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Senshin Junmai Daiginjo!! Today, Sanjo-san, visiting from the brewery that makes Kubota, was serving a special and beautifully presented Kubota Junmai Daiginjo set. This set included Kubota Manju Junmai Daiginjo, Tokugetsu Junmai Daiginjo, and last but not least Senshin Junmai Daiginjo.'>

Kubota Night at Sakagura

Sanjo-san with Sakagura Manager Yukie-san

Sanjo-san with Sakagura Manager Yukie-san

After my fun Kubota Adventure at Decibel, I didn’t want to miss the Kubota event at Sakagura!

This time I was in for one of my new favorite sakes…Senshin Junmai Daiginjo!! Today, Sanjo-san, visiting from the brewery that makes Kubota, was serving a special and beautifully presented Kubota Junmai Daiginjo set. This set included Kubota Manju Junmai Daiginjo, Tokugetsu Junmai Daiginjo, and last but not least Senshin Junmai Daiginjo.

I was delighted to celebrate Kubota sake and Chizuko-san of Sake Discoveries joined me! We had fun enjoying sake together and toasting to Niigata sake from Asahi Shuzo. Sanjo-san stopped by and introduced us to his sake. We also got some special gifts, too!

Sanjo-san is of course the gentleman that gave me tour of the Kubota Sake Brewery (Asahi Shuzo) on my 2008 trip to Niigata. I was delighted to come out and support any Kubota event happening in New York.

I hope Sanjo-san makes another trip to New York this year. I’m always happy to toast this delicious sake! Kanpai!

Kubota Junmai Daiginjo Set

Kubota Junmai Daiginjo Set

Crowds at Sakagura all trying Kubota!

Sanjo-san introduces Kubota sake to some Niigata Fans

Sanjo-san introduces Kubota sake to some Niigata Fans

Sanjo-san and Chizuko-san enjoy Kubota Sake!

Sanjo-san and Chizuko-san enjoy Kubota Sake!

Kubota Sake Tasting at Decibel

Funky Sake Bar Decibel

In early February, on the night of one of our many awful winter storms this year, I trekked over to Decibel to attend a fantastic Kubota event. They weather was storming outside, but I followed by Sake Samurai Motto:

Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays the sake samurai from the swift attendance of their appointed sake tastings.

Now, not only was awesome sake being served, but the event was hosted by Masamichi Sanjo. Sanjo-san was the gentleman that gave me tour of the Kubota Sake Brewery (Asahi Shuzo) on my 2008 trip to Niigata.

The tasting on this night was a set of 3 sakes: Kubota Hekiju Junmai Daiginjo, Tokugetsu Junmai Daiginjo, and Kubota Senju Tokubetsu Honjozo

These three sakes were delicious! Sanjo-san served the Senju Honjozo with some yummy rice crackers and some preserved salmon from Niigata. It was an earthy mix and a robust flavor! A really fun way to taste a big of Niigata local cuisine!

I had such a fun time at this tasting and stay tuned for my report on another kubota tasting shortly! Thank you to Sanjo-san for bringing such great sake to Decibel!

Kubota Sake Tasting Set

Sanjo-san

Sanjo-san Introduces Kubota Sakes

Sanjo-san Explains Kubota Sake to Decibel customers

Kubota Sakes

From left to right Kubota Senju Honjozo, Tokugetsu Junmai Daiginjo and Kubota Hekiju Junmai Daiginjo

Sake Notebook

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Akira Organic Sake in New York!

AKIRA!

I was lucky enough to attend some wonderful and cutting edge sake events this past week. What makes them cutting edge? One word: Organic.

Organic seems to be everywhere you turn these days and now, I’m happy to report that organic is starting to hit in the sake world. A wonderful new organic sake is coming to market that I really enjoyed and I hope you’ll get the chance to taste!

That is a Junmai sake called “Akira” and it’s got a really cool story! It all starts with the owner of the farm that makes the sake, Mr. Akira Imura. Imura-san is Chairman of an organic farming company called Kanazawa Daichi located in Kanazawa Japan. He is incredibly enthusiastic about organic farming and he has a true connection to the spirit of the land. Their farm produces organic barley, wheat, soybeans and of course, rice!

The triple Organic rice (Japan, US and EU organic certified) used to make Akira is called “mitsuhikari” rice and it’s interesting to note that this is not usually a sake making rice! The farmers at Kanazawa Daichi told me they feel this sake best represents their brand and their focus on organic products! Their next idea was to bring this great sake to New York City!

Sake Sommelier Chizuko Niikawa-Helton of Sake Discoveries worked with the folks at Kanazawa Daichi to arrange for some great events:

Akira Kanazawa Daichi Night at Kitano Hotel Hakubai Restaurant

The Elegant Kitano Hotel was the setting for the first Akira event. About 100 especially invited guests dined on the wonderful food at Hakubai restaurant and enjoyed Akira Sake! Chizuko was pouring the sake three ways… chilled, room temperature and gently warmed. The guests that I spoke to were all enthusiastic about Akira and many people told me that they have never enjoyed warm sake so much. This made me very happy!

Sake Samurai with Organic Farmers at Hakubai


Akira Sake Tasting at Sakaya

Our Friends Rick and Hiroko at Sakaya also hosted the organic farmers from Kanazawa Daichi. This event allowed all of Sakaya’s sake fans to taste the delicious organic sake, too! Here, too the folks loved Akira – only problem is it’s not for sale in the USA…yet!!!

Tasting Akira at Sakaya


Kanazawa Daichi Night at Sakagura

Last but not least, Sakagura hosted a wonderful evening of Akira Sake tasting – and eating, too! The farmers from kanazawa Daichi brought over some of their organic sake which was made into the most delicious organic onigiri rice balls. The rice was served along side of Akira served at 3 temperatures. Everyone, including myself, flipped out over the fatastic flavor of the organic rice. It’s not every day you can sample the rice your sake was made from – what a treat! Another magical night at Sakagura!!

Chizuko-san and Farmers Introducing Akira sake at Sagakura

Akira Tasting set: 3 temperatures

Elegant Organic Onigiri! utterly delicious!

All told, this was a wonderful start to the organic sake revolution in New York! I think the organic farmers from Japan were thrilled to spread the joy of the organic farm to the big city – and I for was was delighted they did! Again, “Akira” is not yet for sale in the U.S. but hopefully soon! If these events were any indication, it will be a big success! Kanazawa Kanpai!

Upcoming Kubota Sake Events in NYC

Kubota!

Kubota is coming to town!

One of the most famous premium sake brands in all of Japan, “Kubota” has two fantastic sake events scheduled for this week! If you can make it, I think they will be awesome! Mr. Sanjo from the Asahi Shuzo Brewery that makes Kubota will be a special guest at both events and able to answer questions and help introduce you to this delicious sake!

Don’t miss these events:

*Feb. 10th, 6-12 pm: Kubota Event at Sake Bar Decibel
*Feb 12th, 9-11:30pm Kubota Night at Sakagura

I was thrilled to visit the brewery where Kubota was made in 2008. It was so beautiful there!

The Sake is just as beautiful!

Sake Dictionary Iphone App

Sake Dictionary

Sake Super-Sensei John Gauntner has come out with his first Iphone app – it’s a version of his valuable sake dictionary that you can carry without at all times now on your Iphone. This is surely to be a much loved app for every sake fan out there.

Check it out and download for yourself. You can find the sake dictionary App here:

http://itunes.com/apps/sakedictionary

Japanese Culinary Center Sake Tasting

Sake Sensei George Kao recently taught a fun Sake 101 class with a twist at the beautiful Japanese Culinary Center. The twist? George incorporated a blind tasting contest into the event. It made for a fun and exciting showdown for everyone attending!

Sakes tasted include:

All around, it was a blast! Thanks George and Japanese Culinary Center for a great class and fun evening.

George Teaching Sake 101

With George-sensei and some Hakkaisan Honjozo

Organic Akira Sake Events in NYC

There are several upcoming sake events in NYC that introduce the exciting new AKIRA brand of organic junmai sake from Ishikawa prefecture. This sake is not yet for sale in the US market, so this is a very RARE chance to try this delicious organic sake rice made into a beautiful sake!

Dont’ miss these events on Feb 4th:

I had a chance to sample this Akira Junmai and it rocks when gently warmed. Once of the best warmed sakes ever!

With Organic Akira Junami

Urban Sake + Japanese Language = Fun Time!

UrbanSake.com and Jon Hills from Hills Learning Japanese Language School co-sponsored a fun Sake 101 and Japanese Language 101 class held at ONYA udon noodle resturant.

In one short hour, we tasted 3 sakes and learned the basic Japanese vocabulary for ordering and tasting sake. A fun time was had by all and ONYA provided delicious appetizers and yummy snacks to support our tasting!

Jon is a great language teacher and I’ll never forget everyone asking for sake! “SUMIMASEN! JUNMAI GINJO KUDASAI!!” So much fun! Keep and eye on our Calendar for the next Sake and Japanese 101 class! not to be missed!

Jon Hills and Timothy Sullivan

Teaching Sake & Japanese 101 at Onya

Explosive Great Taste for New Year’s Eve

Dassai 39 Sparkling Nigori

Dassai 39 Sparkling Nigori

New Year’s Eve is about as loaded a holiday as you can get. All the pressure to be at the perfect party with that special someone at the stroke of midnight toasting with a glistening flute of the best champagne. And the New Year’s Resolutions – Don’t get me started on that subject.

One good thing about us hard core sake drinkers is that we definitely march to the beat of our own drummer. What better way to express our independence and kick off 2010 than to drink a sparkling sake for New Year’s Eve.

Last year, I posted some great suggestions for sparkling sake. Since then, there has been a new player to enter the sparkling sake arena. None other than Dassai 39 Junmai Daiginjo Sparkling Nigori!

Dassai is a well known and beloved brand that makes a “number” of top notch sakes including Dassai 50, Dassai 23, and regular Dassai 39. The number of course refers to the milling rate or “seimaibuai” — the amount to which the rice grain has been milled prior to brewing. Dassai is now the worlds first “Junmai Daiginjogura” meaning they are a brewery that only produces Junmai Daiginjo sake.

Dassai 39 Junmai Daiginjo Sparkling Nigori is a delicious sake and the perfect brew for those of us who want something unique for our New Years Eve bubbly. The taste is crisp and smooth with an over-the-top party on the palate for everyone who loves unique sake flavors! It’s refreshing, elegant and delicious.

Just be careful opening this sake as you would with any champagne. This sake has a lot of natural carbonation and the stopper can really snap crackle POP if you’re not careful. Trust me, you don’t want to miss a drop of this new year’s elixir!

So whether you’re at that perfect party with somebody special or home alone with Dick Clark, forge your own path and try some Dassai Sparkling Sake this New year’s Eve. Being a maverick has never tasted so good.

Kanoyama Sushi Restaurant. Scott introduced me to this place on Superbowl Sunday several years ago. As you may know, this is the one evening of the year when you can really have your pick of restaurants. While the world was enjoying the Superbowl halftime show, I was enjoying the spectacular sushi.'>

New Kid on the Block: Kanoyama Sake Bar

IF you live in New York City and you love sushi, chances are very high you’ve discovered Kanoyama Sushi Restaurant. Scott introduced me to this place on Superbowl Sunday several years ago. As you may know, this is the one evening of the year when you can really have your pick of restaurants. While the world was enjoying the Superbowl halftime show, I was enjoying the spectacular sushi.

Kanoyama Sushi Chefs

Kanoyama Sushi Chefs

Kanoyama suddenly became even more crowded when the NYTimes’ Frank Bruni singled it out as a destination for the “Affordable Luxury” of sushi. Um, thanks Frank…

I’ve loved this restaurant ever since that first superbowl sunday! But what’s the big news on the block? Well, Kanoyama has expanded next door and opened a new sake bar in the east village. Whoa, that IS big news!

Behold, Kanoyama Sake Bar (175 2nd Ave @11th St. 212-777-5266). Our friend Kiyoe-san is behind the bar and helping dole out the nihonshu. If you stop by, please tell her that UrbanSake.com sent you!

Kiyoe-san Introduces Sake at Kanoyama

Kiyoe-san Introduces Sake at Kanoyama

The sake list is solid and well thought out. Take a look at the Kanoyama Sake List as per their website.

In addition to sake, they also offer oysters! um, yum, right? right. On my first visit to this new sake bar, I ordered a dear favorite of mine – the Kikusui Funaguchi in a can. It’s a genshu, nama, and honjozo… and a linchpin in anyone’s ‘get drunk quick scheme’. I find it utterly delightful and it’s a fruity way to wind down an evening. I actually had it instead of dessert!

So give Kanoyama Sake bar a try. Besides Funaguchi – they have many wonderful sakes to explore. I’m excited to see where this favorite sushi bar goes with it’s sake! All I can say is bottoms up and best of luck Kanoyama – Kanpai!

Enjoying Kikusui Funaguchi at Kanoyama sake Bar

Enjoying Kikusui Funaguchi at Kanoyama sake Bar

2009 Golden Masu Awards

Golden Masu Award!

Golden Masu Award!

For me personally, I’ll look back on 2009 as a year with some struggles, some fun and some really great sake! …And, at least for me, sake helps with both struggles and with fun.

It’s the time of year again when we salute some of the best sakes of the year… Just like the Oscars with lots more sake and a lot less movie stars. This year’s list of winners runs the gamut from honjozo to cup sake to the finest junmai daiginjo. All of it delicious in it’s own special and unique way.

Without Further ado, I give you the 2009 UrbanSake.com Golden Masu Awards!


“Best Honjozo”

golden_masu_2

Ban Ryu

Ban Ryu

And the Masu goes to:
Ban Ryu “10,000 Ways” Honjozo

In the U.S., honjozo style sake (fortified with added distilled alcohol) are relatively hard to find. People hear “alcohol added” and think “jet fuel”! I’m here to tell you nothing could be further from the truth. Honjozo style sake can be expressive, rich, fragrant and enchanting. To prove this to yourself, look no further than Ban Ryu Honjozo. Look for that signature velvety finish and a great flavor profile and several temperatures. chilled, warm or hot, this sake will please you in 10,000 ways. This versatile sake is not to be missed.


“Best Cup in the U.S.”

golden_masu_2

Oyaji Gokuraku

Oyaji Gokuraku

And the Masu goes to: Chiyomusubi Oyaji Gokuraku

“Here’s looking at you!” I have a special place in my heart for sake sold in the “one cup” size. No one cup stole my heart this year as did the Chiyomusubi Oyaji Gokuraku sake cup. The design of this label is based on the the anime “Ge-Ge-Ge no Kitaro“. Created by the famous Japanese artist Shigeru Mizuki (水木 しげる), Kitaro has had a wide impact on Japanese popular culture. The Oyaji character is the father of the lead character and he’s bascially a walking, talking eyeball who loves sake. Only in Japan, folks! In any case, the brewers at Chiyomusubi chose Goriki sake rice for the Oyaji flavor. This is a stroke of genius in my book. Goriki has a great nostaligic flavor that is not too pretty or quaint and a perfect match to the sake-loving Oyaji character. Cup sake is a treat… and this one is a treasure!


“Most Delicious 500ML”

golden_masu_2

Manotsuru

Manotsuru

And the Masu goes to:
Manotsuru Four Daimonds Junmai Ginjo

Sometimes, 300ml isn’t enough, but 720ml is just too much. Enter the 500ml bottle. They are few and far between, but well worth a look-see. One of my very favorite of these sakes is the Manotsuru Four Daimonds Junmai Ginjo. Produced by Obata sake brewery in beautiful Niigata prefecture, this sake is something special. It’s a full on genshu sake bordering on 18% alcohol. This doesn’t diminish in any way the quality or well crafted feeling of this brew. I enjoy it slightly chilled and find it quite versatile as far as food pairing goes. Another win for Niigata sakes – and another win for 500ML! Thank you Obata-san!


“Best New Junmai Import”

golden_masu_2

Wakatake

Wakatake

And the Masu goes to:
Wakatake Junmai

New sakes are imported into the USA every year without fail. I’m always on the lookout for something new. What surprises me most is when something new comes from someone so familiar! We all know and love Wakatake Junmai Dainginjo sake, but the folks at Wakatake brought in their Junmai sake this year. It’s got a slight creaminess that I just find irresistible and yet, it maintains that wonderful feeling of shizuoka simplicity that makes the junmai daiginjo such a hit. This is a great expression of what a Junmai can be and a welcome addition to the Junmai lexicon in the US. Kanpai!


“Best Extra Dry Sake”

golden_masu_2

Kasumi Tsuru

Kasumi Tsuru

And the Masu goes to:

Kasumi Tsuru Extra Dry Junmai

“What do you have that’s DRY?” Oi, If I had a first class ticket to Japan for every time I’ve heard that question! Many folks State-side have gotten this notion into their head that the best sake is Dry sake. Super dry sake is super yummy in my book, so I love to have a primo example of what dry really is at the ready when people ask for it. My textbook example is the delicious Kasumi Tsuru Extra Dry Junmai. It’s dry without being over-exaggerated and unbalanced. Imported by Joto Sake importers and a product of Hyogo Prefecture, this sake has a delightful depth and distinct dry edge that make it in my book the great exemplar of what a well rounded dry sake can be! Enjoy this gem at all temperatures!


“Best in Show”

golden_masu_2

Kirinzan

Kirinzan

And the Masu goes to:
Kirinzan Junmai Daiginjo

I first tasted this sake at Sakagura Restaurant on New Year’s Eve a few years back. Our server left the stunning bottle on the table for me to admire as I sipped on the sake. This left all my senses pleased! Kirinzan makes a balanced, clean and pure Niigata Junmai Daiginjo that is a treasure in and of itself, but the beautiful bottle just adds to the enjoyment of this sake all the more. This “total package” is a feast for the senses and a true testament to everything a sake can be. For me, this is one of the very best. Enjoy it yourself for a special occasion, with friends or simply on it’s own. Without a doubt you’ll taste the quality that is it’s own reward.

Well, there you have it. Congratulations to all the winners and I’ll be on the look out in 2010 for any new sake stars on the horizon… Kanpai and Happy New Year!

2009 Fall Akita Sake Tasting

If you can count on one thing, I would say it’s that the folks involved with the Akita Sake Club know how to throw a sake party! It’s that time of year again, and I was lucky enough to snag an ticket to the wonderful and fun Akita Sake Club sake tasting!

This time around, there was a great selection of sakes from Akita but also from other prefectures, too! A great time was had by all and I really enjoyed this chance to taste some old, new and reacquainted sakes.

IF you want to go to the next Akita Sake Club sake tasting event, keep your eye on my Sake Event Listing (subscribe to feed here). I’ll post it there for sure.

Lovely Akita Ladies pour sake!

Lovely Akita Ladies pour sake!

Fukuda-san is introducing Murai Family Sakes.  I served this on the sake cruise!

Fukuda-san is introducing Murai Family Sakes. I served this on the sake cruise!

Kuno-san pours Tengumai

Kuno-san pours Tengumai

This sake event was BYOB (bring your own Ochoko) to help save the earth.

This sake event was BYOB (bring your own Ochoko) to help save the earth.

The crowds love Akita sake!

The crowds love Akita sake!

Wearing Kimono makes sake taste better! Everyone knows that!

Wearing Kimono makes sake taste better! Everyone knows that!

Japanese Sake Makes Debut in British Parliament

I saw this great news tidbit on Kyodo News and found this fantastic! I wonder if sake has been served in the White House yet? prolly has! I’m especially excited as this story features Koichi Saura from Sake Samurai and Urakasumi fame! Yea Saura-san!

Via Kyodo News:

Japanese sake makes debut in British parliament

Saura-san

Saura-san

Koichi Saura (L), a board member of the Japan Sake Brewers Association, and Lord Pearson of Rannoch open a sake barrel in front of a picture of the House of Lords during a party at Westminster in London on Nov. 18, 2009. The party, held to commemorate the 150th anniversary of bilateral relations, became the first event at which Japanese rice wine was served in the building. (Kyodo)

Naraman Sake Tasting at Sake Hana

When Sake Hana talks, people listen! or at least rabid sake fans listen. I was happy to be on the Sake Hana email list to get a notice about a special event being held in their little sake hideaway.

Scott, Chizuko-san and I made our reservations for a special event: Naraman Muroka sake at different temperatures! Same sake – 5 different tastes.

Sake Sommelier Chizuko and Tim Enjoy Naraman

Sake Sommelier Chizuko and Tim Enjoy Naraman

Best part of all, Nobuo Shoji-san, Executive Director of Yumegokoro Sake Brewery – makers of Naraman – would be introducing all sake! Shoji-san gave us a fascinating overview of his Brewery and we sampled only Naraman Muroka sake with a little tuna sashimi and increasingly warm sake.

Here is an overview of the different sake temperatures:

Sake Naming and Temperature Chart
Japanese Name Celsius Fahrenheit English Name
Tobikirikan 55° C 133° F Very Hot Sake
Atsukan 50° C 122° F Hot Sake
Jokan 45° C 113° F Slightly Hot Sake
Nurukan 40° C 104° F Warm Sake
Hitohadakan 35° C 95° F Body Temperature
Hinatakan 30° C 86° F Sunbathing in Summer
Zuzuhie 15° C 59° F Cool autumn Breeze
Hanahie 10° C 51° F Blooming Spring Flower
Yukihie 5° C 41° F Falling Winter Snow

Honestly, I liked Naraman at all temperatures, but I think that hitohadakan (body temperature) was one of my favorite. Shoji-san was excited to try this temperature experiment with his sake, too. Everyone in attendance had a great time. I was left with the understanding that served warm or cold, Naraman is hot, hot, hot!

Shoji-san and Tim enjoying Naraman

Shoji-san and Tim enjoying Naraman

Fall 2009 Wine of Japan Sake Tasting

The good sake times keep rollin’ people! What is it about the Fall that delivers so many wonderful sake-rific events?! Must be the start of the sake brewing season that gets everyone’s sake mojo flowing and the events underway.

I’m all for sake mojo so let’s take a look at my latest tasting adventure took me to the Wine of Japan Fall 2009 Sake Tasting event.

When Sake fans hear the word “Shirakawago”, they usually think of one thing: Nigori! This event finally afforded me the opportunity to meet Mr. Miwa who makes the famous Nigoris. I learned something interesting – the Nigori that they export is called “SasaNigori” which is not the thickest they have their full nigori is super, super thick and creamy – I’ve never had anything like it! I was happy to get a taste! If you love Nigori, you gotta check out Shirakawago.

Miwa-san makes the famous Shirakawago Nigori

Miwa-san makes the famous Shirakawago Nigori

I also met the president of Nakamura Brewery. They are located in beautiful Ishikawa prefecture. The Sake they are importing now is called Kaga Setsubai and is a wonderfully rounded Junmai. They also had a smaller cup sake that is meant to be frozen and drunk like a slushie. Slushies have never been so fun!

Nakamura-san with the delicious Kaga Setsubai Sake

Nakamura-san with the delicious Kaga Setsubai Sake

Takaisami Brewery is another producer I got to know a little better at this tasting. They were serving a Junmai and their Nakadare Junmai Ginjo. Both were excellent and the visiting Brewery reps were super friendly. I really enjoyed drinking their sake.

Takaisami Brewery introduces Nakadare Junmai Ginjo

Takaisami Brewery introduces Nakadare Junmai Ginjo

I didn’t get to try everything at this tasting, but I still had a lot of fun. There were many outstanding brews from Wine of Japan imports that are still to be tasted. Hope you’ll join me to explore their sakes!

“Underground” Sake Tasting at Decibel

I was lucky enough to hear about a true “underground” tasting at Decibel, the much beloved downstairs sake bar in the East Village. The vibe was very much a Japanese speakeasy crossed with a flash mob. It was crowded, but fun to see all the regular Decibel customers enjoying a taste of some fantastic sakes.

The sakes featured were Wine of Japan imports and included Tenzan, Sawanoi, Shirayuki and many others and were being introduced by the brewers themselves!

Tenzan Brewery President Mr. Shichida called on his friend Tenzan Man to step in and help introduce his sake to Americans. Although he looks like he might bodyslam you ala Hulk Hogan, Tenzan Man is all about the sake. His mask even has “Tenzan” written in Japanese Kanji! The most well known of their sakes is the ‘Jizake Tenzan’, which is the very strong Genshu style sake. Powerful and delicious!

Ya gotta love New York! Meet Tenzan Man!

Ya gotta love New York! Meet Tenzan Man!

I also met up with Mr. Kodama who was kind enough to show me around Sawanoi Brewery on my recent trip to their brewery. Kodama-san was introducing his Tokyo Prefecture sakes to the large crowd at Decibel. The sakes from Sawannoi are fantastic and despite making a lot of sake, they maintain the hand crafted, micro brewed feeling. Delicious.

Kodama-san from Sawanoi

Kodama-san from Sawanoi

Shirayuki is a brewery I have not had the chance to visit yet, but I was happy to meet Mr. Minamikawa who let me taste a selection of their brews. They are a large producer of sake and have a big distribution both at home and abroad. Minamikawa-san was great at explaining the ins and outs of each of his sakes.

Minamikawa-san Introducing Shirayuki

Minamikawa-san Introducing Shirayuki

This was such a fun event! I hope you all have a chance to visit Decibel sometime soon. It’s the ultimate east village “underground” sake bar! Tell ’em Urban Sake sent you!

The Crowd at Decibel

The Crowd at Decibel

Umenoyado at Matsuri

Matsuri Restuarant has been ramping up their sake events and I was delighted to attend a recent event there devoted to Umenoyado sake sponsored by Daiei Trading Sake Importers. I last had Umenoyado sake at a tasting event at Sakaya back in Feb 2009. It was there that I first met Mr. Moriura. Moriura-san did a great job presenting his sake and I loved getting to know the great Umenoyado sakes again.

With Moriura-san and Bizen Omachi

With Moriura-san and Bizen Omachi

Let’s take a look at the sakes we tasted at this great event:

ume no yado junmai ginjoUme No Yado Junmai Ginjo

This is perhaps the best known sake from Ume No Yado currently in the US.

What I like about it is the somewhat rich character and the fact that it doesn’t shy away from rice flavors. It’s extremely drinkable and very enjoyable.

umenoyado junmai_daiginjoUme No Yado Junmai Daiginjo Bizen Omachi

This is a delicious sake made with the rare but well known “Bizen Omachi” rice.

It’s hard to grow and gives this sake a beautifully unqiue taste. this Junmai Daiginjo is milled to an amazing 40%. Look for the signature smooth taste.

umenoyado_yuzuUme No Yado Yuzu-shu

Yuzu is a well known taste in Japanese cuisine, but less so here. it’s often called a “japanese lemon” and it a unique citrus worthy of your attention.

This low alcoholsake is made with the addition of fresh yuzu juice that is summed up in one word: “Refreshing”!

umenoyado_umeUme No Yado Ume-shu

This is a low alcohol Plum sake or “ume-shu”. It’s sweet without being overpowering and if you like the taste of plums, you in for a treat. Enjoy as dessert after a meal! And who better to explore what Ume can do than the Plum house itself “Ume no Yado”!

Sake Tasting

Sake Tasting

We've arrived at Matsuri

We've arrived at Matsuri

New Sake Iphone App!

Sake App!

Sake App!

Our friend Michael over at LosAngelesSake.com has done what SO many tech savvy sake fans have been clamoring for! A sake Iphone app! This is the kind of thing that I always said, I wish I knew how to do that! Luck for us, Michael does and he has coded a pretty super sake Iphone app.

Click Here (will open Itunes) to view and download the app! The first version of the sake app has been released and features some pretty cool features:

  • Notes: record detailed tasting notes on the sakes you are tasting.
  • Photos: Take a snap shot of the sake labels or choose one from your existing photo library
  • Social: Share your favorite sakes with the world with twitter integration.
  • Ratings: rate each sake and compare them with your friends!
  • Favorites: Keep a list of your favorite sakes for easy reference.
  • Email: Email sake notes, including the label photo

If you’re a a sake-drinkin’ Iphone owner, check it out and give it a try! It’s a must have for sake fans!

Joto Sake Brewers at Matsuri

There was a wonderful tasting this week held at Matsuri Restaurant in Chelsea featuring the delicious sakes of Joto Sake. What made this event especially exciting was the presence of four of Joto sake brewers!

Joto Sake Tasting

Joto Sake Tasting

When people ask me what they should do to learn more about sake, I always respond “meet the brewers!”. Talking one-on-one with the people who actually make sake is a fantastic way to learn, experience and taste this magical drink. We’re so lucky in New York City to have many tasting and sake events with sake Brewers in attendance.

This Joto event is a prime example. There were four brewers on hand to introduce sake from their respective breweries. Also, at this event, the brewers brought along food specialties from their area of Japan.

Fukumoto-san from Kasumitsuru Brewery brought his sakes along with his fall nama known as a “hiyaoroshi”. As a matter of fact, all brewers had their special fall nama with them. Delicious! Fukumoto-san also had dried squid, a specialty from Hyogo prefecture.

Fukumoto-san Introduces Kasumi tsuru sake.

Fukumoto-san Introduces Kasumi tsuru sake.

Next, I met up with Tomita-san from Shichihonyari brewery. I was lucky enough to visit Tomita-san’s beautiful brewery in 2008. Tomita-san is one cool dude and he had his famous Shizuku drip sake and also the renouned Shichihonyari Junami on hand to try. They also offered their Hiyaoroshi which was only milled to 80% and a rough and ready taste of pure autumnal sake goodness.

Tomita-san with his Hiyaoroshi Fall Nama

Tomita-san with his Hiyaoroshi Fall Nama

The sakes of Akita are well known and one star from that region is the Yukinobosha brand made by Saito Brewery. Saito-san was also in attendance and pouring several of his über-delicious brews. Their enchanting Akita Komachi Daiginjo caught my attention yet again – what a wonderful sake! Elegant, smooth and silky. Of course, the lone nigori of the night was the fantastic Yukinobosha nigori. yum

Saito-san pours Yukinobosha sake!

Saito-san pours Yukinobosha sake!

Last but not least, the brewers from Eiko Fuji presented some fantastic stuff. I had a sip of their delicious fall nama, as well as a unique Ume-shu or plum sake. It was lightly sweet, full of elegant plum flavor and not too overpowering – a real surprise! I also enjoyed one of my favorite Namas of all time – the Eiko Fuji nama! Just delicious and produced year round.

This tasting was a home run in so many ways! great sake, great education and great location. And with an admission price of $20, you cannot beat the price. If you want to be alerted to future events, please subscribe to the UrbanSake.com Events RSS feed! I list all sake events I hear of and I hope to see you at the next sake tasting!

Joto Sake tasting Details

Joto Sake tasting Details

UrbanSake.com in the Japan Times!

Yes, the Japan Times!

Yes, the Japan Times!

Sake Day comes once a year on Oct 1st. This year, I was a little distracted with a certain boat trip, but in my soul, every day is Sake Day.

For Sake Day 2009, I was honored to be asked by the Japan Times for an interview about all things sake. Take a look at the interview! Download PDF

Japan times

Japan times

thanks to Jon at Seoul-man blog for the scan!

New: Sake Brewery Tours!

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 2010. 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.

Here are the details:
Sake Brewery Tour of Japan’s Kansai Region

Kansai Region

Kansai Region

Feb. 23 – Feb. 27, 2010
>See Details
>Download PDF Brochure

February 23, 2010 (Tuesday) Kyoto
You will arrive at Karasuma Kyoto Hotel by individually arranged transportation.

February 24, 2010 (Wednesday) Fushimi, Kyoto
The day begins with a half-day lecture by John Gauntner to prepare you for our brewery visits. The collection of brewing tools and bottles spanning all eras of the industry at the Gekkeikan Sake Museum deepens your knowledge. We make our first brewery visit in the scenic and historic Fushimi Ward of Kyoto City, an area that continues to prosper as one of the two brewing capitals in Japan and as the home to more than twenty breweries.
sugidama

February 25, 2010 (Thursday) Kyoto Optional Tour
You may choose to spend the day leisurely exploring Kyoto on your own, or make an optional visit to Tenryuji Zen Monastery in Arashiyama. After wandering among the deep, tranquil bamboo groves, enjoy the stunning view from the impeccably manicured Japanese garden at the private estate of the late silent movie star, Ōkōchi Sansō. Then, we visit Matsuo Taisha, dedicated to the god of sake brewing, which is worshiped and visited by almost every brewer in the nation. A visit to the serene moss garden at Saihō-ji, also known as the Moss Temple, will leave you with peaceful memories of the ancient capital.

February 26, 2010 (Friday) Kobe and Osaka
In the morning, we will visit another brewery in Kobe, the largest brewing center in the country, and continue to Osaka for a castle visit. The final kura tour and dinner at an historic brewery will leave everyone with beautiful memories.

February 27, 2010 (Saturday) Kyoto
On the last day in Kyoto, the morning begins with a walk down the passageways of one of Kyoto’s main fish and vegetable markets, Nishiki Market. There is a wide selection of pickles, specialty local vegetables (Kyo-yasai), bean curd, and traditional Japanese cooking tools to delight any foodie. After an early lunch at the market, a visit to Nijo Castle is the feast for the eyes with sumptuous artwork from the Edo period at the Shogun’s residence and the strolling garden designed by Kobori Enshu.

Sake Brewery Tour of Japan’s Sanin Region

Sanin Region

Sanin Region

March 15 – March 19, 2010
>See Details
>Download PDF Brochure

March 15, 2010 (Monday) Yonago, Tottori
You will arrive at Yonago Airport or JR Yonago station in Tottori individually and transfer to the Hotel.

March 16, 2010 (Tuesday) Yonago and Sakaiminato, Tottori
A half-day lecture by John Gauntner prepares you for our journey. In Sakaiminato, enjoy the first brewery tour and tasting right in the heart of very popular Mizuki Shigeru Road where statues of spooky yet very comical characters welcome visitors. Then, stroll in the beautiful Japanese gardens of the Adachi Museum of Art and enjoy their collection of Japanese paintings by renowned artists, most notably, Yokoyama Taikan.

March 17, 2010 (Wednesday) Matsue, Shimane
Private car takes you to Matsue. This beautiful city surrounded by water is often called “ the Venice of Japan ”. Start the day by visiting a sake brewery. From the brewery, explore the beautiful historical city on foot and on by small boat through the canals surrounding the castle. Savory banquet-style dinner served with local sake at a Japanese-style inn.

March 18, 2010 (Thursday) Izumo and Yunotsu, Shimane
In the morning, visit one more sake brewery. Then, wander the Izumo Grand Shrine, one of Japan’s most ancient and important shrines. A visit to the Shimane Museum of Ancient Izumo to browse through the stunning collection of historical discoveries gives you insights into the pre-historic myth, religion, and history of this old crossroads. In the evening, stay at the quaint, tiny coastal onsen town of Yunotsu and enjoy a quiet, relaxing evening. Banquet style dinner and sake are served at the ryokan.

March 19, 2010 (Friday) Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine, Shimane and Hiroshima
Explore the town of Yunotsu on foot and tramp along a rocky coastal beach or visit a pottery studio where you can see a traditional kiln. Then, visit the most recent World Heritage Site in Japan, Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine, where you explore the old mining town accessible only on foot. A leisurely stroll along the winding creek with blooming spring flowers and the sound of birds creates a timeless moment.
A private car takes you to JR Hiroshima Station, where you can continue your travels or head back to Tokyo or Kansai. Participants will continue with any onward travel plans. Note that Michi Travel can make arrangements for you.

Sake Cruise ’09: Osaka, Mukune & Tako

Our Arrival in Osaka was rainy, but still exciting – they had a high school band playing and lots of kids were out to see the big boat pull into port. One thing that set Osaka apart from Sendai, Hakodate and even Tokyo was the development of the Pier area. Literally STEPS from the ship there was a huge ferris wheel, the best Aquarium in Japan and a shopping mall to boot.

Osaka Ferris Wheel at the Dock

Osaka Ferris Wheel at the Dock

On the first day in Osaka, I went to the Aquarium and at night went up on the huge Ferris Wheel where we got an amazing night time view of the Mariner.

Seven Seas Mariner From Above

Seven Seas Mariner From Above

While the Whale Shark is the star attraction at the Osaka Aquarium (“the biggest fish in captivity”), I was entranced by the school of silvery sardines that swim in a huge school in an endless loop around, around and around. It was mesmerizing to watch.

Osaka's Amazing Aquarium

Osaka's Amazing Aquarium

Visiting Daimon Brewery
One of the thrills of visiting Osaka was to finally Visit Daimon Sake Brewery. Daimon-san makes the world famous Mukune brand of sake and is also well known for sponsoring a sake brewing internship program starting in 2009. Daimon-san greeted us personally at the gate and beautiful entrance to his brewery. Lucky for us there was a local craft fair being hosted that day in the Brewery, so we got to see some beautiful crafts along with our tour.

Beautiful Mukune Brewery

Beautiful Mukune Brewery

Daimon-san walked us around the brewery and showed us where the rice was washed and steamed, where Koji was made using advanced technology and where the Brewing tanks and sake pressing were done. The overall feeling was of a true artisanal brewery.

Daimon-san with His Koji Computer

Daimon-san with His Koji Computer

After the Brewery tour, Daimon-san invited us to have lunch and sake at his restaurant located in the brewery called Mukune-tei. The Restaurant is small but wonderful with a wonderful course menu of simple, honest home cooked style meals. At this point we also sampled some Daimon Sake including a divine Shizuku, some fall nama and wonderful Junmai Ginjo sake, too.

Having Lunch at Daimon-san's Restaurant

Having Lunch at Daimon-san's Restaurant

As we finished up our meal and bid farewell to Daimon-san, I felt so lucky to be enjoying such wonderful food and sake in such beautiful surroundings. Getting out to the countryside on our own was quite an adventure and now we had to do it all in reverse. The Adventure never stops in Japan. Very special thanks to Daimon-san for such wonderful hospitality and for welcoming us so graciously. I hope I can return and visit again!

Takoyaki
In New York City we are super lucky to have a great and authentic Takoyaki stand on 9th street. I love it. Well, now I found myself in the home of takoyaki and I had to test how they tasted in Osaka. The final report? What we can get on 9th street is super realistic and just as good as the Osaka Street vendors… and it saves you the airfare.

On the hunt for True Osaka Tokoyaki

On the hunt for True Osaka Tokoyaki

Sake Party
I was lucky enough to be invited to a sake party at a wonderful Osaka restaurant. My host was Mr. Sano who runs a well known Sake retail website called Jizake.com. Now, Sano-san really hooked me up. He arranged for dinner at Takochaya, a well known restaurant that specializes in Octopus or “tako” in Japanese. The owner is also known as a sake fan.

Toasting with Sano-san

Toasting with Sano-san

The sake dinner at Takochaya was a wonderful treat and Sano-san gave me many wonderful sakes to try and everything I had was delicious and made me love sake more than ever. However there was one moment that I will never forget. Once course of our sake dinner involved getting served live Octopus tentacles that was still wiggling around and grabbing on to anything in sight. To see what I’m talking about Check out my video of our main course:

I actually really enjoyed the squirming octopus and everything I ate at Takochaya. Sano-san is a huge sake fan and a wonderful person, too. I was happy to meet him on this trip and some new sake friends too.

Goodbye Japan
Osaka was my last stop on this wonderful sake cruise so it’s the end of this trip to Japan and to Sake Cruise ’09. I had so many wonderful experiences! I will always think of this trip as my “Rainbow Tour” of Japan as the followed us where ever we went, just like this one on my first day on the ship:

The Rainbow Tour

The Rainbow Tour

Thanks to everyone who made our stay in Japan so wonderful and a special thank you to Scott for being such a constant support and steady guide through it all. ( Can you believe we found Yama-san together? )

I literally cannot wait to get back to Japan on another sake adventure! Until then – Kanpai one and all.

Sake Cruise ’09: Tokyo, Sawanoi & Sake Ice Cream

Taiko Welcome

Taiko Welcome

As we slowly docked in Tokyo Harbor, I heard this odd noise off in the distance. As we drew closer, I saw clearly that there were live Taiko Drummers stationed on the dock to greet us! It was a very memorable welcome ceremony and I couldn’t wait to get off the ship and start exploring Tokyo!

The cruise company provided a shuttle but that took us from the dock to the Ginza shopping area. When I heard they were dropping us in Ginza, I got all excited because I what was there – one of my favorite sake tasting bars!

Fukumitsuya Sake Shop
One of my first stops off the bus was to stop into Fukumitsuya Sake Shop and Tasting Bar. This place is amazing and I’ve loved it since my first visit here in 2008. The style of the shop is clean, elegant and modern. They have a shop that sells Fukumitsuya brand sakes such as Kagatobi and Kuro-obi along with artisan made sake carafes and cups. In addition to the retail side, the shop also features a tasting bar to sample sake and snacks.

Sake Ice Cream with Koshu

Sake Ice Cream with Koshu


Since it was before noon, I sat down at the bar and looked at the snacks they offered. Turns out they offer a Sake infused ice cream served with a shot of rich, aged koshu on the side. I was skeptical, but the pull of ice cream was too much to endure so I went for it. Turns out the ice cream was delicious, but the Koshu on top was utterly fantastic and turned this little treat into the breakfast of champions.

After a little Sake Ice cream powered shopping spree, I headed off on a a little urban safari hunting for the elusive tokyo cup sake.

Ajinomachidaya Sake Shop
Anyone who knows me well knows that I love sake, and that I really love cup sake. All my research indicated that there was a small but hard to find sake shop that specialized in cup sake… and come hell or high water, I was going to find it.

After a lot of help from a local resident and a little boost from Google maps, we arrived at Ajinomachidaya Sake Shop.

Ajinomachidaya Sake Shop

Ajinomachidaya Sake Shop


The shop is small with a real neighborhood feel and crowded to the brim with delicious sake. I introduced myself to the owner Mr. Kimura as a sake samurai on the hunt for cup sake and he showed me his wall of refrigerators dedicated to cup sake as he welcomed us very warmly indeed.

A kanpai with Kimura-san

A kanpai with Kimura-san


Kimura-san obviously has a true sake spirit and quickly broke out some samples for us to try as well as giving us a tour of his reserve sake refrigerator for his super premium brews and his large storage space for all the remaining sake, cup sake and shochu. I picked out about 12 sake cups to take with me. As I don’t do so well with the Kanji, i’m not 100% what I ended up buying but I stuck close to Kimura-san’s recommendations.

I loved this little sake shop and look forward to the day that I can return. As we bid Kimura-san goodbye, I was looking forward to one more big tokyo adventure!

Sawanoi Brewery Tour
Day 2 in Tokyo, we found ourselves meeting up with Etsuko-san of TokyoFoodcast fame to trek to the outskirts of Tokyo to visit that one of that prefecture’s most famous breweries: Sawanoi.

Kodama-san, Tim, Scott and Etsuko-san at Sawanoi

Kodama-san, Tim, Scott and Etsuko-san at Sawanoi


We were met at the Brewery by Mr. Masaaki Kodama, Director of Sales who gave us an extensive tour of their impressive facility. What strikes you first upon visiting Sawanoi is the extreme beauty of the setting. The Brewery is nestled on a hillside with a shop, famous tofu restaurant and picturesque view of the valley with a tranquil stream. Across the quaint bridge is a Shrine built on the opposite hillside. It’s idyllic, charming and very well worth a visit.

Quaint Bridge and Shrine at Sawanoi

Quaint Bridge and Shrine at Sawanoi

Kodama-san started our tour in the brewery area with a visit to the unique and state of the art rice steaming and cooling machine. It made it clear from the get go, that Sawanoi makes their sake on a larger scale than smaller breweries. Everything at Sawanoi was impressive and Kodama-san was an expert tour guide to the facility.

Etsuko-san Sampling freshly steamed sake rice

Etsuko-san Sampling freshly steamed sake rice

Kodama-san explains Pressing sake

Kodama-san explains Pressing sake

After our Brewery tour, we had a noon reservation at Mamagotoya Tofu Restaurant. The views from our dining room at Mamagotoya were breathtaking. We had a white heron hunting for fish in the stream below as we enjoyed course after course of delicious tofu based food. The setting, food and overall ambiance was a 10 out of 10. If you get to Tokyo, I would recommend you take the time to visit Sawanoi in any case. Charming doesn’t begin to describe…

The Beautiful Stream at Sawanoi

The Beautiful Stream at Sawanoi

Sawanoi Souten Nama

Sawanoi Souten Nama

Along with all our delicious food, we were gifted a bottle of Sawanoi Souten Junmai Ginjo Nama Sake. This sake was flowery and fresh with a delightful sweetness on the palate. It made a delicious match to the tofu dishes at Mamagotoya.

As we bid farewell to Kodama-san and headed back to the train and to the ship, I took a moment to look around and take it all in. I wanted to truly appreciate everything I had seen at Sawanoi. What a fantastical place. My special thanks to Kodoma-san and Sanwanoi for receiving us so kindly and for all their hospitality, which I won’t soon forget.

Next it’s back to the boat and on to Osaka! I’m looking forward to the sake adventures that await in that city.

Sake Cruise ’09: Shiogama, Urakasumi & Kimono

Urakasumi

Urakasumi

This morning I woke up as the Seven Seas Mariner was pulling into the harbor at Sendai located in Japan’s Miyagi Prefecture. Downtown Sendai City is actually about a 45 min drive from the industrial port area where we had docked. Most guests were on their way to tours and excursions, but I was leaning off the ship’s balcony looking for someone.

Picturesque Brewery Passageways

Picturesque Brewery Passageways

I was very lucky to be meeting Mr. Koichi Saura, President of the sake brewery that bares his name and also makes the world famous Urakasumi brand of sake. I have met Saura-san before as he prosided over the ceremony in Kyoto where I became a Sake Samurai in 2007.

As luck would have it Saura Sake Brewery, located in Shiogama town is only a 20 min drive from the ship’s pier, actually much closer than downtown Sendai itself!

As I climbed down off the gangway, Saura-san was there to meet me on the pier and I was so happy to see him again and of course looking forward to seeing the home of delicious Urakasumi Sake!

Urakasumi

Washing and Steaming room

Washing and Steaming room

The Saura Sake Brewery is nestled in the middle of Shiogama and is a picturesque place. After some tea, Saura-san began the tour of his beautiful brewery.

First, I saw his newly built office building that had an entrance way that was made from a reclaimed section of a temple that would have otherwise been lost. It’s absolutely stunning and I think this demonstrates something I saw time and again at this Kura – Saura-san is someone who, however far away his sake travels in the world, cares deeply about his local community and home town. Beautiful! I think this caring and focus on community come across in the honest and pure flavors of Saura-san’s delicious sake.

Scooping Rice

Scooping Rice

We started the tour with a few of the room where rice is soaked and steamed. The set up was designed and fabrication directed by the previous Toji (master Brewer) and was an ingenious system.

Next onto the koji room which at Saura Brewery is lined with Japanese Cedar (sugi). The area where the sake yeast starter (moto) is made, introduced me to a new contraption that is plunged into the moto to chill it – it looks like a star shaped ninja sputnik radiator. Very cool, Mr. Moto!

In the brewing room, I was able to see Kurabito (brewery workers) stirring in additions of freshly steamed rice into the big brewing vats. Saura-san also introduced me to the sake pressing area where sake and lees part ways. This brewery had a beautiful old wooden fune and a stunning giant wooden lever as big as a tree that was once used to press the sake by hanging a large stone from the far end.

Chilling The Yeast Starter

Chilling The Yeast Starter

Saura-san then let me taste 3 of his fantastic sakes that were really stunning. He was kind enough to provide a spittoon, but I declined to make use of it as I wanted to really drink & experience all of them!

  • Urakasumi Hiyaoroshi: The Fall Nama hiyaoroshi was plump and delicious with hints of plumy fruits and really delicious.
  • Urakasumi Junmai Daiginjo Koshu: Ding, Ding, Ding! We have a winner!! OMG, this sake knocked my socks off. It’s a limited production run of a delicious Junmai Daiginjo that is then aged at a very cold temperature for at least 3 years. The flavors literally danced on my palate – complex, smoooooth, elegant and deep: I’m in love.
  • Urakasumi Zen Junmai Ginjo: This sake is the Urakasumi brand flagship and understandably so. It has wonderful structure and balance. Accessible with hints of rice, it’s a wonderful sake for beginners and serious sake sippers alike. It’s hard not to like this brew.
Tasting Urakasumi Sakes!

Tasting Urakasumi Sakes!

Shiogama Shrine
Saura-san then took me to see Shiogama Shrine which is one of the largest in the area and is a big attraction for this area. One way to enter the shrine is up 200 stone steps that lead directly to the main building. Luckily for me, in interest of my need to get back to the ship before sailing time, Saura-san drove us to the shrine.

Shrine Entrance

Shrine Entrance

This shrine is stunning and one of the oldest in northern Japan. It has beautiful views of the city and bay and it even has a special area near the parking lot where you can get your new car blessed! I was lucky enough to see this ceremony in action. I also bought an “omamori” or Shinto amulet (good for one year) from Shiogama which will ward off bad luck and which I will carry with me in my bag until it’s time to get a new one next year!

Worship at the Shrine

Worship at the Shrine

After such a wonderful afternoon, it was time to say goodbye and Saura-san wisked me by car past the most beautiful Miyagi views on the way back to the ship. My most sincere thanks to Mr. Saura for his wonderful hospitality and for welcoming me to his Brewery.

New Car Blessing at the Shrine

New Car Blessing at the Shrine

Samurai on the High Seas
When I was back on the boat and we were sailing for Tokyo, it was time for a special onboard event. I was asked to present sake at a special Japan-themed cocktail party aboard the Mariner. At this pre-dinner event for select guests, I gave a short speech to introduce myself to those I hadn’t met in the seminars, explain a bit about sake and explain my fancy kimono getup!

With Daniela, Mariner's Head Sommelier

With Daniela, Mariner's Head Sommelier

Daniela is the Mariner’s delightful Head Sommelier. Dedicated, hard working and also a big sake fan, Daniela help tremendously in encouraging the guests to enjoy some super premium sake. I think everyone did! Thank you Daniela!

I had a lot of questions from the guests about my kimono. ( I dressed myself – how’d I do Hiro-sensei?!!) Many people asked me about my “haori himo” or puffy white pompom string closure for the haori coat.

All in all, this was a day was very memorable. Hey, it’s not every day you tour a world class sake brewery then find yourself on a luxury cruise ship, sailing through the night to Tokyo, sipping premium sake, and dressed head to toe in formal men’s kimono… but when you do, how about a picture:

Samurai on the High Seas

Samurai on the High Seas

ON TO TOKYO!

Sake Cruise ’09: What’s New Hakodate

Kanpai Japan! Today the Seven Seas Mariner landed in Japan! Specifically the charming city of Hakodate, on the large northern island of Hokkaido.

Sailing In
My first views of Japan during our sail in were of stunning Mount Hakodate in the morning rays of the sun. It was a beautiful day and the seas were teaming with ships. A small fire boat set off it’s water cannon in salute as we approached the port of Hakodate. After overcast skies and rocky seas of the Bering Sea, Hokkaido loomed beautiful and welcoming .

Sailing into Japan: Mount Hakodate

Sailing into Japan: Mount Hakodate

Ika, Ika, Ika

Morning Market

Morning Market

Hakodate is famous for two related things – it’s charming morning fish market and “Ika” a.k.a. Squid.

Just a few steps from the main train station, the Asa Ichi morning market was indeed charming with lots of vendors selling just about anything you can pull from the oceans around northern Japan. Lots of crab, fish, uni and of course, the star of the show, Squid.

Squid Tokkuri and Cup

Squid Tokkuri and Cup

Squid was really everywhere. Manhole covers had squid on them, buses and department stores had laughing and smiling squid cartoon mascots and large tanks outside many stores held pens of darting and flapping live squid on display.

One of the more unbelievable squid creations I saw on this trip was a dried squid tokkuri (sake carafe) and sake cup. Fashioned litteraly out of dried squid, the vessel is meant to be filled with hot sake that will infuse with the taste of squid and then, to top it off, you can eat the tokkuri, ala a Willy Wonka tea cup.

The Sake Boutique
Since I was coming to Hokkaido for the first time, my thoughts wandered to some Hokkaido sake friends I met. Carlin-san and Rie-san both work at a fantastic Sake shop in Sapporo, Hokkaido called Meishu no Yutaka. I didn’t have time to visit them in Sapporo, but they were kind enough to introduce me to a sake shop in Hakkodate.

Sake Boutique Echizenya

Sake Boutique Echizenya

I took a taxi out to “Sake Boutique Echizenya” and met the kind owners of the shop Hisashi and his wife Takako. They introduced me to their sake selection and made recommendations on what I could bring back to the ship. I bought several types of sake with them and was amused to discover a “New York Style” sake tonic mixer from Fukumitsuya. I had to get that!

The sake selection at Echizenya was curated and elegant with a strong showing of Hiyaoroshi (fall nama sake), given the season. Hisashi did a great job at explaining his recommendations and I did my best to talk to them in my broken Japanese. My luck turned when another customer turned up who had lived for two years in the states and spoke fluent English! This allowed us all to communicate more freely and was really wonderful. Everyone was so kind, I was just delighted.

Thanks to Rie, Carlin and all my new Hokkaido sake friends who helped me enjoy such a wonderful afternoon on my first day in Japan this year. I’ll be back!

Sake Cruise ’09: Sake History

I can’t believe it, but today is already my last sake seminar for the voyage. It’s also our last full day at sea before we reach Japan.

Sake History

Sake History

For the final seminar I decided to focus on Sake History. It’s a vast topic that only allows the most superficial exploration in the course of an hour or two, but I think it’s well worth exploring!

This history of sake goes back thousands of years and ties intricately into the history of Japan itself. Once used as a way to commune with the Gods, sake has long been revered and holds a special place in Japanese society to this very day. My Seminar explored how sake came to Japan and how it moved from use during religious ceremony into everyday life and commerce. We also discussed how the sake industry was brought to the edge of destruction during the Second World War and how sake came back and expanded in the late 20th and early 21st centuries to gain a loyal following again in Japan and beyond.

Sakes tasted:
Kurosawa Kimoto Junmai
Murai Sugidama Taru Junmai Ginjo
Wakatake Junmai Daiginjo

Sakes for the Seminar

Sakes for the Seminar

The Kimoto sake we are tasting today represents the traditional Kimoto method that was used for hundreds of years in Japan. Without understanding and appreciating Kimoto, we miss a huge piece of what sake is.

Next we tasted a taru or cedar-aged sake. This style is a very nostalgic taste for Japan. Cedar barrels was used for centuries in Japan to brew and store sake. Undertanding taru gives us window into Japan’s past.

I included a modern, clean and pure sake such as Wakatake Junmai Daiginjo as a part of Sake history to demonstrate how far sake as come with rice milling and modern brewing methods to create the sakes we know and love today.

I’ve absolutely loved working as a guest lecturer on the Seven Seas Mariner. This really was a once in a lifetime cruise. I’m so grateful to the crew and the beautiful guests who learned to share my love for sake over the last 10 days. It’s been a joy to drink and discuss sake with you. Now – it’s on to Japan for up close encounters with sake. Next stop: Hokkaido.

Teaching Sake History

Teaching Sake History

Sake Cruise ’09: Advanced Sake Tasting

Three Unique Sakes

Three Unique Sakes

Today was the sake tasting that I call “a walk on the wild side” of sake. We tasted 3 super funky brews that will surely widen your view of what sake can taste like!

Beyond the standard brews, there are may alternate production methods that offer unusual tastes and unique flavors!

Today I talked to the class about unique yamahai and kimono sakes, which use a natural yeast starter to gain a funky edge; Sparkling sakes that surprise the palate and Koshu sakes, which are naturally aged and a study in richness.

Karen Coy Junmai

Karen Coy Junmai

Sakes we tasted:

These what we could call ‘fringe’ style sakes engendered a fair amount of discussion. I heard some absolutely loved the bold, rich sherry-like Koshu, but some found it challenging. It was the same story for the tokimeki sparkling and sweet, low alcohol Karen Coy.

Actually, I was happy to hear this because one of my main goals in this series of seminars was to encourage guests to develop their own sake palate. Tasting some more unique flavors such as these really helps people zero in on those tastes, flavors and textures that appeal to each person individually.

Mariner Formal Night

Mariner Formal Night

The fun an interest of today didn’t end at the end of the sake seminar either… Tonight was also one of the ship’s “formal” nights. This meant that after 6pm tuxedos or dark suits are required for gentlemen. Now, this wasn’t something we usually do, but it was fun to get all dressed up and head out for drinks and dinner. The Seven Seas Mariner has four restaurants and two cocktail lounges so there is aways a place to go.

Scott and I started the evening at the “Horizon Lounge” which is located on the aft section of the boat, deck 6. It has a great view of the churning water that the powerful engines produced as the Mariner powered through the water. Horizon had a dance floor and stage and often had live music for cocktails.

By far our favorite music on the ship was the Natural Rhythm Trio. They were three guys who respectively played bass, rhythm guitar and lead guitar each taking turns singing. They were all great, but the bass player had a really amazing voice and we enjoyed their performances a lot. They played lots of classics and standards and one song we heard often was My Funny Valentine.

Moving on to our formal night dinner, Scott and I dined at Prime 7, which as the Mariner’s top notch surf and turf restaurant. As we recently left Alaska, I went for Surf and was rewarded with TWO pounds of the most delicious king crab legs I’d ever had in my life. Life is good!

Tomorrow will find us sailing the Sea of Okhtsk (try saying that three times fast) and will also be my final sake seminar before landing in Japan!! We’re almost there!!

Natural Rhythm Trio

Natural Rhythm Trio

Regent Seven Seas Mariner Sake Seminar 2009

Welcome Guest of Regent Seven Seas Mariner! Below is an over view of the sake seminars and tastings that we enjoyed during our September 2009 Cruise to Japan.

Seven Seas Mariner

Seven Seas Mariner

I sincerely hope you enjoyed the lectures and that you learned something new about sake! If you want more information, or a link to buy the sakes presented (if available), please click on the sake you are interested in, and you can learn more about that particular sake.

I enjoyed meeting you all and thank you very much for your interest in “Nihonshu”! If you have any questions at all, don’t hesitate to contact me at any time. I’d be delighted to hear from you! kanpai!

1) Sake Classifications Sept 18th, 2009 Compass Rose Restaurant 3pm
In this lecture, we will introduce guests to the six basic sake classifications. Learning how sakes are graded and ranked is the cornerstone to a solid understanding of sake culture and enjoyment. We will explore how the use of rice milling technology, sake ingredients and Japanese history have all come together to give us the sake grading system in place today.

Sakes we tasted:
Otokoyama Junmai
Kakurei Junmai Ginjo
Wakatake Junmai Daiginjo


2) Exploring Sake Ingredients Sept 19th, 2009 Compass Rose Restaurant 3pm
Sake is a pure and beautiful beverage made from 4 simple and all-natural ingredients: water, rice, yeast and koji. In this lecture and tasting we’ll explore how these ingredients come together to make sake. We’ll also go in depth in what makes each of these ingredients so important and special to the sake brewing process.

Sakes we tasted:
Yukikage “Snow Shadow” Tokubetsu Junmai
Ichishima Honjozo
Kakurei Daiginjo


3) How to Taste Sake Sept 20th, 2009 Compass Rose Restaurant 3pm
Join us for this lecture where we will learn to take the mystery and confusion out of sake tasting! In this entertaining and delicious class we will focus on the steps that make enjoying sake fun and easy. We’ll study sake in terms of texture, aroma, color, palate and finish. Also, we’ll look at sake serving vessels to see how their form influences sake’s taste and appearance as well as sake serving etiquette.

Sakes we tasted:
Akita Dewatsuru Kimoto Junmai
Kiminoi “Emperor’s Well” junmai Ginjo Yamahai
Murai Family Daiginjo


4) Sake Production Process Sept 22nd, 2009 Compass Rose Restaurant 3pm
How do we get from water and rice to what the Japanese call “the Drink of the Gods”? This lecture will focus on how sake is made from rice paddy to the bottle. We’ll explore the preparation of the ingredients to the particulars of brewing process itself, which have long been shrouded in mystery and little understood outside Japan. Sake making is a totally unique process and after this lecture you’ll approach it with a new understanding!

Sakes We Tasted:
Murai Nigori Genshu
Kirinzan Junmai
Akita Chokaisan Junmai Daiginjo


5) Advanced Sake Tasting Sept 24th, 2009 Compass Rose Restaurant 3pm
Take a walk on the wide side of sake! Beyond the standard brews, there are may alternate production methods that offer unusual tastes and unique flavors! Together we will study yamahai and kimono sakes, which use a natural yeast starter to gain a funky edge; Sparkling sakes that will tickle your nose and surprise your palate and Koshu sakes, which are naturally aged and a study in richness. You’ll never look at sake the same way again!

Sakes we tasted:
Karen “Coy” junmai
Harushika Tokimeki Sparkling Junmai
Hanahato Koshu


6) Sake History Sept 25th, 2009 Compass Rose Restaurant 3pm
This history of sake goes back thousands of years and ties intricately into the history of Japan itself. Once used as a way to commune with the Gods, sake has long been revered and holds a special place in Japanese society to this very day. We’ll explore how sake came to Japan and how it moved from use during religious ceremony into everyday life and commerce. We will see how the sake industry was brought to the edge of destruction during the Second World War and how sake came back and expanded in the late 20th and early 21st centuries to gain a loyal following again in Japan and beyond.

Sakes we tasted:
Kurosawa Kimoto Junmai
Murai Sugidama Taru Junmai Ginjo