It looks like Naoki Amano, manager of the Nihonshu Stand Moto is trying to extract himself from the bottle of this aptly named Snake Eye…or alternatively that the bottle is grabbing him by the collar. This sake is remarkable on a number of counts: rightful member of the highest category of Specially designated sake (Junmai Daiginjo), it was brewed using wine yeast, and bottled without carbon filtering, pasteurisation or dilution (Muroka,Nama,Gen-shu), in a wine magnum bottle (1.5L) and not a traditional « isshobin » (1.8L). Last but not least, international wine lovers can quite easily read the label.
Definitely of a high standard, it surprises me a little in the mouth: while I was expecting body and outstanding acidity, I mostly keep the memory of bitterness just before the sake goes through the throat. It made me think at that time, that the name was appropriate (just my imagination of what snake venom may taste like!). As usual, I tried to know more, and found myself plunged into an important part of Japan’s history. This sake was brewed by Eiko Fuji Shuzou (« Glorious Mount Fuji »), in Yamagata. The rice used is local Dewanosato. The Kura was founded in 1778 (!!) and is owned and managed by Mr. Kato, 13th generation heir, a direct descendant of Daimyo Kiyomasa Kato (1562 – 1611). Kato (the daimyo) illustrated himself during the bloody campaigns leading the country unification (Sengoku period). He was one of the « 7 spears of Shizugatake », the generals who brought Hideyoshi Toyotomi to power a short while after that famous battle, was one of the leaders of the invasion of Korea under Toyotomi, fought for Ieyasu Tokugawa at the battle of Sekigahara (October 21st, 1600, exactly the same day I was tasting this sake for the first time, speak of a coincidence!), before dying in unexplained circumstances in 1611. He has left the image of a fierce and ruthless warrior, devout Nichiren Buddhism supporter … and savage toward Christians in Kumamoto (Kyushu), the fief he inherited. « Snake Eye », this red circle, was his emblem (Kamon), and can be seen on the door of the brewery, where a piece of Kato’s body armour is on display.
On the day of my tasting, I had asked the barmaid who, like some comments I have read on the internet, explained that snake eye was an evocation of the blue circles painted at the bottom of the white porcelain kikichoko. It was a reminder that, while close to a white wine, that beverage was asserting itself as a true nihonshu. Possibly as well…. But which story do you prefer (I phoned the Kura to check)?