London-based saké brewery to debut ‘nonconformist’ junmai daiginjo


No style in the rich and varied world of saké is more revered than junmai daiginjo, typically prized for its elegant, floral, lightly sweet character. But Peckham-based saké brewery Kanpai has set out to spotlight a different side to this A-list category with the forthcoming launch of Kiku, its first junmai daiginjo.

Kiku is also the first in Kanpai’s new limited-edition series of sakés developed to showcase different rice varieties, yeast strains and milling rates. Since opening the brewery in 2017, Kanpai’s co-founders and brewers Tom and Lucy Wilson have sought to make unconventional sakés with drier palates. They recently doubled down on this vision by moving their brewery to a larger space more conducive to experimentation, complete with a taproom.

Kanpai’s take on the junmai daiginjo style adheres to the Wilson’s maverick brewing philosophy: ‘We wanted to create something with a unique, unadulterated flavour profile,’ Tom Wilson told Imbibe. ‘Kiku is dry and robust, with lots of savoury notes.’

For a saké to qualify as junmai daiginjo, each grain of rice used to make the liquid must be milled to at least 50% of its original size, and no extra alcohol can be added to the brew. Because of their delicate, nuanced flavour profiles, most junmai daiginjo sakés exported to the UK are best served chilled, without any overpowering foods.

‘What people are used to drinking here is a more recent style of junmai daiginjo that’s come out of Japanese export market, led by competitions,’ explained Wilson. ‘Brewers chase the pinnacle of a style of saké that’s been winning medals, and a lot of breweries conform to a certain formula of milling, rice and yeast that creates a certain flavour.

‘But there are smaller breweries that typically can’t export, and they make different styles of junmai daiginjo. You can even drink them warm if they have the right umami backbone.’

Inspired by these smaller Japanese breweries, the Wilsons crafted Kiku to be enjoyed warm, with a robust character specifically suited to food pairing. As such, it’s set to launch at a pop-up dinner on 1-2 May in partnership with Michelin-star-trained chef Paul Frost, who devised a flavourful menu to highlight its food-matching abilities.

‘We’re showcasing the antithesis of mass-produced saké, with small production runs and no automation. We didn’t want our junmai daiginjo to conform to what’s already on the market,’ said Wilson.

Bottles of Kiku can be reserved ahead of the saké’s launch on 1 May directly through the brewery, but act quickly – there are just 260 available.

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