoka City. Brewed by Fujinishiki Brewery, Fuji Gun.
An honest Junmai Ginjo. At 1,525 yen, a true bargain considering the quality. I would recommend it to collectors with only one reservation: why does the label advertize that this sake is made with water collected in Ashikubo, while the sticker at the back says that all sake are exclusively brewed with water from Mt. Fuji by Fujinishiki Brewery?
Sumpu No Takajo: Ordered by Seven Eleven Convenience Store, Takajo Machi, Shizuoka City. Brewed by Eikun Brewery, Yui City. The 7-11 owner used to be a liquor shop owner who asked this private label to his brewer friends.
A Junmai Ginjo for 1,000 yen?
A bargain? Definitely not. I was not impressed at all by the contents. I made a point to drink it all, as I have a policy to guzzle down my mistakes. Won’t be fooled again!
« Promotional labels »
They either promote history, an event, a region or culture.
They can also wildly vary.
Toro No Sato, Haginishiki Brewery and Abekaido, Yoshiya Brewery, Shizuoka City, and Nagai Ki No Hashi, Omuraya Brewery, Shimada City, show a positive approach as they are true bargains, whereas the crass exploitation of Mount Fuji one-cup sake found their way into my bathtub where they had the merit to smoothen my skin after a hard day playing cricket!
« Artistic labels »
Labels with a definite artisitic orientation.
The sake can also wildly vary.
Definitely top of the Prefecture are the labels from Morimoto Brewery, Kikugawa City, whose owner/master brewer has for some years ordered or created different designs for his special brews.
The last of the three labels above has an interesting story as I witnessed its birth.
During my visit at Morimoto Brewery on February 16th, I was offered a taste of this beautiful 5-year old sake, « Koshu No Roman », still unlabelled at the time. When I asked if the label had already been designed, Mr. Morimoto showed me the blueprint (see photo at top of page) of the label he intended to use. When I asked him if he could make a copy for me, he readily agreed. But he could not put his hands on a sheet of clean white paper. No problem. He grabbed a brown paper rice-bag, cut it to size and put it through the copy machine, applied his personal seal on it, et voila! (I got half of the original six-label print).
As the result definitely pleased everyone present, he stuck with the idea and « copied » the official label for his brew on more brown rice-bag paper! But I’m not supposed to tell anyone…
« Commemorative labels »
No need to say, you are left open to big surprises or disappointments in that category!
At least I can say that I enormously benefitted from this kind on February 27th when I was graciously offered the bottle below by Mr. Motoo Hashimoto of Yoshiya Brewery, Shizuoka City.
A golf fanatic, he had managed the exploit of a hole-in-one on January 14th, 2007. He had a label created to commemorate the feat with place, name, shot et al.
Back home, just out of curiosity, I read the sticker behind the bottle.
Dai Ginjo and the lot! Holy me!
Not for sale, by the way