A Delicious Umami “Aftertaste”

table.jpgThe yearly “Joy of Sake” event is the Big-Fat-Greek-Wedding of sake tastings. It easily wins, hands down, the title of largest sake event in the U.S. It’s huge, sprawling and a lot to take in… over 300 sakes at one event. I was surprised therefore when a notice arrived in my inbox for “Joy of Sake: Aftertaste ’08 Umami the 5th Taste“. Measured against the original Joy of Sake event, the Aftertaste happening was featuring a modest 45 sakes and the theme was ferreting out the taste of “Umami” in these sakes.

Umami is roughly translated as ‘savory’ and it’s a taste widely recognized in Asia, but relatively unknown in the west. Chris Pierce of the Joy of Sake organization spoke briefly about the interesting background of how Umami was discovered. Modern chemistry identified the Umami taste as our perception of Glutamic acid, one of the essential Amino Acids. This discovery in turn gave rise to the commercialization of Monosodium glutamate aka MSG. To zero in on Umami, think of the essence of some of the following flavors: soy sauce, parmesan cheese, anchovies, and A1 Steak sauce.

kokuryu_daiginjo_final.jpgAfter Chris’ brief lecture, we were unleashed on the 45 bottles and left to hunt for that elusive Umamai. I hit the ground running and found so me fantastic sake right out the gate. I started with the sakes from Kokuryu. First, the Kokuryu “Ryu” Daiginjo. Word on the street is that this is one of the Japanese Emperor’s favorite sakes. That is one thing I have in common with His Royal Highness. This daiginjo is smooth drinking and I almost always drink a glass or two extra when I get access to a bottle. You can expect delicious floral notes in the nose and a soothing smooth finish. This sake is worth a king’s ransom.

Next the Kokuryu Gohyaku-Mangoku Junmai Ginjo. I found this sake to be a Wonderful Umami-laden Junmai Ginjo. Savory and smooth, this is a sake you can really taste some depth of flavor on and really sink your teeth into. A supreme pleasure to drink and perfectly positioned between elegant and casual.

yaemon_final.jpgSome other stand out sakes that offered up some Umami flavors to me were the hearty and hand-crafted Shichihonyari Junmai, a delicious Okunomatsu Tokubetsu Junmai, and two yummy sakes from Tentaka Brewery, the Tentaka Junmai and the wonderful Tentaka Junmai Daiginjo.

My favorite new discovery of the night was Yaemon Junmai Ginjo. While certainly not a mega umami bomb, smooth drinking with a pleasant light umami on the palate… also known as scrumptious! Short finish and not too heavy a rice flavor. really nice! This is a sake I really made friends with. I kept coming back to Yaemon again and again.

When all was said and done, I feel I got closer to an understanding of Umami. Well, I learned enough to know I want to learn more. And if you’ve got to stay up late doing homework, what could be better to study than scrumptious, savory, mouth watering umami. Kanpai!

Nishimoto Tasting in Midtown

crowd.jpg On a beautiful early summer day, I took off from work and headed to a sake tasting hosted by the fine folks at Nishimoto Trading Co., a sake importer of some very fine sake. The event was up at the Bryant Park hotel but located downstairs at the beautiful cellar bar.

yageta1.JPGI started my rounds visiting the Kagatobi table and I was happy to see Mr. Yageta-san representing the Kagatobi Brewery. I first met Yageta-san back in February at a Sakaya tasting event. I was re-introduced to three standout sakes from Kagatobi! I first had the Kagatobi Cho Karakuchi Yamahai Junmai. This is their “super dry” selection. Kagatobi takes an even hand with what they call “super” dry – It’s noticeably dry for those who love it dry, but not overpowering for those who might not. This would also be an excellent sake to warm up! Next I tried The Kabatobi Junmai Ginjo, which is a really delightful sake. Very smooth and rich with a well balanced acidity, I really enjoyed this selection… so easy to drink! I also enjoyed the Kagatobi Ai Junmai Daiginjo. This sake was lighter than the Junmai Ginjo, but perhaps a bit smoother and a touch more elegant. Just as delicious. Kagatobi left me with the impression of wanting to learn more about this well crafted sake!

toshi.jpgNext I caught up with Toshi Imai-san from Kamenoi Brewery, the makers of Kudoki Jozu, which I can easily say, has to be one of my very favorites! I first met Toshi-san back in 2006 at a Yamagata sake event. I was happy to sample the delicioso Kudoki Jozu Junmai Ginjo. Toshi-san also introduced me to two new sakes possibly coming into the U.S. this year. First, was a fantastic sparkling sake. What was different about this sake is that it’s not too sweet or heavily carbonated. I was clued into the secret… the sake on it’s own is so good, that you can still drink and enjoy even if the sake goes flat. Third, there was a unique red rice sake that had a deep color and unique taste. I’ve never had anything much like it before and I’ll be excited to see what you all think if it does get imported!

naraman_junmai.jpgThe Next sake I tried was a real find! We’re talking about something new here that will only be available starting this month! It’s Naraman Junmai Muroka Bin Hiire. This is really a special sake that I will look forward to trying again. It’s a Junmai Muroka with a flavor-forward palate and a bit higher than usual alcohol percentage. The taste was balanced with a surprising structure for a junmai. This sake gives you quite a good value for the money. Enjoy it warmed or chilled.

This Summer 2008 preview of the Nishimoto Sake selection was really fun! There were more sakes than I reported here, but even Sake Samurai have their limits. I hope to see more Nishimoto imported sakes at future events and it’s a great way to kick start summer. Kanpai!

Sake Samurai Tasting

tim.JPGI was lucky enough to be invited to host another “sake samurai” tasting at Sakaya, New York’s ONLY all sake store. It’s really fun when I get to meet people and introduce them to some of my favorite sakes one on one! This time, we focused in on three Junmai Ginjo sakes, with three unique flavors, all from different parts of Japan. urakasumi_zen.jpgHere is a look at what we tasted…

First, we looked at Urakasumi Zen Junmai Ginjo. This sake approaches you with an even hand across the board. It’s got a wonderful medium body with a medium dry palate. And you guessed it… a nice medium acidity rounds out this very well balanced, smooth sake. A wonderful textbook example of “junmai ginjo”. A nice slow brewing time at a low temperature is one of the secrets of this fantastic brew. Enjoy it on it’s own, or even better – pair with some food. Urakasumi is extremely food friendly and I encourage you to experiment! You’ll be sure to find your own state of “ZEN”. ooohmmmmm.

kaiun_junmai_ginjo.JPGNext we tried Kaiun Junmai Ginjo. Kaiun is a rich and layered sake. Quite delicious! I think it’s interesting that this sake is from Shizuoka Prefecture. Shizuoka is know around the world for it’s refined tastes and palate. An example I often site is the exquisite production of Green Tea crop that comes from Shizuoka. I find this refined palate reflected in the sake. There is a special flavorful nuance in Kaiun that speaks to me of it’s home. If you’ve tried Kaiun Junmai Ginjo, please post a comment below and let me know what you thought.

mantensei.jpgLast I served Mantensei Junmai Ginjo. This sake has a strong aroma of organic honey on the nose. smells just like the farmer’s market honey! I’m telling you!! give this sake a whiff and you’ll see. Such a fun thing to find the smells and flavors in sake. Moving on from the nose, this sake came across to me as rich in texture with a touch of a dry finish. Really an interesting brew and I can’t wait to drink it again for further investigation.

“Junmai Ginjo” means different things to different people, but talking with sake fans at this tasting convinced me that there is no one answer to what it is. I think it will easily be a life-long quest to try and better understand this classification of sake. The good news is, that’s a mission I am happy to sign up for. Kanpai!

A Taste of Niigata

kobayashi3.JPGNiigata is a special place for sake. Not quite sure what makes it special… some say the water, some say the snow, some say the climate, but when it comes down to it, above it’s the taste.

If anyone can help us unravel this mystery, it’s Ataru Kobayashi, Founder of SENA Niigata Sake Selections, an importer that focuses exclusively on sakes from Niigata Prefecture. I had the pleasure of meeting Kobayashi-san again at his recent tasting at Sakaya in New York City, and got to sample some fantastic Niigata sake.

kakurei_Daiginjo_final.JPGFirst I had a fantastic sake that is one of my favorites! It’s Kakurei Junmai Daiginjo. I first tried this sake way back in December 2006 at a late night sake event at Sake Hana featuring all Niigata Sakes. At that 2006 event, I bet the Brewery President Mr. Takafumi Aoki who I remember to be a young and very enthusiastic champion of specialty brews from Niigata. It made quite an impression and I was happy to try it again almost two years later. I’m happy to report, Kakurei Junmai Daiginjo is still a perfect little gem of Niigata sake. It’s an oh so elegant Daiginjo with mild fruits on the palate and light floral aromas in the nose. Smooth and clean – so drinkable.

Hakuryu_Daigino_Final.jpgNext I sampled Hakuryu Daiginjo. This is an alcohol-added Daiginjo with a Niigata pedigree. “Hakuryu” means “White Dragon” in English. So, of course, I reached for the “Flagon with the dragon”, hoping it had the “brew that is true”. I lucked out and found Hakuryu to be light fruity and sooo smooth, this sake is one of Niigata’s finest. enjoy this with lighter fare such as sashimi and other raw fish. just a fantastic example of the light style of niigata brewing.

Yukikage_junmai_final.jpgLast but not least I tried Yukikage Tokubetsu Junmai. This sake is called “Snow Shadow” in English. An important note about “Snow Shadow” is it’s lower alcohol percentage. that makes for a Junmai that has a lighter profile than you might expect. So, if you like your junmai light and airy, this Niigata treat is for you. Mild fruits and a nice soft palate, smooth and clean drinking. a real gem if you want to chill out with a no nonsense but very easy to enjoy sake. It seems all the Niigata sakes here have that lightness about them. I have to say, for me, it’s a style I really dig.

Given all this yummy Niigata sake, I feel like I have only touched on the tip of the iceberg. There is a lot more to learn, and a lot more to taste when it comes to those Niigata Sake Selections! Kanpai!

Brilliant Jade Shines at Sakaya

mabuchi.JPGWith weekly tastings going on at Sakaya, there is a lot to taste and enjoy! It’s hard to keep up with all the goings on, but I will give the old college try. A recent highlight was Tamanohikari a.k.a. “Brilliant Jade”.

It was a wonderful treat to meet Mr. Kenzo Mabuchi-san, General Manager of Export for TamanoHikari Sake Brewing Co. He introduced me to three fantastic TamanoHikari sakes all imported from beautiful Kyoto Prefecture.

First, we were treated to Tamanohikari Junmai Daiginjo. The unique nuances of this glorious sake come from, among other things, the use of Bizen Omachi rice. This ancient rice strain is not commonly used for sake, and lends this exquisite Junamai Daiginjo a down to earth touch. “brilliant jade” is a crown jewel indeed! Everyone who tries this Junmai daiginjo seems to love it, myself included.

Next was the intriguing Tamanohikari Yamahai Junmai Ginjo. This is a unique yamahai, in that this sake is a junmai ginjo grade, milled to 60%. The higher acidity makes this yamahai perfect for pairing with lots of foods. tamanohikari_softpack.jpgthat earthy yamahai flavor comes thru powerfully without throwing the taste of balance. a dream sake for yamahai fans.

Last but not least is the Tamamohikari Tokusen Junmai Ginjo Paper Pack. This is really Tamanohikari’s “tokusen” junmai ginjo in a super unique package: a paper soft-pack, not unlike juicy-juice from your childhood lunchbox. The taste is lighter, dry and no-nonsense. Tamanohikari recommends freezing this pack and then pouring out for instant “sake slushies” On a hot summer day, what could be more refreshing? also perfect for picnics… the uses for paper pack sake seem endless!

Any of these fantastic sakes from Tamanohikari in Kyoto deserve a second look. Not only do they taste good, but each has something special that makes them really shine. Have you tried any of these sakes? if so, leave a comment and let me know what you think. In my book, “Brilliant Jade” really does sparkle.

Spring Akita Sake Celebration

akitacrowd.jpgSake from Akita has some rabid fans. And I understand why – I’m becoming one of them myself. I really woke up to this fact after attending the recent Akita Sake Club tasting event held at the Japanese American Association of New York.

This event was a nice mix of the familiar and the new. I enjoyed seeing many friends I know well but I also met some new friends (with the help of “sake magic”). The same held true for the sake I tasted. There were some familiar names and tastes, and some fun new brews to sample.

akitabare_shunsetsu.jpgLets start with some of the Akita sakes I know and love. What better place to start than that? One Akita Sake that I’ve been drinking since the very first days I get into premium nihonshu has been Akitabare Shunsetsu Honjozo Nama. This is an alcohol-added nama that is available year round. It’s got a refreshing sharp finish that stands up to that hearty Akita food. If you look at what’s imported into the U.S., Honjozos are not as plentiful as Junmai sakes, so I think it’s worth the effort to get to know this one.

taiheizan_tenko.jpgI also was happy to see a well known and yummy Daiginjo that I’ve had at these Akita events in the past. I’m talking about Kimura Brewery’s Fukukomachi Daiginjo. This delicious brew offered, in my opinion, everything that is good about Nihonshu. It was very smooth drinking. The low SMV and low acidity placed it more on more of a neutral horizon, but neutral can be just as delicious as any sake out there. Being a Daiginjo vs a Junmai Daiginjo give this sake a “little something extra”. It was clean, yummy and simply Perfection!

Now, as for some of my new sake acquaintances, I’m going to first mention the stellar Taiheizan Tenko Junmai Daiginjo. This sake came across to me as fantastically light, yet aromatic and is really one smoooooth operator. yes, very smooth. This is a top notch Junmai Daiginjo from Akita’s Kodama Jozo Brewery.

The next sake I was very happy to get to know better was the outstanding Yuki No Bosha Daiginjo. My notes kumi1.jpgon this sake say “this is definitely a daiginjo!” Makes me think that if you looked up daiginjo in the dictionary, you’d see a picture of this brew. These alcohol-added Daiginjo’s tend to be a bit more fragrant than their junmai daiginjo brothers, but the delicious light fruit and smooth texture are all in the brewer’s art. A real masterpiece!

In addition to my new and old sake friends, There was fantastic music, food and conversation at this Akita event. Now, I’ve never been to Akita Prefecture myself, but something tells me I have a lot of friends there I haven’t met yet. Kanpai!

Sakagura Ohanami Tasting

sakagura.jpgSakagura’s Spring fling, their annual “ohanami” tasting event, was one of those events that reminded me how I fell in love with sake in the first place. in a nutshell there were 1) fantastic, lovely people. 2) fantastic, lovely food and, last but not least, 3) outrageously fantastic and lovely sake.

First, the peeps – The staff at Sakagura is always so gracious! If you want a taste of the type of impeccable service you would get in Japan, this is the place. The attendees were also in good spirits and seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as I was! Sakagura itself was wonderfully decorated with springtime cherry blossoms.

momose_san.jpgNow, a word about the food. The folks at Sakagura really outdid themselves in my book. The event was served buffet style, which I had not seen at Sakagura before, but I really enjoyed it. Foremost in my memory were these crab puffs and an epic spread of sashimi. Just really above and beyond! oh, and, of course – in the words of Ms. Rachel Ray – totally yum-o!

As for the sake, there were over 50 kinds of sake to choose from with many different brewers, importers and regions represented. Too many to mention individually, but here are some of the highlights:

Momose-san was pouring one of my all time favorites, Kudoki Jozu Junmai Ginjo from Yamagata. This sake distinguishes itself by being so darn drink-able. the glorious Yamagata water is really in evidence here and you can’t help but become a believer yourself by your first sip. “kudoki Jozu” means “good at flirting” and after a few glasses of this elixir, you’ll be the Don Juan/Belle of the Ball you always knew you were.

midori_san.jpg What could be more in the spirit of a springtime “ohanami” than some zingy unpasteurized Nama sake?! To this end, our friend Midori-san re-introduced me to one of my very favorite namas that I had in 2008: Eiko Fuji Junmai Ginjo Nama Genshu. This sake just exudes elegance. It’s got a complexity you don’t usually find in namas and just has that little something extra. As with Kudoki Jozu, this sake is also from Yamagata. What are they putting in the water up there?

Our friends at the NY Mutual Trading table were presenting a fantastic array of sake including one of my favorite indulgences, Sake in a can! namely, Kikusui Funaguchi Honjozo Nama Genshu. The rich, rich taste of this fun confection is hard to beat. I just love sake in a can because it puts the old ‘one cup’ stereotype of cheap sake on it’s head. this sake is bursting with flavor and is quite a high octane brew. With a noticeable tilt to sweeter side,mutual_trading.jpg I find this perfectly enjoyable and it always makes me think – this would go perfect with picnic food! throw of few of these cans into your picnic basket and you are good to go. what could be more springtime than that?!

The only downside to this sakagura event was the need to exit when it sadly came time for the next seating. I really enjoyed this event and always look forward to attending such fun events at Sakagura. if you’re looking for a way to step into learning about premium sake don’t hesitate to reserve a space at the next sakagura special event. Oh, and be sure to say hello…. you know i’ll be there.

Different Daiginjos at Sakaya

rick.jpgOur friend Rick Smith of New York’s only all sake Shop, Sakaya, recently held a tasting devoted to Daiginjo. I found this tasting to be interesting on many levels. Instead of opting for a “vertical” tastings where one might compare three grades of sake from the same brewer, Rick-san chose to taste three Daiginjo sakes from different brewers! And what better treats to taste than daiginjo!

Now, Daiginjo, in some quarters, has a rap sheet of being expensive and elegant to the point of being vacant! However, Rick’s “Different Daiginjo” tasting shows us this is anything but the truth.    

   Kirinzan.jpg The first sake I tried was the Kirinzan Junmai Ginjo. I have to confess out the gate that I kinda of have a ‘sake crush’ on this brew. I mean, just look at that bottle. The guys up in Niigata know what they are doing when it comes to the packaging design! This fantastic Kirinzan sake is made using the largely Niigata-identified rice strain Gohyakumangoku. However, Gohyakumangoku is a rice with a little secret. It tends to crack when ground down to smaller and smaller sizes – which is exactly what is needed for daiginjos. So why go to the trouble to use a troublesome rice? for the same reason you’d climb Mount Fuji – because it’s there! The Brewers love a challenge. How is the taste? Bracingly clean and laced with a mild nuance of citrus-y goodness. A classic Niigata sake made with the signature soft & pillowy Niigata water. A beautiful bottle for a very beautiful product.

tamanohikari.jpgNext up was Tamanohikari Junmai Daiginjo.  The big story with Tamanohikari is the rice.  It’s made using an ancient strain of rice known as Omachi.  Omachi rice is sometimes called the ‘Grandfather’ of rice because it is so old (perhaps the oldest surviving rice strain?) and has not been cross-bred with any other rice varities which is so common with sake rice. Omachi rice is not known particularly for it’s fragrance, and that seems to me to lend the Tamanohikari a down to earth vibe that makes this a very like-able and quite approachable Junmai Daiginjo. The taste is quite delicious and this rice gives Tamonohikari a nice viscosity. Lovely to look at in the glass and lovely on the palate.

kuheiji_Daiginjo.jpgLast but not least was the Kamishibito Kuheiji Daiginjo Muroka.  Now this Daiginjo uses the most popular of any sake rice by far, Yamadanishiki. This Kuheiji is a “Muroka” sake. That means that this sake was not charcoal filtered at the end of the production process. This fine charcoal filtering can really clean the color of sake to a crystal clear color, and some argue, strip away some personality, too. I’ll just let that debate rage on and let you know that Muroka sake can have a unique richness you won’t find as easily in micro-filtered sake. In this case, Kuheiji a distinctly rich daiginjo! It is a wonderful rich and luxurious sake with the rice milled down to an amazing 40%. Nice clean finish with superior balance.

 All this in depth Daiginjo study has got me thinking… I have to get out there and taste more, more, more daiginjo grade sake!! Far from being vacant, Daiginjo is alive with nuance! This is not something to drink just because it’s there, but rather because it has such an expressive taste.

Oh, and if I ever really do climb Mount Fuji, note to self… Daiginjo in the fannypack.

Prestige Sake Tasting: Spring Awakening

otokoyama.jpgI was thrilled to recently get a close up look, and taste, of the latest offerings of Prestige Sake Imports. There was another rich array of selections from some of the best Prestige has to offer. Three breweries in particular were featured: Kaika, Otokoyama and Gokyo.

My first stop of the day was to visit with Mr. Hiroyuki Yamazaki representing Hokkaido’s Otokoyama Brewery. Otokoyama Tokubetsu Junmai has to be one of the most well known and best selling sakes in the U.S. 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 enjoyed it. It is a good sake to have around for those informal times when something good and strong fits the bill.

Otokoyama Yukishibare Tokubetsu Junmai Nama was also presenting a spring release nama. I found it to be an interesting nama that is a touch on the dry side, but otherwise quite balanced. I find this sake tends to be out-gunned in the big-bold-flavor department by other Namas out there, especially the muroka genshus of the world, but Otokoyama always deserves a look-see.

shimada_san.jpgNext, I enjoyed visiting with Mr. Yoshinori Shimada, Executive Director of Daiichi Sake Brewery, makers of Kaika brand sake. First I tried their Kaika Shiboritate Tokubetsu Junmai Muroka Nama Genshu. (phew!) Juicy, Juicy Juicy! this nama is, well, Juicy… full of viscosity on the palate, the sweetness comes on strong and luscious. Full power muroka nama genshu – if that tickles your fancy.

Next I tried a really special treat: Kaika Tobindori Daiginjo Shizuku Genshu. This is a special, and quite expensive sake that comes in a striking package… a mini sake storage bottle in a fantastic blue color. In this case, the packaging measures up to the contents. This sake has light fruit salad on the palate with an elegant complexity throughout. The primary thing I noticed when tasting was how SMOOTH this puppy is. An elegant bottle for an elegant sake. Drink up!

gokyo_bridge.jpgMy final visit at the tasting was to visit with Mr. Hideki Fujioka of Sakai Brewery, the makers of Gokyo (“5 bridges”) brand sake. This sake is from Yamaguchi prefecture, and I was luck enough to visit this area of Japan on my last trip there. The actual Gokyo bridge is perhaps the most famous bridge in all of Japan… It’s gorgeous. Mr. Sakurai of Yamaguchi’s dassai was kind enought to take me there.

gokyo_arabashiri.jpgMy first taste of Gokyo sake was their spring release draft sake known as Gokyo Arabashiri Junmai Nama Genshu. Full cask strength and full of fruity flavors, this is a nama to sit up and take notice of. You’ll GO back to this GO-kyo again and again. Last but not least, I tried the Gokyo Junami. I found this to be a no nonsense, no frills and full bodied junmai. It’s more on the dry side and with a touch of creamed rice on the palate.

Prestige brings in some good sakes! please check out any sakes from these brewer’s if you get a chance, but be sure to never pass up a chance to sample the draft nama sakes that are only around in the beginning of the year. I can guarantee you’ll have a spring awakening all your own!

Introduction to Chikurin

marumoto_san.jpgI was so honored and excited to recently meet Mr. Niichiro Marumoto, President of Okayama Prefecture’s Marumoto Sake Brewery – makers of well regarded Chikurin brand of sake which is imported by Joto Sake. I met Marumoto-san twice on his last trip to New York City, once at the recent Japan Society sake tasting and again at a tasting event at Sakaya.

Both times I met him, Marumoto-san was a tireless educator about his sake! He was enthusiastic and excited to answer questions and help people (myself included) understand better what makes Chikurin tick.

chikurin_junmai2.jpgI started by tasting the Chikurin Fukamari “Depth” Junmai. This sake is in the fuller and richer range of the two sakes we tasted. Very interesting to note that they add a small percentage of Koshu, or aged sake, to their junmai to ‘pump of the volume’ so to speak. Learning this explained a lot about what made the taste of this brew so intriguing. You can pick up on rice aromas in the nose. Marumoto-san confided that he was inspired by the essence of rich incense at the local temple when creating this sake. This must be one aspect of what the name “depth” refers to… fascinating!

chikurin_junmai_ginjo.jpgNext, i eagerly dove into Chikurn Karoyaka “Lightness”Junmai Ginjo. Lightness is well named. This sake if so easy to enjoy. it’s light yet with enough body to hold it perfectly together. An important note is that this sake is only pasteurized once instead of the usual 2 times giving more vibrancy to the sake. It is also easy to pick up on and enjoy the light fruits in this aromatic brew. This is a true winner in my book! loved it.

Besides the Chikurin brand, Marumoto brewery also makes the run away hit sake sparkling Hou Hou Shu Junmai. This confection is enjoyed by people far and wide! It’s sweet and lower alcohol adding to it’s appeal with some contingents that my not be 10o% on board with sake yet. Hou Hou Shu also comes in a version infused with rosehip and hibiscus if plain sparkling sake is not enough razzle dazzle for you. The bottle design is well executed and quite interesting.

bizen.jpgTowards the end of his visit, Marumoto-san surprised me with an really amazing omiyage gift… he gave me a beautiful small Bizen tokkuri. Bizen is a stoneware pottery that has been made for hundreds of years in Marumoto’s native prefecture of Okayama. Part of the beauty of Bizen is that is is completely unglazed.

Maruomoto-san wanted to show us the effect this local pottery could have on the taste of sake. We tasted Fukamari that was just slightly warmed in the Bizen Tokkuri and then some Fukamari straight from the bottle. The sake from the Tokkuri had a pronounced yet pleasant mineral taste that the sake from the bottle did not. It was really exciting to see concrete examples as to how serving and temperature can influence and/or improve the experience for the drinker. Side by side taste test are fun!
I really left this week with a new respect for Chikurin and I surely want to drink it some more to get even better acquainted with this sake brand and brewery. If you get a chance to try Chikurin, let me know what you think! kanpai, everyone!

Cha-an Namazake Hanami

hanami.jpgOk, one thing I’ve certainly learned in my pursuit to understand even a little bit about Japanese culture over the years is that the Japanese sure do love their cherry blossoms. There is even a specific word for the activity of “flower viewing” called Hanami which basically consists of picnicking under the cherry tree and admiring the beauty of the flowers and hoping a flower petal will float down and land in your sake cup.

welcome_cha-an.jpgWell our friend Chizuko-san, sake sommelier at Sakagura, hosted her own version of springtime Hanami at Cha-an tea house with a special emphasis on that delicious and ever more popular unpasteurized nama sake. I didn’t get a sakura petal to land in my cup, but I had some fantastic nama. The Chef at Ch-an, Tomoko Kato-san, provided course after course of really scrumptious appetizers.

Of the sakes served, here were some of the highlights that stood out for me:

Masumi Arabashiri Junmai Ginjo Nama Genshu: This is rich and full and the 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.

sake_slips.jpgEiko Fuji Junmai Ginjo Nama Genshu: light and very elegant sake. I found this sake super refreshing and radiating luscious hints of all those summer fruits you love. more expensive and worth it.

Shutendouji Oh-Oni Junmai Ginjo Nama Genshu: One cool thing about this sake is that the brewery uses home grown sake rice, which is not usually the case. The flavor of this sake is full-on genshu – you really feel the full weight of the almost 18% alcohol, but it is balanced with wonderful nama fruit and thankfully not too sweet.

Kamikokoro Toukagen Shiboritate Tokubetsu Junmai Nama Genshu: This sake is one of my favorites and winner of the 2007 Golden Masu Award for best nama. hazaah! Of course, one of my favorites! This Ohkayama sake always heralds the coming of spring and to me is “spring in a bottle”. On the sweet side and fruity, this is a very, very, very easy to drink sake. They use a peach yeast to give it an extra punch of strawberry-licious flavor. yum-o.

mika.JPGOther sakes of note that we tried were Dewazakura Oka Ginjo, Dassai Sparkling Nigori Nama and Wataribune Nama Ginjo. This tasting was stand up cocktail party style and very popular! It didn’t take long for ‘sake magic’ to kick in and everyone was chatting up a storm and comparing sake flavors and pronouncing their favorites. I think a few new sake fans were brought into the flock on this night. Thanks, Chizuko-san for spreading the word on Nama!

Brewers Invade Sakaya!

tentaka.jpgApril has seen an influx of very interesting sake brewers visiting Sakaya. This is always really exciting! The brewers are my Superstars – they are as close to the brewing process as you can get and they make the magic happen. Here are some highlights.

Mr. Munenorei Ozaki is President of Tentaka Shuzo Co. Ltd in Tochigi Prefecture in Japan. Ozaki-san was at Sakaya presenting two of his signature sakes. First, Tentaka Kuni “Hawk in the Heavens” Junmai. This sake is rich and on the dry side with hints of earthiness and fullness of flavor that I imagine would pair well with lots of types of food. Ozaki-san also presented the delicious “Silent Stream” Junmai Daiginjo. Wow, this stuff is good. it made me think that there was a magical sake stream of Junmai Daiginjo somewhere in Tochigi prefecture and Tentaka and discovered it and bottled it! This brew is expensive but I think worth every penny. It’s luscious, smooth and dreamy.

Imada_san.jpgAnother brewer to visit Sakaya was Ms. Miho Imada of Imada Sake Brewery Co. Ltd. Ms. Imada is well known as one of the few female Master Brewers or Toji in Japan. Meeting Imada-san again was a big thrill for me. I have a great respect for her and her obvious dedication to making fantastic sake. She was presenting her signature sake Fukucho Biho “Moon On the Water” Junmai Ginjo. This sake really stayed with me and offered a long finish with just some mild hints of fruit. I really enjoyed this sake. Easy drinking and very easy to enjoy.

sudo_san.jpgNext, it was an honor to meet Mr. Yoshiyasu Sudo, President of the famous Sudo Honke Brewery in Ibaraki Prefecture. Why so famous? Sudo Honke is recognized as the oldest brewery in Japan! Sudo-san is the 55th generation of his family to be making sake at this brewery… I feel this is kind of staggering as I can only trace my family back 3 generations at most. From my point of view, keeping a sake brewery going for that long in one family is an accomplishment to be proud of. Not surprisingly, Sado-san was pouring a wonderful brew called Sato no Homare “Pride of the Village” Junmai Ginjo. I found this sake to be aromatic and quite the classic example of a fantastically well-crafted Junmai Ginjo. The pictures I saw of Sudo Honke brewery were gorgeous and it makes perfect sense to me that such a beautiful place would inspire such a beautiful sake. 55 generations in the family business don’t hurt either.

Sakaya is just abuzz with activity these days! A great chance to try sake and meet brewers and importers and all kinds of sake people. I really enjoyed meeting all the brewers in town in town this month and I am really looking forward to what next month has to offer. same sake time, same sake channel!

Elements of Sake Class

tasting_glasses.jpg

Here is information on what to expect in class – we always have fun!

sake_flowchart_tim.jpgThe Elements of Saké is a fun, informative and tasty way to dive into the world of premium saké. We’ll walk you through every step of the saké production process to show you how master brewers go from rice and water to what the Japanese call “the drink of the gods.”

Next, we’ll demystify the various saké classifications to help you find the brews that fit your taste and your budget.

Finally, we’d never leave out the delicious saké tastings that will help you evaluate and enjoy the ever-increasing variety of sakés that are becoming available. Kanpai!

Japan Society 2008 Sake Tasting

gauntner_san.jpgThe Japan Society yearly tasting event is a real hum-dinger and one of the true not-to-be-missed events of the sake social calendar in NYC. This year was extra fun as Sake Sensei and all around great guy John Gauntner was going to lecture on the 100 year anniversary of the Japan National Sake Appraisal.

John’s lecture was really fantastic and I always learn something new anytime I get to hear him speak on the subject of sake. One interesting fact I came away with: did you know that the Japanese government employees professional sake tasters? it’s a real job… for reals! And what to the government tasters do during those times of the year when there are no tastings? well, they practice of course!

Tsushima_san.jpgAfter John’s lecture, and a fun kagami biraki, we were all unleashed onto the tasting floor and boy, oh boy was it crowded. Be careful not to get in between a determined New Yorker and their free sake sample. You may lose a finger or worse.

After the crowds died down a bit, I was able to get my bearings and took at look at the breweries represented at this tasting. There were some old friends I knew well and some new breweries I had yet to meet. Very exciting!

We we lucky to have:

  • Takasago Sake Brewing Co – Hokkaido
  • Nanbubijin Inc – Iwate
  • Akita Seishu Co – Akita
  • Kaetsu Sake Brewing Co – Niigata
  • Okunomatsu Sake Brewing Co – Fukushima
  • Tentaka Sake Brewing Co – Tochigi
  • Sudo-Honke, Inc – Ibaraki
  • Daimon Sake Brewing Co – Osaka
  • Marumoto Sake Brewing Co – Okayama
  • Imada Sake Brewing Co – Hiroshima
  • Rihaku Skae Brewing Co – Shimane
  • Asahi Sake Brewign Co – Yamaguchi
  • Tenzan Sake Brewing Co – Saga

Ito_san.jpgPhew! There was a lot to explore!

I stopped by the Okunomatsu Table and met Takeshi Tsushima-san who is General Manager for the Brewery. I was happy to taste their delicious Okunomatsu Ginjo and a very special opportunity to taste their Sparkling Junmai Daiginjo!! This is the Sparkling sake used to shower winning formula one racers. I’ve been wanting to try this brew and this was my chance! It was an interesting mix of bubbly and complexity. cool!

I also visited with Akiko Ito-san from Akita Seishu Brewery. They make the world famous super dry Kariho Namahage Yamahai Junmai. Ito-san also introduced me to Kariho Rokushu Junmai Ginjo which was a more refined and softer older brother to Namahage. ok, at this point I was getting really happy!

I visited with many other brewers and sake community friends and generally had a great time. A final note about this particular tasting was that several brewers brought their “competition sake” from japan to give us a sneak peek. Competition sake is it’s own thing and I didn’t get to try a lot of it on this night, but the few I did try were special and borderline overwhelming and every bit as John says… “daiginjo on steroids” – best part? it’s legal.

Chizuko-san’s Nama Tasting at Sakaya

chizuko_recommends.jpgSakaya has been having some great tastings! A recent enjoyable afternoon was spent visiting with Chizuko-san, our friend and well known Sake Sommelier at Sakagura. Chizuko-san was introducing us to 3 sakes that are perfect for the coming spring.

The first sake is from Chizuko-san’s home prefecture of Akita. It’s the aptly named Akitabare Shunsetsu Honjozo Nama. It’s interesting to note that this sake is pretty much available year round and not a strict spring release. That sure makes me happy when I’m craving a little nama fix outside of nama season. The taste is great with a bit of a sharp finish that stands up to all that hearty Akita food.

Next, Chizuko-san introduced us to Miyasaka Yamahai 50 Nama Ginjo. This is an amazingly interesting sake from the makers of Masumi. It does an exquisite job of balancing the zing of fresh spring nama and the boldness of Yamahai in one bottle. Unique and delicious! Watch for some interesting fruits in the nose… are those yamahai peaches?

The third and final treat is another delight from Masumi, their well regarded 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. However, this is so yummy perhaps you might drink more than you should??

Now, now… you can’t really drink too much nama sake. That was a trick question, people! Stop by Sakaya for one of their tastings! It’s the best gig in town for free tastings on a great array of sake. Oh – and if you see Chizuko-san at Sakagura, tell her Urban Sake says hello.

Jetro Sake Tasting

sakes_2.jpgIn early March, The Japan External Trade Organization (Jetro) held an industry tasting event and lecture called “Japanese Jizake: Artisan Sake Tasting at the Ambassador’s Residence.” This really fun event was held at the official residence of the Counsul General of Japan in New York, Mr. Sakurai. Funny as it would seem, I’ve actually been to the Consul General’s home once before!

chizuko_san.jpgThis event was similar to the previous one in so far as the goal was to support awareness of Japanese sake as an export in New York. The day started with Sake 101 lecture given by well known Sake Specialist Michael Simkin. Michael was very well spoken as usual and helped convey the basics of sake in an easy to understand way. I always learn something new when listing to Michael teach, so I’m delighted to hear his lectures whenever I can.

The tasting took place upstairs and was set up according to Sake Distributor Company. Represented was JFC International Inc, Daiei Trading, Nishimoto Trading Co. Ltd., New York Mutual Trading Inc, and Wine of Japan Import Inc. There were over 80 sakes being poured! Did I get to try them all? well… not ALL of them, but here is a sneak peek and some of the highlights.

kudoki_jozu.jpgOur friend and sake sommelier Chizuko-san was helping pour at the Daiei Trading table and introduced us to a new sake: Tenryohomare Sessuiginshizu Junmai Ginjo. This sake was enjoyable. A clean refreshing taste with mild hints of fruits, but a higher acidity than you may find elsewhere. A real discovery!

When I visited the Nishimoto Trading company table, a near and dear sake caught my eye: Kudoki Jozu. My Friend Kuno-san was there and helped me find some great sakes at the Nishimoto table including the fantastic Urakasumi Zen and that wonderfully light Jozen Mizunogotosh.

What a fantastic way to spend an afternoon! I really enjoyed getting to know the sakes a little better and you just could not beat the setting! Word may have gotten around about my second trip to the Ambassador’s Residence. You may even read about it in the papers!

Love ya, Kyo-ya

bon_nama_junmai_daiginjo.jpgI recently went to Kyo-ya (94 East 7th Street, 212-982-4140) and I have to say, it was one of the best Sake-food pairing restaurants I’ve been to in a while. This place rocks.

The first sake we tried was a fantastic Born Muroka Nama Genshu junmai Daiginjo (Fukui Prefecture., SMV +4, Acidity 1.4), which is aged at 0 Degrees C for 1 year. This gives the sake a complexity and depth that is really stunning. I would recommend this sake as a warm up to any Japanese meal. Fantastic.

sweet_potato_tempura.jpgThe next item of note was a really amazing sweet potato tempura. Sounds simple enough, but Kyo-ya rocks it. Scott and I shared a delicate sweet potato with a whisper light tempura crust. on the side, they offered salt and home-made soy sauce. It’s hard to explain how very very different home-made soy sauce can be to someone like me that grew up on the syrupy store bought stuff. Anyway, if you go to Kyo-ya, and you should, be sure to order this dish. Heaven on a plate.

yuki_no_bosha_nigori.jpgWhat does one pair with heaven on a plate? Well, I did my best and selected the heavenly Yuki No Bosha Junmai Ginjo Nigori (Akita Prefecture, SMV +1, Acidity 1.4). The touch of creaminess that this nigori offers offset the tempura perfectly. Both Nigori and tempura could be strong flavors, but here, they were so elegantly produced, it. really spoke to me.

The rest of our evening at Kyo-ya was a swirl of delicious tastes and flavors all mixed liberally with good sake. If you are looking for a special occasion restaurant or for a special reason to treat yourself, please run, don’t walk to Kyo-ya. If you see me there, I’ll be the guy with the three orders of Sweet Potato tempura in front of me.

Urban Sake Facelift

facelift!Ok, I’m man enough to admit when I’ve had a little work done. Nobody wants to look frozen in a time warp and Urban Sake is no exception.

Today we’re launching our new website design with lots of new features. Check it out:

Upcoming Events Calendar! I’ve had a lot of requests for this one, so here you go. I’ll do my best to keep my list updated with all upcoming sake events I hear about. You can subscribe to the list via RSS, ICAL or GoogleCalendar.

Urban Sake Newsletter! I’ll be sending out a periodic newsletter to keep folks in touch with what’s happening at Urban Sake Headquarters and any Sake news and events. Please Sign up here.

My Sake Notebook! Peek inside my sake notebook and read profiles of the sakes I’ve been tasting. I’ll be expanding this list regularly.

Sake-lebrity Interviews! There are many fascinating people involved in the sake world. We may not have Celebrities but everyone involved with Sake is a Sake-lebrity in my book. Keep an eye on this section for some truly interesting upcoming interviews.

Of course, we’ll still have regular Blog Posts and Articles, Sake Videos, Updates to our Sake Interactive City Guides and all the usual fun stuff. Take a look around and let me know what you think! Kanpai!

Kaiseki Birthday at Kai

kiaseki.jpgThe Kaiseki dinner is food’s answer to the japanese tea ceremony: elegant, rarefied and focused on every detail. Scott took me to just such a dinner for my birthday this year.

He chose Kai Restaurant above Ito En Tea store on Madison ave. The setting was perfect. Our table for two was next to a floor to ceiling window looking down on the river-like flow of taxis up Madison. Across the street, Dolce & Gabbana had a huge flatscreen looping video of their latest fashion show. It really was beautiful – in a very New York kind of way.

nanbu_bijin_nama.jpgThe sake I ordered for us was the Nanbu Bijin Nama Junmai. The sake was presented in a very unique way. After the carafe was ordered, the waiter came over with a large shallow bowl filled with ice on which was displayed a selection of hand blown glass Ochoko sake cups of all different shapes and colors. We were to pick the chilled cup of our liking for our sake. very elegant and it really added a sense of ceremony to the evening. The carafe arrived on ice and was also beautifully presented.

This Nama from Iwate Prefecture was supple, and spoke to me of soft fresh fruit. Nama all the way without being brash or cheeky. The overall sake selection at Kai did not leave me disappointed in the least. Besides the special Nama I went for, they had a well curated list of fantastic sakes that includes: Nishi no Seki Junmai, Dassai Ginjo Nigori, Tsukinokatsura Yanagi, Kokuryu, Yuki no Bosha Daiginjo, as well as Koshi no Kambai Chotokusen.

The Kaiseki Dinner itself was 7+ courses of delicate and fetchingly beautiful food ending with one overstuffed birthday boy and a dessert platter to die for. They even wrote out “Happy Birthday” in chocolate. Well, it is true that I am another year older and definitely grayer, but a magical night of New York-tinted Kaiseki and nama sake certainly helped soften the blow. I’ll drink to that!

dessert2.jpg

Teaching Elements of Sake at Astor

classroom.jpgI recently taught my second sake class at the new Astor Center. I have to say, we had a really fun night! The students were enthusiastic, interested and asking some great questions. Since this was my second class in “the study” classroom and I now had some experience with the technology, I integrated more “interactive slides”. These slides allow me to poll the class, with each student using individual remotes. The computer calculates the totals to give us an immediate response – just like on a game show. IDassai_50.jpgt’s pretty cool! The new technology is one of the things that makes teaching in this space so much fun.

koshino_homare.jpgThe Elements of Sake class is, of course, about teaching the basics of sake and introducing students to the basics of tasting sake. I do have to say, we had some fantastic sakes to taste! This class included the following sakes:

Hoyo Manamusume Junmai ( SMV +1, Acidity 1.5, Miyagi Prefecture) Full Flavor with prominent alcohol.

Hitori Musume Junmai Nigori (SMV +4, Acidity 1.4, Ibaraki Prefecture) Texture, texture texture! creamy and soothing.

Koshinohomare Nama Shiboritate Genshu ( Niigata Prefecture, Seimaibuai 65%, Alcohol 17.5%). Full octane genshu nama that maintains it’s poise! very drinkable.space_sake_bottle.jpg

Dassai 50 Junmai Ginjo (Yamaguchi Prefecture, Alcohol 15.6%, SMV +3, Acidity 1.4 Seimaibuai 50%) The classic Dassai 50. balanced and smooth – perfect.

Tsukasubotan Space Sake Junmai Ginjo (Kochi Prefecture, SMV +5, Acidity 1.5, Seimaibuai 55%) The Class Favorite! Made with yeast sent into orbit, this “spacial” sake speaks to me as fruity and it is a real conversation starter!

Wakatake Daiginjo Junmai Daiginjo (Shizuoka Prefecture, SMV +0, Acidity 1.4 Seimaibuai 50%, Alcohol 16.5%) Such a reliable Junmai Daiginjo. My favorite sake to pour for people new to the Junmai Daiginjo classification.

Asako_alan_tim.jpgIf YOU want to get in on all the fun and all the tasting, please sign up for the March 19th Elements of Sake class at Astor Center.

I know we will have a lot of fun and great discussions about sake! I hope to see you in class!

Samurai Tasting at Sakaya

Sakamoto_Ryoma2.jpg

What: Tim Sullivan Samurai Tasting
When: Sat. March 8th, 2-4pm
Where: Sakaya (324 E. 9th Street)
Why: It’s free and fun and delicious! Please stop by if you can to sample some fantastic sakes that have a connection to the Samurai Spirit.

I’ve been invited by Sakaya to host a special sake tasting at their shop and introduce some of my favorite Samurai inspired sake! As a Sake Samurai, I’ve taken an oath to educate about sake and share the beautiful culture of Japan. Here’s a look at the Samurai inspired sake we’ll try:

sougen.gifSougen Junmai “Pride of the Samurai” (SMV: +3, Acidity: 1.8, Rice: Yamadanishiki, Seimaibuai: 55%, Ishikawa Prefecture) With a name like “Pride of the Samurai” how could I ignore this one? It sure doesn’t hurt that this sake is a perfect junmai, both with and without food. Smooth and quite easy to drink, I recommend this sake to people just starting out with Nihon-shu

shichi_hon_yari_junmai.jpgShichi Hon Yari Junmai (”The Seven Spearsmen” ALC 15.5%, SMV +4, Acidity 1.5, Seimaibuai 60%, Shiga Prefecture) Yasuhobu Tomita is a young brewer on a mission. His family Kura was founded by Samurai and Tomita-san tapped this same samurai family spirit to keep the brewery running smoothly and make some great sake. He uses only locally grown Tamazakae sake rice. This sake is fantastic both chilled and heated and offers a robust, truly artisan hand crafted sake experience.

The ‘seven spearsmen’ brand is in fact in honor of 7 samurai warriors who helped secure victory for the famous Japanese War Lord Hideyoshi in 1583.

senchu_hassaku.jpg Tsukasabotan Tokubetsu Junmai Senchu Hassaku (Seimaibuai: 60% ALC: 15.4% SMV: +8 Acidity: 1.48, Kochi Prefecture)
With one of the coolest labels in all of sake-dom, Senchu Hassaku has a unique connection to Samurai history. Ryoma Sakamoto was a samurai warrior who, while on a boat, wrote an 8 point plan for political reform in Japan at the time of the Meiji restoration. “Senchu Hassaku” means “Aboard Ship 8-Point Plan”. This sake is dry with a fantastic, smooth flavor on the palate. Perfect for lovers of robust, dry sake.

Hope to see you on March 8th!!

Sakaya’s February Tasting Roundup

kazu_san_pours_nama.jpgMy friends Rick and Hiroko at Sakaya (324 E. 9th Street, 212-505-7253) have a fantastic and seemingly endless parade of superior, and FREE tasting events happening at their Sake Shop. If you haven’t yet, be sure to check their website to learn about the tasting schedule or better yet, contact them at the store to get on their email list for future events! Here is a “greatest hits” of what Sakaya was up to in February.

dassai_nigori.jpgFebruary 9, 2 to 4PM: Our beloved Sakagura Sake Sommelier Chizuko-san was at Sakaya introducing customers to some great sake selections for Valentines day! As usual, Chizuko-san was spot on in her selections that fit the occasion perfectly. Forget flowers and chocolate… Sake is bringing sexy back. We sampled:
*Yuki no Bosha Junmai Ginjo
*Hanatomoe Junmai Ginjo
*Dassai 50 Nigori

February 15, 6 to 8PM: Oh joy, oh rapture! the first release spring namas are here and Rick and Hiroko hosted sake master Kazu Yamazaki of Japan Prestige. These namas FLY off the shelf and are only around for a limited time, so drink early, drink often. Kazu-san is a font of knowledge when it comes to sake and there is always something to learn from him. This fantastic tasting included:
*Koshi no Homare Shiboritate Junmai Nama Genshu
*Kamikokoro Tokagen Tokubetsu Junmai Nama Genshu (Golden Masu winner!)
*Shutendouji Oh-Oni Junmai Ginjo Nama Genshu

yoshi_san.jpgFebruary 21, 6 to 8PM: One of the great things about Sakaya events is the chance to sample some sakes that are off the beaten path. that is just the case for this insightful tasting. Yoshihiko Takao from the Jizake was pouring two great sakes!
*Daishichi Junmai Kimoto Classic
*Chiyomusubi Tokubetsu Junmai

February 22, 6 to 8PM: Kagatobi in da’ house! Kagatobi is a name you should know! It’s a fantastic brand from Ishikawa prefecture. These sakes are balanced and really speak to me. Watch out for that Yamahai Junmai. It’s a special one. You can tell that all these sakes are brewed with strong attention to detail. never a bad thing in sake!  We enjoyed:
*Kagatobi Cho Karakuchi Yamahai Junmai
*Kagatobi Ai Junmai Daiginjo
kagatobi.jpg

Masuizumi Tasting at Kyotofu

hosota_san.jpg

Our Friends Nicole and Michael at Kyotofu were kind enough to invite me to a special tasting at their place. The well regarded sake brand Masuizumi of Toyama prefecture was presenting some of their flagship sakes as well as something new to the US market.

First off Mr Makoto Hosota introduced each of the sakes being sampled. Mr Hosota is the Koji Master at Masuizumi. Koji making is such an important step in the sake brewing process, some breweries have a guy on staff who only does Koji production. I have never met a Koji master before, so it was pretty exciting.

Here is a selection of what Hosota-san was presenting:

omachi.jpg*Masuizumi Junmai Daiginjo (ALC 16.6%, Seimaibuai 50%) This sake is perhaps the most well known of the Masuizumi selections. It’s really seems like almost a textbook example of what one might usually expect in a stand out Junmai Daiginjo. It’s really a classic brew and fantastically easy to drink.

*Masuizumi Junmai Daiginjo Omachi (ALC 16.5%, Seimaibuai 50%) Omachi in the name stands for the type of sake rice used to make this gem. Omachi sake rice is a great uncle to most strains of sake rice used today such as yamada nishiki. It’s use can have different effects on the end product, but here, the use of Omachi rice makes this sake sing! It’s full and rich in flavor… perhaps a bit more assertive than your average junmai daiginjo. Despite the full flavor, this sake is still smooth as silk. Tasting the standard Junmai Daiginjo and the Junmai Daiginjo Omachi side by side was a treat.

french_oak.jpg*Masuizumi Junmai Daiginjo Special (ALC 16.5%, Seimaibuai 50%) Now for something completely different. Masuizumi has really taken sake to a new place with this selection. The sake in this case has been aged in, get this people… French Oak Wine Barrels! Now, it seems fairly clear that the brewers were going for a wine inspired beverage. Exhibit A: the bottle and label for this sake look exactly like a French wine bottle! How does it taste? well, the oak logically gives strong and unmistakable woody-oak notes similar in feeling to cedar-infused taru sake. I gotta give Masuizumi props for trying this. They are on a new frontier!

The afternoon at Kyotofu was just delightful and I had so much fun talking to other sake fans and I really enjoyed digging in to the flavors of these unique sakes! And as far as aging sake in French Oak, I think that definitely qualifies as “thinking outside the masu”.

Dassai 23 Done Four Ways

sake_cask.jpgHaving visited the home of Dassai in Yamaguchi Prefecture last Oct. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to attend the special Dassai 23 tasting put together by Sakagura Restaurant earlier this month. They were serving 4 rare Dassai sakes, 3 of which are not available in the US, but all made with rice milled down to 23% of it’s original size. That’s 77% of the rice grain raw material milled away before any brewing even begins!

The first rare sake we had was the “Dassai 23 Centrifuge“. This sake uses the crown jewel of sake processing equipment… that Maytag spin cycle on steroids known as the Sake Centrifuge Machine. instead of Pressing the sake in a hydraulic press to separate the rice solids and sake, this machine spins them apart using centrifugal force. dassai_centrifuge.jpgHow does this make the sake taste? well, kind of like adding Snuggles fabric softener to 110% cashmere. It was already super soft, but is now a measure softer, smoother, deeper. fantastic!

The next Dassai selection by Mr. Sakurai was Dassai 23 Nama Nigori! I dare any Nigori hater (I know you’re out there!) to give this confection the thumbs down. The unpasteurized Nama-ness of this sake lends a fresh, bright note, while the Nigori aspect give Dassai 23 a new spin on texture and mouth feel.

Nigori_sparkling.jpgMy favorite of the evening was the most unusual! maybe that’s why it was my favorite. In any case, we next were treated to the Dassai 23 Sparkling Nigori Nama! This sake goes thru a second fermentation in the bottle, so it has a full-on “POP!” that you get from Champagne. Sakurai-san noted that Christmas Champagne was indeed the inspiration that led to this sake. The sake bubbles dance on your tongue and tickle your nose just like that sparkling grape juice! the Nigori part adds a nice rich texture to the mix yet keeping that Dassai 23 body. Just really, really unique!

The last selection was the “regular” Dassai 23 Junmai Daiginjo that is widely available in the States. This brought the whole tasting full circle and grounded my taste buds again in the Dassai 23 I know and love after all those high flying sake fireworks! Super smooth and mellow with a fantastic complexity, this is a top rated sake with good reason.

This Dassai 23 tasting at Sakagura was not just a survey of rare dassai Sakes, but was also my introduction to the Japanese tradition of “Setsubun”! You know, Japanese customs and traditions never cease to amaze and delight me. Mixing customs and traditions with a healthy dose of sake delights me even more. Our Friend Mr. KC Nihonshudo was on hand to help me understand “Setsubun”. In a oversimplified nutshell, someone in the family puts on a Ogre a.k.a. “Oni” mask, setsubun_oni.jpgstands near the door and gets roasted soybeans thrown at him as a symbolic gesture to keep bad luck out. One also throws roasted soybeans on your floor as a gesture to keep good luck in the house. While all this bean throwing is taking place, you say “Oni wa Soto; Fuku wa Uchi” (Get out Oni! Come in Happiness!). OK! After several rounds of fantastic Dassai Sakes, Mr. Sakurai-san volunteered to be the Ogre/Oni and promptly got pelted with soybeans from all corners. It’s the closest I’ve been to an actual food fight in 25 years and was terrific fun! However, I took the liberty of slightly changing this tradition to suit my needs: I shouted: “Get out Oni! Come in SAKE!” After all, sake is happiness to me!

Brewer Interview: Tsushima Kitahara

kitahara_tim.jpgI recently had the chance to try Shichiken Junmai Ginjo Sake (SMV +4, ALC 14.5%) once again. It’s really an amazing brew. The one thing I hear again and again about this sake is that it’s versatile and can be easily enjoyed both chilled and gently warmed. Few sakes can make this claim, so I wanted to learn more about this sake and where it came from. Who better to ask then Tsushima Kitahara, the 13th generation of the Kitahara Family making Shichiken Sake in Yamanashi Prefecture at the Yamanashi Meijo Co. Brewery. I asked Kitahara-san if he wouldn’t mind answering a few questions to help us understand his views on Sake, Shichiken and life at the Brewery – and he graciously agreed.

Q: After having lived in America for some time, what is your impression of the sake market in the USA? Do you think interest in sake is growing among American Consumers?

Kitahara-san: I feel that American market has a strong potential for SAKE. Currently, we are focusing our attention on the Asian market, but we will shift it from Asia to America in the near future. Sake is ranked 10th of all the alcoholic beverages consumed in the United States, but I am sure that it will be #7 in the next 10 years.

shichiken.jpgQ: Does Shichiken use modern or traditional brewing technology? or both?

Kitahara-san: We use traditional methods. We make KOJI by hand. Also, we mix the tanks by hand. We brew sake only in the winter time because we try to maintain our family and company history and philosophy. If we use technology or use artificial materials, we might brew the same quality every year,but it is not fun… so we try to maintain our quality using traditional methods. I feel that makes us more serious.

Q: Did you grow up at the sake brewery? If yes, do you have any interesting or funny stories from your childhood or family life at the brewery?

Kitahara-san: Yes, I did. When I was child, our brewery had more than 40 employees. They really took care of me, and they usually helped me with my homework. They called me the ‘next president!’ so sometimes, I felt like ‘I am the King’ So, why do I need to do my homework…hahaha. And my father asked me to start tasting Sake since I was five years old. So I had a lot of experience drinking Sake.

Q: Is there anything special about the culture or landscape of Yamanashi Prefecture that contributes to your sake?

Kitahara-san: Our Prefecture has only mountains and no oceans. Yamanashi is surrounded by Mt. Fuji, Mt. Komagatake, Mt. Yatsugatake and Mt. South Alps. Actually these mountains are very famous in Japan. So we use thaw water from these mountains which is so pure and clean. That is why Shichiken is so smooth with such a clean aftertaste. Unfortunately, Yamanashi is not good for growing crops because it is a basin. Therefore, we buy sake rice from other Prefectures. We are very proud of our clean water.

Yamanashi_pre2.gifQ: What is your personal favorite Shichiken sake and why?

Kitahara-san: Actually I like Shichiken Junmai-Ginjo that we have been selling in the U.S for 7 years. It is that rare type of Sake which is good for serving both chilled or warmed. Back when I started to promote it, I didn’t like it so much because it was really difficult to promote this kind of Sake. People mostly liked flavorful and smooth Sake at that time, so it took time to get the word out about our Shichiken kind of Sake. But now, thanks to good sake education, people can understand and appreciate this kind of Sake, too. Shichiken Junmai-Ginjo is very easy to pair with any kind of food, so I can recommend it to every Sake lover.

Q: What do you think would surprise American people the most if they saw Sake brewing up close and in person?

Kitahara-san: I think the process of making KOJI would be the most surprising to Americans, because we don’t sleep during that process. We mix koji by hand every 2 hours and check the temperature every minute. That is also one of the most important and difficult steps in that process.

**********

Thank you so much, Kitahara-san, for taking the time for an UrbanSake.com Interview! Thanks for that info on Yamanashi and Shichiken. I hope you get a chance to visit us in the States again soon.

Elements of Sake Class Filling Up!

place_setting2.jpgThere are currently only 5 seats left for my Feb 18th Sake Class at Astor Center!

If you want to get in on this class please Click Here to sign up soon! Also, there is a special coupon below that is good for this February 18th class only!

Here are the details…

  • What: Timothy’s Element of Sake Class
  • When: Monday, Feb 18th, 6:30-8:30pm
  • Where: Astor Center’s state-of-the-art classroom – 24 East 4th St. Second Fl.
  • Why: OMG, we’re going to taste some fantastic sakes and have a lot of fun!
  • SAVE!!: Special coupon! for my February class only, buy 2 tickets and one of them will be FREE if you use promo code “ACWelcome

I look forward to meeting you in class!

If you cannot make the Feb 18th class, you can also currently sign up for my Elements of Sake class on March 19th or April 18th, 6:30 – 8:30pm. Kanpai!

Prestige Sake Tasting: Ogre Achievers

oni.jpgI’ve never met a real, live Ogre before today, but I have to say I was surprised how nice and photogenic he was. I would say downright friendly! …And any Ogre that is passing out sake is a friend of mine!

I met my new “Oni” friend at a special tasting hosted by Kazu-san and Mariko-san of Prestige Sake International Distributors. They held the event to introduce some new sakes, and some stand-by favorites, to retailers and restaurant folks.

Besides our friendly Ogre, there were some even more friendly sake brewers who were on hand, too… I even had the thrill of meeting Mr. Fujii-san, the creator of the 2007 Golden Masu Award Winning brew “Kamikokoro Nama”!

Imanishi.jpgI started the event meeting Mr. Imanishi, President of Harushika Brewery. Harushika from Nara Prefecture is a popular brand in New York City. Along with their well known sakes, I also tasted two daiginjos I wasn’t familiar with. here’s the breakdown:

*Harushikia Extra Dry Junmai (SMV +12, Acidity 1.6) Dry as a bone. great for lovers of Extra Dry

*Harkushika Tokimeki Junmai (SMV -80, Acidity 5.5) Sparkling sake that is off the charts on both SMV and Acidity, this low alcohol sake breaks all the rules.

*Harushikia Daigomi Junmai (SMV +4.5 Acidity 1.6) light and drinkable.

*Harushika Daiginjo (SMV +2.5, Acidity 1.3) Smooth and light. Excellent Daiginjo

*Harushika Daigninjo Shizuku (SMV +3.5, Acidity 1.3) Clean, clean clean trickle sake.

*Harushika Shiboribana Junmai Ginjo Nama (SMV +3, Acidity 1.4) fresh and springy nama.

kamikokoro.jpgNext I got to meet my nama rock star, Mr Nobuhiko Fujii. Kamikokoro is a relatively young brewery in Ohyama Prefecture. The exciting thing about their nama is the use of peach yeast to make it taste extra fruity and special. I find that the zest and zing really come across in this exciting brew. Fujii-san was also presenting a Tokubetsu Junmai and a Junmai Daiginjo. I find Kamikokoro a brewery to really get excited about.

* Kamikokoro “Tokagen” Tokubetsu Junami Nama Genshu (SMV -11, Acidity 1.4) This sake is a winner in my book. Sweet and infused with a peachy-strawberry fruit that is just delightful.

* Kamikokoro Nagisanouta Tokubetsu Junmai (SMV -2.5 Acidity 1.25). this sake is intriguing and soft as a cloud.

* Kamikokoro Koi Junmai Daiginjo. (smv +2, Acidity 1.1) Mild fruit and a touch of a dry finish.

namas.jpgIchinokura is a great reliable brewery that was my next stop. I tried the following brews:

* Ichinokura Junmai (SMV +2, Acidity 1.4) Rice in the nose and full junmai flavor

* Ichinokura Nama Tokubetsu Junmai Nama (SMV +3, Acitidy 1.5) Year round nama with light fruit but not a fruit bomb.

* Ichinokura Himezen “princess” (SMV -65, Acidity 5) Sweet Low alcohol sake for the Princess in your life.

* Ichinokura Nama Gneshu Nigori tokubetsu junmai (SMV -1, Acidity 1.8) This was a very intriguing sake. higher acidity gives this cloudy confection a fantastic bite.

nakanishi.jpgLast, I tried some fascinating sakes from Shutendouji “Red Ogre” Brewery from Kyoto Prefecture. Mr. Nakanishi, the president of this brewery was enthusiastic and brought his Ogre all the way from Kyoto. Besides the ogre, the big story from Shutendouji was the special rice grown especially for the brewery in Kyoto prefecture. These sakes are new to the US and I enjoyed tasting them.

* Shutendouji Kyo-onna Tokubetsu Junmai (SMV -7, Acidity +1.6) Mild aroma with hints of rice.

* Shutendouji Mitaiken (SMV +2 Acidity 1.5) Now, this sake spoke to me. Balanced but with a full bodied richness. I think this sake clearly qualifies as yummy.

This tasting was a rip roaring good time and I was really pumped up by the enthusiasm of the brewers on hand. It’s always a fantastic thrill to meet brewers and I feel like I can ask them more as I learn more. Prestige put on a great event and it was a real thrill to attend. Only drawback is now I’ll have to think twice before drinking Demon Slayer!

Kikusui Tasting at Sakaya

takasawa_san_introduces.jpgSakaya has started the new year off right with weekly free sake tastings! On a recent evening, Representatives from Kikusui Brewery were on hand to explain about there sakes and sample some special sakes just for the occasion.

Kikusui is a very well known brewery, in a Prefecture already world famous for it’s sake: Niigata. The Kikusui website has an extensive explanation of the company and the brewing process all in English. Not to be missed!

Visiting from the Brewery were Kikusui President Mr. Takasawa and Export Sales Manager Mr. Endo. They were both incredibly enthusiastic and gave us the low down on what they were pouring. We tasted:

last_bottle.jpg*Kikusui Junmai Ginjo: Clean, clear and a fantastic representative of that renowned Niigata water. Everyone comments on the beautiful Blue bottle. Drinkable and enjoyable everyday with great versatility.

*Kikusui Funaguchi Nama Genshu Honjozo in a can: This sake is well known to me and I have had enjoyed it many times. This sake deserves a guest spot on “The Bold and the Beautiful” because it’s just that. And come on, people! The can is just fun. Full, juicy and quite a handful (in a good way).

*Kikusui Daiginjo Genshu Competition Sake in a can: ok, if the Nama Genshu Honjozo was bold and beautiful, this puppy is bold and beautiful and a Ph.D. Gorgeous, with_takasawa_san.jpgfull flavor and a deep complexity. Not a sake to drink everyday, but this was an amazing opportunity to taste something so well crafted.

Rick and Hiroko had quite a crowd at the event and there was a run on Kikusui Junmai Ginjo which was sold out by the end of the evening. Mr. Takasawa was a fantastic representative for his Brewery and helped every one to enjoy their introduction to Kikusui. I can’t wait to try more from this brewery next chance I get!

My Sake Class at Astor Center

Explaining_masu.jpgOne of the more exciting opportunities I’ve had recently to preach the gospel of sake is teaching the first of several “Elements of Sake” classes at the brand new Astor Center in New York’s East Village. What a thrill!

First, a word about the new Astor Center Facility. “The Study” is one tricked out classroom folks! It’s really a fantastic, state-of-the-art facility… a dream for both students and teachers alike! Each student gets a workstation with individual sink, and an individual lightbox for judging color. place_setting.jpgAlso included are stadium seating, three overhead widescreen TVs, so everyone gets a perfect view.

Last but not least, the slideshow system comes equipped with a dynamic student response system. If you put a multiple choice question or rating on a slide, the students can reply using a handheld remote and the computer gives an instant view of the replies. it’s cool!

The class itself was 36 people strong. urakasumi_title.jpgHere is a quick overview of what we covered in class:

  • what is sake
  • sake ingredients
  • sake production process
  • tips for serving and tasting

In addition we also tasted 5 fantastic sakes. they are:

Urakasumi Junmai: This is a classic example of a Junmaishu. wakatake_nama_title.jpgFirm, full bodied and full rice in the nose.

Hakkaisan Ginjo: One of my very favorites! This sake is the poster child for a Niigata Ginjo. aggressively clean and balanced.

Rihaku Nigori: The sake that launched a 1,000 nigori fans. dassai_title.jpgThis sake has the perfect texture to show students what Nigori is all about.

Wakatake Nama: Spring Namas have yet to hit the shore, so fall namas are our fall-back til spring. I like this nama by Wakatake in Shizuoka Prefecture. Full forward flavor with a touch of zing and full fruit.

Dassai 23: What can I say. I just didn’t feel right having a sake class without letting students taste a masterpiece. Dassai 23 was a hit and understandably so. complex and layered with hints of fruit and a touch of a dry finish. A true show stopper.

sake_flowchart_tim.jpgThis class was a load of fun for me to teach. If this sounds like fun to you and you would like to attend a Sake Samurai “Elements of Sake” class you can sign up on the Astor Center website.

Important Note: As a bonus for Urban Sake readers, you can get two tickets for the price of one for the February class. please use Promo code “ACWelcome” when buying your tickets!!

Sake Lecture at NYC Anime Festival

hair.jpgI got an email out of the blue from a gentleman asking me if I would be interested in holding a lecture on Sake at the December 2007 NYC Anime Convention at the Javits Center. What does sake have to do with Anime? Well the organizers of the Anime Festival were also wisely holding Japanese “culture panels” on subject such as “Kabuki Theater”, “Japanese Woodblock Prints”, “Samurai and Feudal Japan” and of course my favorite cultural topic: “Sake!”

Since I became a “Sake Samurai” last October, one of my vows was to educate about sake, precisely: “Spread the word about Japanese sake around the world with pride and passion”. I knew this lecture opportunity was a chance to do just that! Now, I’ve never been to a Convention before, Star Trek, Sci Fi, Anime or otherwise… so I didn’t know really what to expect. When the day of my lecture arrived, I packed up my laptop and powerpoint and headed off.

swordplay.pngI arrived at the Javits Center on the big day and was immediately overwhelmed by the crowds and costumes. I mean… this Anime Festival was ginormus! I saw lots of kids dressed up in lots of crazy costumes. Oh… and lots and lots of spike-y anime hair. Oh… and lots of maid uniforms. Oh… and lots of samurai swords. …and that was just in the lobby.

I found my way to the check in counter for Presenters and got my badge and then I waded into the crowd. Walking to the room where my lecture was being held, i was truly bewildered by the roaming gangs of various Anime characters, many of them chasing and “sword fighting” each other. I couldn’t help feeling like I was the odd man out on the playground. The lecture before mine was cancelled, so I had plenty of time to set up for my sake lecture. lecture_room.jpgEach presentation has tech support provided by the Javits Center – they seemed like old school union guys who were just as bewildered with the parade of costumes as I was.

The lecture room itself was a 200 seat auditorium with a microphone, raised stage and a gigantic movie theater sized projection system. I really wasn’t sure what to expect giving the mildly rowdy shenanigans going on outside the lecture room. I had some time to peek in on some of the other panels and found some of the anime panels overflowing their rooms. My lecture however, was a “panel” of one – Me!

podium.jpgWhen the time came I called the room to order and began my lecture and slide show. I had about 75 people show up which I thought was a really good turn out! The crowd was mostly professionals in their 30s and 40s with a smattering of young people.

I started by talking about Sake ingredients and then the sake production process. At the request of the organizers I also took some time to make recommendations about where to go to experience sake in New York City for the out of town visitors to the convention. sake_set.jpgMy favorite part of the lecture was opening up the floor to questions from the audience. The crowd asked some fantastic questions and I really enjoyed answering them! All in all it was a great success.

About a month after the lecture, I got a “thank you” package from the organizers of the Festival. It included a couple of T-shirts, a mascot doll and a very special memento of the day… an engraved NYC Anime Festival Sake set! Pretty darn cool if you ask me.

.
.
.

Anime hair photo © 2007 Flicker user A. Seraphin.
Licensed under CC 2.0 Generic