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Yoigokochi sake is 100% pure sake (junmai or junmaishu). The only objective criterion for quality sake we can distinguish is that no distilled alcohol has been added, as added-alcohol in most cases makes the drink less attractive and blocks its potential. This does not mean that we enjoy all pure sake, just like wine drinkers with an objective preference for natural wine will not enjoy all natural wines. However,

the drink’s purity is the primary condition, the objective basis for enjoyable quality sake. The parts one will select from that pool of objective quality depend on more subjective preferences. 

Yoigokochi sake is sake with outspoken taste and aroma. This is a subjective criterion, but for us sake with more taste and aroma (in sharp contrast to the type of sake many Japanese restaurants tend to serve) make for more enjoyment. This nicely tunes in with the Western culinary tradition of pairing, where you want an expressive drink that can contribute to the dish, and hopefully will lead to a 1 + 1 = 3 sensation. 

Yoigokochi sake is in majority unpasteurised, unfiltered and or undiluted sake (muroka nama genshu). Once again a subjective criterion, which links to the previous one. No intervention tends to make for more natural and pure taste and aroma. And if the sake is unpasteurised life will remain on the bottle. By pasteurising, filtering and diluting you can unify or extra protect your sake, or take away colours and aromas one finds unattractive, but one cannot do so without taking away life, purity, variety, character, or – in short – taste and aroma. Whereas less than 1% of total sake production is unpasteurised, undiluted or unfiltered, 65% of Yoigokochi’s pure sake selection is unpasteurised, 70% is undiluted, and 75% is unfiltered. 

Yoigokochi sake is focused on variety. We started in a situation where pure sake was hardly available on European markets, and unpasteurised, unfiltered, undiluted, medieval, kimoto slow-brew, kijōshu, long-matured and other types of sake had not been introduced yet. In other words: ground zero. This made us decide that we had to represent as many styles of quality sake as possible in one collection, so not teaming up with 5 or 6 producers and do most of their line-up, but rather working with many different producers in order to provide as much as variety as possible. 

The company Yoigokochi Sake Importers was established in 2008 upon Dick’s long term return to Europe. He enticed Froukje, a friend from his student days who had made a career in the food logistics sector, to join and together they started out the world’s first 100% pure sake importing and distributing company. Their first collection consisted of a dozen of Ukai and Yoram mainstays, which in the twelve years since has expanded to a range of 130 products from 51 producers, selected on the basis of Dick’s regular visits to pure sake breweries, bars, restaurants, etc and study of sake literature. The company’s virtual headquarters is as ever located in the Netherlands, but the Yoigokochi pure sake collection is distributed in some 20 European countries, and since 2018 also in North America. 

Although this was not planned from the start, considering the many similarities between the pure sake and natural wine movements it probably was inevitable that Yoigokochi’s first foreign distributor was a natural wine importer (Norway’s NonDos) and that after its participation in the first edition of Raw Wine (London 2012) it actively immersed itself in the natural wine world. The welcome was warm and enthousiastic, and it was also at this same wine fair that we found out that the groundless criticisms of natural wine were exactly the same as those of unpasteurised sake. We felt at home, and determined to take pure sake to where the natural wines were. Not because of any specific intrinsic Japanese elements in sake but because of pure sake’s common character as a fermented drink full of purity, quality, depth and variety. 

Just you know

Pure sake and Yoigokochi sake need not be organic sake. Whereas all sake is extremely natural in the sense that no sulfites are added, even pure sake is seldom natural in the sense that it is made on the basis of organic rice. There is just not sufficient organic rice available in Japan. A winemaker can decide on his own to turn his vineyards organic. Sake breweries specialize in making sake, not in cultivating rice. Although some endeavour to cultivate rice by themselves, this will not be more than a few percent of the total annual amount needed, so they depend on rice farmers. Moreover, especially in the Japanese countryside things are decided more collectively, which is not that strange if you consider that they will use the same irrigated water for their fields. Thus you need the approval of the village to go organic. On top of that, Japan’s climate is warm and humid, making organic farming exponentially hazardous, and resulting in even lower yields.

If you want your sake to be certified-organic, better stop drinking sake, because the number of certified-organic sake is extremely few. And, regrettably, in terms of enjoyment you will go down whereas in price you will go up (most organically certified sake are heavily polished and not very adventurous). Luckily, if you bother about organic but not about the certification, the story is not that dire. Whereas only two out of some 1250 functioning sake breweries make strictly 100% natural sake (shizenshu = non-certified organic sake) breweries, the number of producers that are making one or more natural sake is increasing. Although the share of natural sake as a part of annually produced sake is probably not even 0,01%, in the Yoigokochi collection these comprise 22%.  

Pure sake and Yoigokochi sake need not be natural-yeast sake. In sake-making added-yeast is not an element that dominates aroma and taste, making for unified and standardised products like it does in wine. Sake is the result of a longer and exponentially more complex fermentation. Hundreds of decisions need to be made, which all will influence the outcome. In other words, the head-brewer (tōji) making all these decisions is close to almighty. Whereas it is often said that wine is for 70% driven by the grape and for 30% by the producer, in sake the power division between the producer and the ingredients is the other way around. The individual stamp of the head-brewer is exponentially more influential, making it in most cases difficult to tell which yeast-variety was used. Accordingly, the choice which yeast to use is regarded as merely one of those hundreds of decisions that make a sake, and because of this high number of variables eventually one separate variable will not be noticeable to the consumer, unless it has been used in a radical manner. Some producers have decided to use natural yeast for all or some of their sake, but they are a very small minority. And natural yeast in these cases will always be the yeasts living in the cellar (kura-tsuki kōbo), as the polishing and steaming of the rice will not allow for any yeasts from outside to survive. Although the share of natural-yeast sake as a part of annually produced sake is probably not even 0,01%, in the Yoigokochi collection these comprise almost 35%.