Japan Trip 2010: Saiya Sake Brewery

With Mrs. Saito and Mr. Takahashi

My next visit in Japan was to Akita’s Saiya Shuzoten, makers of the famous Yuko No Bosha sakes. Mr. Kataro Saito was off on business, but his lovely wife Ms. Maki Saito and their Toji Mr. Takahashi gave me a nice tour of their brewery!

One of the beautiful things I noticed about Saiya Sake Brewery was the layout and unique structure of the buildings. From back to front, the facility, which they have nicknamed the “nobori-kura” is built on a gentle downward slope, similar in feeling to the Japanese noborigama or japanese sloped kilns used long ago to make pottery. The highest point of the slope in the back is where rice is delivered and milled, then the rice is transported by pipe using gravity and water to the main brewery building and it’s fermentation rooms. Next the finished sake flows down again to the pressing and storage area of the brewery.

Nobori-kura Layout of the brewery
photo © Saiya Shuzoten

Most interesting of all is how they reach the bottling and shipping building at the base of the hill, but which is actually separated from the main building by a busy, busy two way street. They simply built a pipe over the street that carries the sake to their new bottling facility – genius!

Now whenever I drink Yuki No Bosha sake I’ll know it once flowed over a busy highway to get to the bottle.

The Brewery, founded in 1902 also has a unique architectural melding – combining styles of Japanese architecture and early 20th century western architecture, especially noticeable on the facade; The complex was declared a Tangible Cultural Property by the Japanese Government in 1997.

Saiya Brewery Facade

The sake that Saiya Shuzoten creates at this lovely building is hand crafted and elegant. You can tell they strive for a true hand made artisinal taste over big box mass production and I couldn’t imagine it any other way. One of their signature products in the U.S. is the Yuki no Bosha Junmai Ginjo Nigori. This sake is a lighter style nigori that has a perfect balance and body. really delicious!

My Special thanks to the Saito family for all their kindness during my visit. I was delighted to see the birthplace of such wonderfully handcrafted sake! Check out the gallery below for more photos and comments from my visit to this fantastic sake Brewery!

Japan Trip 2010: Akita Seishu Sake Brewery

Dewatsuru Tasting

With a visit to Akita Seishu Sake Brewery, you really get two, two, two Breweries in one! You see Akita Seishu makes sake under two Brands in two facilities including both the Kariho and Dewatsuru labels.

I interviewed Mr. Yohei Ito of Dewatsuru back in February. After that interview, I was excited to see Akita Seishu for myself and now I had the chance.

When I arrived at Akita Seishu, I was able to briefly meet with the brewery President Mr. Tasturu Ito before getting a full tour of both facilities from Product Manager Mr. Sado and Brewery Employee Ms. Sasaki. We started in the Kariho facility where we toured the building and I was surprised by not only the beauty of the building but by the number of fune (‘boat-shaped’ or old fashioned style sake press) they had at Kariho. Sado-san and Sasaki-san went on to explain that the Kariho brand prides itself on the “six fune” they use to press ALL the sake for Kariho. It’s more labor intensive, but produces the taste they want. They even have a kariho sake named “Rokushu” or “six boats/fune” in honor of their pressing method.

Fune or Boat-shaped Sake press

After the Kariho tour and a short drive, we arrived at the Dewatsuru brewery facility. Right when entering the building there is a beautiful and seeming magical fountain flowing with “Shikomi Mizu” or the pure, natural brewing water piped down from the local mountains.

In addition to sizable koji, moto and moromi rooms, the Dewatsuru facility also has a large milling building that produces all the milled rice for the facility. After my tour, it was time to taste Dewatsuru which I really enjoyed. I actually noticed that Dewatsuru was widely distributed in Shops throughout Akita.

I thought my visit was winding down, but then we hopped in the car again to visit the bottling and again building in yet a third location. This large facility is where all Kariho and Dewatsuru is bottled, pasteurized and stored for shipping. How do they get the sake to the bottling? I was wondering the same thing… turns out the company owns a specially designed tanker truck used to transport all sake to this building!

What a day! Three sake facilities toured in one morning! My special thanks to the Ito family for receiving me so warmly and of course to Mr. Sado and Ms. Sasaki for taking me around, helping me learn so much and for the wonderful tastings too!

Japan Trip 2010: Hideyoshi Sake Brewery

With Mr. Suzuki

My next stop on my Japan Trip this October was Suzuki Shuzoten, a company also known by their famous brand name Hideyoshi.

Founded in 1689, Suzuki Shuzoten is one of the oldest sake breweries in Akita – not to mention in all of Japan. The brand name “Hideoshi” is also a particular point of pride with the brewery. The name was granted to the Brewery for use by the regional Lord after he tasted all the sake of Akita and concluded theirs was the best. Flash forward to the 21st century and you should know that the Brewery imports several delicious sakes into the US including the rare blended Daiginjo Koshu “Flying Pegasus”.

Main Brewing Room

Naoki Suzuki is the 19th generation owner of Suzuki Shuzoten and he greeted me at the gates of his brewery as I arrived and after introducing me to his lovely wife, we headed immediately to the brewery facility for a tour. before we made even 10 steps into the brewery, we came across his dedicated Toji Mr. Shigemasa Ishizawa huddled over a small vat of sake rice soaking in water. I could tell by his dedication to the task, that we had a very serious Toji on our hands. After a quick hello he was right back on point and focused intently on the sake rice once again.

Suzuki-san showed me his rice steaming area, koji rooms, moto rooms, large moromi chamber as well as a construction site for a new brewing area. I realized quickly that there is always change and something new and exciting happening at Suzuki Shuzoten. Off the entrance, there was also a small shop that had all their sakes on display.

Samurai Armor

Off the main brewing area is also a small exhibition room with some valuable artifacts from the Brewery’s 300+ year history. The cornerstone of the collection is a helmet that once belonged to the Shogun himself and a suit of stunning samurai armor that was a gift of the regional Lord.

After the tour, Suzuki-san invited me to a reception room for a tasting. Along with some great Hiyaoroshi, I tasted a delicious Koshu and one of the brewery’s latest sakes – a delicious sparkling sake! This was a relaxing and enjoyable time talking with Suzuki-san about the sake industry and current trends in thte U.S. sake market.

I can’t thank Mr. and Mrs. Suzuki for hosting me at their beautiful brewery. I felt so welcomed and taken care of. Their warm personalities really came through and reflected the welcoming nature of their sakes. It’s been true for me that meeting the folks that make sake deepens my appreciation for their craft and that really was the case here at Suzuki Shuzoten. Wonderful people making wonderful sake. See the gallery below for more photos from the brewery.

Japan Trip 2010: Tenju Sake Brewery

With the Ohi Brothers at Tenju

Another stop on my whirlwind tour of Japan was the magnificent Tenju Sake Brewery. I was greeted at the brewery entrance by Mr. Takeshi Ohi, the brewery President, and his younger brother Mr. Hitoshi Ohi, the brewery’s Managing Director.

Tenju is a sake brewery situated at the foot of Mount Chokai, one of the prominent mountains in this region of Akita prefecture and also the name sake of their famous sake brand “Chokaisan“. It’s the soft, pure water from the snows of Mount Chokai that gives their sake is silky body and very light minerality.

The Ohi brothers welcomed me into the Brewery and we started off by sitting down and enjoying a delicious lunch together along with some equally delicious Tenju sake. After a great conversation about the sake industry, sake consumers in the U.S., and a good dash of humor thrown in for fun, we headed out the the adjacent brewery facility for a tour.

The Rolls Royce of Sake Tanks

As we toured their facility, I saw repeated examples of this brewery’s respect for tradition, but also their love of learning and innovation. Founded in 1874 and operating for 6 generations, Tenju has a lot of tradition to build upon, but in their love of research and education, they are also pushing the envelope to improve their sake.

Along the brewery tour, I saw a number of cutting edge machines that assist and improve sake production process such as one contraption that aids in quickly drying rice that has just been soaked, or these specially designed tanks that aid in moisture absorption of newly milled rice. They also had a tank in their Junmai Daiginjo brewing area that must be what I would call the “rolls royce” of sake brewing tanks… it’s a gorgeous, climate controlled, water insulated, stainless steel tank that has a rounded bottom and internal blades for automated stirring. A thing of beauty!

Delicious, Glorious Chokaisan

In addition to technology, Tenju also innovates with research. Examples of this include the Tenju Research Group, which is a consortium of rice farmers lead by the brewery that meet regularly to work together and share their data to improve their rice crops from year to year. I also learned about the special flower yeasts that Tenju has cultivated over the years. These yeasts give a flowery fresh and really delicious taste to Tenju sakes.

Tenju Brewery is currently importing two sakes into the USA. Their award winning and bestselling flagship product is the well loved Tenju Chokaisan Junami Daiginjo. This is an elegant, aromatic and balanced gem of a junmai daiginjo. Those flower yeasts mentioned earlier really come to bare in the brew. Accessible, delicious and oh-so-easy to enjoy, Chokaisan Junmai Daiginjo is a scrumptious sake that always pleases. The new Chokaisan on the block is their Tenju Chokaisan Junmai Ginjo Nigori. This nigori is all about texture and mouth-feel. With the signature wonderful balance of their other sakes, I predict this entry will be a hit with U.S. consumers, too.

My sincere thanks to Takeishi and Hitoshi Ohi and their lovely wives for making me feel so welcome and at home at their beautiful and historic brewery. Even though the rain and fog didn’t allow me to see the summit of Mount Chokai during this trip, I know now, I only have to reach for a bottle of Chokaisan sake if I want to taste the pure essence of this beautiful part of Akita!

Hinomaru Sake Brewery. This interview left me feeling greatful and intrigued by this Brewery and their well known brand "Manabito". When the opportunity came up to visit Akita this Fall, I was delighted to be able to pay a visit and see birthplace of Manabito for myself!'>

Japan Trip 2010: Hinomaru Sake Brewery

With Hinomaru Toji Mr. Takahashi

In late 2009, I had the honor of sitting down for a lengthy in-person interview with Mr. Jouji Sato, President of Akita’s Hinomaru Sake Brewery. This interview left me feeling greatful and intrigued by this Brewery and their well known brand “Manabito”. When the opportunity came up to visit Akita this Fall, I was delighted to be able to pay a visit and see birthplace of Manabito for myself!

Mr. Sato was away on business the day I arrived, but I was given a delightful tour of the facility by Hinomaru Section Chief Saeri Kutsuzawa and Hinomaru Director Mr. Yuji Nakajima. Ms. Kutsuzawa and Mr. Nakajima first led me on a tour of the Brewery facility where we started in the rice milling area. Even though the sake brewing for the season had not yet begun, the two milling machines at the brewery were already at work 24-7 milling rice.

A very wide variety of sake rice is used at Hinomaru

Rice is a big deal at Hinomaru brewery… they proudly use a staggering variety of sake rices from Gin No Sei to Aktia Sake Komachi to Takane Minori to Miyama-nishiki and even a lost variety of Akita sake rice they re-established from only 33 grains found in a rice archive.

After the brewery tour, I was given a chance to taste the full range of Hinomaru sakes in their landmark reception room, with it’s lacquer walls, intricate woodwork, and historic glass, this room is a tourist attraction for several groups that come to see it every day. In this room, Hinomaru has a physical manifestation of the respect for tradtion they infuse in all their sake. It was an honor to taste their sake there!

After tasting, I had the chance to taste some local Akita specialties including Inaniwa Udon and Iburigako Smoked daikon pickles. delicious and everything paired so well with Hinomaru sake. This is my idea of terrior – sake that matches the local cuisine perfectly!

Hinomaru Brewery is exporting several sakes to the United States. You can check out the following pages of my sake notebook to learn more about each brew:

You can also check out the ASPEC sake website to learn more about Hinomaru sakes. My sincere thanks and appreciation go out to Mr. Sato, Mr. Takahashi, Ms. Kutsuzawa and Mr. Nakajima for making my stay so lovely and informative. I won’t soon forget my visit!

Japan Trip 2010: Naba Sake Brewery

With Mr. Naba at Naba Sake Brewery

My next stop in Japan was at the Naba Sake Brewery in Akita City, Japan. On a very rainy and cold Akita afternoon, I was welcomed to the Naba Sake brewery by its COO, Mr. Hisashi Naba. Mr. Naba was a youthful and engaging guide to his brewery.

Upon arriving at the brewery, he first called to my attention, the unique concrete construction of the building. Once we were inside the brewery itself, I came to realize the very unique construction of this brewery building.


Constructed in the early part of the 20th century, the solid and large building is cast in concrete with subtle art deco detailing in staircases and archways. Rooms were planned in a logical order that allows the steamed rice to get quickly and easily to the koji, moromi or moto rooms. When built, the building also featured a then state-of-the-art-amenity that the brewery workers must have loved: an elevator which is still in service and still transporting rice and workers!

Naba Sake Brewery currently only exports Yamahai sake to the US and this is a style that very well represents their brand. If you want to get a feel for this Akita City gem, pick up one of their sakes. A good place to start would be their Horoyoi Yamahai Junmai Ginjo which is a delicious Junmai Ginjo made using the Yamahai yeast starter method. They also offer two robust futsushu style sakes in the U.S. : one is the Minato Harbor Tsuchizaki Yamahai Futsushu and the hearty Minato Harbor Tsuchizaki Yamahai Nama Genshu Futsushu

You can also check out the ASPEC sake website to learn more about Naba sakes. I’d like to thank Mr. Naba for taking the time to introduce me to his brewery and his delicious sake.

Japan Trip 2010: Ichishima Sake Brewery

Kenji Ichichima
photo © Ichishima Shuzo

My next stop in Japan was Ichishima Sake Brewery, located in Shibata City, Niigata. I’ve known the current brewery President, the young and dynamic Kenji Ichishima for several years now. Ichishima-san is the current leader of the Sake Brewer’s Association Junior Council / Sake Samurai organization where I first met him in 2007.

He is the descendant of a sake brewing family steeped in tradition that dates back over 200 years, but he has also spent considerable time abroad and in addition to speaking fluent English, he also understands the dynamic of western cultures. This all adds up to a very interesting Kuramoto-san who can speak equally well to his native Japanese and western customers.

Another point that makes Ichishima-san unique is the variety of sake he’s chosen to export to the States. Currently over 10 kinds of sake are exported from Futsushu to special award-winning Daiginjo, Ichishima Brewery selections allow you to taste a wide and diverse sampling of styles from their famous Kura. You can view the Ichishima Sake portfolio here.

Ichishima Tasting Room

When I arrived in Shibata, Ichishima-san greeted me at the train station which is just a short walk from his Brewery building. He was kind enough to give me a personal tour and we started in the interesting Ichishima Sake museum. The museum is comprised of several rooms that house artifacts from the Ichishima family from over 200 years in the sake brewing business. There were antique sake barrels and wooden sake making tools of every size and description. Other rooms had sake cups and porcelain along with family documents and kimonos – everything was beautiful and really gave me a taste of what life may have looked like at the brewery a few hundred years ago.

Ichishima Japanese Garden

Next I toured the brewery facility and Ichishima-san showed me the entire production process from rice steaming and washing to koji making and drying to brewing and storing. The brewery building takes a vertical approach with steaming and washing on the top floors and brewing on the lower floors so that sake can easily be transported down once steamed and processed. After the brewery tour, I visited the gorgeous store and tasting room which is housed in the original Edo Period brewing room with it’s majestic hand hewn beams. really stunning.

Equally stunning was the view from Ichishima’s home which looked out onto a fantastic japanese garden. Ichishima-san gave me a taste of their current hit sake, the Ichishima Umeshu or plum sake. It was lightly sweet and balanced and a perfect cap to the afternoon. My sincere thanks to Ichishima-san for taking the time to welcome me so graciously and with such generosity.

Japan Trip 2010: Masukagami Sake Brewery


Before I left Kamo, Niigata, Ms. Yamazaki took me to meet a local sake Brewery in town. It was just a short drive from Yamazaki Sake shop to the Masukagami Sake Brewery. As they currently don’t export to the US, I had not yet tried their sake, but I was so happy to meet them.

Masakagami Sake Brewery is owned and operated by the Nakano family. Mr. Nakano, the current president welcomed us warmly and took us on a guided tour of their brewing facility in Kamo. I would say that Masakagami is widely known for their very unique and eye catching packaging. They sell in the standard bottles, but they also sell in glass and ceramic urns that come with a bamboo shaped ladle that allows you to display and serve sake as if from a punch bowl.

unique sake packaging

Although they don’t export to the U.S.A., this brewery currently does export to Canada, where you can buy their tokubetsu junmai sake. On my tour of their facility, I noticed a couple of unique things – I saw their beautiful bizen clay jars used for aging and storing sake as well as several large vats of umeshu or plum sake, with the plumbs soaking right in the vat.

The Nakano family was so kind and welcoming, I couldn’t help but be charmed by this brewery. They were generous to a fault and willing to share so much with me. It was a wonderful day spent discovering a wonderful brewery. Maybe their Tokubetsu Junmai will make it down from Canada one of these days? My special thanks to Mr. Nakano and his father for all their hospitality!

Japan Trip 2010: Yamazaki Sake Shop

Visiting Megumi Yamazaki

My next stop this autumn in Japan is a small town in Niigata called Kamo. I met Megumi Yamazaki on twitter, and she introduced herself as someone who runs a sake shop in Japan.

I was excited to see how sake is sold outside the big city so I took a day and made a detour to Kamo! And boy am I glad I did. Yamazaki-san welcomed me graciously and quickly gave me a tour of her nice shop. She introduced me to several local brands and told me that the bestseller in her shop was a local futsushu sold by the ishobin. We also discussed the current crop of delicious hiyaoroshi style sakes that were in stock now – again, almost all from the local area!

After the shop tour, Megumi took me to meet a local sake producer! more on that soon…

Oh by the way, Megumi is super plugged in! You can find her promoting sake all over the web:
Website: http://www.yamazakisaketen.com/
Blog: http://jizake.exblog.jp/15358890/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/yamazakisaketen/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/yamazakisaketen
Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/user/yamazakisaketen

I really enjoyed my visit to this shop and my sincere thanks to Yamazaki-san for welcoming me so completely! Check out these pics from my visit to Yamazaki sake shop!

Japan Trip 2010: Koyoido – Kyoto’s Cutest Sake Ceramics

Rie and Ren of Koyoido

The 21st Century is turning out to be kinda hectic so far, with everyone’s Twitter, Facebook, RSS feeds and Flickr streams constantly demanding attention. However, the obvious upside to all this technology is that it allows people to connect with one another.

This is exactly what happened to me when I met the adorable Ren and Rie, a couple who run what has to be the the cutest ceramics atelier in Kyoto: Koyoido.

It all started on twitter when a message & photo sent by Ren about a beautiful sake set they recently created caught my eye and I commented on it.

Koyoido sake cups

We started a conversation and I soon discovered Ren & Rie’s passion for making artisanal ceramics for use with sake and appetizers. Before you knew it, I had my plans set to visit their small atelier on my next trip to Kyoto.

When I arrived at their shop I was welcomed warmly and we sat down for a discussion of enjoying sake and ceramics. I was so charmed to learn that Ren and Rie met at ceramics classes in Kyoto and are now running their ceramics business together.

They expressed to me their true enjoyment of sharing sake, appetizers and the wonderful company of friends. This spirit is alive and well in their ceramics, which have a simple, elegant and fun vibe. As one example of this, they showed me a delightful series of sake ceramics they made that also all double as musical instruments such as chimes, bells, drums and whistles which you can view on their website here.

I has such a good time visiting with Ren and Rie in Kyoto! Well, now, this being the 21st Century, you can check out Koyoido online, too!
Website: Koyoido.com
Blog: Koyoido Blog
Photos: Koyoido on flickr
Tweets: Koyoido on Twitter

Japan Trip 2010: Sake Samurai Ceremony

On this trip to Japan, I returned to the Sake Samurai Ceremony in Kyoto to witness the 5th annual celebration of this great event. The purpose of Sake Samurai is to acknowledge select individuals, both inside and outside of Japan, who are working for the betterment of sake around the globe.

Fellow New Yorker and Gohan Society founder Saori Kawano was one of the recipients this year. I was thrilled to be able to congratulate her in person! Another new Sake Samurai this year is the L.A. based sake educator and Sake Sommelier Yuji Matsumoto.

Kenji Ichishima, President of the famous Ichishima Sake Brewery and the current Chairman of the Sake Samurai program led the proceedings and the ceremony, banquet and tasting the next day were all beautiful and a big success. Witnessing this amazing event again was very nostalgic for me and brought back a lot of memories. The honor of becoming a Sake Samurai in 2007 was a catalyst for a lot of exciting and positive change in my own life. I hope it’s the same for this year’s honorees!

See the gallery below for photos and more details on the 2010 Sake Samurai events!

Japan Trip 2010: Matsuo, Home of the Sake Gods

I’m visiting Kyoto this year to attend the 2010 Sake Samurai Ceremony and was lucky enough to get a chance to visit the Matsuo Taisha (松尾大社). Founded in 701 A.D., it’s an ancient Shinto shrine on the outskirts of Kyoto City that has a special connection to everyone who loves sake. You see, this is one of the sacred places in Japan where the Gods of sake making are enshrined. As such, sake brewers from across Japan come here to pray and honor the “Sake no Kami-sama”.

It’s a beautiful, timeless and spiritual place that really does stir the soul of any sake lover. There are magnificent gardens, a large display of sake casks offered to the Gods by sake breweries and much smaller crowds than you’ll find at other shrines. So if you’ve ever sipped a magnificent sake and felt a connection to the divine, take the time to visit Matsuo Taisha on your next trip to Kyoto and offer a special thank you for the delights sake brings to us all. I’m glad I did.

Japan Trip 2010: Sake Restaurant Ishii

Etsuko-san (l) Melinda-san (r) and me toasting at Ishii.

A trip to Tokyo wouldn’t be complete for me without what I call a Sake Blogger Summit, which is complicated industry speak for a fun night out with my sake blogging friends Melinda of Tokyo through the Drinking Glass fame and Etsuko of Tokyo Foodcast.

Whenever we are in the same city, we love to meet up over some sake and exchange tasting notes and tips and generally delve deep into sake geekdom together. Etsuko-san recommended a new Sake restaurant located in the Shimbashi area of Tokyo called “Ishii“. The owner Hideyuki Ishii welcomed us warmly and soon dazzled me with his sake recommendations and wonderful English skills. Ishii Specializes in both fish and Sake and the cool slideshow running on the flatscreen TV behind the bar gave hints of Ishii-san’s travels to Sake breweries. I got the sense right away that Ishii-san was a sake lover through and through.

When he was ready to pour us his final sake recommendation of the night, a delicious sake from Seiryo Shuzo, it so happened that Mr. Hidetomo Suto, a Sake Brewery worker from Seiryo Brewery was dining at the restaurant. Suto-san came by to say hello and pour our sake when we quickly realized that he and I had met before! He was pouring Seiryo sake at the Kuramoto US event I attended in March. Amazing! I love that sake fans flock together by nature! Thanks to everyone at Ishii, Etsuko, Melinda and Suto-san for arranging the best summit yet! Kanpai!

bq69 collectibles. I liked his blog so much I asked him for an interview in 2009 that you can read here. Luckily for me Maki-san had lived in New York and spoke fluent English!'>

Japan Trip 2010: Cup Sake Bar Buri

Momotarou Cup Sake!

So you fly into Narita at 4pm on a Monday afternoon and what do you do? Well, if you’re a 21st century sake blogger like me, why not meet up with a cyber-twitter-sake-blog-colleague and go on a cup sake adventure through Tokyo?!

I first met Maki Osugi online when I discovered his wonderful cup sake blog bq69 collectibles. I liked his blog so much I asked him for an interview in 2009 that you can read here. Luckily for me Maki-san had lived in New York and spoke fluent English!

When my plans for this visit to Japan were set, Maki offered to meet in person and take me around to a couple cup sake hotspots in Tokyo. Our first stop was Yoshiike, which was a pretty large variety store which has a second floor that they bill as a “department store for sake”. the cup sake selection did not disappoint and I bought 8 cup sakes to bring back. Yes, my suitcase is heavy.

After Yoshiike, Maki took me to Buri Cup Sake Bar near Ueno station. Here I got to sample several cups and enjoy some nice yakitori. Check out the gallery below to see some highlights from Buri. I learned that “buri” means “very” in Hiroshima dialect… well let me tell you – that cup sake was buri, buri good!

Special thanks to Maki-san for taking me around to such fun places and giving me a real cup sake welcome to Japan! Kanpai and see you on twitter Maki-san!!

Chopsticks Interview October 2010

This month I had the honor of being interviewed alongside Kenichi Kuno by Chopsticks Magazine in the October issue on newstands now! October is sake month and Chopsticks asked us all kinds of questions about sake!

  • What’s my golden rule about sake?
  • Is premium sake safe for beginners?
  • Do any sakes go well with desserts?

Find out the answer to all these burning sake questions and more! Read the Interview:

Hakkaisan Sake Restaurant Week September 2010

Hakkaisan Sake Brewery has been hosting a monthly “Hakkaisan Restaurant Week” which is a limited time each month when top NYC restaurants feature specials paired with Hakkaisan Sake.

I wanted to explore this for myself and set out for 15 East Sushi Restaurant which was a participating restaurant in the Sept 2010 Hakkaisan Restaurant week. 15 East was offering a special Hakkaisan Tasting Set featuring Hakkaisan Junmai Ginjo, Hakkaisan Tokubetsu Junmai and Hakkaisan Honjozo along with a sampling of specially prepared “otsumami” or sake appetizers.

The food and sake was a magical combination! Check out the gallery below to see some shots of the food and sake! I’m looking forward to Hakkaisan Restaurant week in October! Stay Tuned for details!

Mutual Trading Restaurant Show 2010

The New York Mutual Restaurant show is a yearly ‘to the trade’ event that showcases the best in food, restaurant supplies… and SAKE! This year was awesome and I got to taste some of the best sake that New York Mutual has to offer. One trend I saw emerging was some breweries serving sake warm which i really enjoyed. I also tasted a delicious Junmai Genshu at the Hakkaisan Booth – this sake is not yet imported, but had a wonderful aroma and that characteristic Hakkaisan clarity! What a treat! Besides Hakkaisan, there were many wonderful sakes from some very famous brands: Dassai, Born, Tengumai, Kubota, Kikusui, Take no Tsuyu, Nanbu Bijin, Tamanohikari, Rihaku and many others! Phew!

I also attended a lecture by New York Mutual’s resident sake educator George Kao. He led us through a great exploration of sake with some amazing slides and video clips from his time working at Kikusui sake brewery in Niigata.

Check out the Gallery below for pictures and additional comments from this wonderful afternoon spent with Mutual Sakes!

New York Joy of Sake 2010

The Joy of Sake is an annual sake tasting that is a big as it gets in the USA. This year the New York Joy of sake event was at a new location: 82 Mercer st. in Soho. I think this was a great move and this year was one of the most enjoyable yet! The space was large, all on one level, well lit and comfortable! Loved it!

The thing I love most about Joy of Sake is, of course, the sake! And one of the special things is that sakes that are not available for sale in the U.S. are available for tasting at this event! you really can save yourself the round trip airfare to Japan. To Take a look at the sakes I tasted and the folks I met along the way, check out the gallery below!

Here’s looking forward to next year’s event!

Tedorigawa Triple Gold Sake Tasting at Sakagura

I recently enjoyed a fantastic sake tasting event at Sakagura celebrating the sake from Tedorigawa. Mr. Ryuichi Yoshida, President of Tedorigawa Sake Brewery was on hand to introduce us all to is wonderful brews! In all, we tasted four of their delicious sakes.

During this event, we also enjoyed “Kinpaku” or gold flakes in our sake. This was a special treat that Mr. Yoshida brought from Kanazawa, which is famous for this kind of gold flakes. Check out the photos above to see even more from this fantastic event. Special thanks to Mr. Yoshida for bringing such great sakes and to Yukie and Sagakura for hosting such a great night!

Joto Sake Tasting at the Good Fork Restaurant

How far would you travel for good sake? How about to the known edge of the sake universe? Or in other words: Red Hook! Henry Sidel, president of Joto Sake recently hosted an unforgettable sake night at the Good Fork Restaurant in far out there Red Hook, Brooklyn.

It may have been hard to get to for a hardened Manhattan-ite like me, but boy oh boy was it worth it. The event featured two Joto sake brewers – One brand new and one a long-time favorite. The New Brewer on the block was Mr. Nakao of Hiroshima’s Nakao Sake Brewery, maker of the Seikyo Brand. This brand is not yet known in the States, but it will be. The other Brewer at this dinner was Mr. Saito from the outstanding Saiya Brewery in Akita, makers of the famed Yuki no Bosha line of premium sakes.

Here is an overview of the pairing menu and sakes:

  • Scallop Sashimi + Nakao Seikyo “Omachi” Junmai Ginjo
  • Crab Stuffed Zuchinni Blossoms + Yuki No Bosha Junmai Ginjo
  • Crispy Chatham Cod + Nakao Seikyo Takehara Junmai
  • Manchester Farm Quail + Yuki No Bosha Junmai Ginjo Nigori
  • Croque en Bouche + Yuki No Bosha Daiginjo

This event was a fantastic coming together of the ‘best of the best’ sake on the outer reaches of New York City! I was so happy to have snagged a seat! Beyond tasting their sake, just being able to say hello to the brewery Presidents is such an honor! They are the “Rock Stars” of our industry and I always get a thrill getting to listen to and learn from them. Watch the restaurants and sake shops near you for Seikyo sake so you can taste this wonderful stuff for yourself. Many thanks to Henry, Nakao-san and Saito-san for the wonderful event! Kanpai!!

Nanbu Bijin Sake and Moyashimon at JCC

Japanese Culinary Center and Nanbu Bijin Brewery recently co-sponsored an event celebrating Nanbu Bijin’s role in Moyashimon. Have you ever heard of the Japanese Manga Moyashimon (aka “Tales of Agriculture”)? It’s a fun story about a young student at a Japanese Agriculture university who has the unique ability to see and communicate with bacteria, koji and microbes! Check out this quick video from YouTube.com to view a quick peek of the cute Moyashimon critters:

Mr. Kosuke Kuji is the Fifth Generation brewer of Nanbu Bijin Brewery and a special guest professor at Tokyo Agricultural University lectured on this event. Recently he has been involved in creating Moyashimon.

Using an inspiring lecture with moment by moment translation by George Kao of Mutual Trading Kuji-sensei explained the ins and outs of sake making using Koji and also fielded questions from the audience about all things sake. We also tasted four exquisite sakes from Nanbu Bijin including Nanbu Bijin Tokubetsu Junmai, Daiginjo, no-added sugar Umeshu and their special All Koji sake. It was an honor to listen to Kuji-sensei’s sake lecture without have to travel to Tokyo Agricultural University to hear it! An awesome event!

With George-san (left) and Kuji-sensei (center)
photo © Kumi Hayase

Nanbu Bijin Sakes Served at this tasting! Delicious!
photo © Kumi Hayase


Sake Brewery Tours in Japan: Feb & March 2011!

sake_world_bannerHave you ever wanted to tour Japan and visit the places where sake is made? I just heard about an amazing opportunity to do just that!! Sake-World expert John Gaunter and TokyoFoodCast dynamo Etsuko Nakamura are undertaking something I had always wished existed – Sake Brewery Tours!

John and Etsuko have two sake brewery tours set up for early 2011. I’m telling you – these are not to be missed and they couldn’t be lead by more knowledgeable or nicer people. It’s a rare opportunity to peek inside the closed world of the Sake Brewer and see the delicious day to day live of making the world’s best beverage. Special Note!! Travelers receive 10,000 JPY discount for booking before the 1st of December by using the promotional code “URBSA“. Space is extremely limited so make your booking today! Here are the details:

Sake Brewery Tour of Japan’s Akita Region


Feb. 21 – Feb. 25, 2011
>See Details
>Download PDF Brochure

February 21, 2011 (Monday) Yuri Honjo and Yokote, Akita

February 22, 2011 (Tuesday) Yokote, Akita

February 23, 2011 (Wednesday) Daisen, Akita

February 24, 2010 (Thursday) Kakunodate and Nyuto Onsen, Akita

February 25, 2010 (Friday) Nyuto Onsen, Akita to Tokyo

Travelers receive 10,000 JPY discount for booking before the 1st of December by using the promotional code “URBSA“. Space is extremely limited so make your booking today!

Sake Brewery Tour of Japan’s Sanin Region

Sanin Region

Sanin Region

March 14 – March 18, 2011
>See Details
>Download PDF Brochure

March 14, 2011 (Monday) Yonago and Sakaiminato, Tottori

March 15, 2011 (Tuesday) Yasugi and Matsue, Shimane

March 16, 2011 (Wednesday) Matsue, Shimane

March 17, 2011 (Thursday) Izumo and Yunotsu, Shimane

March 18, 2010 (Friday) Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine, Shimane and Hiroshima

Travelers receive 10,000 JPY discount for booking before the 1st of December by using the promotional code “URBSA“. Space is extremely limited so make your booking today!

Dassai “Summer Otter” Set at Sakagura

In early August, I made time to visit a special tasting night at Sakagura. Mr. Kazuhiro Sakurai, executive director of Dassai Brewery (Asahi Shuzo) and three young Kurabito (sake brewery workers) came to New York to offer a unique tasting set. The delicious three sakes that were carefully selected (including ones yet-to-be introduced to the New York market) for that night made up the “Natsu no Kawauso (Summer Otter) Sake Tasting Set”:

  • Dassai 39 Sparkling Nigori
  • Dassai 50 Junmai Daiginjo Nama (Draft)
  • Dassai 39 Junmai Daiginjo

The evening was a blast and nothing says summer to me like the delicious Dassai 50 Nama… It’s not available for sale in the USA, so I jump at the chance to try it anytime I can! Yukie-san, Sakagura manager and Chizuko-san of Sake Discoveries were on hand in yukata to ensure everyone enjoyed their Dassai. I know I did! thanks for this special event!

Dassai Tasting Set at Sakagura

Introducing Dassai Sake at Sakagura

Dassai Brewery Kurabito enjoy Sakagura along with Sakurai-san, Yukie-san and Chizuko-san!


July 2010 Elements of Sake class

On July 19th, 2010 I taught another Elements of Sake class at the fun and exciting Astor Center in New York City’s East Village.

This class is always a blast to teach and I’ve already been teaching here for three years! Hard to believe it’s been that long already, but each and every class at Astor is a blast! I hope you’ll join me for a fun and informative sake lecture sometime. Explore the sakes we served at our last Elements of Sake Class:

7 sakes served at my sake class

Elements of Sake Sign outside Astor Center

Sake 101 Students at Astor Center

Wakatake and Umenishiki

Hakkaisan Tanabata Celebration at Sakagura

Junmai Ginjo

I was invited to help introduce and pour Hakkaisan sake at a special event at Sakagura restaurant celebrating the festival of “Tanabata”.

Tanabata Matsuri is known as the “Japanese Star Festival” and is usually held on the 7th day of the 7th month of the year. The festival commemorates two star-crossed lovers Orihime and Hikoboshi who could not be together on earth, but come together once a year in the heavens as stars. During this festival, people often write their wishes and hopes onto strips of paper that then get hung on bamboo branches.

It’s very common in Japan to wear a light summer kimono or yukata to a summer festival party, so I got a triple 3L size one online to get in the spirit. The yukata covers you from neck to ankle and wrist to wrist, but the fabric is SO light that it feels really comfortable!

The sakes provided by Hakkaisan and the food provided by Sakagura were all fantastic. Sakes that were served included:

In addition to these great sakes, Mr. Nagumo also provided a sake not for sale in the U.S. We’re talking about Hakkaisan Junmai Daiginjo… this is a very special sake with a milling rate of 35% remaining! The body is velvety and beyond smooth. You can tell this sake was labored over and is really something special. Everybody got a taste and everyone I spoke to was generally floored by the fantastic taste and supple body. One of the best sakes out here for sure… What a treat to have tried it right here in New York! Special thanks to Mr. Nagumo and Ms. Kurosawa for bringing this special treat to us here in New York! I loved it.

Sakagura provided delicious food and wonderful service to round out the evening and make for a spectacular event! Next chance you get be sure to get to Sakagura… and where you’re there – please try Hakkaian Sake!

Here I am with Ms. Kursosawa from Hakkaisan (left), Chizuko Niikawa of Sake Discoveries (center) and Mr. Jiro Nagumo (right), President of Hakkaisan Sake Brewery

Guests Talking with Mr. Nagumo and Chizuko

Guest enjoying Hakkaisan and Sakagura for Tanabata festival

Very rare and special Hakkaisan Jumai Daiginjo! Delicious!!

Hakkaisan Tasting Set was a hit at Sakagura!

Wishes written on strips of paper and attached to bamboo branches is a Tanabata Festvial tradition!

Masumi Sake Events in New York City!

Masumi Arabashiri

When I was a little kid, I knew Easter and the promise of Spring was on it’s way whenever I saw those Cadbury bunny chocolate eggs start to appear in the supermarket. I would also totally get a tummy ache from always eating too many, but despite this small roadblock, I still looked forward to them every year.

Now that I’m all grown up, I have a similar herald to the coming of spring: Masumi Arabashiri Nama Sake! Masumi sake brewery was in town to promote the arrival of this delicious Nama. In all, I attended three Masumi events in just a matter of days.

Here’s a rundown of the Masumi Sake events that were happening in the city!

Masumi Arabashiri Pre-Release Tasting at Sakagura
Sakagura hosted a delicous and fun reception to welcome Masumi Arabashiri. Masumi President Mr. Miyasaka was on hand as well as Brand Representative Keith Norman. I first met Keith at this very spot at another Masumi Sake tasting in 2006. Mr. Miyasaka I met for the first time at the Sake Samurai Ceremony in 2007. It was great to meet them both again and such a treat to drink their fantastic sakes!

Along with some delicious appetizers, Sakagura was pouring the following sakes for the guests at this event:

With Mr. Miyasaka at Sakagura

With Keith Norman & Masumi Sake at Sakagura

Masumi Sake Pairing dinner at 1 or 8 Restaurant

1 or 8” is a new-ish Japanese restaurant located deep inside Williamsburg, Brooklyn. On the upside, the space is gigantic and the food delicious but on the downside, well… there is no downside. Masumi was wise to pick this space for a wonderful pairing dinner with their sake. The menu was unique with the biggest standout being the duck course. Along with some superb sushi, I was in hog heaven. It’s doubly great to find a new restaurant and also find your favorite sake there.

Quite a crowd for Masumi at 1 or 8

Pouring Masumi at 1 or 8 Restaurant

Andrew from World Sake Imports Introduces Masumi

Masumi Sake Tasting Reception at EN Japanese Brasserie

EN Japanese Brasserie was my third stop in the Masumi Triumvirate. EN knows how to put on a tasting and this Masumi event was no exception. With some of their delicious and most famous appetizers, EN set the perfect backdrop for some seriously delicious sake. Mr. Miyasaka introduced his Arabashiri again and I really fell hard for this year’s offering. The namas that come in from Japan taste different from year to year and Iity can tell you without a doubt that this year is a winner for Masumi! Their Arabashiri is a gem and well work the price of admission.

I enjoyed all the Masumi events and I hope they come back to New York City again soon!

Miyasaka-san and Keith-san Introduce Masumi

Masumi Nanago just chillin'

Pouring Masumi for the Guests at EN

VOS Selections features Prestige Sakes

As a part of their 2010 Grand Portfolio Tasting, I attended a wonderful sake lecture by Kazu Yamazaki of Prestige Sakes. Kazu and Mariko Yamazaki work tirelessly to promote sake and introduce their wonderful Prestige Sakes to the US. Kazu-san’s fun lecture was focused on the “grand cru” of sakes… Daiginjos and Junmai Daiginjos! ohhh. I knew this was going to be a rough tasting going in – but I knuckled down and tasted eight fantastic daiginjo grade sakes.

Sakes tasted were:

The big take away for me was that however much you may think that Daiginjo Sakes are the same each has a nuance and subtle nature all it’s own. I could get used to this.

Mariko-san Introduces Prestige sakes

Kazu-san Teaching about Daiginjo Grand Cru sakes

Tasting map of 8 sakes

Sakes on display

Kuramoto US Sake Promotion Event

A Sake Industry promotion company called “Kuramoto US” recently put on a sake tasting event at the fantastic Kitano Hotel. Twelve Sake breweries were featured at the tasting, many bringing their precious and fresh Namazake for us to try. That delicious Namazake was really a highlight – but several were only for this tasting and not for sale in the US – yet!

It was really an exciting event with the attendees comprised of restaurant owners, bar managers and other food and beverage professionals. I got to meet some brewers and taste some great sakes! I can’t wait for the next Kuramoto US event!

Welcome to the Kuramoto US sake tasting!

Haruo Okasora Introduces Chiyomusubi

Chiyomusubi sake - Cup sake! My favorite!!

Michiko Kanehira presents her delicous Tomoju sake

Hidetomo Suto of Ehime's Seiryo Shuzo


Sake 101 at The International Restaurant Show

In March the International Restaurant Show was held at the Javitz Center. This year a large Japanese pavilion was featured and I was lucky to be asked to speak at the event. I held a Sake 101 lecture and spoke alongside Monica Samuels and Yukari Sakamoto.

This was a fun event and I was really pleased to see so many sake brewers in attendance. I love introducing folks to sake and this was a great opportunity to do so!

Welcome to the restaurant show. Photo by Noriyuki Kuroda

Teaching Sake 101 at the International Restaurant Show at the Javitz. Photo by Noriyuki Kuroda

Sake! Sake! Sake! Crowd goes wild at the Javitz. Photo by Noriyuki Kuroda

with Yukari Sakamoto and Monica Samuels. Photo by Noriyuki Kuroda

Born's Kato-san introduces his sakes

Fukuda-san pours Murai Family Nigori Genshu


Washoku -Try Japan’s Good Food (and Sake!)

With Ambassador & Mrs. Nishimiya

The Consulate General of Japan in New York recently hosted a reception at the Ambassador’s official residence to promote the “Washoku -; Try Japan’s Good Food” campaign.

On a very snowy afternoon in February, press, chefs and guests were assembled to learn about the good food (and sake!!!) of Japan. This event was also a kick off for the Japan Pavillion at the international restaurant show.

Ambassador Shinichi Nishimiya welcomed us into his home and I was honored to be ask to speak and present a brief Sake 101 lecture for the assembled guests. After the speech, there was a wonderful tasting prepared upstairs which everyone enjoyed. Many sake companies were represented and provided samples for all the sakes.

Yukari Sakamoto was the MC for the afternoon and she also did a lecture on Shochu.

This was a snowy afternoon but the turn out was still strong. You can read more about this event on the website of the Consulate-General of Japan.

My Sake 101 Lecture at the Japanese Ambassador's Residence. Photo by Noriyuki Kuroda

Sake Tasting

Toshi-san and Sakurai-san introduce Dassai and other sakes

Introducing Tomoju and Ken sakes