The Yokozuna of the East: Gohyakumangoku

Greetings Sake Lovers, and welcome to another KURAND sake magazine article where we introduce another little part of the world of sake. In this article we look at another variety of shuzokotekimai, the Yokozuna of the East, Gohyakumangoku

Not sure what Shuzokotekimai is? Check out this past article.

Story of Gohyakumangoku

Although some shuzokotekimai varieties exist naturally, most are discovered by cross-breeding other varieties, which may include eating rice, together.
Although Gohyakumangoku was not officially named until 1957, scientists discovered it in 1938, when they crossed the varietal shuzokotekimai varietal Kikusui with Shin-200-Go. Its name is a commemoration of the maximum yield achieved in its first year of cultivation, Gohyakumangoku meaning 5 million koku (koku is the unit of sake yield equal to 180L of sake).

It has survived some pretty strong challenges over the years to keep its title of Yokozuna and is still very widely used, grown all over Japan as far-flung as the southern reaches of Japan. In fact it has the largest planting area of any other varietal. However, despite its adoption by other prefectures, Gohyakumangoku remains the iconic shuzokotekimai of Niigata prefecture. Although susceptible to bacterial leaf blight, it has established a reputation for its processing characteristics. It is often selected because it is easy to make koji with and its harder exterior means that it does not break up too quickly and impart too many flavors into the moromi (fermentation mash).

For these reasons, Gohyakumangoku is the official number 2 sake-brewing rice second only to Yamadanishiki, the king of sake-brewing rice (see this article). If Yamadanishiki from Hyogo is Yokozuna of the west, then Gohyakumangoku from Niigata prefecture is the Yokozuna of the east. Does that make them equals? not necessarily, but interestingly enough, both varietals recently gave birth to what might be the next king of sake rice, Koshi-tanrei, we will save that for another article.

Where Gohyaku Mangoku is Grown

The climate of Niigata prefecture is naturally suited to the cultivation of Gohyakumangoku. The main production areas are Hokuriku region, specifically Niigata prefecture, Fukui prefecture, Toyama prefecture, and Ishikawa prefecture. However, as mentioned earlier, Gohyakumangoku is grown in a wide region which stretches from the southern Tohoku area to the northern regions of Kyushu. It has become stronger over its long history and the breed traits have stabilized. As a result, its superior brewing characteristics have gained recognition. Another reason that it has been able to expand nationally is its ability to adapt to a more machine driven brewing process, which in turn allows for a more stable production of quality sake.

Gohyakumangoku has been able to garner overwhelming approval ratings from breweries all over Japan.

Characteristics of Gohyakumangoku

The stand out characteristic of sake brewed with Gohyakumangoku is a tanrei (light) clear taste.
There is a good sharpness to the sake without any unnecessary overpowering flavors. Again this is because of the slightly more hard exterior of the rice that prevents it from breaking up into the fermentation. That being said, it is probably easy to tell the difference compared to the rich tasting sake made from the Yamadanishiki, the king of sake-brewing rice.

One things is for sure, Gohyakumangoku will continue to play the role of Yokozuna of the east for a little while longer, or at least until the next challenger arrives.

At KURAND SAKE MARKET, we showcase sake from all over Japan produced with different varietals of rice. While we can’t promise you will find Gohyakumangoku, there are plenty of other varieties to try. Why not make a visit to KURAND part of your next trip to Japan. We look forward to welcoming you soon!