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Sake In the News

news_iconIn Japan, sake has long been known as “The Drink of the Gods”…but coming soon, sake will also be designated as the “National Alcoholic Beverage” by the Japanese Government. My initial reaction to this news was, HUH? Sake isn’t already officially the “National Alcoholic Beverage”? But the more I thought about it, I realized that whatever the timing, any effort the Japanese Government makes to promote sake is a great thing for the industry, so let’s celebrate! Grab your Japanese ‘National Alcoholic Beverage’ of choice and Kanpai with me! Below is a link to the full article:

Govt to Designate Sake, Shochu as ‘National Alcoholic Beverages’
by The Yomiuri Shimbun
April 16th, 2012

With a view to boosting the overseas market for Japanese traditional sake and shochu, the government will soon designate them as “national alcoholic beverages,” according to Motohisa Furukawa, state minister for national policy.

The planned designation is aimed at encouraging the revitalization of local economies concerned and expanding demand for rice, Furukawa said Saturday.

Rice is the raw material used for making sake, a fermented beverage, as well as shochu, a distilled spirit. Shochu also can be produced using other crops, such as sweet potatoes and barley.

Read the Full Article >

kibo

Kibō Cookbook Event with Elizabeth Andoh

I was recently honored to help support an event called “Kibō: A Taste of the Tohoku” here in New York featuring well known Japanese cookbook author Elizabeth Andoh. Living full time in Japan since 1967, Andoh-sensei is famed for teaching the complexities of Japanese cooking to an English speaking audience through in person classes and award winning (and beautiful) cookbooks such as Kansha and Washoku.

The Kibō e-cookbook is Andoh’s precious way of both helping Tohoku with proceeds from the cookbook sales as well as preserving Tohoku specific dishes and cuisine culture. Andoh-sensei prepared a bento for each guest at the event featuring highlighted dishes from the cookbook, whose she also explained in detail using a slideshow and an engaging presentation.

I was asked to introduce the sake. The Tohoku sakes featured on this evening were Miyagi’s Urakasumi Zen Junmai Ginjo, Iwate’s Nanbu Bijin Tokubetsu Junmai and Fukushima’s Daishichi Kimoto Junmai. I gave the guests a quick sake 101 along with a brief profile of each brewery and the steps they’ve taken to recover from the March 11th disaster. Many Students came up to me afterwards and commented on the pleasures of pairing real Tohoku sake with Tohoku Dishes made by an expert. I couldn’t agree more!

On the food front, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I really enjoyed the delicious dishes and Downloaded the Ebook myself as soon as I got home. “Kibō” itself means “brimming with hope” and after eating these dishes, I’m brimming with hope myself that I will cook them at home and can’t wait to have my own Tohoku sake and food pairing.

I’ve got a lot of admiration for Andoh-sensei using what she knew best to reach out and help the people of the Tohoku in their recovery and, to help the rest of us learn about this fascinating regional cuisine. Here’s a big Kanpai for the recovery and rebirth of Japan’s Tohoku! Here’s the link of you want to get the Kibō e-cookbook yourself:

Dinner with scott at Yopparai

Get Yopparai at Yopparai

I recently discovered a new sake bar gem on the lower east side called Yopparai. In English, “yopparai” means ‘drunkard’, or ‘I’m drunk’. This hidden away sake sanctuary has a large selection of premium sakes by the carafe and an even larger selection of wonderful sakes by the bottle.

When I spoke with owner Gaku Shibata, he told me his intention was to transport an honest-to-goodness Tokyo sake bar to Manhattan – and I can tell you this has been achieved. No detail was too small from the bag locker under the seat, to the shaved ice chilling every carafe as well as the custom made ochoko cups. Every aspect of this place is right in line with what you would expect in Japan. How awesome is that?!

The food selection is also really, really good. I enjoyed some superior sashimi (with super cute custom cut daikon and carrot butterflies – never seen that before!), some wonderful grilled asparagus and a delicious salted salmon. Everything was top notch and just the sort of food you want to drink with premium sake!

Speaking of sake, over the course of the evening, I ordered three “Go” of sake. A “go” is a single 6 oz serving that is served in a small carafe. you can order 1 or 2 “go” at a time. On this trip, I enjoyed clean and sexy Kudoki Jozu Junmai Ginjo from Yamagata, then rich and umamai-ful Kokuryu Junmai Ginjo from Fukui and finally the smooth and ricey Denshu Tokubetsu Junmai from Aomori.

No joke, the selection is top notch – you can’t ask for much more if you’re looking to explore the world of premium sake. There is no better way to get yopparai then at Yopparai! See you there!

Tasting Set

Masumi Night at Sakagura

April 4th was a special night at Sakagura Restaurant celebrating the annual Springtime U.S. launch of Masumi Masumi Arabashiri Junmai Ginjo Nama Genshu sake from Miyasaka Shuzo.

The tasting set on this night consisted of Miyasaka Yawaraka Junmai, Masumi Arabashiri Junmai Ginjo Nama Genshu and Masumi Yumedono Daiginjo Genshu. Keith Norum and Katsu Miyasaka were on hand from Masumi Brewery to introduce these delicious sakes to everyone at Sakagura.

The star of the night was of course, the Masumi Arabashiri. It tasted as fresh and bold as ever – a wonderful full bodied Genshu nama with lots of fruit and fullness on the palate.

I hope you get a chance to taste these wonderful sakes, too. After my tasting set, I enjoyed some sashimi and some more Miyasaka Yawaraka Junmai. Delicious together! As usual, the staff at Sakagura was amazing and I felt so welcomed.

Keep an eye out for Arabashiri in your neck of the woods – it’s always a wonderful harbinger of spring… after one sip you can say without a doubt “Spring has Sprung”!

Masumi-kibo 1637

Masumi Hits the Big Apple!

Masumi Arabashiri

There are a few signs of Spring that are unmistakeable… That first warm day when you step outside and smell that fresh clean air, the blossoming of the nearby trees and of course, the arrival of Masumi Arabashiri!

Miyasaka Brewery just arrived in town and have kicked off a week of events all around New York to herald the arrival of this luscious, full throttle nama. The seasonal Arabashiri arrives this year with a taste we sake lovers covet and with a limited availability we also lament. Tying in nicely with the Japanese notion of seasonality, it’s only available in the Spring… so let’s drink up.

I’ve already got a head start on most as I attended an Arabashiri kick off event at Kibo restaurant this past Monday. Keith and Miyasaka-san Jr. were in town and poured several of their sakes for many eager guests. It was a wonderful night and a great way to start the unofficial “masumi week” in New York.

If drinking some Arabashiri with the brewers sounds good to you – it’s not too late! You can still catch up with them at several events this week! Check out my Sake Events Calendar for dates and locations and join me to welcome spring in my favorite way!

Back to the Future: Sake Adventures in Berlin

Berlin 1986

Not many people know this, but I had a secret life before I got into sake. In 1986, when I was 16 years old, I lived in West Berlin for one year as an exchange student. At that time, the Wall was still up, East Germany was going strong and the cold war was chilly as ever.

I stayed with a wonderful family there, attended a German High School and studied the language. The experience made such an impression on me, I went on to live for another year in Germany and study German Language and literature at University. All these years, I have stayed in contact with my Host Family from way back when and we trade off visits between Berlin and New York.

I was long overdue for a visit to Berlin to visit my host family. But since I was last there in 2003, I’ve changed careers and joined the sake world and boy was I excited to check out the sake scene in a city I knew so well. So we booked a non-stop on Lufthansa and before I knew it we were touching down at Tegel airport. Willkommen in Berlin!

Sake Kontor

At Sake Kontor

My first stop in Berlin is really sake central for all of Germany: Sake Kontor Berlin. Run by owner Suzanne Rost, Sake Kontor is Germany’s only retail sake shop and also a home base for the sakes imported and distributed by Rost.

I visited the shop on a rainy, cold January Berlin day but Suzanne welcomed me warmly. She carries over 40 styles of sake at the shop. There were many sakes represented but three brands stood out, Akashitai from Kobe, Masumi from Nagano and Takenotsuyu from Yamagata.

Sake Kontor is an oasis of sake in a country deeply entangled in wine and beer. It’s a great home base for any Berliners looking to get into sake. Suzanne has a great balance of offerings, too. There is a full range of prices as well as everything from Sparkling nigori to Yamahai Junmai to aged Koshu. I think Berlin is lucky to have it’s own sake shop!

Sasaya

Sake at Sasaya

After being away from New York City for a few days, Scott and I were starting to crave Sushi in a major way, but where to find sushi in Berlin? We settled on Japanese Restaurant Sasaya. I heard this was a Japanese-run restaurant which is a sure way to avoid falling into the pan-asian-fusion sushi trap.

I was surprised by the full sake list which included the likes of Urakasumi, Tomio, Kikusui and Shirakawago. I especially enjoyed my glass of Tomio Junmai Daigino. The sushi itself didn’t blow us away by our New York City Japanese-food-snob standards, but it certainly was tasty and this was a great place to have some sake and authentic Japanese food in Berlin.

Sake Dinner

Introducing Tsukinokatsura

On one of our last nights in Berlin, my German host parents Heribert & Dagamr, who own a really charming bio-organic cafe in the Wannsee neighborhood called the Hofcafe, offered to put on a special dinner for about 20 friends and made Japanese food for everyone, but only if I agreed to introduce and pour some sake! It’s on like Donkey Kong!

I arrived at the dinner anxious to showcase sake in it’s best light paired with my Host Mother’s wonderful cooking. I poured about 7 sakes including a wonderfully clean and dry Junmai from Masumi, a delicious and popular Junmai Ginjo from Takenotsuyu and a sake that was even new to me, a Zuikan Aigamo Junmai Daiginjo from Hiroshima – this last one was the crowd favorite. With the matcha ice cream dessert, I served a wonderfully sweet sparkling Nigori sake from Tsukinokatsura in Kyoto. I think the sake was a big hit and I felt good doing my little part to introduce sake to forward thinking, food friendly Berliners. Fun!

Well, they say you can’t go home again, but a trip to Berlin for me will always take me back to the future. Some parts of my time in 1986 Berlin I will remember as the happiest of my life; Some other parts of my exchange year were the biggest challenge I’ve ever dealt with. However, to return this year and to be able to marry past and present, German Language and Sake education, made for a wonderful, fulfilling experience. I know sake won’t overtake beer or wine at the German dinner table any time soon, but we’re off to a good start. All this and I was able to leave my Deloren at home.

Japanese Restaurant Sasaya
Lychener Strasse 50
10437 Berlin
(030) 447 17 721

Sake Kontor Berlin
Markgrafendamm 34
10245 Berlin
(030) 212 37 601

Hofcafe bei Mutter Fourage
Chausseestr. 15 a,
14109 Berlin-Wannsee
(030) 805 83 2 83

2011 Golden Masu Awards

Golden Masu Award!

Golden Masu Award!

The year 2011 is one I can assure you I will never forget. The March 11th Great East Japan Earthquake and it’s aftermath with stay with me forever. I was in Japan on that day and now that over 9 months have passed, I can see even more clearly how deeply it affected me.

I also spent several months of this year visiting Japan – more than ever before in my life. This allowed me to meet many wonderful people and learn more about sake and Japanese culture than I could have ever imagined.

For me, I’ve long known that sake is indeed ‘Japanese culture in a cup’. With that in mind, join me as I take a look back at 2011 and acknowledge those sakes that caught my fancy, tickled my taste buds or broadened my horizons.

Without further ado, I give you the 2011 UrbanSake.com Golden Masu Awards!


“Best Sake Under $25”

golden_masu_2

Seikyo

And the Masu goes to:
Seikyo Takehara Junmai

With everyone from European Governments to sake sippers from Saskatchewan adopting austerity budgets in 2011, this seems to be the year for belt tightening as never before. This doesn’t mean however, that you need to give up really good sake, even if your balance sheet comes up a little short. I discovered there are wonderful premium imported sakes out there that can be had for under $25 a pop. My favorite this year was Seikyo Takehara Junmai. This Sake retails for just under $25.00 a bottle and is worth every penny. Hailing from Hiroshima, this soft and balanced brew is easy to drink and easier on the wallet. Versatile, food friendly and delicious, my advice is to stock up on this brew and ride out any further market gyrations with a glass of Seikyo Junmai in hand!


“Most Elegant Plum Sake”

golden_masu_2

Daishichi

And the Masu goes to:
Daishichi Umeshu

Plum Sake don’t get no respect. Called “Umeshu” in Japanese, plum sake can unfortunately be a hard sell as people sometimes confuse plum sake with the unsophisticated and overly sweet plum wines on the market. Things are changing however and high quality Umeshu is taking it’s rightful place at the premium sake table. One remarkable standout in the plum sake category is Daishichi Umeshu. This sake is a masterful study of elegance and restraint in creating a sake with plum. Smooth as velvet and using only premium Nankou plums from Wakayama, you’ll be dazzled by how subtle and refined the plum taste is on the palate. By downplaying any overt sweetness, Daishichi lets the true plum flavor shine through. After one sip, you’ll know plum sake is not just for dessert anymore.


“Best Futsushu”

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Hakkaisan

And the Masu goes to:
Hakkaisan Futsushu

Most Americans don’t know that the vast majority of sake sold in Japan is the type classified as “futsushu“, which can be translated as “regular sake” or “table sake”. Yes, we’re talking about non-premium brews here. People just getting started with sake tasting often swoon and wax poetic at the complex floral aromas and smooth-as-silk body you can enjoy with a fine Junmai Daiginjo. But, as it’s such a huge part of the Japanese market, there is something to be said for the other end of the sake spectrum, too. One “regular sake” that rises above the rest is Hakkaisan Futsushu. The Brewery President Jiro Nagumo told me that one of his company’s goals is to make good quality sake available to everyone. To do that, they keep their most inexpensive futsushu quality high – for example, it has a milling rate of 60%! This combined with a slow and cold brewing period keep their Hakkaisan Futsushu sake tasting clean, dry and delicious. Whether you serve it chilled or warm, this is one “table sake” you’ll want to ensure you have at your table.


“Most Inspiring Junmai Ginjo”

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Hakurakusei

And the Masu goes to:
Hakurakusei Junmai Ginjo

2011 will always be tied in our memories to the devastating Great East Japan Earthquake. I had the distinct honor to volunteer for a week in September of this year at Niizawa Brewery in Miyagi (see blog post here). During that time, I gained such respect for Mr. Niizawa and his entire staff and family who carried on with sake making despite a brewery building damaged beyond repair, continuing aftershocks and an uncertain future. After a week of hard work at the Brewery, Mr. Niizawa took us out for dinner at a local Izakaya and poured us his magnificent Hakurakusei Junmai Ginjo. After one delicious sip, I had a flash of understanding in my mind. All the sake brewers, in Miyagi and beyond who are working so hard – sometimes quite against the odds – and laboring tirelessly for the recovery of the sake industry are honest-to-goodness heros. With that one sip, I came to a new understanding of just how inspiring a glass of sake could be. I hope you’ll join me in 2012 and beyond to continue to support Hakurakusei and, indeed all Tohoku sake breweries in their on-going recovery.


“Best New Junmai Import”

golden_masu_2

Shichida

And the Masu goes to:
Shichida Junmai

New sake imports arrive on our shores regularly. This is a wonderful thing, as more variety selection can help grow the sake market year over year. But every once in a while, a new sake just jumps out at you and makes you say “Wow“! For me, one such sake this year was the standout Shichida Junmai from Tenzan Sake Brewery in Saga. This sake is so completely enjoyable with a nice play of self-assured boldness on the palate and a clean, easygoing finish, it’s hard not to fall in love. Whatever they’re doing down there in Saga, it’s working! If you try it, Shichida Junmai may become a new favorite for you, as it has for me. Welcome to Wow!


“Best in Show”

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Tatenokawa

And the Masu goes to:
Tatenokawa 18 Nakadori Junmai Daiginjo

Lots of people in the U.S. still think that fermented grape juice is the end-all be-all when it comes to elegant imbibing. Those among us who’ve tasted superior premium sake know differently. One sake I had this year that is easily going to win over hearts and minds to Team Sake is Tatenokawa 18 Nakadori Junmai Daiginjo. This gracious, exquisite and masterful sake is really a wonder that deserves our attention. The brewers at Tatenokawa in Yamagata start by milling their sake rice to an astounding 18% remaining. This tiny nugget of pure rice starch is then transformed, with loving attention to detail, into something so smooth, elegant, deep and complex – it will leave you speechless, as it did me. Available for sale soon in the U.S., you’ll want to invest in a bottle of Tatenokawa 18 Junmai Daiginjo to enjoy for a special occasion, celebratory toast or to pair with a fine meal. Sit back, relax and enjoy the new world of elegant imbibing. Score one for Team Sake.

So there you have it! Congratulations and Kanpai to all the winners! After all the struggle and uncertainty of 2011, I am looking forward to next year as a new era for sake at home and abroad. Let’s raise a masu to celebrate all we have accomplished and the wonderful sake days ahead. Kanpai and Happy New Year to everyone!

See Previous Golden Masu winners here: http://www.urbansake.com/category/golden-masu-awards/

Sake Volunteer Project 2011: Urakasumi Brewery

Construction at Urakasumi

One of the final stops on our tohoku sake volunteer project for 2011 was the well known Urakasumi Brewery. I first visited Urakasumi in 2009 so I did get a chance to see the place before the disaster struck. I was encouraged to see that construction was well underway to fix the buildings that had been damaged by the tsunami.

We were given a short presentation by Urakasumi employee Ms. Funyu. Funyu-san showed us a slideshow of photos from the disaster and an overview of the steps they are taking for full recovery. After that, we got a tour of the brewery from the Urakasumi Toji. we needed to put on hard hats as the brewery buildings were active construction sites.

After the tour, we got a tasting and wonderful Q&A session. It was a wonderful day spent with Urakasumi. Seeing their recovery up close made me realize they are already well on the way to a full recovery. Before lunch, the group stopped by the gift shop and tasting bar. I was shocked to find the Japanese flag I had signed earlier in the year, sending our best wishes to Urakasumi (see gallery below!), was on proud display! This made me feel good that our well wishes reached them.

I feel grateful to be here on this day and bear witness to disaster, recovery and how sake brings us all together. Kanpai!

Sake Volunteer Project 2011: Suisen Brewery

Suisen President Mr. Konno in his temporary brewing facitilty in Ichinoseki, Iwate.

Our next stop with the volunteer group was to visit Suisen Brewery in Iwate Prefecture. Suisen, located in the coastal town of Rikusentakata was one of the sake breweries that was completely destroyed by the tsunami on March 11th, and it’s owner Mr. Yasuhiko Konno escaped the waves with just minutes to spare. A respected pillar of the local community, Mr. Konno was featured in several magazine and newspaper articles soon after the tsunami such as this one, where he pledged his desire to rebuild. I remember seeing these reports and feeling inspired by his spirit. I’m sure a lot of people everywhere feel the same.

On our first day of visiting Suisen brewery, we met with company President Mr. Konno in their new facility in Ichinoseki, Iwate. As outlined in this news report, a deal was worked out with another Iwate sake brewery, Iwate Meijo Corp., for Suisen to use one of their facilities for as long as needed until they get get rebuilt and back on their feet in Rikusentakata. Suisen was not yet shipping sake out of this new facility, but settling in and getting used to the new brewing set up in Ichinoseki.

My picture with Mr. Konno

I have to say, Mr. Konno impressed us all with his personable nature, courage and determination to carry on. Joining us on this trip, we also met Marketing professional and famous author Masanori Kanda. Mr. Kanda held a marketing brainstorming session with our group to come up with ideas to help Suisen in the future. It was a productive session using Mr. Kanda’s unique and fun association methods. Also, the Deputy Mayor of Rikuzentakata City, Takashi Kubota joined us as well.

The devastated site of Suisen Brewery in Rikusentakata, Iwate. Mr. Konno plans to rebuild and is dedicated to staying in Rikusentakata.

On day two at Suisen, we chartered a bus to tour the town of Rikuzentakata with Mr. Konno personally guiding us. Mr. Konno recounted the stories of survival as we drove around what remained of Rikuzentakata. Even 6 months on, the utter devastation of this area was overwhelming. Crews of workers dotted the town rehanging electrical cables or manning bulldozers that were still trying to clear land or move mountains of debris. Mr. Konno also drove us to the the site where his brewery once stood. It had been cleared of all debris and looked like a vast empty field except for the far end, that was being used by the city as a temporary staging area for the towering piles of crushed cars collected from the town. Not a stick of the brewery remained – and the same is true for Mr. Konno’s house, which stood just steps from the brewery complex. To see it first hand had an emotional impact on me and certainly made me more determined to help in whatever way I can.

When it was time to say goodbye, Mr. Konno thanked us for our support, but I felt it was really us with so much to be thankful for. As we pulled away in a steady rain, I watched Mr. Konno wave goodbye from under his umbrella. He continued waving for several minutes without pause, as did we from the bus, until he slipped out of sight.

There is no telling what the future will bring for Suisen or Rikuzentakata, but if Mr. Konno’s spirit is any indication, I plan on coming back to tour their rebuilt brewery in a few years.

Sake Volunteer Project 2011: Niizawa Brewery

I recently returned from a two week volunteer project to the Tohoku region of Japan. The Sake Volunteer Project was organized by the UK groups the Japan Affairs Forum and Action for Japan UK. The aim of the project was to visit and support breweries that sustained damage or destruction in the March 11th, 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. In all 5 Breweries were visited and volunteers did a range of activities to support the breweries.

Niizawa Brewery

The majority of the volunteers were around 20 years old and came from all parts of the world: England, Japan, China, Singapore, Italy and the U.S. – with most studying at University in the United Kingdom. Only two volunteers, myself included, were from the United States.

It was inspiring for me, the oldest in the group, to see so many young people interested in giving up a portion of their holiday to help the sake industry recover from disaster.

The Sake Volunteers

Our first stop was for five days at the 148 year old Niizawa Brewery in Osaki Miyagi. They are the makers of two famous brands, Hakurakusei and Atagonomatsu. The Brewery President, Mr. Niizawa explained to us that, while still standing, the foundations of his family’s brewery building were permanently damaged beyond repair.

They were still brewing small amounts of sake there, but the plan was to move to a new facility about an hour away up in the mountains by November. The 18 volunteers were split into groups and each pitched in with hands-on work in a certain stage of the sake brewing process. From rice steaming, to stirring the main mash, to making koji, to pressing, to bottling, to labeling – everyone got a chance to experience what goes into making sake. On the last day of our visit, Mr. Niizawa took us to see his new facility in the mountains and out for a wonderful Izakaya dinner in Furukawa.

Sincere thanks to Mr. Niizawa for welcoming us so warmly!

I knew deep down that with our inexperience and occasional language issues, we probably slowed down the work at the brewery more than increased efficiency, but I could feel that Mr. Niizawa understood our intent in wanting to be there and help in any way we could. His generosity of time and resources, especially during such a challenging period of recovery for his company, has left a lasting impression on me and has made me more resolved than ever to help the brewers of Tohoku in any way I can.

Below is a gallery of our time at Niizawa Brewery. My Sincere thanks go out to Mr. Niizawa and all the staff at Niizawa Brewery who welcomed us all so fully.

Minato Harbor Futsushu at Ippudo Ramen

At this point, pretty much everyone in NYC has heard about Ippudo Ramen, or if not, You’ve heard about the lines at Ippudo Ramen! There is usually a wait and a crowd to be found there, but the good news is the ramen is delicious and very authentic, ergo the monumental success.

This month, Ippudo is offering a special sake on their menu – namely the bold Minato Harbor Futsushu brewed by Naba Sake Brewery in in Akita. I was able to visit Naba Brewery last year and saw for myself where this amazing sake comes from.

Futsushu is considered “regular sake” is Japan and makes up 80% of the entire sake market. There is a reason it pairs so well with Ramen! Ramen is Japanese comfort food and tends to be greasy and filling. A sake like Minato Harbor Futsushu is perfect for ramen and matches each slurp with a palate cleansing splash of sake goodness.

If you haven’t yet, brave the crowds at Ippudo and see what all the fuss is about. Also, try the Minato Harbor Futsushu Sake. It’s a perfect pairing!

Address
Ippudo Ramen
65 Fourth Avenue (Between 9th and 10th Street)
New York, NY 10003
Phone: 212-388-0088

Business Hours
Lunch
Mon – Sat : 11:00 am – 3:30 pm
Sun : 11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Dinner
Mon – Thu : 5:00 pm – 11:30 pm
Fri – Sat : 5:00 pm – 12:30 am
Sun : 5:00 pm – 10:30 pm

Credit cards: VISA, MasterCard, American Express

Urakasumi Pairing Dinner at 15 East

Last monday night I had a wonderful opportunity to attend a stellar Sake pairing dinner at 15 East Restaurant. This evening was unique for me at 15 East, as I’m usually there for sushi. While there was plenty of great raw fish and a sashimi plate to die for, the evening’s courses focused more on the food from the kitchen as prepared by Chef Shigeru Sugano in a kaiseki style.

In addition, all the courses were paired with Urakasumi sakes and we had the distinct honor of having the brewery President Mr. Saura with us in person which made the evening that much more special. There were several delicious Urakasumi Sakes presented with the food including the luxurious Urakasumi Junmai Daiginjo and the standard bearer Urakasumi Junmai Ginjo Zen.

Check out the Gallery below to view the foods, sakes and sights from this great evening.

September 2011 Sake Volunteer Project

When I first heard about the UK-based Japan Affairs Forum working on organizing a volunteer project focused on helping sake breweries, I knew I had to be involved. I think this will be an amazing opportunity to help Japan while we are there, but also learn about sake and the current challenges being faced in Tohoku. If you might be interested in joining this sake-focused volunteer action, contact Alex at alex.parsons@jafonline.co.uk for more information and an application.

—September 2011 Sake Volunteer Project—

This September members of Action For Japan UK and the Japan Affairs Forum will be traveling to Miyagi and Iwate prefectures in Japan to work at the famous Nizawa Jozoten and Suisen sake breweries! What’s more, we are looking for people to join us!

For two weeks students will work alongside the experts, helping brew delicious rice wine, whilst aiding communities affected by the recent Tohoku earthquake. Although local infrastructure has been repaired the economic costs of the tsunami and earthquake continue to make life difficult for locals. Volunteers will provide invaluable relief through both cultural exchange and volunteer work itself.

The trip promises to be both a fun and rewarding experience and an outstanding chance to show your solidarity with the Japanese people. Furthermore, after the two weeks of work volunteers will have the chance to explore other areas of Japan with the help our Japanese student companions who will be volunteering alongside us, providing language and cultural assistance to those who have come to Japan for the first time. On the weekends we will be holding day trips, excursions to Japanese hot springs and visits to local schools.

The trip will be held from the 11th to 25th September, with an optional week afterwards. Volunteers will have to cover personal costs though we have secured cheap (yet comfortable) accommodation and will be able to advise on insurance and flight options. Moreover, there is chance that we will be able to subsides certain costs at a later date, hopefully through corporate sponsorship.

For information on the brewery itself visit: http://eatpumpkin-pim.blogspot.com/2011/05/sake-journey-niizawa-jozoten.html

If you are interested in joining us and want to hear more about sake itself, the fine details of the trip or anything else at all please contact Alex at alex.parsons@jafonline.co.uk

Urakasumi Sake at Sakaya

Since the devastating earthquake and tsunami on March 11th, everyone in Japan, New York and all over the world has wanted to do their part to support the Breweries from the Tohoku Region in Northern Japan. It’s common sense that one concrete way I can make a small step towards standing with Tohoku Breweries is to put my money where my mouth is and simply buy more Tohoku sake. I most recently had a chance to focus again on a brewery I love, Miyagi’s Urakasumi.

Sakaya recently held a tasting to feature Urakasumi sake and I stopped in to taste and pick up some bottles. (see pics below) I subsequently enjoyed drinking two of my favorite Urakasumi Brews: Urakasumi Zen Junmai Ginjo and Urakasumi Junmai. Both of these sakes are insanely well-crafted and delicious. The Zen is one of my go-to sakes for finding true north in my eternal search for Junmai Ginjo nirvana.

I’ve visited the Urakasumi Brewery once in 2009 where I spent a delightful afternoon as the guest of it’s gracious President, Mr. Saura. I saw first hand what dedication and devotion the entire team at Urakasumi has to making delicious, world class sake.

I can’t wait to visit Tohoku again someday. But, until that day comes, I’ll keep these sakes near and dear to my heart – and in my shopping cart!

Nishimoto Sake Tasting at EN

Nishimoto Sake Importers recently held their annual sake tasting blowout at EN Japanese Brasserie. I’ve attended this event several years in a row and it’s always very fun – and very delicious.

This year, the highlights include some new sakes! First and foremost, both Wakatake and Kagatobi are bringing in new Nigoris (yea!) Naraman was delicious as always and they also have a new Nigori in town. Last but not least, I have to say I kinda have a soft spot in my heart for the new bottle design from Sawanotsuru.

Check out this gallery to see some of the sights and sounds of this fun event. See you there next year – I’ll bring the nigori!

Daishichi Kaiseki Dinner at Hakubai

NYC in May 2011 was chock-a-block full of sake events – just the way I like it! One of the highlights was a special Kaiseki dinner featuring Daishichi sakes held at the Kitano hotel’s Hakubai restaurant..

Daishichi Sake Brewery was established in 1752, and is based in Nihonmatsu City, Fukushima Japan. Daishichi is world famous for making all of their sake using the most traditional KIMOTO method. All Daishichi products are superb examples of KIMOTO style sake.

On this trip, we had the extreme pleasure of getting the chance to meet Mr. Hideharu Ohta, the 10th generation owner of Daishichi Sake Brewery. Mr. Ohta is a soft spoken man with an air of refinement – and I could feel his passion to communicate with us about his sake. Also visiting from Daishichi was Mr. Ad Blankestijn, Daishichi Sake Brewery’s master sake sommelier.

Our pal Chizuko-san from Sake Discoveries helped arrange the event and spoke eloquently about her special relationship to Daishichi. Daishichi was one of the first sakes she tried as a sake sommelier in New York and it stoked her passion to teach the world about sake.

The Food was delicious as always and executive chef Sato-san really outdid himself this time. The sashimi course and dessert course were highlights for me. Dessert included matcha mochi and fresh fruit which was paired with the outstanding Daishichi Ume-shu (plum sake). The delicious Sashimi was paired with the wonderful Daishichi Minowamon Junmai Daiginjo Kimoto. A superstar sake.

Of course, Fukushima prefecture has been in the news a lot because of the troubles at the nuclear reactor. Ohta-san explained that his products had been checked and tested and didn’t receive any damage. The brewery is quite far away from the reactor and the brewery building is quite sturdy with thick concrete walls. I could tell that everyone in attendance was supportive of Fukushima!

What a great evening this was! If you’d like to support Fukushima, pick up some Daishichi sake for yourself!

My Sake Seminar (& Kimono) in Chopsticks Magazine

My next Sake Seminar at the Astor Center was recently mentioned in Chopsticks Magazine. I’ll be pouring some Nanbu Bijin Sake in the class and if you pick up this month’s Chopsticks, you can see a brief mention about the class and some of the benefits of attending a sake seminar and tasting Nanbu Bijin. It’s a great sake and a wonderful example to use in class, too. Chopsticks also shows me in my “Sake Samurai” outfit – head to toe formal men’s kimono! You might not see that in class, but the sakes and tasting will be a blast. I hope you’ll join me!

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Rihaku Night at Sakagura

Rihaku Tasting Set

After a fun night at the Akita Sake Tasting, I was ready for more, so I made my way over to Sakagura for their advertised Rihaku Sake Night! I Saw Rihaku’s President Mr. Yuichiro Tanaka recently at the Japan Society event, so I was looking forward to trying more delicious Rihaku.

Rihaku Shuzo was founded in 1882 in Shimane Prefecture Japan and is named for a famous poet who is kown to have said, “I drink a bottle, and can write 100 poems.” The same is true for me, but with sake blog posts instead.

The sake is well known to many in the USA as it’s been imported for years and is very popular. If you haven’t tried Rihaku yet, what are you waiting for?!

The Sakagura “Rikhau tasting set” consisted of the following:

Even if you missed the Sakagura event, it’s never to late to give delicious Rihaku a try. Drink a bottle and write 100 poems of your own! Kanpai!!

Spring 2011 Akita Sake Tasting

It’s been a whirlwind of activity on the NYC sake scene this month. Things really picked up pace with the always enjoyable Akita Sake Club event happening on May 13. This year, sakes from all over Japan were served and lots of activities were focused on raising funds for Japan earthquake relief. There were a lot of great sakes to try – my favorite newcomer was Hokushika Suzushina – a wonderful shiboritate from – where else? Akita! I also really enjoyed the sakes from Sawanotsuru. The brewers traveled all the way from Kobe to introduce them in the U.S. They had cool bottle design (half frosted, half clear) and a delicious taste.

Lots of sake folks came together to create a magical evening for a good cause and I was so happy I was able to attend! See you next time Akita Sake Fans!

Japan Society Sake Tasting ’11: Back To Basics

The Japan Society’s annual sake tasting event was held on May 10th this year with the usual format, but this year, we went “back to basics” with a lecture led by Mr. John Gaunter. John gave a wonderful overview of the core concepts of sake. The final take away was just drink and enjoy! It’s good advice not to get so caught up in nihonshudo and kasubuai that you miss the main point – sake is enjoyable!

Check out this gallery to take in the sights of this great event:

Sake at the Lucky Rice Grand Feast

Have you been to any of the Lucky Rice Events? I was recently pouring sake at the super-duper elegant event Lucky Rice Grand Feast event at the swanky Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Everyone was dressed to the nines! Folks were very interested in learning about sake and impressed with the vast selection of sakes! Several people asked me when faced by all the sake choices, “where do I start?!” My answer is always “Just jump in and start sipping! Your palate will guide you to the sakes you like!”

Lucky Rice is an annual festival event, so check out their site and sign up for their mailing list if you want to learn about their events! Learn more here: http://www.luckyrice.com/

Check out these pics to see more of the sake table at le Grand Feast!

The Dassai Experience: A Walk Around the Brewery

Once I was settled into my room, the first order of business was to take a walk around the brewery grounds. I first visited Dassai in 2007. Since then there have been a lot of changes! First off, a brand new factory building has been built. This was just a construction site when I visited in 2007. I also learned that other foreigners had stayed at the brewery learning about sake before me. So the brewery workers were luckily used to having a foreigner around which was good news for me… people were not overly concerned when they saw me standing around looking confused, lost or disoriented, which I fear I did frequently.

So, why not come on a walk around the Dassai Brewery campus with me! Take a look at the gallery below and get a feel for this beautiful brewery and see my comments on each photo!

2011 Ohanami Sake Tasting at Sakagura

On May 3rd, Sakagura Restaurant hosted an annual sake event the “Ohanami” Sake tasting. This event featured sake from lots of distributors! This event was a blast. I tasted several sakes I know and love and (one of my favorite things to do) I also got the chance to try some new sakes I have not tried before.

Sakagura also had their usual delicious spread out for everyone to enjoywith their sake. My favorite bite was the Tsukune aka chicken meatball. Yum – and a great match with several of the sakes. Full-bodied Junmai sake and Chicken go great together!

Check out this gallery to enjoy some of the sights of this annual great event:

The Dassai Experience: What’s New Yamaguchi?!

For two months earlier this year, I lived and worked at Asahi Shuzo, makers of the world famous Dassai super premium sake in Yamaguchi, Japan. My goal was to learn about the real life in a sake brewery and learn the basics of sake brewing for myself. I’m back in New York from this amazing experience and starting today, I’ll be posting regularly on my experiences living and working at this premier sake brewery.

When I first arrived in Yamaguchi, one of the first things I did was take a tour of my new town. My hosts, the Sakurai Family, owners of Asahi Shuzo, showed me around what would be my home for two months: nostalgic Takamori, Yamaguchi. I would be living in an apartment right next to the Dassai rice milling factory.

Take a look at this gallery of photos and my notes to get a feel for my surroundings as I arrived in Japan. Stay tuned for more posts soon on life and work at Dassai!

Donate to Support Japan’s Sake Brewers!

UPDATE: April 4th 2011 — The PayPal Donation Page for the Japan Sake Brewer’s Assoc Jr. Council is temporarily not working. I’ll be updating this page as soon as new details are available. Thanks for considering a donation to directly help sake brewers!

We’ve all been touched by the recent tragedy in Japan. Many beloved Sake Breweries are directly impacted by this disaster and Kuramoto in the effected areas need our help now. The Japan Sake Brewer’s Association Junior Council has set up a fund to directly assist Sake Brewers affected by this tragedy. Please join me in donating to help our sake friends in Japan.

> Japan Sake Brewer’s Association Jr Council Relief Fund
Administered by the Japan Sake Brewer’s Association Jr. Council, this fund will directly support Sake Brewers in the affected Tohoku and Kanto regions of Japan with financial assistance. The donations are transmitted though PayPal.

Pls join me in contributing to this fund to assist Japan’s Breweries!

TIPS for Contributing to this fund:

> Donations options are currently ¥3,000 (~$38), ¥5,000 (~$63) or ¥10,000 (~$127).

> PayPal Conversion Rate as of Mar 20, 2011: 1 U.S. Dollar = 78.5459 Japanese Yen

> When on the PayPal donation page, you can change the default language to English here:

Thank you.

2010 Golden Masu Awards

Golden Masu Award!

Golden Masu Award!

Before we leave 2010 behind us forever, I wanted to take a look back at this year and highlight some master brews we encountered over the last 12 months.

It’s been an awesome year – so many sakes and so many adventures! I got to travel to Japan twice this year which is a dream come true. The Golden Masu Awards are my way of having a little fun at the end of the year and highlighting those sakes that made me smile, savor or simply sit up and take notice.

Without further ado, I give you the 2010 UrbanSake.com Golden Masu Awards!


“Best Junmai for Sushi”

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Sougen Junmai

And the Masu goes to:
Sougen Junmai

Sake meet sushi. Sushi meet sake. The pairing is so classic and time-honored that some folks still think sushi is the ONLY food that pairs with sake. Nothing could be further from the truth; with untold numbers of scrumptious food and sake pairings working wonderfully together. But what if you are in the mood from some good old fashioned sushi – what sake goes best? There are lots of sushi friendly brews out there, but one of my personal favorites is this Sougen Junmai from Ishikawa Prefecture. The taste is super clean and balanced and it just – in the most delicious way possible – wipes your palate clean between each morsel of fish. A good food and beverage pairing is a true case of 1+1=3. The two together are more then they are apart. If my calculations are correct, Sougen + Sushi = Yum.


“Most Tokubestu Tokubetsu Junmai”

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Hakkaisan Tokubetsu Junmai

And the Masu goes to: Hakkaisan Tokubetsu Junmai

Quick and simple Japanese vocabulary lesson: Tokubetsu means “special”. When applied to sake, what do they mean by “special” anyway? Well, in most cases they mean that the sake rice has been milled more than required for a given classification. In the case of this Hakkaisan junmai, they’ve milled down to 60% remaining which would legally classify it as a junmai ginjo, but Hakkaisan sells this beauty as their Special Junmai. The taste is lightly dry, incredibly balanced and immensely food friendly. What else is special? Well, for one, this sake is not for sale in Japan! Hakkaisan makes this sake for export and it’s available only to us here in the good old USA. A sake just for us? That makes me feel pretty darn tokubetsu right now!


“Most Ginormous Ginjo”

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Narutotai

And the Masu goes to:
Narutotai Ginjo Nama Genshu

Let’s see now – first you’ve got your hearty ginjos… then next you’ve got your big ginjos… and then, well, then you’ve got Narutotai Ginjo Nama Genshu, the ginormous ginjo. And please believe me when I say, I mean ginormous in the most flattering light. This sake is rich and rewarding with some real meat on it’s bones and a finish that just goes on and on. Sometimes a light and airy brew just won’t cut it. There is a lot going on in this sake so let’s break it down: this sake is a ginjo (slightly fortified) Nama (unpasteurized) Genshu (undiluted cask strength). Lush and full, this sake says with every sip: “go ginormous or go home!”


“Best Sake Sipping Value”

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Dassai 50

And the Masu goes to:
Dassai 50 Junmai Daiginjo

Longtime fans of the Golden Masu Awards will remember that Dassai 50 won the coveted “Best Sake Bang for Your Buck” award in 2007. Well, Dassai 50 is back this year with “Best Sake Sipping Value” award. When it comes to cost-conscious sake consumption, dang it, Dassai 50 is hard to beat. It’s an affordable, balanced, easy-drinking and delicious. You can bring Dassai 50 to any party, event or soiree and watch the sake lovers and sake newbies alike devour this brew. It’s a winner all around but especially in the much scrutinized cost-per-sip-enjoyment ratio. Given the low cost and high enjoyment – sip away!


“Coolest Label”

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Denshin Rin

And the Masu goes to:

Denshin Rin

There are a lot of cool sake labels out there, but this one pushed to the top of the list when I talked this year in New York with Mr. Kubo, VP of Fukui’s Ippongi Brewery – the makers of Denshin. I learned that that they collect the trimmings from their labels (the negative space on the Denshin Rin labels) and meticulously place them on the bottles for their namazake, or unpasteurized sake. You can see a picture of this “reverse engineering” magic here.

Not only is this good for the environment, but it looks, and above all tastes amazing, too. For this reason, Denshin wins out as the coolest label of the year. A delicious packaging for a delicious brew!


“Best in Show”

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Tenju Chokaisan

And the Masu goes to:
Tenju Chokaisan Junmai Daiginjo

Chokaisan is a dreamy sake that pleases all the senses. I had the honor of visiting the brewery this year and saw for myself the care, detail, attention …and flower yeast, that goes into making this winner a true artisanal gem. To seal the deal, this Junmai Daiginjo also benefits from the pristine brewing water that trickles down from nearby Mount Chokai.

Chokaisan comes at you with an enchanting aroma and smooth body that will shamelessly charm you. Sake Beginners and Sake Connoisseurs can both agree on the appeal of this brew – and that is one of it’s distinct strengths. It’s a crowd pleaser, but a crowd pleaser with a touch of star quality. If you want a sake with charisma, this is it.

Well, there you have it. Congratulations to all the winners, and as we say goodbye to the last ten years that were “the Aughts” or “the Naughts” or “the Naughties”, let’s raise a glass of sake to the coming decade! That would be the 21st Century’s “Tween & Teen” years… I think it will be a rambunctious time of growth for sake! Personally, I can’t wait. Kanpai and Happy New Year to everyone!

JFC Sake Expo 2010

I recently attended the JFC Sake Expo in Manhattan. This is a trade event that introduces sakes imported by the sake importing company JFC.

For me, it’s a great chance to get up close and personal with some of the great sakes brought to the States. Here’s a sampling of what I tasted at this event and you can also check out the Gallery below to see some pictures of the JFC Sake Expo 2010!

Ippongi Brewery
Brand: Denshin
This is a vibrant brand from beautiful Fukui Prefecture on the Sea of Japan. Represented by Ippongi Brewery Vice President Mr. Kakutaro Kubo, the sakes a fresh, lively and have some of the most stunning branding and labels I’ve seen.
>See All Ippongi Denshin Sakes

Daishichi Sake Brewery
Brand: Daishichi
Mr. Ad Blankenstjn was the brewery representative on hand for Daishichi – which is the Brewery famous for their strict adherence to the kimoto Brewing method and their special flat rice polishing.
>See All Daishichi Sakes

Miyazaki Sake Brewery
Brand: Miyanoyuki
Rena Miyazaki introduces her family’s Miyanoyuki brand. They make both junmai and honjozo styles that are hearty and robust and go well with food.
>See All Miyazaki Miyanoyuki Sakes

Akira Sake
Brand: Akira
From beautiful Kanazawa, this is a new organic sake that is headed to our shores soon! I visited this Kanazawa last march and I can tell you this sake is fantastic and made from 100% organic, delicious local rice. Mr. Sugano was introducing Akira to many New Yorkers!

Aiyu Sake Brewery
Brand: Tomoju
Michiko Kanehira is the president of Aiyu which makes the lovely Tomoju brand. I tasted her new and delicious Umeshu (plum sake) that is coming soon to the U.S.!
>See All Aiyu Tomoju Sakes

Chiyomusubi Sake Brewery
Brand: Chiyomusubi
President Haruo Okasora introduced his yummy Chiyomusubi sakes. This brand is a leader in exporting premium cup sakes which have a special place in my heart! Try them!
>See All Chiyomusubi Sakes

Check out the gallery below for even more brands I tasted at this JFC event: