Greetings sake lovers, and welcome to another edition of the KURAND magazine series explaining some of the little-known sake terminology printed on sake labels.
This article explains the meaning of jikagumi, a term as obscure and difficult to explain to someone as say: yamahai, kimoto, muroka and namazume….. but here goes..
Jikagumi literally translates to “straight from the press”.
The Toil for Ultimate Freshness
First, let’s recap over the production process. As you may have learned from reading earlier articles, following fermentation, sake is passed through a filter (pressed) to separate the solids, kasu (lees) from the liquid. This process is called joso in Japanese.
The objective of jikagumi is to bottle the sake while making as little contact with oxygen as feasibly possible. While in wine-making, a little oxygen contact can actually help to develop flavours and for some styles is generally regarded as a positive thing, in sake brewing it is generally avoided, except in the case when sake is deliberately aged. That’s because sake tastes better when it is fresher, more youthful and of a more delicate nature. As you might expect, this is not easy to achieve. Even pressing sake brings it into contact with oxygen which is why most brewers use the more modern Yabuta branded air-press to force the sake through as quickly as possible and limit air contact. But even then air-contact is unavoidable. Oxygen contact is so detrimental to sake you should always store your sake upright in the fridge, not on its side like wine, because this reduces the surface area that is in contact with air — the only type of wine bottles you should store on its side are the corked type because you have to keep the cork wet so that it doesn’t dry out and crumble into the bottle.
Now, the thing is that sake brewing is not a consistent art. That is because, every year, the rice is slightly different. The only reason, your favourite sake tastes the same year on year is largely thanks to the skill of the brewer. But in actual fact, while not immediately obvious to the untrained palate, every sake is unique, one of a kind. Sometimes skill is not enough, but brewers can also blend different tanks together to achieve the same result. This is normally what happens after the sake has been pressed; the sake is returned to the tank and for tax reasons it has to be weighed.
But there is nothing to stop the brewer weighing in the bottle instead.
Suffice to say it’s all a lot of work and very time consuming; every bottle has to be filled one by one. Hence, this type of sake is pretty rare. Because of the lack of blending, it tends to be a little sweeter, richer and as it is often shipped unpasteurised and unfiltered as a muroka nama, fresher and more vibrant. This really is as fresh as sake gets. The only fresher alternative would be to drive up to a brewery and fill a bottle yourself (please don’t do this!).
Every now and then, especially in the winter and spring, KURAND receives the odd jikagumi or two so why not see if you can find one the next time you visit KURAND.
Note: When a fune is used to press the sake, jikagumi sake is sometimes labelled as funaguchi jikagumi.
At KURAND, we receive sake direct from the brewer daily to ensure that the sake in our fridges is the freshest it can be.