What’s in a name, Futsu, Ginjo?

This article discusses Yaegaki sake and Trader Joe’s sake and expectations.

I recently picked up two different Sakes on two different trips to the grocery store. The first was from Trader Joe’s and was the Trader Joe’s Sake Junmai Ginjo Sake (<$11). The second was from New Seasons and was Yaegaki Sake (<$6).  Now, I did not know anything about either of these sakes before trying them; though I must admit that the Junmai Ginjo on Trader Joe’s label caused me to expect more from it before I tried it. Frankly, I was disappointed. It was not bad but it was not “really good” either. It was too watery with little substance and a little chalkiness. This stuff was not nearly as good as I expected.

While still feeling the disappointment in the ginjo, I ran across YAEGAKI sake in the cooler at New Seasons with a sign under it recommending it from the staff. I thought what the hell, its cold so I can give it a try when I get home. This sake had much better mouth feel. It was full bodied and flavorful. I like this sake. (I will never make it as a sommelier, I know what I like but I am not good at describing it for others.) This is just Futsu (table sake) but I like it sooo much better than the ginjo. Now, I thought, do I like it so much just because I disliked the ginjo? Well, no, a few days later I finished it up and was still enjoying it greatly.

Given this disappointment and then the pleasant surprise, I thought this might be a good thing to write a post on. You know, how not all futsu are bad and not all junmai, ginjo, daiginjo… are good. So, there you have it. Oh, but that is not the end of the story. I still needed to write it.

A little looking around on the web and I found the Yaegaki web site where they had a little more information. A very little more, the Yaegaki Sake:

YAEGAKI Sake Dry
YAEGAKI Dry represents the top of YAEGAKI’s domestic sake line. It is made with rice polished to the extent that the nearly 40% of each grain has been polished away, and is brewed at a low temperature for a long period of time.Full-bodied and slightly acidic, YAEGAKI Dry goes well with a wide variety of foods.

Bottles of Yaegaki Sake
Yaegaki Sake, 750ML and 1.8L Bottles

Yaegaki had only a little information on the label. In fact, the following is pretty much all there was:

YAEGAKI SAKE:

Produced and bottled by Yaegaki Corporation of USA, Vernon, CA 90058

Alcohol 15% by volume, Product of USA

“I hope classic YAEGAKI suits your taste.”

Kushibiki Reiko – First female sake master in the US

Government warning…

YAEGAKI Corporation of USA Vernon, CA 90058

So, technically speaking, Yaegaki could be considered a ginjo. Well, there goes my futsu vs. ginjo angle. I also found Yaegaki has been rated on ratebeer and not given the ratings I think it deserves. Only one review seams to have had the same sake I drank. I also found Trader Joe’s sake on ratebeer. It received glowing comments by all but one reviewer. Only the single reviewer seems to have drunk the same sake as I and he didn’t mention the chalkiness.

Trader Joe's Sake with alternative label
Trader Joe's Sake with alternative label

Trader Joe’s sake had a lot more information on its label than Yaegaki did. Here is what the label had:

Trader Joe’s Sake:

Junmai Ginjo Premium Sake

“Junmai Ginjo Sake is a specially reserved connoisseur class of sake using certified sake rice that has ben polished away to 45% of it’s original size. This is a supplement-free product of which only Koji, the blessing of God has been added. May it bring happiness to you.”

Date 09.12

Alcohol 14%-15% by volume

Dry/Sweet:+3(Medium Dry)

Serving: Chilled.

Texture: Soft and Smooth.

Government waring…

Imported by Banzai Beaverage Corporation, Torrance, CA 90505

Dist & Sold exclusively by Trader Joe’s, Monrovia, CA, 91016

Produced & bottled by:

Oimatsu Shuzo Co., Ltd.

2912 Otsuru-machi,

Hita, Oita, Japan 877-1107

Product of Japan

All in all, I will try the Yaegaki sake again but I don’t know that I would give Trader Joe’s sake a second try. Maybe I should. Given what was said on ratebeer, maybe I just had a bad bottle. No, I don’t think I will.

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5 thoughts on “What’s in a name, Futsu, Ginjo?”

  1. Definitely agree with you. For a junmai ginjo, trader Joe’s sake is awful. Don’t let this reflect poorly on junmai ginjo in general, but more on the low price and trader Joe’s poor taste in sake.

    In the west, we love to oversimplify things and want to know which one is “better” way more often than “better” is even applicable. You’ll see a bunch of “super premium” junmai daiginjo sakes being promoted as better than other sake because the rice is polished down more. Polishing definitely cleans up the flavors and generally makes for a better sake, but is by no means the only important part of the brewing process. The masses love this because it’s a number that can be clearly compared against other numbers to say which is “better” and worth more money. Obviously, it’s not that simple and you need to try a wide variety of sake to get a handle on what you like most. My recent favorite sake is a junmai. I’d drink it any day over trader Joe’s junmai ginjo and even many junmai daiginjos.

  2. Thank you. I was just in Trader Joes searching for sake to give out for the New Year, and pretty much decided on Trader Joe’s brand but now I will buy myself the Yaegaki and try it for myself first before making the decision. TJ’s kabuki label and blue bottle are more fun, but content is the thing!

    1. Do check it out. Everyone’s tastes are different. I’ve never heard anyone else say they got a chocky taste / feel to a sake but I do and don’t care for it. To each their own. 🙂

  3. Is “new seasons” a grocery store? Can you buy sake at grocery stores where you are? I’ve lived in New York my whole life that does not allow that and I always marvel when I see it.

    Most bad sake I’ve had stems from ‘sake abuse’ at the retail location… sake being left out too many years or stored improperly.

    1. Hey Tim,

      Yes, new seasons is a grocery store. Kind of a high-end, organics, gourmet type store. Do you have Trader Joe’s there in NY? Here in Oregon we can buy Beer, wine and sake at licensed grocers but no distilled liquors. In California they can get everything at the grocery store.

      Good to hear from you!

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