Maboroshi Junmai Daiginjo Akabako: Imperial Sake Made with Apple Yeast

Story of How Apple Yeast Was Born

The roots of Maboroshi Junmai Daiginjo are found in the discovery of an apple yeast starter mash by 4th generation brewer Kiyoma Nakao right back in 1940. Kiyoma knew that the biggest factor in determining the aroma and flavor of sake was the yeast used for brewing. Thus from 1927, under the tutelage of Kinichiro Sakaguchi, who later became known as the “god of sake”, Kiyoma set about finding the ideal yeast.

Fourteen years of experiments on more than 2,000 varieties of yeast later, Kiyoma finally came across a yeast variety which released an extraordinary bouquet (referred to as ginjoka). Not only that, the yeast had very powerful alcohol fermentation capabilities and refreshing acidity. Kiyoma had discovered the miracle yeast. This yeast would come to be called apple yeast, as it was taken from the skin of an apple.

Kiyoma then took up the study of starter mash (shubo) in an attempt to further bring out the features of yeast. In 1947, he completed his high-temperature starter mash saccharification method which fostered highly-pure apple yeast.

Kiyoma’s Research Laboratory in 1940, Courtesy of Nakao Sake Brewery Co., Ltd.
Kiyoma’s Research Laboratory in 1940, Photo Courtesy-Nakao Sake Brewery Co., Ltd.

Imperial Household’s New Year’s sake

Until the 1945's there was a system of Imperial New Year's sake. The first, second and third prize-winning sake breweries in a national competition were allowed to present two 1 sho (1.8L) bottles wrapped in silk and placed in a paulownia box to the Imperial family. The sake is then used as sacred sake for the New Year's rituals, and there is no greater honour for a brewer than to make sake for this competition, with no regard for the expense and labour involved. After many trials and errors, the brewery was awarded the honour of being the Imperial New Year's sake for three years, from 1948 to 1950.

More than two decades after receiving first prize at the nationwide competition, and after overcoming a number of issues, with complete disregard for making a profit, Junmai Daiginjo-shu Maboroshi brewed with the legendary apple yeast was sold on the market in 1974. It is the ultimate gem of the brewery, brewed by hand one by one, faithfully reproducing the brewing methods of that time.

This Junmai Daiginjo sake is brewed from carefully selected sake rice, polished to a high degree, using rice and apple yeast and other top secret traditional techniques. "Maboroshi Akabako" has a mellow and gorgeous aroma from the apple yeast and a rich taste from the Yamada Nishiki, but it also has a good sharpness that disappears quickly from the mouth. It is best drunk at a temperature between 5 and 15°C. If stored in a cool, dark place, for example, it can be enjoyed for up to five years with a mellow, full-bodied flavour.

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