Japan Times Archives – 2001, John Guantner

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2001/06/24

Juttoku covers all the bases

By JOHN GAUNTNER

Juttoku comes close to being all things to all people. Although it has been around for 20 years, it doesn’t attract too much attention, sitting quietly on the edge of the concrete jungle of Shinjuku.

A sugidama, that cedar ball heralding good sake times ahead, and bound stalks of Yamada Nishiki rice hang above the descending staircase. This alone does not a good sake pub make, but it certainly helps set the tone.

Juttoku is large, comprising two floors of tables and large zashiki. The interior is spacious, clean and spiffy, if just a tad contrived. Traditional yellow plaster and dark woodwork create a backdrop for simple flowers and paper streamers announcing what sake is on hand at present.

The gently diffused light, rock ‘n’ roll in the background and a shiny linoleum floor might clash a bit, but the half-dozen stools lined up just outside the door indicate that plenty of folks could care less. Considering the varied and reasonable sake selection, this is no surprise.

Your sake options include a regularly changing three-glass tasting set for a mere 570 yen. Usually, it is three sake of different grades from the same brewer: a great way to learn both the style of one kura and sake grades as well. On a recent visit, the tasting set was lively and grainy Takijiman from Mie: its nama junmai ginjo, junmai-shu and honjozo.

Juttoku is big on information. A special menu describes the tasting set in detail, as well as the sake and background of the highlighted kura, currently Kokuryu of Fukui. Himuro is a nama junmai ginjo with a wild honey and flower nose, and a full, soft flavor. Only two tanks were brewed, and you can taste it here for 570 yen a glass, or 2,500 yen for a 500-ml bottle.

Juttoku also features muroka nama genshu (unfiltered, unpasteurized, undiluted sake). This seems to be a trend recently, and not an unpleasant one, especially if you like your sake sweeter, richer and fuller than normal.

Also offered here is kinsho jusho-shu, or sake that has won a gold medal in the recent National New Sake Tasting Competitions. Although the serving size is small (100 cc), the price is right at 700 yen, and you can then see what all the fuss is about.

Beyond these hoity-toity selections, there is wide range of solid sake available, most less than 500 yen. The food menu is only in Japanese, but it’s easy to follow and full of pictures. It offers most standard sake pub food, as well as a few original curiosities worth trying.

With its great location, selection and prices, Juttoku is highly recommended as a place to enjoy and learn about sake. What it lacks in intimacy, solitude and interior design, it more than makes up for in value.

Juttoku, New Central Building B1, B2, 1-5-12 Nishi Shinjuku; tel. (03) 3342-0339. Open 4 p.m. to midnight; closed Sunday.

For more info on the menu and other shops under the Juttoku umbrella, see the Web site at www02.u-page.so-net.ne.jp/zf6/juttoku/.

Kokuryu (Fukui Prefecture)
Junmai ginjo

Kokuryu is one of the most popular sake in Japan these days, having sneaked into the limelight over the last decade. There are many manifestations of Kokuryu, but perhaps the most distinctive is this reasonably priced junmai ginjo. A mild, pleasing sake, it has an autumnal richness that expresses itself in the recesses, while a more elegant facet attracts the attention up front.

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On July 12, I will be holding a sake-tasting seminar at the sake pub Mushu (no pottery, no Rob Yellin). This particular seminar will focus on tasting and identifying and will be more interactive than most. To register, send an e-mail to to sakeguy@gol.com, or fax (0467) 23-6895.