This time, however, we were on my turf. I was very happy to hear that Hibino-san was coming to Astor Wines to promote a long standing favorite of NYC sake drinkers, Wakataki Onikoroshi Junmai Daiginjo. I was happy to see Mr. Hibino remembered me as well, but shocked to hear that he has just arrived from Japan that morning and was already pouring sake! If he was tired he didn’t show it. Onward with the tasting! it was time to sip some Wakatake for myself. I had recently served it in an Elements of Sake Class and it was every bit as good as I remembered. SMV Â±0 and super clean, this sake is very easy to love. Welcome to New York City Hibino-san! Please come back again soon!Hibino-san was kind enough to introduce me to. Mr. Kazuo Maruyama, representing the Shirataki Sake Brewery in Niigata prefecture. Maruyama-san was pouring one of their most well known sakes: Shirataki Sara Wind Junmai. I recently had this sake at Buddakan Restaurant and really enjoyed it. One delightful feature of buying Shirataki Sara Wind Junmai is that the bottle comes with a cute cloth bag and a small glass “ochoko” sake cup. Who wouldn’t love that? The label is beautiful as well. It was drawn by a french artist visiting the region and it represents the local rice fields. The taste is clean and light and unobtrusive. It is beautiful in it’s Niigata-ness.
Shiratake also produces the much loved Jozen Mizunogotoshi Junmai Ginjo. This is a sake I did one of my very first (and embarrassing) videos on!
I was happy to visit these brewers serving their best sakes at Astor. I have always told people that attending events with the brewers visiting from Japan is one of the best ways to learn about sake. You can get the info on the sakes right from the source. And if your interested in learning about sake, and meeting some really wonderful people, there is nothing better than that. Kanpai!
Our friends Rick and Hiroko, owners of NYC’s only all-sake store Sakaya, were recently interviewed by Eat Out NY’s exuberant host Kelly Choi. Rick and Hiroko are media pros at this point having scored spots on Tokyo TV, NY1, and now this!
I happened to be in the shop myself when Kelly Choi wandered into Sakaya about a year ago saying she should come back to do an interview. And now all these months later – it’s in the can! Check it out!
I recently saw a 1967 Japanese-themed James Bond film “You Only Live Twice” for the first time. This film takes place mostly in Japan and involves a complicated plot about an evil mastermind trying to provoke nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States. Viewed 40+ years after it’s initial release, this film comes across as ripe with cultural insensitivity, political incorrectness and male chauvinism. But in the go-go swinging 1960’s Bond-san’s Japanese shenanigans got good reviews and the film was a financial success…Oh, behave!
In the end, I think this film serves as an lens into how the outside world viewed Japanese culture at time it was made. Most interesting to me were the two brief scenes in “You Only Live Twice” that feature SAKE. There is actually a lot to learn here! Let’s break it down…
Sake Scene 1
Tiger Tanaka: “Do you like Japanese sake, Mr. Bond? Or would you prefer a vodka martini?”
James Bond: “No, no. I like sake. [sip] Especially when it’s served at the correct temperature, 98.4 degrees Fahrenheit, like this is.”
Tiger Tanaka: “For a European, you are exceptionally cultivated.”
In this scene, Bond passes on this his signature martini and admits he likes sake. The interesting point to note here, is that the writers are attempting to make Bond sound worldly and sophisticated by having him know the proper heating temperature for hot sake.
But wait – “Isn’t hot sake considered bad, cheap, yucky sake?”, you ask.
Well, viewed historically, at the time this film was made (1967) all sake breweries were still fortifying their sake with distilled alcohol as a legacy of wartime rice shortages. As a result, serving sake hot to help ward off any sharp or unbalanced flavors made sense and was very common. Chilled premium sake as we know and love it today wasn’t really around.
It wasn’t until a year later, in 1968, that the first breweries started to again experiment with making Junmai “pure rice” sake (no distilled alcohol added). This was one very significant factor that ushered in the area, sometimes called the “Jizake Boom”, of smaller breweries crafting increasingly pure, elegant and refined sakes that are best served slightly chilled.
I’m sure James Bond today drinks his sake chilled to a perfect 58.2ÂºF! And in Bond-san’s defense, if you ARE choosing to warm premium sake, 98.4ÂºF is indeed a fantastic serving temperature. Warm sake can be delightful if done properly.
Sake Scene 2
In this scene, James is supposedly “disguised” as a Japanese native by wearing a kimono and a wig. um… Please see my note above regarding cultural insensitivity.
He is pretending to marry a Japanese girl to help himself blend in as he attempts to infiltrate the evil Mastermind’s lair. And yes, he does try to get busy with his fake bride before actually infiltrating the evil Mastermind’s lair. um… Please see my note above regarding male chauvinism.
This scene simply represents a Japanese wedding ceremony with the bride and groom sharing sake as a sign of joining their lives. This part of the Shinto wedding ceremony that involves sake is called “San-san-kudo”, which literally means “three, three, nine times”.
The groom and bride each take three sips from three sake cups. The Japanese Spy/Bride in this scene is shown correctly taking three sips from the sake cup. The Shinto Miko maidens who pour the sake in this film also fill the cup with three small pours. What’s up with all the “Threes”? Three is an advantageous number in Japan and is not divisible thereby symbolizing unity for the couple.
And why is sake used to seal the deal on a wedding? It is a hold-over from ancient times when consuming sake was seen as a link between the gods and the people. When performed for real and not by spies, it is a really beautiful and touching ceremony with deep roots in Japanese culture.
The name is Sake, Urban Sake.
If you haven’t seen it, renting “You Only Live Twice” may be worth a look and good for a few laughs. You can indulge in a little political incorrectness, examine perceived Japanese social mores of the 1960s, and learn a bit about sake along the way. Yeah, baby!
Sparkling: Harushika Tokimeki Junmai (pairing: apple wedge)
Kimoto: Sawanoi Iroha Kimono Junmai (pairing: Grilled shitake w/bonito)
Yamahai: Hiraizumi Yamahai Junmai (pairing: tsukune chicken meatball)
Genshu: Umenishiki Junmai Ginjo Genshu (pairing: Edamame.)
Nigori:Ichinokura Junmai Nama Genshu Nigori (pairing: blue cheese)
Koshu: Hanahato Kijoshu (pairing: vanilla ice cream)
Which sake food pairing do you think was voted as the class favorite?
Ichinokura Nama Nigori with the Blue Cheese! Wha? I know! But it really worked. The texture of the sake and cheese were both super creamy, but the blue cheese had a little bit of saltiness that was just fantastic with the nama.
It was not only blue cheese and nama that made this class special! We had a very special guest, Mr. Maximilian Riedel. He spoke for a few minutes and introduced his Riedel “O” Daiginjo sake tasting glass.
We enjoyed the very special Wakatake Junmai Daiginjo with Mr. Riedel’s glass. He showed us the finer points of tasting sake using his stemless tasting glass. We also each got to take home our glass! Yeah!
Here is a video of Maximilian Riedel introducing is “O” line of glasses:
Koji, Koji Koji
John Gaunter was again the special guest speaker and his lecture was entitled: “Without Koji, There is No Sake”. Koji is the true mystery ingredient in sake. Often called the “mold that makes the magic”, the title of the lecture couldn’t be more true. John focused on many of the interesting aspects of how koji works, how brewers work with it and also, descriptions of the unique rooms used at breweries to propagate koji mold.
This year, we had the following Breweries represented:
Meet The Brewers
- Tenzan Sake Brewing Co. (Saga)
- Asahi Sake Brewing Co. (Yamaguchi)
- Rihaku Sake Brewing Co. (Shimane)
- Imada Sake Brewing Co. (Hiroshima)
- Marumoto Sake Brewing Co. (Okayama)
- Sudo-Honke Inc. (Ibaraki)
- Tentaka Sake Brewing Co. (Tochigi)
- Okunomatsu Sake Brewing Co. (Fukushima)
- Kaetsu Sake Brewing Ltd. (Niigata)
- Tenju Sake Brewing Co., LTD (Akita)
- Akita Seishu Sake Brewing Co., LTD. (Akita)
- Nanbubijin, Inc. (Iwate)
- Takasago Sake Brewing Co. (Hokkaido)
The sakes from all the above Breweries were amazing! The news for me was some wonderful unique treats that I got to try.
One special treat was the delicious Fukucho Junmai Daiginjo “Hattansou” Muroka Genshu made by Miho Imada at the Imada Sake Brewery in Hiroshima Prefecture. This sake was unique in several ways. It was made using a lesser known sake rice “Hattansou” which I learned is a parent rice to the more well known Hattan-Nishiki rice. This leaves this sake with a wonderfully concentrated sense of flavor and aroma. I have high hopes to see this sake for sale in the US this year!
However, A rare treat for me on this night was the chance to taste Sakurai-san’s Dassai Junmai Daiginjo 39 Sparkling Nigori! This is a beautiful light bubbly brew worth savoring. Not for sale in the US, but we can hope for the future!
So many sakes were tasted and enjoyed! This was another enjoyable year at the Japan Society. This year we learned that “without Koji, there is no Sake”. Can’t wait to see where in the sake world they take us next year!
Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a litte thing for sake from Niigata prefecture. That first brew that enchanted me years ago, Hakkaisan, hails from Niigata and I’ve kinda been smitten by this region ever since. You can imagine my thrill when I got an invite to attend a recent sake industry tasting hosted by the Niigata Sake Selections importers! I met up with several brewers and here’s a brief overview of what we sampled. [spoiler alert: it was gooood!]Yukikage Snow Shadow
First, I met Ms. Shigeno representing Kinshihai Shuzo. She was pouring her signature sake Yukikage “Snow Shadow” Tokubetsu Junmai.
This is an award winning sake that has a nice light body yet a full and clear finish. Niigata makes some beautiful sake and this is a prime example!
“Snow Shadow” is a name that makes me think of Nigori, but this is a delicious clear junmai.Manotsuru “Four Diamonds”
Hirashima-san is the president of Obata Shuzo and makes the stunningly beautiful “Manotsuru” brand sake.
I first tried the delicious Manotsuru Junmai Ginjo and really enjoyed the smooth flavor. Four diamonds? I give it five or more! After the Junmai Ginjo, I enjoyed their delicious Manotsuru Daiginjo. Mildly sweet and very well balanced, this alcohol added Daiginjo is a fantastic treat with just the right amount of melon. Delicious!Kirin-zan
I first tried Kirin-zan Junmai Daiginjo at Sakagura on New Year’s Eve a few years ago. I was impressed with the incredible clarity of this sake. Super-Niigata type sake!
Bracingly clean and laced with mild nuance of citrus goodness. A classic niigata sake made with the signature soft Niigata water. A beautiful bottle for a very beautiful product. Saito-san explained to me there is a different color bottle for each of his sake lines… Blue is for the delicious clean, clear taste of the Junmai Daiginjo. I couldn’t agree more.Matsunoi Wishing Well
Furusawa-san was really nice and introduced me to two of his great sakes. They were more earthy, but earthy in a strictly Niigata way. I first tried the Matsunoi “Wishing Well” Tokubetsu Junami. This sake is dry with a great tone and balance.
I also enjoyed Furusawa-san’s Matsunoi “Wishing Well” Tokubetsu Honjozo. This sake was nutty and lightly rich. yummy in the classic niigata style. I loved tasting the Junmai and Honjozo side by side. I’ve seen the Honjozo around town before and I know I always enjoy it. You can always find room for a special honjozo to go with delicious Japanese cuisine.Kakurei
I first met Mr. Aoki-san at a Sake Hana event in December 2006. Aoki-san was kind enough to remember me and was as nice as ever!
A delicious Kakurei Junami Ginjo started me off and running! light floral notes and a clean finish personify this sake. Just fantastic. I also was happy to revisit their Kakurei Junmai Daiginjo. A perfect little gem of Niigata sake, this is an elegant daiginjo with mild fruits on the palate and light floral aromas in the nose. Smooth and clean – so drinkable.
All in all, this tasting left me loving Niigata more and more! If you enjoy the classic light and airy feel of Niigata Nihonshu, I implore you try the sakes from this region. World famous for sake, Niigata won’t disappoint you. Please try it and and enjoy – and tell them Urban Sake sent you! Kanpai!
Sake is always the number one story with me, but other media outlets have been featuring a lot of news on Nihon-shu, too. Here is a quick roundup of some interesting sake stories making the news recently:
Miho Fujita, president of the Mioya Brewery Co. in Ishikawa, Japan was recently interviewed by the Village Voice. And in their words she is “freaking adorable” I couldn’t agree more! Read on:
For Heaven’s Sake–Japanese Rice Wine Is No Longer Just A Boys’ Game
By Chantal Martineau / The Village Voice
Wednesday, May. 20 2009
Apparently, New York Sake Week starts June 1. What great timing because we’ve just met one of the sake world’s most talked-about personalities: Miho Fujita, president of the Mioya Brewery Co. in Ishikawa, Japan.
She may be in charge, but Miho gets her hands dirty in the brewery everyday, working closely with her brewmaster, and even tending to the rice. As one of only a handful of women in the industry, she has become something of a media darling in her native Japan. (It doesn’t hurt that she’s freaking adorable.) …
There has been a lot of talk about recent sake ingredients scandals in Japan. This AP article focuses on the recent hubbub at Bishonen Brewery.
ANALYSIS: Japan in need of sake brewery law that tells it like it is
by The Associated Press
May 29, 2009
MIYAZAKI, Japan, May 29 (Kyodo) â€” The image of Japan’s iconic drink has taken a knock following revelations of a scam operated by one of the country’s major sake breweries.
Brewery Bishonen Shuzoh Co. of Jonan, Kumamoto Prefecture, is said to have sent out high-grade rice for polishing and received back lower-grade rice that it used to make sake. It is further alleged that it received cash to make up the difference in rice quality. Bishonen President Naoaki Ogata said he could not resist the temptation to make off-the-books money because his company was in dire straits. He added that the practice existed even before he joined Bishonen in 1982. …
One of my favorite brews is getting some airtime over at Time Out New York! Our friend Tejal Rao profiles Kikusui Funaguchi honjozo nama in a can. One of the most popular sakes in the new “one cup” sake movement. Thanks Tejal!
Canned sake: This unfiltered treat is anything but lowbrow.
By Tejal Rao / Time Out New York
Issue 713 : May 28â€“Jun 3, 2009
Yes, we can! The Japanese famously stock their goody dispensers with cheap thrills: instant noodles, beer, lightly worn underwearâ€¦ Itâ€™s not hard to see why sake in a can, also sold on street corners and in train stations, is generally considered a sake of ill repute. But high-end Funaguchi Kikusui Ichiban Shibori is no ordinary quaff. The unpasteurized gem is fresh, sophisticated and full of body and lingering floral notes. The chilled sake started out as a special treat reserved for visitors to the Niigata prefecture brewery, but once the trend of namazake (unpasteurized sakes) took off, the company figured out how to properly store and transport the precious liquid. …
Joto Sake importers recently held a sake tasting at LAN restaurant in the East Village. Best part was, the Brewers themselves were there to introduce their sakes. When people ask me what they can do to learn more about sake, I always encourage them to attend events just like this one. Talking directly to the people who make the sake is one of the best ways to learn. Let’s check out the Joto sake!
Yuho “Happy Rice”This sake is from outer space? That’s what Miho Fujita told me when I first sampled her brews. Seems their brand name “Yuho” sounds an awful lot like the way “U.F.O.” is pronounced in Japanese. Well, I will say it is “out-of-this-world” delicious.
It’s a new offering from Joto sake importers and quite a find. Yuho has been creating buzz in Japan and rightfully so. I tried Fujita-san’s Yuho Junmai first. A thoroughly modern Junmai, it’s well balanced and slightly rich. I also sampled the Yuho Junmai Ginjo. Bright and vibrant, this is a very versatile sake. I tasted light hints of citrus with a wonderfully crystal clear finish.
Yuki no Bosha “Cabin in the Snow”
I started exploring these sakes with one of my all time favorites, Saito-san’s famous Yuki no Bosha Nigori. It’s light and breezy with all the very best parts of Nigori texture and limited release Junmai Ginjo in one. If you want to explore Nigori – I recommend you start here. I also enjoyed the delicious “Akita Komachi Daiginjo“. This delicious sake was rich, super smooth and just exuded elegance. A real gem among fortified daiginjos.
Tasting his brews again brought be back to that wonderful trip. I enjoyed getting reaquainted with the Wataribune Junmai Daiginjo. A rich and fruity daiginjo, look for peach and honeydew on the palate and also a nice long finish that stays with you sip for sip. Delicious!
Chikurin “Bamboo Forest”
Today I got to try Chikurin Karoyaka “Lightness”. It’s light with mild fruits and enough body to hold it perfectly together. I also enjoyed Chikurin Fukamari “Depth”. This sake is good and There is a touch of richness that comes from the fact this sake is blended with a small amount of aged sake. Great to enjoy these Chikurin sakes again!
When you get a chance to try these Joto sakes don’t miss it! They offer a wonderful taste of the artisanal brewery movement in Japan: Delicious, hand-crafted, amazing. Kanpai!
Chizuko-san recently traveled to Japan and came back with a bevy of rare and hard to find sake that she wanted to share with us at this tasting. Most of the sake we tasted is not for sale in the U.S. and a few special bottles were directly from the Brewer and not for sale even in Japan!
A Sparkling Warmup
We were greeted at the door with a flute of Dassai 39 Sparkling Junmai Daiginjo Nigori. Delicious, elegant and a perfectly fizzy way to start the evening off right.
After the Dassai 39 Nigori, the sakes came fast and furious. Chizuko-san poured each with a grace and hospitality that can only come from years of Sommelier experience. In a field of already extra delicious brews, two sakes from Iwate Prefecture’s Nanbu Bijin Brewery stood out as extra, extra delicious.
Nanbu Bijin Shines
First was the Nanbu Bijin Daiginjo First Run 2009 “Hatsu Bashiri”. This sake was alive with luscious fruits on the palate and a refreshing juicy mouthfeel, all the while feeling smooth, elegant and expressive. A really wonderful Daiginjo!
This sake was aged for 12 years at very cold temperatures which gave it a very rare deep level of complexity on the palate. Rich, full and ravishing, this sake was a true masterpiece. Although I had never met him, I couldn’t help feeling the spirit of Yamaguchi-san was there with us through his magnificent sake.
Food, Glorious Food
I’d really me remiss if I just reported on the sake. Bohemian Executive Chef Kiyotaka Shinoki paraded several courses of really delicious and inventive food to pair with the sakes. From fresh tuna and kanpachi sashimi to fresh oysters with a spritz of key lime to a delicious fresh ikura caviar rice bowl, all the food was amazing. We sampled 11 unique dishes and each had an elegant touch and refined simplicity. Just beautiful Japanese food.
Bohemian itself was beautiful. Think ginormous skylight, live moss garden, sake ice bucket free form ice sculptures, backlit bar and modern Asian art light sculptures. yeah, I know. The whole 9 yards. Beautiful space, beautiful food, beautiful sake and beautiful company all came together to make a pretty darned beautiful evening. My special thanks go out to Chizuko-san for spearheading this special event with Bohemian. It really was “A Night to Remember!”
Imagine my surprise when Food and Drink writer Michael Anstendig alerted me to the fact that my kimono-clad picture was featured on the Time Out NY website!
I recently attended a fantastic sake event and I will post a full report soon. Until then, check out this Blog Post in the Time Out NY Food Blog.
This event was an absolute blast and I had a lot of fun dressing in Kimono and drinking some of the most rare sakes I might ever enjoy. Not a bad way to spend and evening in the Big Apple.
The folks at Joy of Sake don’t just stick to their one mega sake tasting event each year. Lucky for us, they also have smaller get togethers they call “Aftertaste” events, each usually focused on a new sake-related theme. Last June, I attended a Joy of Sake Aftertaste event devoted to “Umami”.
However, last week, I was lucky enough to attend the latest Aftertaste event being held at En Japanese Brasserie. This event focused on the concept of “Balance and Harmony” in sake. This is the event description from the invite:
One characteristic all prize-winning sakes possesses is â€œbalance.â€ For most sake judges, balance is more important than either taste or aroma. But what exactly is it that is in balance? And how can we tell if a sake is balanced or unbalanced? This monthâ€™s tasting explores one of the more elusive concepts in sake appreciation.
Balance in Sake
It’s true! Balance is something that’s very prized in the world of sake. I look at balance as finding the most pleasant equilibrium between sweetness and acidity as well as richness and lightness.
So what sakes were on tap to explain “Balance and Harmony”? Let’s take a look at some highlights! Check out these sakes if you want to find some Balance and Harmony of your own!
Tentaka “Silent Stream” Junmai Daiginjo: From Tochigi Prefecture. This sake won a silver award in the 8th US National Sake Appraisal.
Shichihonyari Junmai: From Shiga Prefecture. This sake won a silver award in the 8th US National Sake Appraisal.
Dassai 50 Junmai Ginjo: From Yamaguchi Prefecture. This sake won a gold award in the 8th US National Sake Appraisal.
Taiheikai Tokubetsu Junmai: From Ibaraki Prefecture. This sake won a gold award in the 8th US National Sake Appraisal.
Here’s to lots of “balance and harmony” in your sake drinking experiences!
There is a great event coming up that you don’t want to miss! It’s the annual Japan Society Sake tasting and Lecture on Tuesday, May 19, 6:30 PM . This year, the “sake guy” himself, Mr John Gaunter is coming to the US to lecture on that mystical and moldy aspect of sake: KOJI!
The event is entitled: Without Koji, There is No Sake
Koji-making is the heart of the sake brewing process. Koji is steamed rice onto which a special mold has been grown with great precision and skill that converts starches to sugars, which in turn are fermented to yield alcohol. Making good koji requires precise regulation of temperature and moisture, and nothing has a greater impact on the final flavors and aromas of sake. Like much of sake brewing, koji-making is more art than science. Sake expert John Gauntner discusses the art and science of making koji, what it is, the myriad ways it can be accomplished, and how tiny changes to koji can result in major differences in sake flavor.
Followed by a sake tasting. Co-sponsored by the Sake Export Association.
Tuesday, May 19, 6:30 PM
Tickets: $35/$30 Japan Society members & seniors
Limit 2 tickets per order.
BUY TICKETS HERE
Must be 21 years of age.
Buy tickets online or call the Japan Society Box Office at (212) 715-1258, Mon. – Fri. 11 am – 6 pm, Weekends 11 am – 5 pm.
I recently enjoyed teaching my Sake 101 class at Astor Center! The class is referred to as “elements of Sake” and that is really true! We break down what the basic classifications are, what to look for when tasting sake and we review the sake production process.
Let’s take a look at the SEVEN sakes we tasted during this fun sake 101 lecture. Can you guess which one was the class favorite??
Otokoyama Junmai You can really taste that this is a strong, very DRY Junmai with a hint of fruity-something melon-something. It stands up for itself. I think if the Man Show picked a sake, this would be it. I enjoyed it. It is a good sake to have around for those informal times when something good and strong fits the bill.
Kubota Honjozo Fuller in flavor and bolder, this honjozo is a touch on the dry side with a real food friendly vibe. This brewery is top notch and very highly regarded in Japan. This was our only “alcohol added” sake of the evening. Robust, full and very high quality.
Tsukasabotan Tokubetsu Junmai This sake is dry, but has a well-rounded depth of flavor. Itâ€™s impressive and understandably a favorite! I enjoyed every sip. For lovers of dry sake, this is a “must try”. just beyond being dry, this delicious brew also offers depth of flavor.
Dassai Junmai Ginjo Light, balanced, clean and easy drinking, this sake is a star. It’s wonderful for beginners to get into sake and fantastic for others to simply enjoy. There are wonderful fruits on the palate without coming off too sweet. Just fantastic.
Dassai Junmai Ginjo Nigori A Nigori version of the famous Dassai 50 junmai Ginjo. The story here is all about texture and the light sweetness conveyed by the rice solids left in this nigori. The nose on this sake makes you say “wha?” , but the palate is all “ahhhh, delicious”. a beautiful choice if you’re hankering for some nigori action.
Masumi Arabashiri Junmai Ginjo Nama Genshu This delight just screams springtime nama. It’s fresh, fresh flavor is alive with a fruitiness that may come across a touch sweeter than it actually is. This sake tastes alive and makes me happy to be alive. This is so yummy you can easily drink more than you perhaps should.
Kurosawa Junmai Daiginjo Truly one of my very favorite Junmai Daiginjos… This one is masterful. Wonderful light apple and soft pear on the palate. lightly luscious with a resounding smoothness you’ll be hard pressed to find elsewhere.
So, what do you think won out as class favorite? If you guessed Masumi Arabashiri, you’re right! The super bold, fruity and spring time zing-fest that is Masumi Arabashiri won out as the favorite of all the picks. Have you tried it? If not, get thee to a liquor store and order some as soon as possible! it’s only available in the springtime and supplies are limited!
From street level, you need to go down stairs and then up spiral stairs inside to reach the dining room. This may be a feng shui consultant’s nightmare, but once you navigate your way, you will find it’s work the trip.
I was greeted by Chizuko-san and Sakurai-san from Dassai Brewery. Momokawa normally specializes in shabu-shabu, but on this night I was focused on Dassai. They were offering a special appetizer tasting of 3 Dassai sakes with individual food pairings.Here is what we had as part of the Dassai Tasting:
Dassai 39 Junmai Daiginjo paired with marinated sardines. The sardines were delicious but on the bone. Peeling off the fish, it was delicious and succulent, a great match for Dassai 39.
Dassai 50 Junmai Ginjo paired with rich chicken liver patÃ©. I was surprised how much I loved the liver! It’s not usually my thing, but I have to say I really enjoyed the rich flavor of this dish.
Dassai 50 Junmai Ginjo Nigori paired with white fish sashimi. This sashimi was my favorite dish of the evening. The freshness of the fish was a delightful contrast to the fresh fish. I really enjoyed this pairing.
All in all, this was a fantastic adventure in a great new restaurant! I can’t wait to go back and try the shabu shabu! It was fun seeing Sakurai-san and Chizuko-san at this tasting. I was so happy to learn that Dassai 39 is now being imported into the US! this was great news for all of us. It’s a wonderful addition to the sakes available here! If you get a chance, stop by Momokawa restaurant and try whatever Dassai Pairing they have on the menu – it’s delicious! Enjoy and Kanpai!
On my sake adventures in Japan, I was lucky enough to attend ceremonies and sake events where I saw traditional men’s kimono up close. I was impressed by the beauty and tradition of the kimono and began reading up on it’s history and meaning. I thought it would be fun to wear Men’s kimono myself on my next trip to Japan, so I found a wonderful Kimono teacher right here in New York City, Hiromi Asai.
Hiro-sensei taught me not only how to put on a kimono, but also about the meaning of proportion and color in Kimono and just how nuanced that meaning could be. I was instantly reminded of the nuances in tasting beautiful sake. I love Japanese culture. Hiro-sensei was going to be interviewed and invited me to have another kimono lesson as a demonstration for the reporter. The video below is what resulted. While only indirectly related to sake, I hope you enjoy it!
Read the full New York Times article here:
© New York Times 2009
Shizuku, also known as drip or trickle sake, indicates the sake was made using a lavish production method where sake mash is filled into mesh bags and suspended over a container. All the clear sake that drips out by gravity alone is collected. It’s really the “cream of the crop”.
I was excited to learn that Sakaya was hosting a tasting of Shichi Hon Yari sakes, including their ultra rare Junmai Daiginjo Shizuku. I was lucky enough to visit Shichi Hon Yari Brewery back in October 2008. My Impression upon visiting this brewery left me with one word ringing in my ears… “artisanal”. The operation is small and deep in the countryside of Shiga Prefecture, but they make robust, hand crafted sake that has a global reach.Midori-san from Shichi Hon Yari importer Joto Sake, was pouring two Sakes. Let’s take a look:
First is their most famous export the Shichihonyari Junmai. This sake uses locally grown Tamazakae sake rice. It’s fantastic both chilled and heated and offers a dry yet robust sake experience. Not to be missed. Oh, and you can’t beat the cool Samurai design on the label.
The Second sake we had was the aforementioned Shichihonyari Shizuku Junmai Daiginjo. An exquisite Shizuku or “drip” sake, it’s an elegant treat of light fruits on the palate a wisp of crispness that gives it a grounded backbone and good balance. It’s an amazing trickle sake in that it has the body to stand up to food and would be an excellent pairing with lots of yummy stuff. Midori-san recommended cheese and I agree! It’s expensive stuff, but also know it’s a “limited edition”… once it sells out, here won’t be any more until next year!
Shichi Hon Yari represents to me so many good things about the world of sake that I love so much. Hand crafted sake made with pride and passion! You can’t beat that. Now if I could only get my Super to look at that radiator…
Last Tuesday was my latest class at Astor Center, teaching the “Elements of Sake” Class. It was a blast!
The class was sold out and I was lucky to find myself in front of a room of students anxious to learn more about sake! My goal at each “Elements of Sake” class is to provide a survey of the basic classifications of sake. I know not every student will love each and every selection, but they will come closer to knowing what they do like and don’t like as far as the range of sake tastes go. This is very important to make good decisions about buying sake in the future. You’ve got to know what you like!
With a basic survey in mind, These are the 7 sakes that I chose for our most recent class:
- Urakasumi Junmai: This is a classic example of a Junmaishu. Firm, full bodied and full rice in the nose.
- Kubota Senju Honjozo: Fuller in flavor and bolder, this honjozo is a touch on the dry side with a real food friendly vibe.
- Ohyama Tokubetsu Junmai: A lighter style of junmai, this sake is clean and food friendly with just a hint of creaminess.
- Dassai 50 Junmai Ginjo: Light, balanced, clean and easy drinking, this sake is a star.
- Dassai 50 Junmai Ginjo Nigori : The story here is all about texture and the light sweetness conveyed by the rice solids left in this nigori.
- Kamikokoro Toukagen Shiboritate Junmai Nama Genshu Tokubetsu: On the sweet side and fruity, this is a very, very, very easy to drink sake.
- Taiheizan Tenko Junmai Daiginjo: This sake comes across to me as fantastically light, yet aromatic and is really one smoooooth operator.
If you want to join us for the next session, don’t hesitate to check out all the details for our April 29th Elements of Sake class. I look forward to seeing you then!
That’s exactly how I felt after getting re-acquainted with some delicious sakes from Nara’s Ume No Yado brewery. Sakaya recently sponsored a tasting of four delicious Sakes from this well known brewery.
At the tasting I met the delightful Mr. Moriura and Ms. Liao, aka Fufu-san, who were both visiting from Ume No Yado to help introduce some delicious new imports to New York from their Brewery. I was delighted to taste their new sakes and happy to taste their existing offerings again.
“Ume No Yado” means “Plum House” and from what I could gather, the name stems from having an ancient plum tree on the grounds of the Brewery for as long as anyone can remember. The Brewery is located in Nara prefecture which was the first capital of Japan in the 700s and can be considered one of the cradles of sake brewing culture in Japan. Let’s suffice to sake sake has a long and storied tradition in Nara.
Of the sakes I tasted there were two new fruity imports and two existing standbys. Let’s take a look!
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.
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.
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”!
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”!
So whether you want to meet a new friend or say hello to an old acquaintance, give the sakes of Ume No Yado a try. It’s a fantastic brewery that doesn’t shy away from rich and unique flavors while still honoring the ancient traditions of Nara. It’s a sure bet whatever you choose! kanpai!
Let’s go for it!
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Well, believe it or not, I’ve been getting the opportunity to jet back and forth to Japan, but I’m forced to ride in the “seat pocket in front of you…” That’s right, my Elements of Sake Class is featured in February’s issue of Japan Airlines “Skyward“ in-flight Magazine!
It’s a full page spread, but only in Japanese, so if anyone can help with a translation, let me know! Click on the image to the left or click here to view the PDF.
Sake is always the number one story with me, but other media outlets have been featuring a lot of news on Nihon-shu, too. Here is a quick roundup of some interesting sake stories making the news:
A Foreigner Hopes to Revive Japan’s Flagging Spirits
By John M. Glionna / Los Angeles Times
February 3, 2009
An unlikely master brewer is hoping to revive the centuries-old drink’s flagging popularity — an auburn haired Briton, Philip Harper, who fell in love with the drink and the culture that produced it.
Reporting from Kumihama, Japan — As master brewers have done for 13 centuries before him, the sake factory boss is everywhere at once in his rustic timbered building along Japan’s rugged northern coastline: helping to drag sacks of rice, gently issuing instructions to his four brewing assistants, consulting with his own boss, a fifth-generation owner.
Our friend and Foodie about town Michael Anstendig recently published a great list of the “Top 10 Sake Dens” that was featured in the New York Observer. Makes me proud to be a New Yorker!
Top 10 Sake Dens
by Michael Anstendig / The New York Observer
January 30, 2009
Revered as Japanâ€™s â€œDrink of the Gods,â€ sake is the traditional offering to Shinto deities. With good reasonâ€”itâ€™s pretty miraculous stuff. Employing rice, yeast and water, some of the humblest ingredients on Earth, sake brewers can tease out a staggering array of divine aromas and flavors, from the earthy to the fruity. New Yorkers have lately become hip to sake, having figured out the good stuff isnâ€™t flogged at scalding temperatures in cheesy ceramic bottles. Sake-drenched drinkeries have happily proliferated to meet this new thirst, offering mind-bending varieties, tasty eats, and diverse vibes.
I found this interesting article on the Ozkei production in Hollister California. Little did I know that Ozkei is celebrating 30 years of making sake in the US. Since 1979! The comments on why This particular part of California are especially interesting.
By Jessica Fromm / Metro Santa Cruz Weekly
Hollister’s Ozeki celebrates its run as America’s first sake brewery. Yoji Ogawa leans over a large, cloth-lined tub and thrusts his hand into the snowy white mass filling it. Bits of white dust stick to his cuticles as he draws his hand up and opens his palm, revealing a handful of what look like powdered, bloated bits of Styrofoam.
Read the Full Article >
This event was part of the education series put on by Toshi-san at Sake Hana Sake Bar. I was lucky enough to teach a sake 101 class there last month, which was a lot of fun and where we tasted TEN delicious sakes.
What Makes a Hakkaisan?
This class was lead wonderfully by Hakkaisan’s special envoy in the U.S., Ms. Kumino Kurosawa. Kurosawa-san instructed us in several interesting points that all focus in on one interesting question: How can a large and famous sake brewery like Hakkaisan produce the quality of hand-crafted sake you find at small jizake micro breweries?
- Best quality Sake rice. Working with local rice farmers to ensure the best of the crop is used in Hakkaisan Sake.
- Special Milling Rates (seimaibuai). Using higher than usual milling rates help ensure a superior product.
- Hand crafting Koji. All Koji used in Hakkaisan production is make by hand.
- “Long and Low” fermentation. Using low temperatures and a longer time frame helps achieve that special taste.
- Accomplished staff. Full staff of well trained artisans help maintain quality of koji and sake production.
The Hakkaisan Sakes
Well, what did we taste? It was a wonderful journey up the offering of what Hakkaisan has to offer:
Hakkaisan Futshushu Futsushu is often considered “table sake”. Most Futsushu is rough and tuble, but Hakkaisan is dry and clean and not your average futsushu. Much more elegant that you would usually find. You can tell this sake is a younger brother to the more elegant Hakkaisan Ginjo sake. Great for pairing with richer foods.
Hakkaisan Honjozo Delicious and slightly rich honjozo. On the dry side with plenty of body to stand up to hearty food. you could enjoy this honjozo both chilled and gently warmed.
Hakkaisan Ginjo Truly one of my very favorite sakes. 2007 Urban Sake Golden Masu winner for “best in show” sake. The added alcohol in this sake gives a more floral character to the nose and a touch of added richness to the body while staying true to it’s smooth and lighter Niigata roots. A fantastic argument for premium ginjo-shu style sake if there ever was one.
Hakkaisan Junmai GinjoI have a real soft spot in my heart for this sake. It’s a touch dry with tremendous balance and a crisp refreshing finish. Elegant and not to be missed! A perfect example of Niigata class and elegance.
Hakkaisan “Kongo-shin” Junmai Daiginjo This sake was a surprise for class attendees. It’s not available in the US, and I have never had a chance to try it! It presents in one of the most beautiful sake bottles you’ll ever see. The taste is quite rich and full with tremendous depth of flavor. It goes down extremely smooth – this is accounted for by it’s fantastic milling rate of 40%. Balanced and deep, I found my glass empty much too soon!
Even after spending a fantastic day personally touring Hakkaisan brewery last October, I still found myself learning more and more about this wonderful sake producer. I left feeling lucky we have it here in the States, so if you haven’t yet, be sure to try Hakkaisan first chance you get. It’s an incredibly well known brand in Japan and you don’t reach that level of brand awareness without a lot of hard work and passion for sake making. I feel it’s a wonderful marriage of small scale commitment to detail and larger scale quality production that creates that something very special. And nothing beats the chance to taste these sakes all side by side… Delicious!
A quick overnight trip to Las Vegas this past weekend for a friend’s birthday left me very little time to explore the sake scene in Sin City. That doesn’t mean, however, that my stay was totally nary a nip of nihon-shu.
I talked my friends into spending one of our meals together at Shibuya Restaurant. Located inside the MGM Grand Hotel, I selected this restaurant in the hopes of exploring it’s extensive sake list… and with my fingers crossed for discovering some hopefully authentic and delicious Japanese cuisine.
Some Wasabi With That?
The space itself was large and, although situated away from the casino’s blinking slot machines, was decorated with just enough flash to make sure you didn’t forget you were in Vega$, baby.
The Sushi I enjoyed at Shibuya was well prepared but a touch too heavy on the wasabi. I’m a wuss in this department, but if the chef is going to pre-season the fish with wasabi, it’s better to take a lighter hand.
There was a delicious crab salad that was served in a very, well, flashy Las Vegas way… a bowl of the crab salad was served perched over a fishbowl with a live fish swimming around. Can’t help thinking the poor little guy isn’t too happy working at a sushi joint.
Show me the $ake!
The Sake menu was large and the Shibuya website boasts that they have “the widest sake selection this side of the Pacific.” It was a good list to be sure – way above what you could find in most Japanese restaurants but I’m sure that NYC’s Sakagura Restaurant has them beat in the ‘widest sake selection’ department… assuming Nevada and New York are on the same side of the Pacific.
So I was on my own and to start us off, I guided my friends to the Sougen Junmai. This is a clean, crisp drink that really started to shine when our first courses arrived and we were able to pair it with food.
Next, we enjoyed Wakatake Junmai Daiginjo. This sake is along the same vein as the Sougen being clean, but as a junmai daiginjo grade, it’s more smooth and has more fruit coming across on the palate. The 16.5% alcohol content was a bit strong for a few folks, but should I be concerned that this didn’t bother me in the least? An interesting note on the service of sake. When a new sake is served, they give every guest a business card with the vital stats of each sake. It’s a nice touch and I’ve never seen this done at a restaurant before. It does make sense as I’m sure lots of people ask their server… “now what was the name of that first sake we had??”
So, if you find yourself looking for a little sake oasis in the deserts of Las Vegas, don’t hesitate to give Shibuya a try. The nihon-shu selection is fantastic so if drinking sake is your game, this is one table in the casino where you’re sure to come out a winner every time.
Let’s face it, sake is sexy, exotic and intoxicating! However, not all brews are a perfect fit for Cupid. Not sure what to choose? If you want to tap into that “Sake Magic” on February 14th, here is my list of the Top 5 sakes that are perfect for Valentine’s Day.
Kudoki Jozu Junmai Ginjo
I’ve heard it translated many ways, but the name of this sake, Kudoki Jozu, means “Good at Flirting”, “Lover Boy”, or “The Pick Up Artist”…. you get the idea. This uber-delicious sake is custom made for romance.
Kudoki Jozu is well balanced, light and ripe with yummy fruit flavors on the palate. It’s lovingly hand crafted by the Imai Family in Yamagata prefecture. You’ll be hard pressed to find an easier drinking or more romantic sake this February. Enjoy it with your favorite Pick Up Artist!
Yuki no Bosha Nigori
Nigori sakes are all about texture. If done right, they can be creamy, dreamy and velvety smooth on the palate. Also, nigoris stand out from the crowd. Pour an exotic looking milky white Nigori for your loved one and become master of your sake domain. People will be impressed.
One of my favorite Nigori sakes is the Yuki No Bosha. The texture in this winning nigori is whisper light and not overpowering. Yuki No Bosha translates as “Cabin in the Snow”, which is exactly where you’ll want to find your self together with this sake and your valentine.
Ichinokura Himezen Junmai
Do you have a real Princess on your hands every Valentine’s Day? You know, someone wanting, no, expecting you to arrange the perfect evening? There is only one sake that will do for those finicky valentines out there. I recommend Ichinokura’s Himezen or “Princess”.
Sweet and low in alcohol, this crisp and slightly fruity sake is a great refreshing starter before that romantic dinner. It comes in a beautiful 500ML bottle which is the perfect size to share for two, and just enough to bring a blush to their cheek.
Chikurin Hana Hou Hou Shu Sparkling Junmai
Think of Feb 14th, and you can’t help but Think Pink! However, don’t give a dozen pink roses for Valentine’s Day again this year! Update that tired old standby with a modern twist by bringing your beloved a bottle of Chikurin Hana Hou Hou Shu instead.
You see, this sparkling low alcohol junmai sake is infused with rose petal and hibiscus! Light and refreshing on the palate, this is an immensely popular sake in the USA. Guaranteed to tickle your nose and infuse some romance.
Kagatobi “Ai” Junmai Daiginjo
We can’t leave a list of romantic sakes without at least one Junmai Daiginjo! I’ve selected Kagatobi “Ai” junmai Daiginjo. In Japanese “Ai” means “Love”, so this is a prefect super premium bottle to share with the love of your life.
It doesn’t hurt that this sake is smooth on the palate and that the finish gently lingers, evocative of the soft essence of tropical fruit. The taste is a testament to how well crafted this sake is. A smooth sake for a real smooth operator…like you!
Wherever your Valentine’s Day plans take you, adding some sake to the evening can take you there in style. Sharing the experience of drinking a luscious sake together is a wonderful way to connect with your loved one this February 14th. So, go ahead… bring a little “Sake Magic” to your night, but be warned, it only takes a sip to fall in love forever.
The class was structured as a basic sake 101 class which covered sake classifications, sake ingredients, Production Process and of course sake tasting! The tasting is really what set this class apart. For the 20 or so Students in attendance, we were able to taste TEN sakes during the class. This allowed us to try both pure rice and fortified sakes, along with Nama, Nigori and Koshu! Phew! Everything was delicious. Here is our tasting list:
- Welcome Sake: ???
- TakeNoTsuyu Junmai
- Kikusui Honjozo
- Kaiun Junmai Ginjo
- Okunomatsu Ginjo
- Dassai Junmai Ginjo Nigori
- Narutotai Ginjo Nama Genshu
- Wakatake Junmai Daiginjo
- Tedorigawa Ikinaonna Daiginjo
- Hanahato Kijoshu Koshu
Needless to say, it was a blast to teach and I really hope the students enjoyed it as well. We shook things up by serving a mystery sake to welcome students at the beginning of class. After they had a chance to taste all classifications, we had them guess what grade the sake was… Junmai? Ginjo? I’m happy to report, most guessed correctly! Click on the welcome sake link above to see what we chose!
Special thanks to Toshi-san for arranging this fun class! If you haven’t been to charming and romantic Sake Hana (265 E 78th St, NYC, NY 10021), please plan a trip there. the sake selection is top notch and the atmosphere is wonderful. I am looking forward to the upcoming classes at Sake Hana! Hope you’ll join me!
Shichiken Junmai Ginjo is a sake already well known for it’s ability to blossom when warmed and tonight was no exception. When warmed, this sake takes on an added richness with a warming gentle finish. I picked up on enjoyable woody notes on the palate this go round and that just added to the cozy feeling this sake gives me. Chilled, this sake is also great. It comes off as less rich and less alcohol forward while retaining it’s balance. Both warm and cold were delicious. If you want to learn more about Shichiken, you can read my interview with Tsushima Kitahara, the 13th generation maker of this sake.For me, however, the real surprise of the evening came with my tasting of Naraman Bin Hiire Junmai Muroka. When warmed, Naraman was one smoooooth operator! Stunningly smooth in my opinion. It went down like silk and warmed me up in a way that felt like wrapping myself in a cashmere throw! And disspite having a slightly higher alcohol percentage at 16,5%, the alcohol notes didn’t trample the flavor when warmed. In addition, the nose was also remarkable… gentle and evocative of mild floral essences… yes, in a heated sake! Naraman is a “muroka” or non-charcoal filtered sake. This gives the chilled version of this same sake an added rich dimension and a wonderful balance between sweet and acidity.
My takeaway from the whole experience tonight is that I will try to drink more warmed sake! Sure, it’s a little more work to prepare, but the rewards can be rich. It gets such a bad wrap sometimes, but winter is here to teach us what a joy and visceral pleasure warmed sake can be on a cold, cold night.
People often think sake should only be served warm OR only served chilled. Truth is both can be fantastic depending on the sake and your mood. Try that Chardonnay!
Lucky for me, Sakaya was putting on a free tasting tonight with some real winners both warmed and room temp. Let’s take a look at some of the premium sakes we enjoyed.
First, we had Daishichi Junmai Kimoto Classic. The fact that this Sake is a Kimoto (all sakes from Daishichi are…) predisposes it for having the body and structure that would take kindly to warming. I’m happy to report that the Kimoto “classic” does not disappoint! Warmed, this sake exudes a sexy, restrained tone that reminds me of Lauren Bacall in her prime: Sultry, smooth and seductive.
Second, we tried the delicious Chiyomusubi Goriki Junmai Ginjo. When this sake was warmed, I felt the nose led me a bit astray… wasn’t sure what to expect. On the palate, however, this sake did shine when warmed. It had a wonderful balance of body and alcohol and an unexpected touch of light-sweet-something or other that was just fantastic. Both these sakes delighted me and passed the test. Yum-o.
Sipping these winners warmed me right up. If the cold, blasting winds of a NYC night like tonight can’t turn you onto the charms of warmed premium Nihonshu – nothing can. Kanpai!
- Starting to get my feet wet (literally)! Learning today to hand wash rice. Today it is Yuki no… https://t.co/OQvnoR8WvC Oct 19 from Instagram
- The business end of rice milling happens in this machine: the "seimaiki" or rice milling… https://t.co/pUdFMaGy6j Oct 15 from Instagram
- Milled sake rice must be handled properly! The rice on the left was milled and cooled very… https://t.co/nQnVzUC1R1 Oct 13 from Instagram