Kuro Kura is a selection of artisanal junmai sakes from Kyoto sake bar owner Yoram Ofer and Tokyo-based drinks writer Nicholas Coldicott.
Kuro (玄) means expert. Kura (蔵) means brewery. This is our pick of the best sakes by the best brewers right now. Here’s our criteria.
The breweries are small, deliberately. The bigger you grow, the more you have to compromise on materials, attention, and the freedom to innovate.
The brewers are artisans. They’re making the sakes they want to drink. For most it meant a significant risk. Some were using, or growing, expensive organic rice long before anyone cared. All were making deep, multi-layered brews at a time when the fashion was for simple, light styles. But they stuck to their guns, their audience found them, and these sakes are now some of the most sought-after bottles around.
The sakes are nuanced, balanced, the alcohol is integrated, and they have character. And because they’re made by people rather than computers, they don’t taste exactly the same from year to year. We celebrate the variations that come from the craft process.
They’re junmai, meaning brewed with nothing but rice, yeast, koji-kin and water. You can add distilled alcohol to the mash just before pressing, but to quote one of our brewers: “It’s like putting instant chicken stock in a stew” — an easy, cost-efficient way to boost aroma and increase your output at the expense of a complex flavour.
They’re premium, but not in the way many people use the term. None of the brewers believes the quality of a sake is determined by how much of the rice you remove. That’s just one of many factors to shape the character. Others include the type of rice, the conditions it grew in, the mineral content of the local water, how long you soak the rice, how you steam it, how carefully you make the koji, which starter method you choose, the size of the tank, the temperature and length of the fermentation, how you press it, whether you filter or pasteurize, how long you rest it and at what temperature. But the single biggest factor that affects the taste of a sake is the talent of the brewer, and no number on the label can tell you about that. We hope you’ll find the Kuro Kura name a reliable indicator.