Are you familiar with “kijoshu”? A type of Japanese sake, it can be increasingly spotted on restaurant menus or lining the shelves of liquor stores. Kijoshu* is a sake with a rich sweetness and elegance. Thick yet sophisticated, it offers an allure to be enjoyed different from generic sake.
Here, we will see the definition and history of kijoshu, how it is processed, and the characteristics of its taste. At the end we also have some ideas for pairing which we hope will get you started.
What makes kijoshu different?
Kijoshu (literally “noble brew sake”) is made using sake instead of water for part or all of the brewing process. It has a much higher sugar content than normal sake, making it richer and sweeter.
Developed in 1973 by the former National Tax Agency Brewing Laboratory (now the National Research Institute of Brewing), kijoshu was created as an alternative to champagne or fine French wines for occasions to toast. Prior to that, Japanese sake was seldom used to entertain national guests as it was associated with being “cheap” compared to the likes French wine and champagne.
To correct this situation, the Research Director Mr. Sato decided to create an “luxurious sake” that would be unlike any other sake to date. His idea? To replace water in the brewing process with sake itself. Toiling day and night with his fellow researchers, he succeeded in crafting the rich and bold kijoshu.
You may come across some mediums that claim kijoshu recreates the “shiori” process from the Enki ceremony of the Heian period, however this is strictly speaking a mistake. Kijoshu happened to result in the same brewing process by chance when driven by the goals described above.
The name Kijoshu is registered as a trademark of the “Kijoshu Association”. Therefore, even if a brewery were to make sake in the manner of kijoshu, unless it is a member of this association, it cannot be sold under this designation. To circumvent this, non-member breweries will call such products “saijo shikomi”, “sanrui-joshu”, “jōjō”, and so on.
For simplicity, in this article, kijoshu will be considered to include such sake too.
How kijoshu is made
We mentioned earlier that kijoshu is made by replacing the water with sake in its brewing process. Although there are multiple steps that use water for sake brewing, most kijoshu uses sake for the step known as “tomezoe” (of course there are exceptions). Tomezoe is the last of the “three-stage preparation” in which moromi is prepared. By using sake here, the finished product will be thick, sweet and bold in flavour.
Each brewery makes kijoshu differently with particularities, for example kijoshu made from ginjo or koshu (aged sake), or even kijoshu aged in a sherry barrel.
Also, given its use of sake instead of water, kijoshu is more expensive to manufacture than standard sake. Therefore, it tends to be sold at a higher price than general sake.
Lastly, we describe the taste of kijoshu, namely its characteristics that set it apart from general sake, and also how these are born. We also share some ideas for enjoying delicious kijoshu.
Taste characteristics and its background
Kijoshu contains a lot of sugar and has a sweetness similar to plum wine. Compared to general sake, it is more reminiscent of brandy, sherry, and shokoshu (Chinese wine). Not only is it sweet, but it also has a strong acidity, making it light and fresh on the palate. Its many elements give it an attractive depth to its taste.
Where does this sweet yet refreshing taste come from?
First the sweetness. When brewing sake, it is the sugar in rice that is broken down by yeast to create alcohol. When sake is added here instead of water, the alcohol present in the added sake slows down the enzyme activity, leaving sugar that would have been decomposed. This is what gives kijoshu this sweetness.
As for the freshness, this is a result of the large amounts of malic acid contained in kijoshu. Japanese sake contains many acids such as succinic acid and lactic acid in addition to malic acid, which have different nuances of acidity. Malic acid is an acid that produces a fresh and sharp acidity like when biting into a fresh apple. It is known that when making sake, if the amount of alcohol is high at the start of the moromi fermentation process, the amount of malic acid produced is also high. By using sake during this fermentation process instead of water, the alcohol content is high thereby creating a higher concentration of malic acid than general sake.
In addition to this, the amount of ingredients that give you a bitterness and astringency is higher in kijoshu, leading to its bold and deep taste.
Ways to enjoy kijoshu
Kijoshu can be separated into “new sake” and “aged sake”, each with their own way of enjoying its flavours. For the new kind, chilling it and having it at a crisp temperature on ice as an aperitif or with your food is recommended. For aged sake, slightly cool or room temperature is best suited, to be enjoyed as a digestif or a nightcap. Pairing it with cheese is also an excellent idea as they complement and bring forth the umami in each other.
Vanilla ice-cream drizzled with kijoshu is also highly recommended for a concoction of a sweet dessert with a hint of bitterness for the adults.
Kijoshu is a luxurious sake made with sake instead of water. The rich sweetness, with a freshness, finished with a slight bitterness gives the taste depth and complexity perfect for those looking for an indulgent time.
Perfect for any occasion from aperitifs, pairings, digestif or a nightcap, and even to desserts! For those that have yet to try, we hope one of the ideas above will set you on the journey of this world of rich flavours.