Masuizumi Tasting at Kyotofu


Our Friends Nicole and Michael at Kyotofu were kind enough to invite me to a special tasting at their place. The well regarded sake brand Masuizumi of Toyama prefecture was presenting some of their flagship sakes as well as something new to the US market.

First off Mr Makoto Hosota introduced each of the sakes being sampled. Mr Hosota is the Koji Master at Masuizumi. Koji making is such an important step in the sake brewing process, some breweries have a guy on staff who only does Koji production. I have never met a Koji master before, so it was pretty exciting.

Here is a selection of what Hosota-san was presenting:

omachi.jpg*Masuizumi Junmai Daiginjo (ALC 16.6%, Seimaibuai 50%) This sake is perhaps the most well known of the Masuizumi selections. It’s really seems like almost a textbook example of what one might usually expect in a stand out Junmai Daiginjo. It’s really a classic brew and fantastically easy to drink.

*Masuizumi Junmai Daiginjo Omachi (ALC 16.5%, Seimaibuai 50%) Omachi in the name stands for the type of sake rice used to make this gem. Omachi sake rice is a great uncle to most strains of sake rice used today such as yamada nishiki. It’s use can have different effects on the end product, but here, the use of Omachi rice makes this sake sing! It’s full and rich in flavor… perhaps a bit more assertive than your average junmai daiginjo. Despite the full flavor, this sake is still smooth as silk. Tasting the standard Junmai Daiginjo and the Junmai Daiginjo Omachi side by side was a treat.

french_oak.jpg*Masuizumi Junmai Daiginjo Special (ALC 16.5%, Seimaibuai 50%) Now for something completely different. Masuizumi has really taken sake to a new place with this selection. The sake in this case has been aged in, get this people… French Oak Wine Barrels! Now, it seems fairly clear that the brewers were going for a wine inspired beverage. Exhibit A: the bottle and label for this sake look exactly like a French wine bottle! How does it taste? well, the oak logically gives strong and unmistakable woody-oak notes similar in feeling to cedar-infused taru sake. I gotta give Masuizumi props for trying this. They are on a new frontier!

The afternoon at Kyotofu was just delightful and I had so much fun talking to other sake fans and I really enjoyed digging in to the flavors of these unique sakes! And as far as aging sake in French Oak, I think that definitely qualifies as “thinking outside the masu”.

Dassai 23 Done Four Ways

sake_cask.jpgHaving visited the home of Dassai in Yamaguchi Prefecture last Oct. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to attend the special Dassai 23 tasting put together by Sakagura Restaurant earlier this month. They were serving 4 rare Dassai sakes, 3 of which are not available in the US, but all made with rice milled down to 23% of it’s original size. That’s 77% of the rice grain raw material milled away before any brewing even begins!

The first rare sake we had was the “Dassai 23 Centrifuge“. This sake uses the crown jewel of sake processing equipment… that Maytag spin cycle on steroids known as the Sake Centrifuge Machine. instead of Pressing the sake in a hydraulic press to separate the rice solids and sake, this machine spins them apart using centrifugal force. dassai_centrifuge.jpgHow does this make the sake taste? well, kind of like adding Snuggles fabric softener to 110% cashmere. It was already super soft, but is now a measure softer, smoother, deeper. fantastic!

The next Dassai selection by Mr. Sakurai was Dassai 23 Nama Nigori! I dare any Nigori hater (I know you’re out there!) to give this confection the thumbs down. The unpasteurized Nama-ness of this sake lends a fresh, bright note, while the Nigori aspect give Dassai 23 a new spin on texture and mouth feel.

Nigori_sparkling.jpgMy favorite of the evening was the most unusual! maybe that’s why it was my favorite. In any case, we next were treated to the Dassai 23 Sparkling Nigori Nama! This sake goes thru a second fermentation in the bottle, so it has a full-on “POP!” that you get from Champagne. Sakurai-san noted that Christmas Champagne was indeed the inspiration that led to this sake. The sake bubbles dance on your tongue and tickle your nose just like that sparkling grape juice! the Nigori part adds a nice rich texture to the mix yet keeping that Dassai 23 body. Just really, really unique!

The last selection was the “regular” Dassai 23 Junmai Daiginjo that is widely available in the States. This brought the whole tasting full circle and grounded my taste buds again in the Dassai 23 I know and love after all those high flying sake fireworks! Super smooth and mellow with a fantastic complexity, this is a top rated sake with good reason.

This Dassai 23 tasting at Sakagura was not just a survey of rare dassai Sakes, but was also my introduction to the Japanese tradition of “Setsubun”! You know, Japanese customs and traditions never cease to amaze and delight me. Mixing customs and traditions with a healthy dose of sake delights me even more. Our Friend Mr. KC Nihonshudo was on hand to help me understand “Setsubun”. In a oversimplified nutshell, someone in the family puts on a Ogre a.k.a. “Oni” mask, setsubun_oni.jpgstands near the door and gets roasted soybeans thrown at him as a symbolic gesture to keep bad luck out. One also throws roasted soybeans on your floor as a gesture to keep good luck in the house. While all this bean throwing is taking place, you say “Oni wa Soto; Fuku wa Uchi” (Get out Oni! Come in Happiness!). OK! After several rounds of fantastic Dassai Sakes, Mr. Sakurai-san volunteered to be the Ogre/Oni and promptly got pelted with soybeans from all corners. It’s the closest I’ve been to an actual food fight in 25 years and was terrific fun! However, I took the liberty of slightly changing this tradition to suit my needs: I shouted: “Get out Oni! Come in SAKE!” After all, sake is happiness to me!

New York’s Own Tokyo Bar

tokyo_logo.jpgEver wonder what it might be like to jump inside a comic book like that 80’s A-ha Video? Well, me neither – but you can experience it nonetheless with a trip to Tribeca’s Tokyo Bar (277 Church Street New York, NY 10013). The soaring walls and ceiling in this place are covered with comic book graphics and splashes of neon thrown in for good measure. Even the bathrooms are covered head to toe in manga. It’s an interesting study of Japanese pop aesthetic and it creates a pretty darn cool backdrop for sake enjoyment.

wakatake_daiginjo.jpgScott and I went on a lark to this new place for an early evening dinner and we were thrilled by our experience. The sake list at Tokyo Bar is solid. You can check out the sakes they offer here. Highlights include: Tsukasabotan Junmai Daiginjo, Suigei Junmai and Sawanoi Ohkarakuchi Junmai.

I ordered an old favorite of mine the Wakatake Junmai Daiginjo. This sake is really a gem and a terrific sake for starting out with sake enjoyment – it’ll get you hooked! Light and smooth with a small burst of floral.The food at Tokyo Bar was billed as “New Japanese comfort food”. The fried chicken was some of the best we ever had. funky_pop_neon.jpgScott loved his Japanese curry dish, though it was too spicy for me. The pacing of the food at our early evening meal was leisurely and relaxed which we really enjoyed.

The only fumble Tokyo bar made the whole night was serving sake in a wooden masu. As we were being seated, i noticed a neighboring table was being served sake in a cedar masu. Alarm bells started to ring in my head. However traditional, I don’t recommend this for any premium brew as the wood smell and flavor can permeate the sake in short order. bathroom_walls.jpgThis may be fine for cheap and easy taru, but if you’re paying $24 for a glass of super premium Daiginjo, who wants that? I asked the waiter when I placed my order to bring the sake in a glass and it was totally fine. But I worry about folks who don’t know to ask and have a “wooden” experience with their sake. Masus are fun, but the plastic ones are best – they have the look without interfering with the flavor or nose. Be sure to ask for your premium sake in a wine glass when in doubt.

Ok, despite my masu-bashing tirade, Tokyo Bar overall was really wonderful. this is the type of Japanese place I love to go to: great interior, friendly staff, yummy food and a thoughtful sake list. What more could a boy ask for? It’s enough to make me want to jump inside the comic book to stay.

Belle Chanto

New York Japanese restaurant Chanto was host recently to a fantastic evening of Daiginjo Sake, Tuna and dancing. The sake was really top notch. It was all Daiginjo or Junmai Daiginjo – some of the best stuff to be had. A huge piece of tuna was cut up and served in many ways and was just delicious. Finally, dancers kimono-clad provided some beautiful entertainment. It was a terrific evening and a great atmosphere! Special thanks to Mr. Teramoto, Chanto Manager and MR Matsumoto from Mutual Trading for making us all feel so welcome.

If you haven’t tried Chanto yet, I recommend you give them a visit.


Business_card_Sobakoh.jpgHello. My name is Timothy and I’m SobaKoh-dependent.

It all started out so innocently. A little nibble of tempura here, a sip of sake there and before I knew it I was loudly and forcefully slurping soba broth and gulping sake with wild abandon. Let this be your warning – if you read further – you may end up like me.

sobakoh_bar_seating.JPGSobaKoh (309 East 5th St. NYC. 212-254-2244) is one of those restaurants that you can tell is welcoming even from the outside. It’s clean, well designed, spacious. I felt even more at home when i took a gander at the large Sake menu!

A word about this sake menu – often I get the sense that some restaurants don’t make their sake selection a top priority. SobaKoh on the other hand, has a very solid grouping and their list is beautifully edited and put together in an attractive menu of its own. Bravo! Other drinks are offered, but sake is clearly the star. These folks get it! Here is a sampling of what they currently offer:

Tedorigawa “Yamahai Junmai”
Masumi “Okuden Kantsukuri”
Koshi no Kanbai “Muku”
Harushika Junmai
Nanbu Bijin “Tokubetsu Junmai”

Dewazakur “Izumi Judan”
Masumi “Yamahai Ginjo”
Kikusui Junmai Ginjo
Hakkaisan Junmai Ginjo

Tedorigawa “Yamahai Daiginjo”
Masumi “Nanago”


To whet my whistle, I fell like a ton of bricks for their special summer “nama” offering. I ended up ordering the Umenishiki Daiginjo Nama (“Gorgeous Plum”, SMV +3.5, Acidity: 1.5, Ehime Prefecture).

This sake is an interesting brew to say the least. It’s a rare Daiginjo nama. The overall impression is fresh and summery without being overly sweet and fruity. There is a bit of fruit essence that hits you first but surprisingly also a touch of dryness that works perfectly. As an unpasteurized nama, this treat is only available seasonally – so enjoy if you can get your hands on it.

After the yummy Daiginjo Nama, the food arrived. In short, perfect Soba, perfect tempura… just terrific. I needed a sake to go with all this food and found my attention drawn to one word on the sake menu… “honjozo”.

kubota_senju_bottle.jpgHonjozo sometimes feels like the forgotten younger sibling of the sake family. SobaKoh offered one honjozo on their menu which I ordered a carafe of, namely Kubota Senju Honjozo (“1000 Long Lives”, SMV +6, Acidity 1.2, Niigata Prefecture). Kubota is a brand that never disappoints and their Honjozo Senju does them proud. The nose and my first tastes hinted at light orange peel – just a twinge of citrus. The overall palate is dry and clean. I found this brew works well with food and is less of a stand alone sipping sake. It went great with our soba.

A final word about the amazing service at SobaKoh. The staff there works hard and makes you feel so welcome. With this terrific combo of great soba, first rate sake selection and wonderful hospitality, no wonder I became immediately addicted. If this is sobaKoh dependency, I don’t want no cure.

Happy NOBU-rthday!

nobu_logo004.jpgJust the name “NOBU” conjures up ideas of elegance and exclusivity. Nobu has been on my list of “must try” places forever, but I never quite got around to it. Why was Nobu on my must try list? well, it’s so famous it must be good… right? Scott came to the rescue and sweetly offered to take me to Nobu Next Door for my birthday. I knew turning 26 would have it’s perks!

Nobu_BottlesNobu Next Store doesn’t take reservations, so Scott and I arrived early and we had no trouble getting a seat. As is usual for us, Scott dove into the food menu and I focus only on the sake menu. The sake list at Nobu Next Door was small, and I was surprised to see all the sake provided by only one brewery: Hokusetsu. A little research into this brewery and this is what I’ve found out…. Located on Sade Island in Niigata Prefecture, Hokusetsu has brokered an exclusive US distribution relationship with Nobu. Hokusetsu also produces “Nobu” branded sake.

Here’s a peek at the Nobu Next Door sake menu:

Exclusively for Nobu in the United States

Hokusetsu Junmai ‘Nobu House Sake’
Masu 12.00 / Small 10.00 / Large 17.00 / Bamboo 21.00

Hokusetsu Onigoroshi
Masu 17.00 / Small 15.00 / Large 25.00 / Bamboo 30.00

Hokusetsu Daiginjo
Masu 18.00 / Small 16.00 / Large 26.00 / Bamboo 32.00

Hokusetsu Junmai Daiginjo
Masu 19.00 / Small 18.00 / Large 28.00 / Bamboo 35.00

Hokusetsu 10 Ten Year Old
Masu 28.00 / Small 26.00 / Large 40.00 / Bamboo 45.00

Hokusetsu YK50
Masu 30.00 / Small 28.00 / Large 42.00 / Bamboo 50.00

Hokusetsu YK35
Masu 32.00 / Small 30.00 / Large 55.00 / Bamboo 65.00

daigino_hokusetsu.jpgIn very upscale places, I love to rely on the recommendations of the waitstaff – they usually know their stuff and I always love to learn from the pros. Our waiter made me quite nervous, however, when I asked him how much sake came in the small Tokkuri and he told me matter-of-factly that is was 300 Millimeters. Um… I was on my own.

I ordered a Bamboo Tokkuri of the Hokusetsu Daiginjo (Niigata Prefecture, Seimaibuai 45%, ALC 15.8%, SMV +5, Acidity 1.3). Why not splurge! You only turn 29 once, right? I must admit, the presentation of this sake was very nice. A very large bamboo tokkuri about 12 inches tall arrived at the table along with two matching bamboo cups. the interesting thing was that the bamboo had been deep chilled and retained it’s cold temperature throughout dinner. The tokkuri itself was so large and heavy that it was difficult to pour with one hand. The bamboo cups were also deep chilled. I’m thinking that maybe the moisture in the bamboo is what retained the cold.

How did it taste? well, the Hokusetsu Daiginjo was floral to the point of show-off-iness. It really came at you with a vengeance… “I’m a Daiginjo, damn you! Nothing Junmai about me!” The poofy, floral nuances reminded me of a little girl’s puffy pink party dress. I think the constant chill from the bamboo kept the sake on track and consistent in taste. In general, the ornate daiginjo sake was an off beat match for the spicy japanese-peruvian fusion.

matt_damon2.jpgThe evening took an interesting turn when a commotion at the door caught my attention. Mr. Matt Damon with Wife and 6-month-old Baby had arrived and were seated about 12″ away from us. (Faithful readers will note, this is not Urban Sake’s first Star Sighting.) As I sipped away on my Hokusetsu Daiginjo, I tried hard to focus on MY special day, however, it’s a little bit difficult when management made such a fuss about the folks at the next table. Never before had I had a front row seat for this type of Star Treatment. The Damons received course after course which the waiter announced was “on the house” or “compliments of the Chef”. Their very cute baby was fawned over by the manager and the host rushed over repeatedly from the front desk to pick up any toys the tot threw on the ground. ummm.

Well, I still managed to feel special on my Birthday. I mean you don’t turn 32 just any old year! Even if the Nobu manager could care less, Scott was certainly treating me like I was a Matt Damon or Bennifer and that counts for an awful lot in my book!

When all was said and done, I was a little disappointed that Nobu had one, and only one, brand on sake on tap. However good it tasted, the greedy American in me couldn’t help but long for more selection. It’s like you go to a diner and all they sell is ginger ale… what about all those diet coke, Dr. Pepper and lemonade lovers?!

The wisdom I’ve gained now that I’m 35 years young? If spicy is not your thing and if your sake palate longs for something other than Hokusetsu, Hokusetsu or Hokusetsu, just this once, you may just have to say No to Nobu.

Photo of Nobu Next Store sake bottles by Flickr user Thomas Hawk licensed under Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0

Photo of Matt Damon by Flickr user -Crash- licensed under Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0

Solid Gold!

sg.jpgOne pop culture memory from the ’80’s that’s is hard to shake loose is the Solid Gold! Dancers strutting their stuff on TV. The creators of that show knew that gold has a glittering, glamorous allure that is second to none. Let’s face it, a show featuring the Sterling Silver! dancers would have flopped, big time! Without a doubt, gold has the power to not only make a hit TV show, but to build empires, and possession of gold imparts some serious caché.

Surprisingly, some Japanese brewmasters are also tuned-in to the undeniable appeal of pure gold. The connection between gold and sake was explored in detail at a recent American Museum of Natural History Event I attended called, “Adventures in the Global Kitchen: Golden Sake“. This enjoyable evening was co-sponsored by Sakagura restaurant and featured a lecture by Sake expert Michael J. Simkin.

golden_sake_lecture_slidesh.jpgThis was one of the most well put-together tasting events I’ve ever been to. The facilities, printed materials, food, lecture and sake were all first rate. The evening started out with some introductory remarks from Bon Yagi, the owner of Sakagura. I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Yagi at the end of the evening and it was an honor to talk to someone who played such a large role in bringing sake to New York.

Michael_J_Simkin_and_me.jpgNext, Sake expert Michael J. Simkin took the podium and began a lecture on the sake production process and sake’s connection to gold. Michael has traveled extensively through japan and has interned at breweries working in the trenches to learn first-hand how sake is made. For me, one of the highlights of the presentation was the many photos Michael showed of him involved in the hands-on production process.

Museum volunteers then brought each of us a tasting size of the 5 featured gold leaf sakes.

kamotsuru_gold.jpgAs chance would have it, I recently reviewed the first sake we tried just last month! It’s the Kamotsuru Tokusei Gold (Daiginjo, Seimaibuai 50%%, SMV +1.5, Acidity 1.4, ALC 16.4%, Hiroshima Prefecture). I liked this sake last month and I liked it again tonight. The way Kamotsuru uses gold sets it apart from the other sakes immediately. The gold leaf is pressed into beautifully finished flower shapes that dance about in the bottle and in a small 180ml bottle there are only two of these tiny bits of gold. The sake itself is quite good and it was the least dry of the sakes we tried. The long finish and smooth palate remained from my first sampling of this sake.

Next we tried Manotsuru Sakin Honjozo (Seimaibuai 60%, SMV +4.5, Acidity 1.4, ALC 15.5%, Niigata Prefecture, Obata Brewery). I found this sake to have a soft, round feeling on the palate. Noticeable dry notes pervaded from start to finish. Of all the sakes I tried, this one have me the most gold flakes per cup!

Third was Kinpaku “Gold Leaf” (Seimaibuai 55%, SMV +3.0, Acidity 1.5, ALC 15.5%, Mie Prefecture, Wakaebisu Brewery). Of all the sakes we tried, for me, this one has the most pronounced alcohol bite. The nose smelled slightly pasty to me and brought forth images of kindergarten arts and crafts. I think this was my least favorite of the group.

manotsuru_sakin.jpgNext sake up to bat was Shochikubai Jun-Kinpaku-iri Tokubestsu Junmai (Seimaibuai 60%, SMV +2.0, Acidity 1.6, ALC 15.5%, Kyoto Prefecture, Takara Brewery). This sake comes from a huge brewery and I learned from Michael that Takara is the #1 seller of sake in the USA. This sake came across with classic Junmai flavors and robust richness that kept the overall flavor profile “down to earth”. Nothing flowery or too elegant here.

The final sake we tried was Manotsuru Koshu Vintage 1999 (Seimaibuai 40%, SMV +5.5, Acidity 1.1, ALC 16.5%, Niigata Prefecture, Obata Brewery).. This interesting sake is not available in the US and is quite expensive – even in Japan – so it was a real treat to get to try it. Now, this was not the smoothest, most mind bending koshu I’ve ever had… but it’s better than most. The palate has hints of the Sherry-like flavors you get in less subtle aged sake. Along with a pleasant lingering finish, the color was also nice, keeping much of it’s clarity since 1999, unlike other sakes that turn various shades of amber when aged.

Chizuko_san_and_me.jpgOnce the lecture and tasting was over, Sakagura served some delicious food and refills on sakes were offered, too.

I finished the night understanding that gold leaf sakes are used often in gift giving and celebrations. Gold is considered a little something extra to set a gift of sake apart and let the receiver know they’ve gotten something special. Now, whether you’re drinking sake or watching some dancers on TV, these activites are meant to be fun, yet the moment you add some “Solid Gold” in the mix – you know you’re in for some serious fun.

Happy Sakagu-Year

logo.jpgSpending New Year’s eve at Sakagura is a tradition Scott and I started last year. It’s a new tradition that’s hard to argue against. What better way to ring in the new year? Drinking some of the best sake to be found in New York!

Sakagura Manager, Mr. Kadoi, greeted us warmly at the door and made us feel very welcome. I could just tell there was a festive feeling in the air. Once we were seated, I was quickly reminded how overwhelming the Sakagura sake menu can be. Page after page of choices! Since it was a celebration, I decided to focus my selections on the “Daiginjo” portion of the menu. um… even then, I was still a little overwhelmed. Mr. Kadoi introduced us to our waiter Yuki who advised us well on our first choices.

Tokugetsu.jpgMy first delicious sake of the evening was Tokugetsu Junmai Daiginjo (Asahi Brewery, ALC 15.5%, SMV +2, Acidity 1.3, Seimaibuai 28%). This velvety gem was a real find. With a Seimaibuai of 28%, Tokugetsu is made with only a tiny portion of the rice grain as they grind away 72% of the outer hull and only the purest starches remain for sake making.

The color was crystal clear and I only got slight hints of citrus in the nose. This sake really shines on the palate… it felt like a yummy steamroller over my tongue. There was a hint of velvety consistency there that rolled delightfully around my mouth. The finish was quick and left you contemplating the steamroller that just bowled you over. This is really one of the great sakes I’ve had and it was a real treat to get to try it. I enjoyed every sip!

hyousho_nigori.jpgMr. Scott ordered a sake from his favorite section of the menu – Nigori! He kindly let me drink one sip – er, a couple sips… um, I mean several sips of his Nigori. Scott chose the Amanoto Hyosho Usu-Nigori (”Diamond Dust”, Junmai Ginjo, SMV -2, ALC 15.3%, acidity 1.3, Seimaibuai 50%) This Nigori was a lacy white color in the glass. The nose was yeasty and not really for me.

I found The texture was very light and pleasant – I found that this mouth-feel was the best thing about this sake. The flavor had moments of less-than-perfectly balanced alcohol tones peeking through. This might be a good choice if you like your nigori texture light and breezy and your alcohol straight up.

kirinzan_daiginjo.jpgMy Second full glass of over the top luxury was the amazing Kirinzan Junmai Daiginjo (Niigata Prefecture, SMV +3, Acidity 1.3, Seimaibuai 45%, Alc 15.5%). Not only does this sake have one of the more beautiful sake bottles i’ve seen, but also had an amazing diamond clear color that was really stunning and literally sparkled. For me, the nose and palate of Kirinzan contained tiny hints of liquorice. nothing overbearing by any means, but an intriguing background note. This sake is also a super smooth operator. Imagine smooth and then take it up a notch. Unbelievable.

Last but not least, I asked Mr. Kadoi for a recommendation. After all those daigino high notes, I wanted to come back down to earth and requested ideas for a good junmai ginjo. Mr. Kadoi offered us a really special treat that capped of an amazing evening of tasting. He poured us a Special Reserve Sato no Homare (“Pride of the Village” Junmai Ginjo) especially bottled in a small sake cask. This treat I quickly dubbed the “Switzerland of Sakes”. It tasted clear as a bell with a pronounced neutrality in flavor coming across as crisp and clean as a newly pressed linen shirt. Also a very quick finish.sato_no_homare_junmai_ginjo.jpg This special reserve Junmai Ginjo was very delicious and a very, very wonderful indulgence! I loved it.

Before our night was over our waiter Yuki warned us the kitchen was running low on the homemade Toshikoshi soba noodles. As I understand it, eating ToshiKoshi soba noodles on New Year’s is a tradition as long noodles symbolize long life… at least I think that’s right.

Now I have never known much about soba per se, but this soba was a revelation! light delicious and perfectly textured and that lightness blended perfectly with the magnificent sakes we were enjoying. yum.

A little green tea ice cream and I was blissed out and ready to say goodbye to 2006. I wonder if it’s too early to book my reservation for New Year’s Sake-Eve 2007?

Secret Santa Sake

kamotsuru_gold.jpgEvery year, my office partakes in the age old tradition of “secret santa”. Everyone gets a name at random of someone in the department and has to buy them a $10 gift which are exchanged at the holiday luncheon. Now, the operable word here is “secret”. My office takes this very seriously and the giver is not revealed even after the holidays.

I was looking forward to the holiday but had no great expectation for my secret santa gift from co-workers. When I arrived at the lunch, I sought out my gift to give it a good shake and discovered right away it was a bottle. Dare I hope? Could it be sake?!

My turn finally came and I was surprised that it was sake! My Secret Santa, who by the way is STILL a secret, picked up a 180 ml bottle of Kamotsuru Tokusei Gold Daiginjo (Kamotsuru Brewery, Hiroshima prefecture, Seimaibuai 50%, SMV +1.5, Acidity 1.4, ALC 16.4%). Word’s gotten out at work… I’m a sake fiend.

I have to say I was very impressed with Santa. This is a sake I have never even seen before and I was excited to try. The first thing I noticed was that this seemed like a “gift giving” sake. There were two pieces of gold leaf floating around in the bottle and they were pressed to be shaped like little cherry blossoms. (yes, they are meant to be consumed). I drank them down with gusto and didn’t even notice they were there.

Made with underground water from Kaga mountain, the color had a very slight cast of yellow which I assume came from the gold flakes. For me the nose was very faint and fleeting. The taste on the palate was a tiny bit on the dry side and maybe even a bit sharp but rich and not at all unpleasant. The alcohol stayed nicely in the background. The main characteristic of this sake for me was the super looooong finish. It just keeps going and going and going like the energizer bunny. The flavor and essence of this sake has staying power. I enjoyed it.

According to the Importer’s website (Mutual Trading Co, Inc.), Kamotsuru Tokusei Gold is “known as the first Daiginjo Sake ever produced and seen in the history of saké making in Japan”. That’s pretty cool!

Secret Santa, whoever you are, thanks for introducing me to a great new golden nugget! God bless us, every one!

Here’s Lookin’ at You: Zenkichi

ginban_banshu.jpgThe first review I read about the new Williamsburg restaurant Zenkichi called it a “funhouse”. I was a little bit puzzled bu this until I went my self and Scott and I were shown to our table.

It seems the designer thought that it would be a good idea in this darkly light space to put a full length floor to ceiling mirror at the end of every hall and around every corner. It made navigating my way to the bathroom after 2+ glasses of sake a bit… challenging.

This is not to say of course, that I didn’t have a good time. Zenkichi really puts the FUN in funhouse. The design of this mirrored space seems to emphasize privacy. All the tables are in there own little room, or walled off from one another. each little cubby also had a bamboo shade that could be rolled down.

ring_my_bell.jpgThe funnest thing was the call button on the table! The hostess who showed us to our table explained that we should push the button whenever we want a waitress to come to our table – she went on to explain that the waitresses didn’t mind because the button played lovely music back in the service area.

Well, faster than you can say arigato, I was pushing that button to order some sake! The sake menu at Zenkichi was concise and interesting, for example: Shimehari Tsuru Jun, Yomeiri Buni, Tedorigawa Yamahai Junmai, Suishin, Dassai Nigori, Suigei, Wakatake Daiginjo. Some old friends but several selections that were new to me.

Banshu_bottle.jpgI started with the Ginban Banshu Junmai Daiginjo (SMV +6, ALC 15.5%, Acidity 1.2, Seimaibuai 50%, Toyama Prefecture). I found this selection to be a a little “ricey” for my taste, both in the nose and on the palate. It was however, quite rich in flavor and thick in consistency. Enjoyable but not quite there for me.

The Second Sake I had was Shin Junmai Ginjo (Anyone out there know the Brewery?). The sake menu billed this sake as “Extremely Smooth and Clean; Does not interfere with any dish”. well, that really about sums it up! After an intro like that I really wanted to give this one a try. They were right! It is the Switzerland of sakes. totally neutral and I really, really enjoyed it. Sometimes you just want something smooth and easy and not all up in your face. Shin did this quite well.

The food menu at Zenkichi was small and concise and everything we had to eat was lovely and went well with our sakes. This is the perfect little place to hide away with that special someone for a romantic sake escape, clandestine rendezvous or secret business meeting. Give it a try – And when you toast your first sake, be sure to say “Here’s looking at you!” – changes are you will be.

NO! NO! Today’s Amazing Special

no_no_amazing_special.jpgI feel like i’m getting a little more adventurous every so often and trying some new sake bar, or izakaya or sushi place that may be a little bit out of my comfort zone. That was indeed the case for Donburi-ya (137 East 47th, 212-980-7909). This place is odd and didn’t sit with me quite right at first. Let me set the stage a little…

glass_of_ikinaonnaFirst, the decor – so many japanese places i’ve been to have a beautifully focused style or aesthetic, but this restaurant was all over the place – kind of like a little bit Upstate New York country diner (think dried flowers) meets crazy toyko version of Cheers. There is lots and lots of oak-toned wood: the tables, the chairs, the bar, the bar stools, some paneling… a lot of oak.
As for atmosphere, there was a row of loudish men at the bar ordering beers and flirting in broken japanese with the very beautiful, yet tough, japanese bartender.

All this “ambiance” put me in serious need of some really good sake. Their sake menu was limited and understandably more focused on hearty robust sakes that will stand up to hearty robust pub food.

limited_sake_menu.jpgThere were 10 sakes total on the menu with some well known standbys such as Masumi, Suishin, Otokoyama and Hoyo (not to mention a one cup Ozeki!). There was one Daiginjo offering that caught my eye… “Iki Na Onna”. Looked a little familiar. I ordered it and hoped for the best.

After the fact, I realized that I’ve had this sake before. I first tasted it at a Tedorigawa event at Matsuri back in January. It was one of the yummy sakes that was very freely flowing. Ikki Na Onna (Daiginjo, Tedorigawa Brewery, ikinaonna_bottle.jpgRice: Miyamanishiki, Seimaibuai: 40%, Ishikawa Prefecture) is translated as “Lady Luck” and is a sake that is brewed in limited amounts each year for the Association of Lady Sake Retailers.

This Sake is good. The Brewery describes it as having a “fetchingly feminine attitude”. Well, I don’t know if that’s true. If they mean subtle and nuanced, then I guess so, but that is really more marketing speak than anything else. at least the bottle isn’t pink! I was really happy to find this sake because I don’t see it around much. It’s the most expensive one on the menu, but it’s also the best.

Overall, my experience at Donburi-ya was reflected in a funny Lost-in-Translation moment I had while reading their menu. It said at the top “No! No! Today’s Amazing Special”. Huh? I should avoid the amazing special?

Then I read it as: NO! NO! [this decor scares me!] Today’s Amazing Special [today I found an amazing, special daiginjo!] Lady Luck indeed!

Sake Bloggers of the World Unite!

from_left.jpgQuestion: What would you get if all the sake bloggers in the world had a tasting of the same sakes on the same night?

Answer: Why, you’d get the World’s First Cyber Sake Tasting, that’s what!

Working with my sake blogging friends Valerie of The Sake Diaries in Minneapolis, Melinda of Tokyo Through the Drinking glass and Etsuko of TokyoFoodcast we agreed to each host a tasting on the same night with the same 4 sakes plus one “wildcard” of our choosing. The sakes would get tasted and reviewed across time, space and international borders and then afterwards, everyone would post their results.

atsuko-and-timothy_1.jpgHere is how things shaped up at Urban Sake Headquarters:

  • Rihaku Junmai Ginjo (“Wandering Poet”, SMV +3, Acidity 1.6, ALC 15.2%)
    Average Rating: 6.3 out of 10. I paired this will some wasabi rice cracker mix. Comment: “Fragrant Nose” “Flavor expands as the sake warms”
  • Urakasumi Zen Junmai Ginjo (“Misty Bay”, SMV +1, Acidity 1.3, ALC 15.5%)
    Average Rating: 6.3 out of 10. This was paired with delicious Seaweed salad that Atsuko brought. Comment: “Nice & Drinkable” “Slightly citrus”
  • cream_puff.jpgShirakawago Sansannigori (“Bamboo Leaf”, SMV 0, Acidity 1.5, ALC 15.3%)
    Average Rating: 5 out of 10. Paired with fried japanese chicken wings.
    Comment: “Slightly Funky aftertaste.” “Tastes better at room temp” “My favorite pairing!”
  • Tamano Hikari Junmai Daiginjo (“Brilliant Jade”, SMV +3.5, Acidity 1.7, ALC 16.2) Average Rating 8.6 out of 10. Paired with Dried Squid. (don’t ask)
    Comment: “Clean & Complex” “Outstanding!”
  • the_whole_gang.jpgKubota Hekiju ( SMV +2, Acidity 1.5, ALC 15.5%)
    Paired with Choux Factory Cream Puffs.
    Comment: “Barely there” “Delicious” “smooooth”

The clear winner at the NYC tasting was the Tamano Hikari. It was fresh and clean and complex enough to inspire a lot of interest. It is also interesting that Zen and Wandering Poet averaged out to the exact same score among the New York City crowd.

Special thanks to Chao-I, Atsuko, Jesse, Stephen and Scott for being a part of sake history. I know I had a lot of fun and I hope you guys did too!
Check out these blogs for other views of the trans-pacific super cyber sake tasting:
Tokyo Through the Drinking Glass
The Sake Diaries



chicken_marks_the_spot.jpgIt’s no big secret that Yakatori is (happily for me) taking the world by storm. The latest outpost in the Big Apple is Torys (248 E 52nd st. 2nd Floor; 212-813-1800).

This place was opened by the folks that run the amazing Yakatori Totto (251 W 55th St; 866-333-8047). Totto is perhaps my very favorite restaurant in NYC. I was excited to read about Torys and perhaps learn about a new spin on some delicious meat on a stick.

kubota hekiju bottle But first, the Sake. I ordered the Kubota Hekiju. (Asahi Sake Brewery, Seimaibuai 50ï¼…, ALC 15.5ï¼…, SMV +2, Acidity 1.5) This is one of my all time favorites. It’s got a cool, clean super-smooth taste, that can be the perfect backdrop to lots of food. It may be a touch on the elegant-dainty side for this hearty Yakatori grub, but, j’dore it just the same.

kubota_hekizyu.jpgThe Kubota was served in a 5 oz glass with a slightly asymectrical rim – very unique. This was easy to nurse throughout the whole meal as course after course of yummy grilled goodies came to our table. This sake is clean as I said, and also wonderful at giving the palate a clean sweep before the next round of skewers.

The food at Torys is very similar to Totto. It’s like they are twin restaurants. Double your pleasure! Double your fun! Everything we tasted was really good and it was fun to watch the grill-master lavish attention on the skewers under his care. All this focus on detail paid off – Everything we tasted was grilled to perfection.

I’ll be back to Tory’s soon to explore the rest of their sake menu. Can’t wait!

Movin’ on up, to the East Side…

jeffersonsJust like Weezie and George Jefferson, I made my way on up to the East Side last sunday afternoon. It’s not a common haunt of mine, but predictably, it was sake that lured me out of my geographic comfort zone.

My Sake Buddy KC organized a really fun and relaxed B.Y.O.S. event at the ‘De-luxe apartment in the sky’ of his friend Hideo. Guest of honor was again our friend Mr. Sakurai, of Dassai Brewery who is in New York for a few weeks.

The set up of our event was simple, everyone bring your own sake with appetizers provided and dinner afterwards. Let’s start tasting!

daishichi1) DaiShiChi Kimoto Honjyozo (SMV +1, ALC 15.5%)
KC suggested we start with the largest bottle as that would take the longest to finish. I like the way this guy thinks! So, we popped open the huge 1.8L bottle. There is really something festive about these huge bottles. Having them around means you’re having a party or at least a lot of people over for drinking. DaiShiChi is an interesting brand. As faithful readers of my blog know, this is the company that makes, quite possibly, the world’s best sake, Daishichi Myouka Rangyoku.

The DaiShiChi Kimoto Honjyozo was, of course, not in that league, but it’s fun to look for a family resemblance. This Brewery is known as an innovator in the Sake production process, being especially well known for their unique method of milling the rice. The Kimoto Honjyozo had a noticeable grainy flavor. It hinted at a dryness that was more pronounced that you might expect for a sake with an SMV of only +1. A good way to get the party started.

Masumi Okuden Kantsukuri 2) Masumi Okuden Kantsukuri (Junmai, Seimaibuai 60%)
Masumi is another well known brand that takes it’s production methods seriously. With a SeimaiBuai of 60%, this sake could technically qualify as a Ginjo, but they choose to to keep it labeled a Junmai. I found this sake to be sprightly, very clean tasting, and a touch on the dry side. KC was telling me that the especially long and colder fermentation of this sake makes for a more complex taste. And I think the bottle shape is cool.

otokoyama momenya 3) Otokoyama Momenya Tokubetsu (Junmai, ALC 15.5%, Seimaibuai 55%)
Yet another sake from another really well known brewery. Otokoyama is well known for it’s “Man’s Mountain”. This is a Tokubetsu Junmai take on their Manly-Man traditional Junmai. I was excited to taste and see what I’d find. To my surprise, I initially noticed a flat taste. Then came an earthy, grainy, expressive palate… finishing up with a very Otokoyama-ish super dry finish.

4) Tomoju Junmai Ginjo (SMV +2, ALC 15.5%)
This was a treat from a brewery I know a little less well – Aiyu Brewery in Ibaraki Prefecture. I found the taste to be medium dry. and well balanced. This would be considered a “rich type” sake. We all agreed there was a looooong finish. Quite a treat. Maybe I should get to know Aiyu a little better.

5) Kurosawa Junmai Daiginjo (ALC 15.5%)
Next we had a sure fire winner – and I wasn’t disappointed. Kurosawa is a superstar that always comes through, at all their grades. This was my first time trying the Junmai Daiginjo, so I was like a kid at Christmas when this one hit the table. I was interested to learn that they only make 1500 bottles a year of this Daiginjo grade. That’s not a lot… it made it taste even more special. In brief, I’m in love. This gem was super clean and delightful – A classic Daiginjo with great balance and elegance.

Trifecta of Dassai 23, 50, Nigori 6) Dassai 23:
Sakurai-San stepped up to the plate next. He brought with him the “trifecta” of Dassai goodness. In the spirit of “eat dessert first” we went straight for the superlative Dassai 23 Daiginjo. This Sake has been profiled here before. The rice used to make this elixir is milled down to 23% of it’s original size before brewing. That is the smallest seimaibuai in the known universe. It’s light, but flavorful with hints of the most delicate fruit. Being both complex and balanced, this is a sake for serious sipping. you don’t want to be distracted from the flavors by anything. This sake demands your full attention!

7) Dassai 50:
Next was the Dassai Ginjo with a seimaibuai of 50%. This sake tastes fresh and easy to drink. It’s not fussy or overly complicated, but just plain good! Sakurai-san told us this makes up 70-80% of the Dassai production. I understand why it’s so popular.

8) Dassai Nigori: (Seimaibuai 50%)
Last was the Delightful Dassai Nigori. For those Nigori fans out there, this one can’t be beat. Scott and I brought this sake (with mixed results) to Thanksgiving dinner as a dessert wine. I enjoyed it, but I think most guests didn’t know what to make of it. The wonderful thing about this unfiltered sake is the slight hint of fruit with a touch of natural carbonation sparkle. And who couldn’t use a little more sparkle in their lives?

senkin.jpg 9) Senkin Ginyu Sizuku Junmai Daiginjo (SMV +5, ALC 16%)
Last but not least, was MY contribution to the B.Y.O.S. event. I brought a super fruity perfumy Trickle sake. Did I mention this was Fruity, fruity fruity? Trickle sake is made when sake is not pressed through a filter by machine at the end of the process, but when the sake is allowed to drip naturally through the filter. This is a labor intensive process that produces an amazing treat. With an SMV of +5, I tasted more fruity complexity that out and out dryness. remember SMV is just a guidline! This sake was a special treat and akin to having a fruit salad after all that sober dry sake we had at the beginning of the evening. My palate was barely holding together at this point, but that didn’t stop my enjoyment of this yummy treat.

Around this time, our chinese takout arrived and I was never so happy to see a dumpling in my life. After 9 taste tests of all kinds of sake, I needed some grub. I’m telling you – you haven’t lived until you paired a trickle Junmai Daiginjo with steamed shrimp dumplings.

Then it hit me – Now I finally see that the Upper east side is nothing to be afraid of. As a matter of fact, it’s quite nice! Sorry, George and Weezie… your secret is out.

Life Begins at Yon-Ju.

Seishu Kubota HekijyuWhen somebody special to you has a special birthday, you want to do something, well, Special. Scott was turning Yon-Ju years old on June 13, and I wanted to cook up a special treat for him. A special treat for him that somehow involved Sake for me. The perfect plan emerged when I remembered Sugiyama. They serve a Kaiseki style dinner.

Scott and I had always talked about wanting to try a Kaiseki dinner – but he wanted to wait for a special occasion. Well, if your Yon-Ju birthday isn’t a special occassion, I don’t know what is. Kaiseki in this country is almost always a japanese style tasting menu with an emphesis on the freshest, most flavorful ingredients and a stunning presenation of the food over multiple courses. If you’re not having a tea ceremony Kaiseki, they most likely offer Sake to go along with the food.

Sugiyama is an elegant place. The staff was very professional and attentive. I spotted a sake on the menu that I felt would be a sure-fire hit with the birthday boy: Kubota Hekijyu Daiginjo. This is a sake i’ve tasted before, it won an “Golden Masu” last month, and I must say it is one of my very, very favorites.

Kubota HekijyuThis Kubota bathes your tongue with it’s clean flavor that I find superbly balanced. It reads clean from nose to finish. There is no hint of strong alcohol or any astringent flavor as well as an avoidance of anything too sweet. The Sake Meter Value on this baby is +3, which is a little north of what should be perfectly balanced between dry and sweet, however, I have read a few places that a +2 or +3 is really more in line with the modern palate of what this perfect balance would be. The Brewmasters at Kubota know what the are doing with this one.

The Kubota Hekijyu was so good with the Kaiseki food, we ordered a second carafe. If it ain’t broke…

I think Scott enjoyed his special day and we were both dazzled by the food, service AND sake at Sugiyama. Note to Self: Have a large bottle of Kubota Hekijyu Daiginjo chilled and ready to help me ease into hitting Yon-Ju… when the time comes of course.

Sachiko’s on Clinton

Sachiko's on ClintonFlashback with me to 1980’s New York, won’t you? Picture Breakdancing in Washington square park, Act Up blocking traffic on 5th Ave and absolutely no one checking their email on a cell phone. Now Picture little timmy arriving

Presentation at Sachiko's on Clintonat his NYU Dorm and reviewing some ‘safety guidelines’ in his Freshman Orientation packet. It was something like, “The Lower East Side is a dangerous Drug Den Crack Alley No Fly Zone. Stay Away if you want to live to see your parents on Christmas Break.” Good times!

I couldn’t help but think back to these wonderful college years when I heard the rumblings in the NYC Sake Underground that a new Sake bar/restaurant had opened up on the Lower East Side. “Sachiko’s on Clinton” adds a splash of Nihon-shu to the mix of Bodegas, three star restaurants, nail salons and upscale boutiques to this gentrifing hodge podge stretch of Clinton St. between Housten and Delancy

I made a plan with Sake buddy Rob to meet up at Sachiko’s and give this New Kid on the Block the once over. Sachiko’s was deserted when we arrived around 6pm.

Echigo TsurukameThe Bar area, kinda crammed into the entranceway, was a little cramped and in need of a little leg room.

Rob and I started with a recommendation from Sachiko herself. She said she had a highly recommended nama that just arrived in from Japan the day before and wasn’t on the menu. Where do I sign?! This sake was called Echigo Tsurukame Nama Junmai (SMV +3.0, Niigata Prefecture) We were served with a beautiful tokkuri and cute little serving glass. This was an elegant nama.

I knew right away that Sachiko didn’t steer us wrong. She explained that the turtle and the Crane on the label of the bottle were symbols of long life and that this sake was favored by rulers who lived long ago. makes sense to me! Echigo Tsurukame had a clean taste with a strong melon-fruit flavor and that freshness that Nama is known for. Needless to say, our Tokkuri quickly disappeared.

Without too much of a pause, we picked our next selection off the menu again with Sachiko’s help. Her next recommendation was Sato No Homare “pride of the village” Nama Junmai Ginjo(SMV +3, Ibaraki Prefecture, Sudo Honke Brewery).

Sato No HomareSince June is Pride month, I thought Pride of the Village would be a sure fire hit. Sachiko described this one as a “wine lover’s Sake”.

I would say it’s more of a fruit-bomb lover’s sake. The flavor was sweet – perhaps like a riesling: Peachy, pear-y, candied flavors… let’s just say, fruit salad. I could see how a white wine lover would dig this stuff. This sake definitely had a personality. Towards the bottom of my glass, however, I was thinking I had overdosed on bubbleyum.

When We had slightly recovered from the fruit bomb, I thought we needed to downshift into something more clean and classic and I immediately thought “daiginjo”. Ah… yes. Well, since Sachiko was off helping dinner guests, I made this call on my own and chose the Kagatobi Ai Junmai DaiGinjo (SMV +4, Ishikawa Prefecture) off the menu.

This was the perfect way to wind down our tasting. Kagatobi Ai was noticeably drier that the fruity parade we’d seen march by so far this evening. The taste was even, crisp and sublte. Subtle! Yes, that is the magic of Daiginjo.

Kagatobi AiThe Namas can be a hit-you-over-the-head flavor party, while a junmai daiginjo like this can teach you the joys of an even tempered flavor.

Kind of like enjoying even-keeled (Daiginjo) Emma Thompson as a 19th Century Masterpiece Theater heronie vs. Flamboyant (Nama) Carmen Miranda as the “the lady in the tutti-frutti hat.” Right? Kagatobi Ai was a treat and was a crisp and delicious treat. um, Yum!

So, as I bid farewell to Sachicko and thanked her so much for the tasting suggestions, I couldn’t help but think ahead and start planning my next visit to the lower east side for sake. And this time, I know I’ll make it home alive for Christmas break.

When Life gives you Lemons… Boston Part Deux

Douzo signMy Boston Sake Geek adventure continues! IF you missed part one of my sake adventure you can read it here.Maddie picked out a new Japanese restaurant called Douzo (131 Dartmouth St Boston, MA 02116 (617) 859-8886)
to try for our sake-centric dinner. This was a great call on her part as this place is new and stylish. Well, stylish on a beige-on-beige, taupe-on-taupe kind of way. The first thing you notice are the soaring 20 foot ceilings.

Looking over the sake menu, there were not a lot of surprises or things I hadn’t had. So, I went with my old “Japanese roulette” technique and ordered what I wasn’t familiar with and… Let’s put it this way – you can’t win every time.

Crazy Milk
The two Sakes I selected were: Crazy Milk Nigori (Oimatsu Brewery) and what they called Osakaya-Chobei Daiginjo (Ozeki Corp).This is alcoholic beverageNow, it should be obvious why I picked this Nigori to try. First, off Scott loves Nigoris. and second of all… Come on! “Crazy Milk”?!?! That is the most amazing name ever. My favorite part of the Crazy milk bottle was the little English disclaimer: “This is alcoholic beverage”. Um, yeah. I don’t think cafeteria’s across America will be serving crazy milk to increase calcium intake among young people.
The taste? The Nigori was rough around the edges and a little bit thick. I think they was going for ‘very creamy’ but it ended up with a slightly unwelcoming texture… I guess it’s what you could call a “crazy” texture.

Ozeki DaiginjoI selected the second sake thinking that the most expensive and only Daiginjo on the menu ($25 for 300ml) had to be worth looking into. When the dark bottle arrived at the table, I was a little deflated to recognized it immediately as a Ozeki product. well, I told me self – it was still a daiginjo and could very well be worth trying. So we poured and I took a sip. I’m not a huge fan of this sake. The best way to describe it was off balance / unharmonious. It wasn’t the subtle, elegant Daiginjo I am used to from other breweries.So there I was, trying to impress my family and friends with my vast sake knowledge and I ended up ordering two duds. We had each sipped about as much from each as we could from the two bottles and there was about a third of a bottle left of each. People – I was seriously thinking about just leaving the sake there – VERY unlike me to leave sake leftovers of any kind. That’s when my sister Maddie had a Stroke Of Genius.

Douzo windwoShe said: “You could try and mix them together.”Huh?! Wha? errr? I mean, Maddie was valedictorian of our high school, so I knew she was smart, but this takes the cake. Well, what do I have to lose? So I took the Ozeki and poured it into the Crazy milk bottle. gave it a shake and we all took a sip. The results were unanimous. These Sakes were better together! The daiginjo thinned out the unpleasant texture of the nigori and the Nigori somehow brought more balance to the taste of the rough daiginjo. Kanpai, indeed!

Not only that, but we invented a new kind of drink!! Not a Sake cocktail, where you mix Sake with juice or another alcohol. This was a sake-on-sake mixture which I’m calling a “Sake-Smashup”! We quickly realized the possibilities were endless. And why not?

Sake Glass at Douzo I see wines all the time that are mixed. for example wines made up of: 70 % merlot, 25 % cabernet franc and 5 % cabernet sauvignon . Why not try a blended sake? something to think about…As a final bon mot, Maddie noted that is was fitting that these sake-sake smashup unions were invented in Massachusetts, the one state in the country where ALL types of Marriages are legal! I’ll drink to that.

The World’s Best Sake?

Myouka Rangyouku Heavenly FlowerDaishichi Myouka Rangyoku.

Could it be the World’s Best Saké?

I’m talking #1 on Planet Earth!?

The highest quality in the known Universe!?!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I may not be a sake expert just yet, but one sip and my taste buds told me, in no uncertain terms, this is the best, most complex and richest sake I may ever have in my whole life!!

Phew, now that that is off my chest, I guess I better back up a little bit and tell you how this all came to be…

Sakagura is an amazing subterranean world. It’s just a wonderful place to be. I got on their mailing list and they sent me a notice about a special Daishichi Brewery tasting evening. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I booked my reservation right away and Jerin came along for the adventure.

Daishichi tastingThe evening started with a free DaiShiChi Tasting of two sakes. one sip each in a riedel glass. The tasting area was over in the back corner at the bar. The president of Daishichi, Hideharu Ohta was there and he was graciously introducing everyone to his sake. Keita was the nice importer & sake sommelier who was on hand and also helping pour the tastings.

Back in our seats, Jerin and I started with the “Daishichi Tasting Set” ($17). This consisted of 3 Daishichi sakes from their brewery in Fukushima Prefecture: Minowamon Kimoto Junmai Daiginjo, Daishichi Shizen Kimoto, and Daishici Kimoto Honjyozo. You’ll notice that all sakes in the tasting are “Kimoto” sakes. What does this mean? as far as I can tell, Kimoto is a description of the original method of creating a “starter mash” for the sake by mixing rice, koji, and water to a puree BY HAND. This breaks everything down to feed the yeast. The interesting thing here is that Daishichi is well known for using this original and more labor intensive production method. Cool!

Daishichi tasting set The first sake of the three, Minowamon Kimoto was really a delight! delicious, smooth and clean. The second sake in the tasting was Shizenshu Kimoto, a junmai. The third sake was Daishichi Kimoto Honjyozo. The sakes were presented in small shotglass style cups, filled to the brim. In the Sakagura style, the bottles were left out for examination while our tasting was in progress. this is an excellent custom, as long as the customer knows the bottle is for looking at and not for pouring second helpings. It is really great to look at the bottle. you can see such things as pairing suggestions, SMV, rice type used etc, etc… The samples were small, so I powered thru this tasting pretty quickly. Then the question comes up what to drink next…

Heavenly FlowerOur friendly sake sommelier/waitress highly recommended the special Sakagura Exclusive Super Rare tasting options that they only had on hand for that night – and only two bottles each. The first was Myouka Rangyoku a.k.a. “Heavenly Flower”. I ordered the “tasting size”… about 1.8 oz for $32. Sounds expensive you say? Well, the 720ml bottle of “Heavenly Flower” costs $460. I thought of it this way… when would I have the chance to sample such a costly sake again?! and you know what? It was worth every penney. Each tiny sip of the Myouka Rangyoku was an honest-to-goodness sake bomb with flavor activating every taste bud. This Trickle Dai Ginjo is also an aged sake from the 2003 vintage. simply beyond amazing.

Pouring Sizuku GenshuJerin ordered the tasting size of the super rare Kimoto Junmai Daiginjo Sizuku Genshu (vintage 1990, 1.8 oz, $30). I’ve had aged sakes before.. but they were a dark brown. This sake was amazing in that, even though it was 16 years old, it was more or less clear! I was told this had to do with the purity of the sake that was used to start with. Once I had a sip or two, the simple wafting backdrop of taru (cedar) came through. Again, this shook up my notions of what taru is or what aged sake is. it was very drinkable and Jerin prefered it to the Myouka Rangyoku. I would recommend this as an afterdinner drink. a very special treat to complete a very special meal. We were, however, in the middle of our meal and the 1.8oz serving sizes for these two amazing treats were not filling us up.

Daishichi classicAs a final Daishichi adventure for the evening, and coming down off the most complex sake ever, I asked our sommelier for something easy! please give me a daishichi that is accessible, drinkable and easy. She came back to us with a carafe of daishichi “classic”. This junmai sake tasted strict and more acidic, but how could it not coming off heavenly flower?! I grew to enjoy the flavor as we sipped away over the rest of our dinner and through our dessert.

WOW, what an evening. This was such a great introduction to the Daishichi Brewery. It is obvious that Mr. Ohta and everyone at Daishichi take great pride in using the latest technology, milling and bottling methods and combining that with traditional brewing methods to create a very unique, consistant and delightful line of sakes. Thanks to Sakagura for hosting the evening. what a treat. Oh, if any other Sake Brewers out there are reading this and you think YOUR Sake deserves to be named’s World’s Best Sake, please send me a sample right away and I will be happy to give you my review!

Decibel Sake Bar

Decibel Sake Bar signI’ve been to Decibel once before, but this is my first post about this amazing NYC sake institution. I think it’s run by the same folks that own Sakagura, but, even though they are both in basements, the feel between the two places couldn’t be more different. Decibel goes for that gritty, dark, urban, graffiti-strewn effect. The walls here remind me of a NYC subway car circa 1978. I was out with my friend Brad for a long overdue check in and catch up. I’d like to think that Decibel is a true representation of what you would actually find in a gritty, dark, urban, graffiti strewn tokyo sake bar. Since I don’t have that round trip to Tokyo booked yet, this fill-in will do just fine.

Well, it was very dark at decibel, so my photos came out a little grainy, but I think you’ll get the idea.

Decibel Sake Bar sign I started with a super-premium sake that was one of the most expensive per glass… the Harushika DaiGinjo (5 oz.). As the waitress poured the Harushika, I asked her if she liked this sake. She said. “I loooooooooooove this sake. After a few sips, I did too. You could say this Sake had a style like your favorite brooks brothers button down shirt. comfortable, soft & well worn. Effortlessly elegant and balanced with a strong finish. yum.

I love the presentation at Decibel so much. As far as I know they are the only show in town that presents in this way. They use a traditional laquer-esque black & red masu with a 5 oz clear glass set inside. they pour the glass full and overflow into the masu box. Real sake bars in Japan (that I’ve seen on TV) have this exact same treatment. The waitstaff is also great – very helpful and friendly. Since sake is not all to widely understood, I’m sure they get asked a lot of the same questions all the time, but they seem focused on making you feel comfortable and happy.

Dried SquidMy friend Brad has been to japan about 4 times and he knows some of the bar snacks to order that may not be as popular here. Tonight, brad was brave enough to introduce me to something I’d never even heard of – shredded dried squid. it looks, quite literally, like a pile of chopped up frayed twine. And on first blush, it tastes like chopped up frayed twine. However, Brad taught me the waxon-waxoff secret of this dish. you put a small piece of dried squid in your mouth and start to chew and chew and chew…give it a full 90 seconds. If you hang in there you’ll be rewarded with a rush of fishy-squidy-seafood flavor in your mouth as the squid-jerky softens up.

A pile of these squid strips takes an incredibly long time to eat as you have to patiently chew each and every strip. Therein, however lies the secret. You simply cannot wolf down a plate of this stuff as if it were a supersize fries – You’re forced to savor and linger over a plate of shredded dried squid as you sip your sake and talk to your friends. For a harried New Yorker (who happens to like a fishy-squidy-seafood flavor), it’s delightful!

Decibel graffitiAs Brad and I masticated our way about half-way through the towering pile of shredded squid, I knew it was definitely time for a second round of sake. I went with the Dassai Ginjo.

This sake was clean and nice – but maybe a little too prim and proper. This is a sake you might have in the back of your little black book. If you don’t have anything sexier lined up, you can always give Dassai Ginjo a call as your plan B.

It’s always good to have a plan B. After Brad and I executed our Plan B and the Squid Jerky was a memory, we bundled out into the rainy NYC evening delighted by the quiet streets and cool spring air that the evening rain had brought. what a fun night.

Decibel LanternDecibel is a great place to ‘pump up the volume’ on your sake knowledge. Please make a trip if you have not been there already. It’s cool It’s got sake. It’s got cool sake. This is a wonderful place to go and bring out of town friends. They’ll think you know every underground speakeasy in the city. Heck, take your friends that live in New York, they’ll think the same thing. By any measure this Decibel is music to my ears.


Yukiwatari NigoriI got taken out for my birthday last night by Scott and we went to EN, a wonderful Japanese restaurant down on Hudson at Leroy street. The evening started off right with my friend Scott B. arranging to have a bottle of Yukiwatari Nigori sent to the table. Now, Nigori was not traditionally my favorite, but this Nigori really turned my head. Produced by Asabiraki Brewery, this is everything a Nigori should be. It’s creamy and full and totally unique without having that fermenty-ricey flavor I’ve tasted in Nigori before. The food was a dream as well, but I just needed a little something more this being my birthday and all, so I ordered a DaiGinjo off the menu called “Koshi Hikari” only to later learn this is really known as Kirin. Yes, just like the beer. So, they can’t compete with the brand recognition of Kirin beer, so they re-invent themselves as Koshi Hikari, which is really the name of some kind of rice, I think. Hey, it’s cool to have a secret identity – kinda the Bruce Wayne of Sake. Well, it was crisp, granny-smithy and delightful. subtle and elegant. everything a daigino should be.

Kirin DaiGinjoPresented in a stemless sake glass which I think was Riedel. It was a great cap off for a great birthday. Thanks Scott B for the Nigori. Thank you Scott H. for the wonderful dinner and everything else.

Beware the Velvet Hammer

Menu CoverI realized the other day, I love my new hobby as a sake appreciator, but you know what my hobby really is?…. DRINKING! Obviously, I was never a frat boy and don’t really have a past history of drinking games and waking up outside on the lawn wearing someone else’s pants. I’ve never done a bodyshot or consumed beer thru a funnel, so it’s safe to say I normally don’t get too wasted while enjoying my new hobby. um, but last night was the exception. It was the first Sake Pairing dinner I had every been to, so, in my defense, I wasn’t really sure how things were going to work and before I figured it out, it was just too late. I brought along my dear friend David who is a food adventurer in his own right, so I was at least in great company as I slid into my first evening of all-out sake abuse.

Upon arriving at Matsuri, we were ushered into a side room that looked like it might seat about 50 or 60 people. There were communal tables so we had to sit with people we didn’t know which was unusal, but I tried to make the best of it. There were four glasses set in front of us on this kind of sake placemat. The pairing dinner was 5 courses and 4 sakes… no sake with dessert which is a big oversight in my book. Anyway, we were served our first sake which was the Tedorigawa “Iki na Onna”[LADY LUCK] Daiginjo. they had all the folks from the actual brewery on hand wearing these orange kata robes and a few ladies in colorful kimono. Mr. Toshio Yoshida was a handsome older gentleman with an eye for the ladies who was the senior representative from the Tedorigawa brewery sponsoring the pairing dinner. You can see an overview of the brewing process at Tedorigawa here He said a few words in japanese about each sake we were tasting and about the region of japan where the sake was produced. His comments were translated by another gentleman who I think also worked for the brewery. The first glass was poured and I took a sip. tasted familiar, but i wasn’t sure. I was sure it tasted good. I paced myself because I wanted to make sure I didn’t drink my entire glass befor the first course came out. Mr. Yoshida explained this sake was requested by the lady sake brewers of Japan He said that Iki means kinda like a chic, classy lady. I quickly finished my glass and, honestly, I was feeling kinda bummed that we had such a small tasting. before I really completed my thought, one of the nice ladies in kimono came around with a bottle and filled my glass of Iki na Onna back up to the brim. oh! a refill! well,. then I enjoyed Iki na Onna with larger swigs. the first course was Kobe Beef Tataki, Seared Tuna and Roasted duck which tasted yummy but was literally the size of 3 postage stamps. My glass got refilled again! It was slowly starting to dawn on me that they were giving our unlimited refills… I knew I had 3 other sakes ahead of me, but I pressed on – and they kept refilling!

Sake DescriptionsThe next sake was Tedirugawa “Arabashiri”[RIPPLING STREAM] Ginjo (Nama) and it was paired with a small skewer of yakitori, a few crabmeat Shumai and a poached sardine. Mr. Yoshida called this sake strong and flavorful. At this point Mr Yoshida was walking around with an assistant and stopping at each table for a picture and some flirting with all the women. I’m assuming Mrs. Yoshida was not along for this trip. My theory of endless refills was proving to be correct as the Arabashiri was refilled as fast as the Iki na onna. Everyone at the table remarked at the strong contrast between the two.

A Tiny piece of black cod was the next course and it was paired with Tedorigawa “Yamahai Junmai” [SILVER MOUNTAIN]. This Junmai was strong and a little on the sweet side. Could be my imagination but this one seemed to pack more of a punch – I bet the ALC content is higher on this one. Food-wise, this was the most forgettable course. the cod was tiny. It wasn’t bad, to be sure, but the food was not keeping pace with my sake consumption. I quickly put these thoughts out of my mind and focused on the task at hand.

the final sake was Tedorigawa “Yamahai Daiginjo” [CHRYSANTHEMUM MEADOW] and was paired with Sushi. I’d like to tell you what this sake tasted like or even what Mr. Yoshida said about this one, but i’d crossed the line. The bottomless sake up caught up with me. I was pretty far gone at this point. in fact, I remember everyone at the tasting was in a pretty good mood at this point.

After a yummy desert of Yuzy Crem-brulee the Matsuri chef Ono came out for a bow and dinner was over once the checks were paid. I made my way home – I was way beyond the sake zone at this point- but feeling giddy and indulgent and really tipsy. The sake’s were delicious and the tiny portions of food were delicious. the evening was delicious

Map of Japan showing TedorigawaThe next morning… ah, yes. what was the price to pay for all this merriment? I woke up a little thirsty, but no hangover. I swear, No hangover! I had a little water and I was good to go. I had escaped a direct hit from the velvet hammer. I think it was due to the higher grade of sake I was drinking. Sake really is a wonder! Now, I know that I would have enjoyed the pairing dinner even more if I had slowed down and valued the real taste of each sake instead of marveling at the sheer quantity, but that is a lesson I will put into practice at my next sake pairing. for now, all I can say is I love my new hobby!

Bozu is da’ (sushi) bomb

Bozu DarumaOK sake fans, run, Run RUN, to Bozu!! This place is da’ bomb. the sushi bomb that is… On Jan 22, I graduated from Feng Shui school and wanted to meet up with some friends the night before the ceremony at a sake-friendly bar to celebrate. I heard about Bozu from Scott and checked it out online – a good website goes a long long way for me. So, I just sent out an email and asked my friends to meet me there at the bar. Turned out to be a wonderful night!
We were the first people to get to get there right when they opened.

Bozu BartenderThe atmosphere inside is dark and filled with black stained wood. kinda gives you the feeling of what an underground sake brewery might be like in Japan. When we sat down at the bar, I was overwhelmed with the sake menu. There was an entire board of sakes by the glass (tasting glass, and masu size), carafe and bottle. They also offered 3 tasting options. I picked the tasting that had the most Daiginjo on it and crossed my fingers. what I ended up having was really yummy but little did I know that I would be drinking those sake’s again just a few days later. The initial tasting I had consisted of 3 sakes by the same manufacturer

1)Tedorigawa yamahai Daiginjo chrysanthemum meadow
2)Tedorigawa Iki na onna lady luck
3)Tedorigawa yamahai junmai silver mountain

Tedorigawa SamplerAll in all, these were very solid sakes, tasting serious, well-produced, smooth and elegant. my tasting glasses were emptied quickly. Since I was in a very festive mood, I began ordering masu (about 3 total) of my old standby the Wakatake Daiginjo – demon slayer. The masu were served in a unique way at Bozu. They used clear acrylic masu boxes set in a shallow blow and overflowed the masu into the bowl. Usually I’ve seen either a round glass overflowed into a wooden/lacquer masu (such as at Decibel) or a round glass overflowed into a shallow bowl (like at yakatori totto). I really enjoy drinking out of the masu, so the sake presentation won high marks.

I also have to mention our bartender. Didn’t catch his name, but you could just tell he was a pro. He knew a lot about his sakes and poured them in front of you, and he was super friendly to boot. Most amazing of all, he was able to pour from a huge 1.5L sake bottle into a 2 oz tasting cup and fill the sake just to the rim and not spill a drop. Quite an expert move. If you’ve ever tried to fill a tiny sake cup from a huge bottle, you’ll know what i’m talking about.

Bozu MasuAs for food, I ordered off the bar menu and had to try their “sushi bombs”. This dangerous sounding meal was actually just a usually square piece of Sushi turned into a rounded shape. I guess “sushi bomb” had more marketing appeal then something like sushi tennis ball. whatever they’re called they tasted good and paired well with the Tedorigawa sake!

The Wakatake I used to round out my evening at Bozu was just the right note of comfort and elegance. When we left Bozu, I was in the “Sake Zone”. You know, that comfortable feeling of being happy, well taken care of, content… all facilitated by liberal sake consumption and the company of good friends. I want to thank all my friends who trucked all the way out to williamsburg brooklyn to help me celebrate. it meant so much to me. thank you guys. I know I’ll be back to bozu for sure to venture elsewhere on the sake menu and see if I can re-create the magic and find my way once again to my happy place, the Sake Zone.

Kamoizumi Junmai Daigingo

I have always depended on the kindness of strangers. I went with my friend Michael to a cool east village noodle bar called Momofuku and found myself with carte blanc to pick the sake we were to enjoy that evening. Talk about pressure… not only did I need to ensure my own enjoyment of the sake for the evening, but now I was responsible for others. Building that confidence is what would make a great Sake Sommelier, I’m sure. well, I’m not there yet. To my credit, I must say I had already tasted some of the items on the menu, so the decision was made for the most part to try something new. By process of elimination , I ended up going with the Kamoizumi Junmai Daigingo. it happened to be the most expensive bottle on the Momofuku menu, and a daiginjo. To be on the safe side, we asked the waitress for her 2 cents after she offered to help us and she said it was her favorite on the menu. was good enough for me – done deal.

My hopes were high for an earth-shattering, spiritually-connected, soul-searing DaiGinjo experience. However, when the Sake hit the palate. Kamoizumi Junmai Daigingo just didn’t deliver as hoped.

For me, I would say the nose was strongly perfumed… to my nose like honeysuckle. Overall, this sake left me with the feeling it was channeling Blanche Dubois… a little bit of deranged aging southern belle… quite sweet and with sugary, almost sickly, aromatic honeysuckle notes along with with a quick, wispy finish that was barely there. here is what someone online had to say about this sake

Kamoizumi Junmai Daigingo

rich tropical fruit aromas blended with a roasted rice flavor and an earthy finish

The food at Momofuku actually did a lot to prop up this sake.
I ordered the yummy chicken noodle soup with a hearty broth, a bombastic tangle of homemade noodles, chicken chunks and meaty shitaki mushrooms. The sweetness of the sake actually worked well to cut the fatty flavor of the noodles and soup.

The 500ml bottle we were served is quickly becoming my least favorite size. too much for one person, not quite enough to share between two sake hounds. Another lesson i’ve learned tonight – always ask what size you’re getting when ordering a bottle.

When all is said and done, this gentleman caller is going to take a pass the next time Kamoizumi Junmai Daigingo is on my dance card.

I give this sake 3 out of 5 sake bottles
[rate 3.0]

Show me the Momoya!

Momoya Chop Stick SleeveWe have all been there…Whether it’s being passed over for that promotion, getting splashed by a cab on a rainy day or finding that one-of-a-kind prized collectible you got on Ebay was smashed to bits by the post office, life can suck sometimes. Lucky for me, i’ve found that a few sips of sake is quite a magic tonic that can pull me back from the brink of dispair on those poopy days and, of course it reminds me that there are are things of beauty, complexity and refinement left to explore in the world. Well, 17% ALC content doesn’t hurt either.

Recently, I had to put my magic tonic to work to *eventually* help save a date night with my boyfriend that was quickly degrading into a disappointing evening for the both of us. It all started when we tried a new restaurant that was the worst ever. I mean ever… that’s saying a lot! Ok, It’s Tono Sushi on 7th ave and 20th. STAY AWAY! it’s bad. (Ok,OK! of course it was my suggestion to go there to try someplace “new”! geesh). After such a yucky dinner, scott and I both agreed that some sake would hit the spot and save the evening from total gastonomic ruin. we ran across the street the the wonderful Momoya japanese restaurant. One look inside and it was clear that we would be out of luck. The line waiting for tables was out the door and every table was taken. damn! well, ever the optimists, we set out across chesea looking for a cozy yummy place to have some sake and save the evening…
Veloce wine bar across from Momoya and next to yucky tono sushi has 3 kinds of sake on the menu (who knew?!) but the jam packed scene inside was not inspiring the ‘cozy yummy’ feel we were after. Neither did the tres tragique 20 year old chick outside taking a cigarette break from her merlot wearing a trucker hat that had the word “whatever” printed on it in a colorful faux-urban-graffiti style font. whatever indeed! onward.

our sake wanderings brought us to some other japanese place on 23rd and 8th…. but that place had a problem, too. The bar had these interesting hanging sake bottle lamps but the bottoms of the bottle were cut jagged to let the light flow down and seemed quite disquieting overhead. not my idea of cozy yummy, ( however, I do love the sake bottle lamp idea, minus the jagged edge) onward!

Cream Puff  says Next door on 23rd is the choux factory cream puff shop. by this point, I was quite tempted to discard my quest for sake and bury my sorrows in a gigantic japanese cream puff. ummm. creampuff… but… no… must escape…

Scott and I managed to break away from the gavatational pull of Choux factory
and were quite ready to give up and admit defeat. on the way home we walked one block out of our way to swing by Momoya once more. Lo and behold there was no line and OMG, there were tables free. as it turns out, we ended up walking around so much that it was now almost 10pm. magic!

So told the hostess we wanted to just order sake and the waitress was kind enough to give us a cozy table with a view. things were starting to look up! ok, so Scott and I had been here before and we’ve tried all the sakes they have by the glass. Scott ordered the $10 sake sampler and I got a small carafe of Wakatake Daigngo.

Momoya Sake SamplerFirst to Scott’s Sampler. This is an attractive selection of three unique sakes running from a Junmai to a nigori Ginjo.
First up is the junmai “Hoyo Manamusume” Momoya describes this as:

a welcome departure from harsh “dry” jumai sakes. Mild, soft and gently evocative. crafted from rare Manamusume rice grown only in miyagi prefecture.

This description fits the sake quite well. Scott and I both enjoyed it.

Next in the sampler is a Ginjo “Dewazakura Izumi Judan”. This is described as

a Martini-lover’s sake: dry clear and high octane with a hint of juniper reminiscent of tanquery. no other ginjo combines dryness and edginess to such exhilarating effect.

Yum, I enjoyed this ginjo quite a bit. Needless to say i’m a huge tanquery fan, so any sake with a hint of Gin is for me. This was my favorite of the 3.

Last is the unusual choice of a Nigori Ginjo.”Kamoizumi Nigori Ginjo”.

This premium unfiltered sake is rich creamy and brimming with exuberant flavor. Mildly sweet, yet surprisingly robust, it is an excellent introduction to the world of sake enjoyment

ok, unfiltered Nigori is not my favorite, but Scott is crazy for it and he loved the kamoisumi. for my taste, this nigori tasted a little ferment-y. but I enjoyed it more than my first time drinking it.

Wakatake Daiginjo - Small Carafe at Momoya. yumWhile scott was trying to enjoy his sampler as I was stealing sips from everything, I was enjoying my small carafe of Wakatake DaiGinjo. perfect! the presentation, color, aroma and taste are all wonderful. I was happy to sit back and relax and enjoy every sip of this redemptive carafe, like meeting up with an old friend. And before we knew it, the sake had worked it’s magic just as we’d hoped… our evening had gone from drab to fab and we polished it off with a little green tea mochi for good measure. nice way to end what became the cozy yummy perfect date night.

Sake tasted at brewing meetup event

My last post was about the Brewing process we got to see at the sake meetup. Here is an overview of the Sakes we got to taste. yum. it was a really good selection and I left feeling very… happy! Thanks to Jeff, Paul, Sebastian and everyone for a great event.

Sakes we tasted from the left… Taihei-zan Kimoto Junmai, Sirakawago Sasanigori, Sawanotsuru Zuicho Dai Ginjo (1.8 L), Itami onigoroshi junmai (1.8 L)

Here is a snapshot of our 5th sake we tasted a Niwa No Uguishi Junmai – Daruma label. Here is a review of this sake I found in the Japan Times Online Authored by the revered John Gauntner

Niwa no Uguisu (The Nightingale of the Garden) is brewed at a tiny firm known for putting great care into their brewing. This “Daruma” sake, of which there is also a daiginjo version, bears the image of the founder of Zen. Daruma is dry and narrow in flavor, clean but with a soft pull to the recesses. There is a slight essence of dried autumnal fruit to the fragrance and flavor, backed and delivered by a nice standing acidity. Although it may be hard to find at just any old liquor shop, Niwa no Uguisu Daruma is comparatively easy to find at good sake pubs.

A close up of Taihei-zan Kimoto Junmai. This one was my favorite!

Forget Mecca, I pray facing SAKAGURA

Ken DaiGinjoI have heard about the saké bar Sakagura from every article and book on where to find sake in New York, so I knew it was a destination. I wanted to save my first trip there for a special occasion, so Scott had the great idea to go there on New Year’s eve for dinner and drinks. Scott gets brownie points for that idea because it was really the perfect way to wind up 2005, the year in which I started drinking sake in earnest. I had a feeling it was going to be great – and quite frankly it really surpassed all expectations. For me, being not too much of a foodie, I can honestly say it was the best restaurant experience i’ve had in NYC. I say for me, because everything about the tastes, service and atmosphere were just what I happen to like.

…and the sake? by far and away the best, most complex and most wonderful I’ve every tasted! I sat down at the sake bar and marveled at the sake menu itself which was the broadest i’ve seen. it was arranged by sake type with Daiginjo leading the pack. I didn’t really bother reading the ginjo or junmai sections too much as I know I wanted a Daigingo (or two…). I was thinking back to my taru experience at yakatori taisho and knew right away I wasn’t going to “just pick one” to try. they were too expensive and it felt like my whole night was riding on having a really, really, really great new sake. So, I asked our sake bar server for a recommendation. I told her I wanted a ‘very dry daiginjo’. she poured me a tiny sip of two different sakes to try. I picked the better of the two which was Ken DaiGinjo from Fukushima ($19 for about 5 ounces). This sake was good. The bartender chose to server the first daiginjo in a regular wineglass, which I have never seen before at a sake bar, but I just rolled with it. The wine glass made the sake easy to enjoy. I could stick my nose in the glass easily to smell and using the stem helped keep the sake chilled. The server also left the bottle next to the glass each time she poured which I thought was wonderful. this gave me a chance to really check out the bottle and read the label. Ken was smooth indeed, and dry. It had a complex flavor on the tongue and a bright crisp nose. The only thing that wasn’t perfect was that I felt it lacked a strong “finish”. For me, the taste was over too quickly. However, I enjoyed every single drop. SO good. The food started to arrive promptly and it was amazing as well, but I’ll leave that review to the food critic.

It was interesting to see how the sake was stored at sakagura. behind the bar there was a long row of top loading refridgerators. They kinda reminded me of the freezers they use in ice cream trucks where you open the metal door at the top and reach in from above. each refridgerator unit had a map inside the lid to guide the server to the location of the correct bottle without having to pull each and everyone out. very organized. there was also a sake room – kinda like a wine cellar – in clear view of the main dining room lined. The Sake room was easy to see as it had a glass door and was lined top to bottom with sake bottles on display. Maybe I’ll have one of those in my house someday?

Masuizumi DaiginjoWhen I had finished with Ken, I looked to our server again for recommendations. She presented again a sip apiece from two options and I hit the motherload… I selected the enchanting Masuizumi junmai daiginjo ($20 for a 5 ounce glass – $130 a bottle). This sake was sublime. I don’t really have the vocabulary or experience yet to do it justice. a mega ultra super premium? All I know is that I was transported. Also, it showed me quite clearly how perfect sake and good food can interact to create some magic. Masuizumi was served in a cute tumbler type wineglass – not sure if there was any reason for this, but it was a beautiful. I was sad to see the final sip in the bottom of my glass, but I made a resolution to enjoy it fully. I quickly made another 2006 new year’s eve resolution — to return to Sakagura as often as possible. Hey isn’t my birthday is coming up… ?

For earning it’s $130 a bottle price tag, Masuizumi gets a perfect 5 out of 5 sake bottle rating.
[rate 5.0]

Great Landmark recommendation!

I picked up this yummy Daiginjo at a Landmark sake tasting. After my Gekkeikan disaster yesterday, I was looking forward to restore my faith in saké again. I kinda had an ace in my pocket as I brought home a bottle of Kirin Koshihikari junmai Dai-ginjo on my trip to syracuse to enjoy over the holiday weekend. I knew I didn’t want to go without some truly great stuff while I was home with my family and definitely needed something to sooth some frayed nerves. I tried this sake at the landmark wine store’s tasting back on Nov. 11th. So, I’d had this before and knew it would be great. he he. I bought this Daiginjo for a 10% discount and stuck it in the back of my fridge for a rainy day. Well that day is here, but it’s a snowy day instead. Kirin Koshihikari really came through for me. the taste was crisp, not overly clean, but smooth enough to fully restore my faith in all things Dai-Ginjo.

As a social experimient, I have a tasting of the Kirin Koshihikari to my younger sister, who rarely drinks anything. My brother in law equivilant who also rarely drinks anything. And I gave a glass to my older sister who enjoys her margaritas. Youngest sister’s quote was a keeper, which I will paraphrase here… “um, this is just all the taste of everything I hate about the alcohol in wine without the wine flavor.” Her tasting Technique was unorthodox as well. she just kinda stuck her toungue in the sake without really sipping it. (don’t worry, I drank every last drop of here tasting sample.) Brother in law equivilant drank his sample like man, but I don’t think I turned him into a saké appreciator. My older sis really enjoyed her glass of Dai-ginjo but switched to wine for the rest of the evening. ok – fine. more for me!! I was a little suprised that the super smooth boombastic taste of this daigingo didn’t convert my whole family to saké worshipers. That got me thinking. what kind of personality really would enjoy what Saké has to offer. I think if you eat and enjoy fringe foods of the american diet… for example – sushi – you are a prime candidate for Saké worship.

This Sake gets a great rating for coming thru in the clutch.
I give Kirin Koshihikari 4.5 out of 5 saké bottles
[rate 4.5]

Yakitori Yum Yum

Could it possibly be better your second time? In the case of Yakitori Totto it was! I went there for a late dinner with scott after a long day at school. We had to wait about 45 mins for our table when all was said and done, but the host was just so darn NICE about the wait, we ended up not minding. Just to get this out of the way… The food was delicious!

Now about the SAKÉ! The saké we had first was heaven. My new affordable Junmai Dai-Gingo number 1 pic!!! This new fav is the yummy…Kubota Hekijyu Saké from Niigata.

sake_121005_003.jpgI had seen the bottle before…i remembered later I had seen it in one of those japanese “gift giving” catalogues. I think this is a pretty popular sake and I understand why!. The taste was mellow and very smooth with a voluminous flavor. Scott and I got a Carafe – which I tried very hard to share equally… but I was slurping up quite greedily. Kubota Hekijyu is everything a daiginjo should be in my opinion.

sake_121005_006.jpgTried a second glass on the same nite – it was a dassai junmai gingo. It had a very distinct crisp taste. At first I thought it was mint, but upon closer inspection it became clear it was anaise. Very strong anaise flavor. So, if that sounds appealing to to you- dive into dassai gingo.

Mu does not come from cows.

I knew mu would be good! saw it on the menu at decibel under the daigingo listings. one of the 3 more affordable daigingos. – by that I mean under $15 a glass

Mu is indeed yummy, and excellent for the price.    The taste was clean, very smooth, but not too smooth — there was a slight kick at the finish. This makes me feel Mu could hold up against more flavorful junmais and Gingos.  Also, there were subtle hints of fruity flavors – like a whisp of melon or something similar. The character on the label makes me think of the brandenburg gate in Berlin. I’ve learned after my years in Germany the Germans love those abstract designs.

Just a few more things about Mu… ALC content 15%. Made with Yamada Nishiki Saké rice. Maybe someday I’ll know what that means! Oh, one more thing – This is a Junmai Daigingo… no brewers distilled alcohol has been added. All in all, Mu is wonderful – but not my top top pick. Try it, you’ll like it.

my sake Rating:
Mu Junmai Dai-Gingo earns 4 out of 5 sake bottles
[rate 4.0]

Finding an old friend on the sake menu.

A former co-worker of mine had lived in Japan for a year so I called him up and asked him to dinner to pick his brain on living in japan and learning Japanese – all things that have crossed my mind as I learn more about sake. I found a place in his neighborhood called “Yakatori Totto” and we decided to meet there. I gave my friend my whole spiel about my interest in saké and yadda yadda and before you know it, we were seated and I was being asked to pick the saké.

Ok I was starting to sweat. I’m going around telling people yeah, i’m Mr. sake now and wham, I gotta pick something good…. and this guy had LIVED in japan for 2 years – so he knows what good saké is and he will know right away if what I pick totally blows! My eyes were scanning the sake menu… then I saw it! (insert angel choir music here) Amen, Wakatake Daigingo! It was one of my favorites from my trip to decibel and I knew it was a winner. So we got a carafe. My friend said he only wanted one little glass, but needless to say, it was so yummy for both of us, that we ended up splitting it. I must confess, I felt a little proud that after a few months of Sake-stuff, my first attempt at being a saké sommelier, went pretty well! watch your back andrea immer!