Sake Cruise ’09: Sake in Siberia

I’ll admit I approached today with a bit of trepidation. Coming of age in the cold war 1980’s, films, TV and even the President infamously portrayed the USSR as the “Evil Empire”. 30 years and a cultural revolution later, I didn’t know what to expect of my first visit to Russia.

It's Siberia, Commrade

It's Siberia, Commrade

Sake Cruise ’09 sailed into the Siberian port of Petropavlovsk located on the Kamchatka Peninsula. The of the port looked stunning as we arrived. Petropavlovsk has incredible natural beauty. With three active volcanos and sweeping low mountains, the city created a charming backdrop from the boat as we enjoyed breakfast onboard the ship.

Lenin

Lenin

After we were cleared for tendering ashore, Scott and I decided to forego any organized tours and strike out on our own. Scott lived for 4 months in Leningrad in the 1980s and his language skills speaking russian proved invaluable during our hours on land.

Our first stop was at the monumental statue of Lenin that dominates the town’s main square. Every Soviet Union town had one and I guess the folks of Petropavlovsk decided to keep him around. The mist coming in off the ocean provided a dramatic backdrop to the photogenic Lenin. What you can’t see in the photos is the utter state of disrepair in the plaza. Steps and walkways were crumbling, crooked and deteriorating.

Gold's Gym, Siberia Branch

Gold's Gym, Siberia Branch

After a quick stop in a souvenir shop, we stumbled across a striking sign of russia’s westernization: A brand new glistening Gold’s Gym! Newly renovated with shiny gold logos on the facade, this workout facility would have been at home in any upscale strip mall in the States. drop and give me 20 you girlie-man!

Sake easy as Cake

Sake easy as Cake

For me, the highlight of this shore excursion was finding sake at a Japanese restaurant in Siberia! We stumbled across a Japanese restaurant called “Sushi Bar Kyoto”. Luckily for me, scott was able to read Cyrillic and explained to me that “сакэ” was actually Sake! of course I had to try it and asked for it ‘cold’.

What arrived was a room temperature big box sake that lacked subtlety, but hey, I was drinking sake in Siberia, so who’s to argue. After the big sake adventure, we took our small boat back to the cruise ship and hunkered down for the evening. The trip to Petropavlovsk left me feeling so grateful for all the luxuries (and sake) I was enjoying aboard the Mariner but I did receive some memories I won’t soon forget.

Tomorrow is a full day of cruising the Kuril Islands and another sake seminar! I’m hoping for calm seas and delicious sake.

Mariner off the shore of Russia

Mariner off the shore of Russia

Sake Cruise ’09: Rockin’ Sake!

Don't Rock the Boat

Don't Rock the Boat

I went to bed on Sept 20th, 2009 and woke up on Sept 22nd, 2009. We crossed the international date line overnight and Sept 21, 2009 just didn’t happen! I’m not quite sure how all this works and why this is done, but I’m just along for the ride and having a great time.

Today was my fourth sake lecture on board for the guests of Regent Seven Seas Cruise line’s Seven Seas Mariner. Today we tackled one of my favorite topics to teach about: the Sake Production Process!

Presenting Kirinzan

Presenting Kirinzan

How do you go from Rice and Water to “the Drink of the Gods”? That is what I endeavor to explain to guests in this lecture. This lecture was subtitled “Rockin’ Sake” because we had what has been some of the most dramatic rocking of the ship we experienced to date… right during my lecture!

The captain came on the intercom to announce we were experiencing 20-25 foot high waves. Kind of unreal, but once I got into teaching I was able to ignore the waves and get into sake! I thought because of the rough waves, we would have a meager turn out, but we had a full class and I was just delighted!

Today we tasted:
Murai Nigori Genshu
Kirinzan Junmai
Akita Chokaisan Junmai Daiginjo

The guests loved all the sakes today! Tomorrow, there is no sake lecture as we are spending the entire day in port in Siberia, comrade! Da!

Sake Cruise ’09: How to Taste Sake

Sake for today's tasting

Sake for today's tasting

Today was our second full day at sea. No stops, no ports of call, sailing all day, all night.

You might think that this leads to a feeling of being bored and all cooped up, but quite on the contrary, the staff organizes lots and lots of activities: games, lectures, dancing, bridge, tea, concerts, comedy, and of course, SAKE TASTINGS!

Coffee Connection

Coffee Connection

Most days I’ve been visiting Faye, our friendly server at the “coffee connection”. This is a coffee bar area located mid ship on deck 6 that offers coffee, tea and snacks pretty much all day long. I’ve found myself hanging out here quite a bit as it is a comfortable place to sit and work on my presentations and lecture handouts.

Explaining the Masu

Explaining the Masu

Today’s lecture was “how to taste sake”. Some of the guests got a giggle out of this title asking – we’ve been tasting sake for two days already! This lecture was not just about drinking sake, but appreciating sake, too. We reviewed what to look for when tasting sake including nose, color, palate and finish. We tasted:

Akita Dewatsuru kimoto Junmai
kiminoi Junmai Ginjo Yamahai
Murai Family Daiginjo

We also had an in-depth discussion of sake temperature. Is all hot sake bad sake?! Not by a long shot. The guest and I enjoyed a fun hour together discussing all these points. since we are on our way to Japan, there is an extra level of interest in learning about sake and there were lots of questions which I just love.

Tomorrow is more cruising, more sake and crossing the international date line! Hello Tomorrow!

Compass Rose Restaurant

Compass Rose Restaurant

Sake Cruise ’09: The Deadliest Catch

Dutch Harbor

Dutch Harbor

Day 4 onboard the Seven Seas Mariner was action packed! I woke up in Dutch Harbor Alaska. This was our last day on American Soil as we would be sailing out at 1pm across the Bering strait on our 2 day voyage to Siberia. This was also my first day off the ship since boarding.

Dutch Harbor was fascinating – this fishing town is best known as the home base for the crab fisherman on the Discovery Channel’s series “the Deadliest Catch”.

Russian Church

Russian Church

The town itself has stunning natural beauty with mountains and inlets carved out by retreating glaciers.

One of the star attractions of Dutch Harbor is the Russian Orthodox church which was first built in 1826. Photos are not allowed inside, but I had the thrill of a lifetime when I saw an American Bald Eagle land on the church spire and then leap into flight with it’s 5 food wingspan. It was breathtaking!

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle


Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Sake Ingredients Seminar

Sake Ingredients Seminar

Once Back on the ship, we sailed off from Dutch Harbor and at 3pm, I held my second talk of the sake cruise – this time discussing Sake Ingredients. This was another fun sake lecture held in the ship’s elegant “Compass Rose” restaurant. Along with my powerpoint lecture, we tasted three fantastic sakes:

Yukikage Show Shadow Junmai
Ichishima Honjozo
Kakurei Daiginjo

The guest in attendance at the tasting seemed surprised to learn that Koji Mold is used in making sake and is one of the primary ingredients! We have a fun hour together and it left me looking forward to Tomorrow’s lecture which will be “how to taste sake”. Should be fun!

sake for today's tasting

sake for today's tasting

The waves outside the window are starting to pick up a bit, but I think for the season and the part of the world we are sailing, we’re being spared the worst weather there could be. It is fun however to discuss the “roughest weather” survival stories with both crew and guests on the ship. Almost everyone here has experienced a lot of sailing already and it’s all new to me! I was told today, If you did OK on the first day with the 10 foot waves, you’ll be fine! I’m still taking it one day at a time…

Sake Cruise ’09: Let the Seminars Begin!

Today was a big day on Sake Cruise 2009! Not only is today our first day “at sea” (i.e. no ports of call – sailing the open ocean all day) but today was also my first Sake Seminar for the Guests aboard the Seven Seas mariner as well as an informal staff training.

Introducing Sake Classifications

Introducing Sake Classifications

The day started with that now familiar question in my mind… will we have mild seas or wild seas?! I’m still a little rattled after the first night of “rock and roll” on board, but I’m delighted to report that today is easy sailing. Smooth calm seas! yeeeees!

After a quick breakfast, I headed off to do a 30 min staff training on the finer points of sake. I have the wine and beverage staff of about 30 people an introduction into sake classifications, flavor profiles and also into serving sake. We were enjoying Junmai, Junmai Ginjo and Junmai Daiginjo sakes at 9:30 am. The breakfast of champions!

Sakes for this Seminar

Sakes for this Seminar

The staff training was a lot of fun and they had many good questions. I touched on serving etiquette and serving vessels, too. We covered as much as we could to give all the beverage staff a solid foundation in sake. And we had a lot of fun, too.

At 3pm, I had my first seminar for the guests of the cruise. The Seminar was held in the “Compass Rose” restaurant on board. That is the largest of all the elegant restaurants on the ship. They set up a projector for the powerpoint and we were off to the races!

In total, there were 70 guest in attendance – a great turn out! This introductory class of the series was all about sake classifications. it’s a great basis on which to build for the upcoming classes. Here is our description for the class:

Sake Classifications
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 for Tasting:
Otokoyama Junmai
Kakurei Junmai Ginjo
Wakatake Junmai Daiginjo

I think the seminar was well received and I’m looking forward to hopefully having some repeat students in tomorrow’s class which is dedicated to Sake Ingredients!

Discussing Sake with Guests

Discussing Sake with Guests

Sake Cruise ’09: Over the Rainbow, Part 2

I won’t lie – last night, our first evening on board, was rough! 15 foot waves were bouncing us around and I even heard the experienced crew complaining of sea sickness. Choppy waters out the window were cresting white and loud. “Will the entire two weeks to Japan be like this?”, I couldn’t help but wonder aloud. Luckily, once I put myself in bed and let the 40 mile and hour winds rock me to sleep, I was able to drift off without too much of an issue, digestive or otherwise.

Over the Rainbow 2!

Over the Rainbow 2!

Waking up this morning, I found the ship to be perfectly still and anchored off Kodiak Alaska. I headed to the balcony and looked out to find another beautiful rainbow! So far, I’ve seen more rainbows in Alaska than you see during Pride month in Chelsea! Even on my third day away from New York, I found the sea air to be shockingly fresh and the surrounding islands to be incredibly beautiful.

I However, didn’t have time for excursions on shore today, as I was meeting with the food and beverage crew to discuss planning for my upcoming sake classes.

I found out my lectures will be happening at 3pm on the days we are at sea (i.e. no ports of call) and held in the elegantly appointed Compass Rose Restaurant. After a few more meetings and discussions with the crew, almost all details were set. and tomorrow I start my lecture series!

Urban Sake Channel

Urban Sake Channel

Last but not least, I was asked for a TV interview by Jamie Logan the Cruise Director. Jamie films a daily TV show for the “number 1 onboard TV channel” aka Channel 1 on the ship board TV. My big TV debut was broadcast across the entire ship! I’m actually on an endless loop all day. That’s a little too much Timothy air time even for me.

I’m happy to report that the seas are calmer tonight and I can’t help but wonder aloud, will the entire two weeks to Japan be like this!! yea!

Anchors Away!

Seven Seas Mariner

Seven Seas Mariner

After seemingly endless hours in the air, an overnight in Achorage and a three hour bus ride, I finally arrived at our sake cruise ship in Seward, Alaska.

We’re sailing on the Seven Seas Mariner and it sure was an impressive site catching the first glimpse of the ship as we approached the dock. I’ve never been on a cruise, so this was my first time seeing a cruise ship up close.

over the rainbow

over the rainbow

After checking in and boarding, we did a quick self guided tour of the public decks to get oriented and then it was off to watch our sailing out from the main observation lounge. The most amazing thing happened – Out of nowhere we saw a huge rainbow appear right outside our window. It was beautiful and everyone agreed it was a good sign for a great sailing.

leaving Seward

leaving Seward

My Sake Seminars on board don’t start until day after tomorrow, so I have a chance to get my sea legs and acclimate to life onboard ship. I think I’ll need that time to get my sea legs… as soon as we left the port at Seward, the ship was hit with 40 mph winds and strong waves. This is not what I expected but I am enjoying the adventure.

We’ll dock tomorrow in Kodiak Alaska, so that will offer some protection from the strong waves. I really hope the seas will calm down before the sake starts flowing! Stay Tuned…

A Sake Night to Remember III: Daishichi!

Chizuko-san Pours Myoka Rangyoku

Chizuko-san Pours Myoka Rangyoku

Sake Sommelier Chizuko Niikawa-Helton, Founder of Sake Discoveries, recently held her third official sake party.

Known as “A Night to Remember”, Chizuko-san introduces those lucky enough to get a ticket some wonderful and usually hard to find sake. I attended the previous “Night to Remember” which you can read about here. This “Night to Remember” was no different as it was dedicated to the fantastic sakes from Daishichi Brewery. Above all, he helped explain why Daishichi so appreciates and respects the traditional kimoto brewing method. This gives Daishichi sake a wonderful dimension and sense of history.

Timothy with Ad Blankestijn

Timothy with Ad Blankestijn

Mr. Ad Blankestijn, a visiting representative from Daishichi Brewery helped everyone present navigate the Delicious sakes.

In all, we tasted Daishichi Myoka Rangyoku, Horeki Daishichi, Daishichi Minowamon, Daishichi Classic, Daishichi Yukishibori, Daishichi Kimoto Umeshu, and Daishichi Kijoshu 2001. Tasting all this Daishichi left me with a strong urge to visit the brewery someday to see where it is made and taste it at it’s source! Someday this dream will come true!

The event itself was held at secret sake hideaway “Bohemian” with Mr. Kyotaka Shinoki as executive chef creating a special menu to suit the Daishichi. The food and sake together were excellent. This was a wonderful event – I’m so grateful to Chizuko-san for arranging and for Ad-san for being such a wonderful ambassador for Daishichi sake.

Beautiful Ladies, Beautiful Kimono

Beautiful Ladies, Beautiful Kimono

Sake Invades Union Square

Union Sq Wines & Spirits doesn’t showcase sake very often, but when they do, it’s a doosie! I recently attended their late summer 2009 “Sake Brewer’s Showcase”. It a jam packed collection of the best sake from Five different importers:

  • World Sake Imports
  • Mutual Trading Company
  • Prestige Sake
  • SENA Niigata Sake
  • ASPEC Akita Sake

The thing that impressed me more than anything was the size of the crowd. I wasn’t really prepared for the throngs of sake lovers that showed up to sample the nihonshu. Crowds were sometimes 5 people deep to get a sip. See the notes in this slideshow for more info on the sake tasting at Union Sq Wines & Spirits.

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer

Chris Johnson Sake Video

Don’t know how I missed it, but I just came across this great video of Sake Maestro Chris Johnson discussing all things sake with Saveur Magazine Editor-in-Chief James Oseland at the Asia Society, filmed December 1, 2008. Chris is a great guy and a super knowledgeable sake dude. This video is well worth a look!

Join Me on a Sake Cruise to Japan!

We all need a vacation

We all need a vacation

Life in New York City can really be tough sometimes. Cramped subways, runaway taxis, even malicious pigeons… It’s enough to make even the most dedicated city slicker want to escape into a day dream.

Thinking about some of the wonderful, exotic and relaxing escapes life has to offer can really soothe the soul. For example, have you ever dreamed about being pampered on a luxurious two week getaway cruise? Oh yeah. Or maybe you’ve thought about attending a professional sake tasting seminar to enjoy some of the very best sake on earth? Yes! Or how about meditating in an ancient Japanese shrine? Check! Well, if any of this sounds good, you’re in luck! You can do all three at once this September!

Urban Sake Hits the High Seas

Relax!

Relax!

Departing Sept 16th, 2009 you can join me aboard the Seven Seas Mariner, as we take a two week trip of a lifetime, sailing from Alaska to four ports of call in Japan. On board, I’ll be leading a series of six in-depth sake tasting seminars as we sample some of the very best sakes in the world.

Best news of all? There are still select cabins available on this amazing sake cruise to Japan! To learn more about how to book this cruise, contact Regent Seven Seas Cruise reservations at 877.505.5370, or contact your travel professional. Please reference Cruise #: MAR090916 You can also learn more at the Regent Seven Seas Cruise Line Website

Itinerary:

Cruise Ship + Japan + Sake = Heaven!

Cruise Ship + Japan + Sake = Heaven!

Port Day
Seward, United States Sep 16
Kodiak, United States Sep 17
Cruise Shelikof Strait, International Waters Sep 18
Dutch Harbor, United States Sep 19
Cruise the Aleutian Islands, International Waters Sep 20
Cruising Aleutian Islands, International Waters Sep 22
Petropavlosk, Russia Sep 23
Cruise the Kuril Islands, International Waters Sep 24
Cruise the Sea of Okhotsk, International Waters Sep 25
Hakodate, Japan Sep 26
Sendai, Japan Sep 27
Tokyo, Japan Sep 28
Tokyo, Japan Sep 29
Osaka, Japan Sep 30
Osaka, Japan Oct 01

Ship: Seven Seas Mariner

Seven Seas Mariner

Seven Seas Mariner

  • All-suite, all-balcony accommodations for 700 guests
  • Suites range in size from 301 to 2,002 sq. ft., including balcony
  • All-inclusive beverage program including soft drinks, hot beverages and fine wines and premium spirits served throughout the ship
  • All onboard gratuities are included
  • Butler service in higher categories, including in-suite bar setup and SoundDock® for iPod®
  • Four dining venues to choose from including Signatures Restaurant, dedicated to Le Cordon Bleu cuisine
  • Single, open-seating dining
  • Complimentary 24-hour room service
  • Full entertainment program
  • Port-intensive itineraries
  • Guest lecturer program
  • Interactive television with extensive media selection
  • Club.com computer center
  • Wireless Internet access throughout the ship
  • 24-hour complimentary Coffee Corner

Fu’s on First? Shojin Ryori and Sake

A recent visit by my newlywed vegetarian sister was a perfect excuse to go again to our favorite NYC Japanese vegetarian “Shojin Ryori” restaurant: Kajitsu.

Dassai 39

Dassai 39

Kajitsu is really a magical place. It’s really as if someone picked up a first rate Shojin Ryori restaurant from japan and plopped it down on East 9th street. The service, food, atmostphere and sake were all spectacular. It’s really everything I truly love about japanese cuisine and culture condensed into a meal.

“Nama-Fu” (生麩) was one of the star attractions of the meal. Fu is a wheat gluten (aka seitan). The “nama” part means raw. In our case, the fu was served as tempura. It was lightly chewy and delicious. Our waitress told us that the restaurant owner also owns a fu shop in japan, so that Kajitsu has access to only the best fu around. it tasted like it. After a few sips of delicious Dassai 39, “Fu” seemed such a funny name that many Abbott-and-Costello-like “Fu’s on First?” jokes ensued. A little Dassai makes everything better.

If you get to NYC’s east village, don’t miss the chance to have dinner at Kajitsu. It’s fantastic, delicious and simply amazing. If you’re freaked out by unusual ingredients like Agar Agar and Fu, my advice is to sit back, question nothing and just eat everything that’s put in front of you. That’s my recipe for a FU-fulling meal.

See the notes in this slideshow for more info on our dinner at Kajitsu.

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer

San Diego Sake at Sushi Ota

On a recent trip to San Diego, thanks to their Zagat rating of 28, I was luck enough to discover Sushi Ota. The sushi was really quite good and best of all, they had a solid list of sushi friendly sakes. They had Hakkaisan Junmai Ginjo on the menu, so I ordered that to start. The waitress let me know that they also have Hakkaisan Ginjo. So what the heck, I got a carafe of each one. In this mini Hakkaisan smackdown, Junmai ginjo came out on top as far as pairing with sushi. However, the Ginjo is my favorite in general. Everyone wins!

See the notes in this slideshow for more info on Sushi Ota.

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer

Tony McNicol’s Sake Brewery Photography

Tokyo-based photographer and journalist Tony McNicol recently contacted me to share his photo series from Terada Honke Sake Brewery located in Chiba Prefecture. I found these photos beautiful and to me they really conveyed the essence of life at a brewery. It’s hard, honest work, but it’s also not rare to see people smiling and enjoying life. Take a look at this Gallery of Tony’s sake brewery photos from Terada Honke:


Terada Honke sake brewery, Jun 2009 – Images by Tony McNicol

You can learn more at TonyMcNicol.com
Tony was also recently interviewed by the Japan Times Online.

Cup Sake Event at Soba Totto

ozeki_junmai_cupOn July 16, 2009, Kanpai NY and Soba Totto co-sponsored a “Cup Sake Matsuri” with UrbanSake.com at the Soba Totto Bar.

The event was part of “One Cup Sake” week here on UrbanSake.com. We had a great turn out and sold out all the cup sake they had! The distributor of the Cup Sake is JFC International and they even provided party favors for us in the form of Oyaji eyeball fans. really, really, fun and helped keep us cool!

We packed the bar with folks eager to try cup sakes! Here are the sakes we sampled that night:

Since Everything sold out, I assume everyone found the Cup Sake to be delicious. I sure did! A special “Thank You” to Eamon-san for organizing the Meetup and suggesting the event and to Bartender Gen-san for ordering the sake and being such an enthusiastic supporter! Here are some pictures from the event. Enjoy!

Cup sake was displayed on the bar and kept cold with ice!  That really was a delicious selection of fun cup sake.

Cup sake was displayed on the bar and kept cold with ice! That really was a delicious selection of fun cup sake.

Bartender extraordinaire Gen at Soba Totto.  Serving Cup Sake and his signature Fresh Fruit Cocktails!

Bartender extraordinaire Gen at Soba Totto. Serving Cup Sake and his signature Fresh Fruit Cocktails!

Eamon-san and friends enjoy Cup Sake at Soba Totto!

Eamon-san and friends enjoy Cup Sake at Soba Totto!

Enjoying  Oyaji and Kitaro Cup Sake!  Both actually Junmai Daiginjo grade... Wowza!

Enjoying Oyaji and Kitaro Cup Sake! Both actually Junmai Daiginjo grade... Wowza!

Oyaji cup uses Goriki sake rice.  Kitaro Cup uses Yamada-Nishiki Sake rice. Both are delicious!

Oyaji cup uses Goriki sake rice. Kitaro Cup uses Yamada-Nishiki Sake rice. Both are delicious!

After the Cup Sake ran out I had to resort to drinking sake from a regular glass!! ... and during One Cup Sake week no less!  Shocking!

After the Cup Sake ran out I had to resort to drinking sake from a regular glass!! ... and during One Cup Sake week no less! Shocking!

Cup Sake Videos: Ge-Ge-Ge no Kitaro!

chiyomusubi_kitaro_cup2It seems everyone in Japan knows 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. So much so that Chiyomusubi Sake brewery, located in Mizuki-san’s native Totori, produced special cup sakes dedicated to several of the characters in Mizuki-san’s stories, each made with a distinct sake rice to suit the character!

The characters are actually ghosts with special powers but shortcomings, too. Kitaro is the hero of the stories is usually trying to make peace between human and the ghost world. He is missing an eyeball and has flying Geta sandals. His father on the other is basically a walking eyeball with a great love for his son and for SAKE! The “rat man” character is a ghost/human/rat half breed who is always looking out for his own best interest.

Below are three videos I made outlining my tasting profile of each sake. Click the header above each video to see the full sake profile.


Chiyomusubi Ge-Ge-Ge no Kitaro Cup Sake Junmai Ginjo


Chiyomusubi Oyaji Gokuraku Cup Sake Junmai Ginjo


Chiyomusubi Nezumi Otoko Cup Sake Junmai Ginjo

Interview: Chizuko Niikawa, Sommelier & Cup Sake Fan

Cup Sake Fan Chizuko Niikawa

Cup Sake Fan Chizuko Niikawa

Our friend Chizuko-Niikawa-Helton of SakeDiscoveries.com is a famous Sake Sommelier and a fan of “cup sake”.

I recently caught up with Chizuko-san at the beautiful Ippudo Ramen Restaurant and asked her some questions about cup sake. She provides us her unique perspective on this fun and fashionable way to drink sake!

Q: Before you studied to be a sake sommelier, did you have any experience drinking one cup sake in Japan? What was your impression?

Chizuko Niikawa: I had cup sake just a couple of times when I was in my early 20s for experience when I was in college. I don’t remember what sake I had, but definitely I hated it! Then I was convinced that One Cup Sake is cheesy, bad sake only meant for men over 50! (sumimasen men over 50 years old!….) because I had seen many drunk old men always drinking One Cup Sake on the train platform in my hometown very often when I was in high school. They smelled so bad! However, at the same time, I was longing to try One Cup Sake in a train someday like them because they seemed to be enjoying freedom as grown-ups, and some One Cup Sake designs were so pretty. In fact, I used the cute One Cup Sake glass as my regular glass at my home. I don’t know where it came from, but I could see so many One Cup Sake everywhere in my hometown Akita when I was a little, and I had imagined having One Cup Sake as a grown-up! What a stupid kid!

Q: Later, when you worked as a sake sommelier did you ever get to serve Cup sake? Are there any you can recommend?

kikusui_funaguchiChizuko Niikawa: I served some samples of One Cup Sake at my work for just few customers. It was frozen sake in One Cup Sake glass. You have to shake the glass before open the lid. It tastes so refreshing like a sorbet. They changed my mind in a good way about One Cup Sake right away. I really liked the cup design, too. It had a cute plum blossom print.

And my first One Cup Sake experience in New York was Kikusui Funaguchi. I heard that Kikusui Funakuchi is the number one “Cup Sake” in Japan. It’s Honjozo, but Nama and Genshu. So fresh and rich! It was my first “wow!” impression of a One Cup Sake.

chiyomusubi_kitaro_cup2Now, I highly recommend “Gegege no Kitarou One Cup Sake” from Chiyomusubi in Tottori prefecture! They are all Junmai Ginjo, and all use a different sake rice. Gegege no Kitarou is super popular and the most classic Japanese cartoon character. Most Japanese grew up with Gegege no Kitarou. I wish the label wasn’t on paper, though. If the characters were printed on the cups directly, I definitely keep the cups!

Q: Sometimes people believe that one cup sake means lower quality sake. What is your opinion?

Chizuko Niikawa:I don’t want to say they are “lower quality”, but the big point of One Cup Sake is to make it easy to find anywhere like in grocery stores and at train stations, regular delis or automatic vending machines on the streets in Japan. So, One Cup Sake is supposed to be a cheaper price, and hold it’s flavor longer than premium sake. That’s why most of One Cup Sake is Honjozo or Junmai class.

Q: Cup sake has many cute designs. do you have any favorite cup designs?

Chizuko Niikawa: Yes. My point is, definitely the print is on the glass directly. Not paper label on the cup. Of course, the paper label cup can be recycled, so I don’t ask them to change the design. I just want to keep the empty cup for using regular glass, if the design is very cute. Panda print of Miyozakura from Gifu prefecture and Bambi print of Akishika from Osake are exactly my taste. Little nostalgic old fashion design is my favorite part of One Cup Sake design! (They are not available in U.S. market)

Cup Sakes with Printed Designs

Cup Sakes with Printed Designs

Q: Right now, one cup sake is relatively hard to find in the USA. Do you think it could become more popular someday?

Chizuko Niikawa: It’s hard to say actually. Many sake breweries have been able to brew premium sake nowadays, and the quality is getting better every year. I wish I can have premium One Cup Sake in NY casually, but I heard the bottling system of One Cup Sake is little different. It costs more than regular one, and One Cup Sake hasn’t been had like 20, 30 years ago in Japan now. Of course, some of them are still very popular, though.
One Cup Sake has a big lid, and is not easy to keep long the first fresh flavor probably, but many breweries have brewed great Honjozo and Junmai class sake in all over Japan. So, I don’t ask breweries which have not made One Cup Sake to try making One Cup Sake for people in the world, but if you already have the system, please please never stop to make One Cup Sake in the future!

One Cup Sake from Akita!

One Cup Sake from Akita!

Cup Sake Guest Post: Todd Bellomy

One Cup Sake Fan Todd Bellomy

One Cup Sake Fan Todd Bellomy

I first met Todd Bellomy in 2007 when he contacted me through my website with a friendly email. Todd is a cool guy who is fluent in Japanese, a master beer brewer, and a gifted home sake brewer.

Todd has always been so generous with his sake knowledge, it was no surprise to me when he enthusiastically accepted my offer to provide a guest post for UrbanSake.com “One Cup Sake” week. Todd also gives us some great photos and his picks for some of the best Akita Cup sake out there! Take it away, Todd…

Not all cups are created equal
Cup sake is becoming popular in US, so it is time for a clarification of vocabulary. “Cup Sake” and “One Cup” are different things. “Cup Sake” is a term for any sake sold in a cup container and sealed with a vinyl-coated metal lid. “One Cup” is a futsu-shu sake made by Ozeki Breweries and was one of the first cup sake available. With either kind, the peel-off lid just needs to be removed to uncover the full glass of sake underneath.

Cup sake selection seems to be increasing in Japan as well, with more cup sake varieties available now than just a few years ago. Sake consumption in Japan is falling; last year sake only accounted for 8% of the overall alcohol consumption there. It may be to combat this severe decline that Japanese breweries are offering more sake in this convenient package.

The selection of cup sake in Japan’s big cities used to be limited to sake from the mega-breweries. However, if you traveled to the more rural areas of Japan, you could find higher quality, locally made sake sold as cup sake. Now in the big cities, especially in Tokyo, there is an influx of jizake cup sake, creating not only an increase in variety, but also a boom in quality.

I noticed while in Japan last month that cup sake displays were everywhere. The displays were not only in the usual places like convenience stores, train stations and vending machines. I noticed that there were new shelves of cup sake in liquor stores, increased cup sake displays in supermarkets, and more cup sake for sale brewery tasting rooms. This convenient package is being heavily marketed in Japan this summer.

My favorite thing about cup sake in Japan is the fun and enjoyment of a delicious cup of Junmai Daiginjo that can be consumed anywhere. This is possible in Japan because there is no stigma connected to – or laws against – public drinking: you can enjoy sake or a beer on the train, in a park, or many other public areas. In the US, one barrier to distribution of high-quality cup sake is the lack of need for portable, convenient sake. Where would you be able drink it? Another reason for the scarcity of cup sake in the US is the American tendency to form preconceptions about quality based on packaging. We do this with beer in a can, even though there is now great craft beer available in cans, and with screw-top wine, even though the rest of the world now accepts screw-tops as a modern, quality preserving device.

Although it won’t happen overnight, my hope is that Americans will stop judging a drink by its container. Maybe accepting variety in packaging is a crucial first step to shedding our puritanical heritage and allowing responsible public drinking. After all, after a long day of working or traveling, opening a perfectly hand-crafted cup sake on the train is just so… civilized.

Mansaku no Hana Tokubetsu Junmai & Kariho Ginjo
todd_2cups
Mansaku no Hana Tokubetsu Junmai (above left)
Slightly lower alcohol lends a softness to this Akita sake. Soft, honey like nose with touches of flowers and rice. Clean, pear/apple notes on mid palette with a crisp, short tail of rice and alcohol

Kariho Ginjo (above right)
Not as delicate as their junmai ginjo; this ginjo cup sake delivers of restrained rice and soft fruit esters. In balance with the rice and fruit is a layer of yamahai like fermentation notes that adds some beefiness to this cup!

Hideyoshi Honjozo
todd_1cup
Hideyoshi Honjozo, Akita-ken
This honjozo sang with heavier akita rice flavors, paired with some surprisingly complex apple blossom and nectar flavors. We had this cup with some Kiritampo – akita rice formed on sticks and charcoal grilled with sweet miso glaze. Awesome mid day snack!

Japan’s Cup Sake Smackdown!

Grand Prix winner!

Grand Prix winner!

Did you know that there is a cup sake competition held each year in Tokyo, Japan? It’s like the Oscars of one cup sake and every year a new winner emerges to claim the champions “cup”!

The award is actually shaped more light an old time-y Edison light bulb than a sake cup, but it certainly is an impressive award to display in the old trophy case back at the brewery.

Sponsored by the Kano Takuya Cultural Institute of Wine Co., Ltd., the 2008 competition was tight – with over 55 different cups vying for the top spot, but there can only be one “Grand Prix” winner. This past year, that honor when to:

cup_kantyukatupuSake name:
Koshi no Kanchubai Ginjo Nama chozo TG Cup
Brewery:
Niigata Meijo Kabushikigaisha Corp.

Here are the details on this award winning cup sake:
Milling Rate: 57%
Alcohol: 15-16%
Price is ¥ 284 (~$3.00)

The saddest part of the whole story is that the Grand Prix award winning cup sake from 2008 is not even for sale in the USA! All we can do is wish to taste it ourselves. One Japanese review wrote:

Clearly the sweet, delicious taste of the sake rice emerge from the back. Including the sweet smell of incense… beautiful. Tightening the overall soft acidity, the flavors come out even more clearly. Tasted at room temperature, the flavors of alcohol become more prominent. Taste a bit sloppy.

Hmmmm. There may be a bit lost in translation here, but my interest is piqued! All I can say is, let’s bring on more cup sake in the USA and maybe have a little bit of sloppy cup sake fun on this side of the pacific. Who do you think should win our cup sake Grand Prix?

bq69 collectibles, when I was searching the internet looking for any information I could find about Japanese one cup style sake. You can't imagine my surprise when I wrote to Maki-san and discovered he spoke fluent english! Below is the interview!'>

Interview: Maki Osugi, Cup Sake Blogger

photo © Maki Osugi

photo © Maki Osugi

I first discovered Maki Osugi’s ‘One Cup Sake’ Blog, bq69 collectibles, when I was searching the internet looking for any information I could find about Japanese one cup style sake.

You can’t imagine my surprise when I wrote to Maki-san and discovered he spoke fluent english! Below is the interview!

Q: How did you first discover One Cup Sake and what caught your attention? Do you remember the first one you tried?

Maki Osugi: In Japan, “Cup Sake” is very popular. When you are in Japan, you can find them very easily. So let me tell you why I love it.

Why I like “Cup Sake” is very simple. I love glass. I love that transparent material. In addition, I like Sake of course. Glass plus Sake makes Cup Sake! Roughly speaking, we have two types of “Cup Sake” here in Japan. One is decorated with a sticker. I call it a “sticker type”. As for the other type, a brand name or an illustration is printed directly on a glass cup. I call this “print type”. Some of “print type” cups looked so cute that I felt like keeping it at home. This is the beginning. While researching “Cup Sake”, I found there are more than 1000 cups sold in Japan. There are tons of cups which I’ve never seen or heard of before. As a matter of course, I felt like collecting them all!

I do not remember which my first cup, but “Suwaizumi” must be one of the first cups that turned me on. My favorite cups, in terms of “cup design”, are listed on the following page. -> http://blog.bq69.info/cup/stars/3-stars/

Ofukumasamune

Ofukumasamune

I also love traveling all over Japan. As some of you might know, Japan is consisted of volcanic islands. So I can enjoy “Onsen” (hot spring). I love “Onsen” as much as I love “Cup Sake”. I always go into local Sake shops and super markets wherever I may roam. I feel very happy when I encounter a cup never seen before.

Many “Cup Sake” from microbreweries are not available even in Tokyo or at online sake stores. Some “Cup Sake” illustrations shows their breweries local landmarks, products or sceneries. For example, “Ofukumasamune” from Niigata has “koi” (carp) and bull fight pictures. Its brewery is located near Yamakoshi area where is famous for both. This kind of local features attract me a lot. “Kobe Cup” is also interesting. Kobe has one of the oldest international ports in Japan, which is represented by a ship on the left side of the cup. There used to be a reservation for foreigners. The weathercock at the right side of the cup represents Kobe’s history.

Q: Why did you decide to start a blog devoted to One Cup Sake? Tell us about your website!

Maki Osugi: My site, “bq69 collectibles“, was started as an online storage of my favorite collections. I intended to list all of my favorite things including books, music, photographs and of course “Cup Sake”. My first post based on my collections was “Cup Sake” because I had collected more than twenty cups at that time. Once I posted a “Cup Sake” article, I wanted to post another and another. While doing so, I find and buy other new cups. The following is a typical cycle of my blogging.

Cup Sake Map

Cup Sake Map

1. buy a cup
2. shoot it
3. drink it up
4. blog it

I have so many cups that I made up my mind to let my site concentrate on Sake topics. I post “Cup Sake” and “Non-Cup Sake” articles one after the other. Although my site is featured in “UrbanSake.com”, my site is unfortunately all written in Japanese. Can’t read Japanese? Please look at my cups on Flickr! Are you a map person? Well, see geological distribution of my collection at my “cup-sake map“!

Q: I’ve heard some people say that One Cup Sake is considered lower quality stuff. How do you feel about this?

Maki Osugi: To those guys, I can say “You are right and wrong”. Most of “Cup Sake” contains “Futsushu” (regular sake). “Futsushu” is diluted with alcohol which is not made of rice. This added alcohol makes sake less tasty. “Cup Sake” was created in 1964 by Ozeki, co. ltd. It was a marketing strategic product. They thought it would be effective to change people’s image of drinking Sake in order to boost Ozeki’s market share. “Casual” and “reasonable” were big keywords. On the other hand, some “Cup Sake” contain “Junmaishu” or “Junmai Daiginjo“. They are very tasty. “Cup Sake is not worth drinking” is a bit stereotype opinion.

Regular archive link -> http://blog.bq69.info/cup/type/regular/
Honjozo archive link ->http://blog.bq69.info/cup/type/honjozo/
Ginjo / Daiginjo archive link -> http://blog.bq69.info/cup/type/ginjo-daiginjo/
Junmai archive link -> http://blog.bq69.info/cup/type/junmai/
Junmai Ginjo / Junmai Daiginjo archive link ->http://blog.bq69.info/cup/type/junmai-ginjo-junmai-daiginjo/

Q: Sake in general is becoming quite popular in the USA. You’ve spent some time living here… do you think One Cup Sake has a chance to catch on in the States?

Maki Osugi: It may be difficult for “Cup Sake” to become popular in the States. In my opinion, breweries do not think it’s a good idea to export their “Cup Sake”. The reasons are:
– cups for “Cup Sake” are not suitable for preservation
– cups itself is heavy, which impacts transportation cost
– “Cup Sake” is cheap (about two USD in Japan)

However, it must be good for breweries to give a “Cup Sake” as a sampler to Sake lovers in the States. At Sake conventions or tasting parties, breweries should give “Cup Sake” to the guests as a promotional sampler. Let them taste a bit at the parties and let them bring “Cup Sake” home. Drinking “Cup Sake” at home may be a good promotion.

Q: I notice that some sake cups have cute/funny/kawaii designs on them. Do you think the sake cup designs influence sales and popularity?

Maki Osugi: Absolutely yes! “Cup Sake” was a big (or medium?) hit in Japan two or three years ago. In those days, many young women bought cute cups just because they’re cute. Giant pandas of “Miyozakura” and cute deer of “Akishika” were big stars. Most of young Japanese women prefer wine or cocktails to Sake. It is very interesting to see that those animals attracted them and made them buy “Cup Sake”!

A cup designed by Yoshitomo Nara was a big hit, too. This contemporary artist is so popular among Japanese girls that they bought cups designed by him. Even those who do not drink bought his cups! You can see his paintings at MoMA in NYC.

Yoshitomo Nara’s cup at my site ->http://blog.bq69.info/2009/02/cup171a-to-z-house.html

Q: What are some of your favorite One Cup Sakes?

Maki Osugi: As I mentioned before, my favorite cups in terms of design are listed in “3 Stars” archive. But some of “2 Stars” cups are also pretty good in design.

If I may be asked what would be my best cups, I would say “Akishika“, which I mentioned before, “Kobe Cup” and “Yagibushi“.

As for taste, I recommend some cups on “Favorites” archive page. All the cups here are “Junmai”. Sake contained in these cups are so delicious that no one can argue, yes including those who claims that “Cup Sake isn’t worth drinking”.

Q: What are you hopes and dreams for the future of your One Cup Sake Blog?

Maki Osugi: Almost all the “Print type” cups I can buy online are already in my collection list. I hope I can get all “Print type” cups, but I do not know how many cups we have in Japan (nobody knows exactly, I guess). Until the day comes, I will roam everywhere in tiny island, Japan. And sometimes I drink “Sticker type” for sure. As for the new cups to come, check’em out at “bq69 collectibles“!

*********

NYC: UrbanSake.com ‘One Cup Sake’ Night at Soba Totto

‘One Cup Sake’ Matsuri at Soba Totto

chiyomusubi_kitaro_cup1UrbanSake.com and Kanpai NY are pleased to present… One Cup Sake Night at Soba Totto on Thursday July 16th at 7:00.

Please join us as we celebrate One Cup Sake Week (July 13th – 19th) on UrbanSake.com – featuring reviews and commentary on the best one cup sakes available in the U.S. We’ve created a special one cup sake list with 7 of our favorite one cups! Most of them are hard to find here in NY, and it’s rare to have so many available in one place!

If you don’t know, one cup sake is a glass of sake that comes in a collectible glass cup. They’re typically sold in vending machines in Japan. It’s a concept that was created by Ozeki in the 60’s, and now lots of sake breweries have their own version of the one cup!

Here’s our special one night only one cup sake list…
Chiyomusubi Kitaro Jungin Junmai Ginjo
Chiyomusubi Nezumi Otoko Jungin Junmai Ginjo
Chiyomusubi Oyaji Gokuraku Junmai Ginjo
Kosui Shizenjo Junmai
Ozeki One Cup Junmai
Shimantogawa Junmai Ginjo
Wakatsuru Junmai Daiginjo

Please join us as we celebrate the cult of the one cup! Kanpai!
RSVP and more information here:
http://www.meetup.com/kanpai-ny/calendar/10839810/
What: One Cup Sake Night at Soba Totto
When: July 16, 2009 7:00 PM
Where: Soba Totto
211 E. 43 St.
New York, NY 10017
212-557-8200

John Gauntner’s Ebook: Sake’s Hidden Stories

Sake's Hidden StoriesI recently downloaded John Gauntner’s new ebook “Sake’s Hidden Stories“. John is world famous as “the sake guy” and if anyone has the insight to find the behind the scenes scoop on the reclusive sake world, he does.

This ebook was a great read and if your interested in learning more, not only about sake, but also about the people who make it, you’ll enjoy it too.

If you’re worried about not knowing some of the brands and breweries that John features in his book, there are many that import to the US, and frankly it’s fun to learn from John about some of the breweries less familiar to us here in the US. It’s a reminder of how deep the sake world runs in Japan. We just get the tip of the iceberg here.

Some of the Fantastic breweries featured in John’s ebook that you may know are:

  • Dassai in Yamaguchi
  • Nanbu Bijin in Iwate
  • Daishichi in Fukushima
  • Yuki no Bosha in Akita
  • Tama no Hikari in Kyoto
  • Shichihonyari in Shiga
  • Mukune in Osaka

Topics in the book range from brewing technology to sake traditions; from sake rice to toji temperament and so much more. Every story has a unique spin. I also wanted to mention that John includes some great pictures, too. They really bring the vignettes to life!

If you want to buy John Gaunter’s Sake’s Hidden Stories for yourself, I highly recommend it! You’ll be approaching some of your favorite sakes from a whole new perspective! Special thanks to John for writing this book in the first place – for those of us interested in sake, information about the subject is relatively scarce in English. This is a great addition to the currently available sake literature.

Click here to buy Sake’s Hidden Stories. Kanpai!

Niigata Sakes at Sakaya

Ataru Kobayashi

Ataru Kobayashi

Mr. Ataru Kobayashi was found at Sakaya last week pouring samples of two of the fantastic Niigata sakes he imports through his company SENA Niigata Sake Selections.

Kobayashi-san is an eloquent advocate for sake from his home prefecture of Niigata. You can really feel his passion for sake and that passion comes through in the sakes he selects to import.

Kirinzan Junmai
First, I tried the Kirinzan Junami. In other posts I have already reviewed the beautiful Kirinzan Junmai Daiginjo that really is to “dai” for! I first had it at Sakagura and it was love at first sip.

Kirinzan

Kirinzan

This junmai grade sake from the same brewery is also a dream, but with a touch more rice in the nose and more broad flavors on the palate. It retains however, it’s gentle and soothing niigata je ne sais quoi.

I also can’t mention Kirinzan without mentioning the thoughtful packaging. The bottle for the Junmai is total eye candy and a wonderfully thoughtful touch!

Manotsuru Daiginjo

Manotsuru

Manotsuru

Next Kobayashi-san poured the delicious Manotsuru “Four Daimonds” Daiginjo.

This sake is made by Obata Sake Brewery’s President Mr. Hirashima. He’s a soft spoken man that makes a wonderfully smooth and serene beauty of a sake. Clean, yet with a light sweetness and mild melon and apple on the palate, I found myself wanting even more of this delicious brew than would fit in my tasting cup!

If you can’t tell by now, Niigata and it’s elegant sake has surely cast a spell upon me. The Niigata style of sake is lighter, easy to drink and very easy to enjoy. Pick up one of these sakes for yourself and you can see what a little Niigata can do for you. Kanpai!