from_left.jpgQuestion: What would you get if all the sake bloggers in the world had a tasting of the same sakes on the same night?

Answer: Why, you’d get the World’s First Cyber Sake Tasting, that’s what!

Working with my sake blogging friends Valerie of The Sake Diaries in Minneapolis, Melinda of Tokyo Through the Drinking glass and Etsuko of TokyoFoodcast we agreed to each host a tasting on the same night with the same 4 sakes plus one “wildcard” of our choosing. The sakes would get tasted and reviewed across time, space and international borders and then afterwards, everyone would post their results.

atsuko-and-timothy_1.jpgHere is how things shaped up at Urban Sake Headquarters:

  • Rihaku Junmai Ginjo (“Wandering Poet”, SMV +3, Acidity 1.6, ALC 15.2%)
    Average Rating: 6.3 out of 10. I paired this will some wasabi rice cracker mix. Comment: “Fragrant Nose” “Flavor expands as the sake warms”
  • Urakasumi Zen Junmai Ginjo (“Misty Bay”, SMV +1, Acidity 1.3, ALC 15.5%)
    Average Rating: 6.3 out of 10. This was paired with delicious Seaweed salad that Atsuko brought. Comment: “Nice & Drinkable” “Slightly citrus”
  • cream_puff.jpgShirakawago Sansannigori (“Bamboo Leaf”, SMV 0, Acidity 1.5, ALC 15.3%)
    Average Rating: 5 out of 10. Paired with fried japanese chicken wings.
    Comment: “Slightly Funky aftertaste.” “Tastes better at room temp” “My favorite pairing!”
  • Tamano Hikari Junmai Daiginjo (“Brilliant Jade”, SMV +3.5, Acidity 1.7, ALC 16.2) Average Rating 8.6 out of 10. Paired with Dried Squid. (don’t ask)
    Comment: “Clean & Complex” “Outstanding!”
  • the_whole_gang.jpgKubota Hekiju ( SMV +2, Acidity 1.5, ALC 15.5%)
    Paired with Choux Factory Cream Puffs.
    Comment: “Barely there” “Delicious” “smooooth”

The clear winner at the NYC tasting was the Tamano Hikari. It was fresh and clean and complex enough to inspire a lot of interest. It is also interesting that Zen and Wandering Poet averaged out to the exact same score among the New York City crowd.

Special thanks to Chao-I, Atsuko, Jesse, Stephen and Scott for being a part of sake history. I know I had a lot of fun and I hope you guys did too!
Check out these blogs for other views of the trans-pacific super cyber sake tasting:
Tokyo Through the Drinking Glass
The Sake Diaries
TokyoFoodCast

Rihaku_Urakasumi_shirakawag.jpg

mr_kosuke_kuji.jpgOne of the most interesting and truly educational sake tastings I’ve been to this season was the amazing Nanbu Bijin event at the wonderful Sake Hana (265 E. 78th St, 212-327-0582).

The Nanbu Bijin was a brewery little know to me thus far – but no more. I’m now a big fan! This evening was special in many ways.

nanbu-bijin-junmai_1.jpg

First, The Nanbu Bijin Brewery representative at the event, Company Vice President Mr. Kosuke Kuji, was perhaps one of the most passionate and enthusiastic speakers on sake I’ve ever seen! Kuji-san’s eagerness to preach the gospel of sake was not just talk either… He has a degree in Fermentation Science and is the fifth generation in his family at the brewery. He knows his stuff.

Secondly, our friend KC was the translator for the evening and did an amazing job of helping all the English speakers in the crowd to understand Kuji-san’s lecture. KC_Translates.jpgI was really, really impressed with (and a little jealous of) KC’s ability to so quickly and accurately translate.

Over the course of the evening we tasted 5 sakes and it was quite a ride. From delicious to sublime to curious, there was something there for everyone.

nanbu_bijin_ancient_pillars.jpgThe evening started with a healthy serving of the Nanbu Bijin Tokubetsu Junmai (ALC 15.5%, SMV +7, Acidity 1.5) Make with “ginotome” rice, this sake is the entry level brew of the evening. With a +7 SMV, this sake is quite dry indeed. Despite being the “low end of the high end”, the Tokubetsu junmai is not treated any differently at Nabu Bijin. Mr. Kuji unformed us that this sake is refrigerated the entire way on it’s journey from Japan to NYC.

The evening quickly picked up speed as we headed to sake number 2. This was the delicious Nanbu Bijin Junmai Daiginjo (ALC 17.5%, SMV +5, Acidity 1.3) The smart folks over at JAL Japan Airlines selected this very delicate yet fruity sake to be served in First Class. Needless to say, I felt like a first class passenger but, as Mr. Kuji pointed out, I saved myself the $8,000 ticket price to get into first class.

The third sake of the night was the Nanbu Bijin Competition Trickle Sake (ALC 17.78%, SMV +4, 1.2 Acidity). This sake is made strictly for competition and isn’t available for sale anywhere in the world. This amazing brew is made using the Shizuku “trickle” method that simply uses the force of gravity for 4 hours that allows the clear sake to drip from the mash. As you can imagine, this only produces a fraction of the volume you could get from a forceful pressing, but the quality is utterly amazing. “cream of the crop!”

Nanbubijin_reserve.jpgThe fourth sake of the evening was almost beyond words… The Nanbu Bijin 10-year-aged “Reserve” sake. Everyone got just a few sips of this magic elixir – it was amazing. the best way to describe it was it felt like drinking a cloud. Soft, supple and heavenly.

All the aged sake I had ever seen was dark amber – but this sake was crystal clear – how could this be? I thought aged turned sake dark. As it turns out, Kuji-san explained that keeping the sake constantly refrigerated for those 10 years kept the sake from darkening. It was just something very special.

Mr_Kosuke_kuji_and_me.jpgThe final sake of the night was a bit of a mystery. It was an all koji-rice sake that was very sweet (SMV -20). Served in a champagne flute with a strawberry slice, it wasn’t anything if not unique.

What a night! I’m so grateful to Toshi at Sake Hana for arranging such evenings as this. such fun! I read in the Nanbu Bihin Brewery literature that their aim “is to make cheerful sake that makes people smile when the taste it.” Now that is a genuine “Mission Accomplished”!

izakaya_ten_facade.jpgI recently had an opportunity to return to our only local Izakaya outpost here in Chelsea. Newly re-named “Izakaya Ten” (207 10th Ave, 212-627-7777, formerly “Anzu”), this place has undergone thoughtful updates both inside and out.

The first changes I noticed was the striking mural enveloping the facade. The giant Kanji character above the door is “ten” which means heaven. Much of the interior has remained unchanged, which is fine as the design was always great with cool concrete bar at the entrance and soft lighting throughout.

Funaguchi_Kisusui In addition to changes to the outside, Ten has a re-tooled sake list and an updated food menu. The changes in these areas really add to the Izakaya-style dining experience. A few items in particular caught my attention and are really worth mentioning.

As usual, I’ll start with the sake! The sake list at Izakaya Ten was a pleasant surprise: prices are a bit lower than before, servings are larger and the sake brands featured are really solid contenders: Wakatake, Harushika, Nanbu Bijin and others. However, the real standout for me was far and away the Funaguchi Kikusui in a can. yes… a can!

friendly_staff.jpgI’ve never had sake in a can before, but most agree that canned sake doesn’t exactly have an upscale image in japan. However, what may be a humdrum drink in Tokyo is NYC’s fun and quirky speciality import! To top it off Funaguchi Kikusui (Honjozo, ALC 19%, SMV -2, Seimaibuai 70%, Niigata Prefecture) tastes really good. This sake has a bold flavor profile and a strong impact along with a slightly lingering finish. It’s a honjozo and an excellent example of what brewers can achieve when they add a bit of distilled alcohol at the end of the brewing process to enhance and expand flavor profiles.

pot_au_feu.jpgThe can opens with a pull tab like you’d see on a can of Pringles. There is a plastic cap in case you want to re-seal the can and drink the rest later. (yeah – like that would happen!) Once inside, this flavorful and smooth drinking brew hits you quickly – note the 19% ALC content! My first foray into ‘sake in a can’ was a great one and I’ll be back to Izakaya Ten for another soon enough!

For me the highlight of the food menu was a delicious chicken meatball and veggie Pot-au-Feu stew made with bonito broth that was just amazing. This dish was also served in the cutest little serious_sake_display.jpgmini casserole pan you’ve ever seen. Presentation earns big points with me.

My evening at Ten was a lot of fun. The staff was delightful and I could tell they were serious about providing a good izakaya experience.

With all the yummy things I tasted, my standouts remain. The hearty Pot-au-Feu stew and the robust Honjozo went together so perfectly… you could say it was a match made in, well, Izakaya “Heaven”.

ohyama nigori and programThe Sake retailer closest to my house, Landmark Wine & Sake, was hosting another afternoon sake tasting seminar. The last one I attended in April ’06, was great, and I knew this one would be, too.

Mr. Kazu Yamazaki of the Japan Prestige Sake Association lead the seminar and gave his comments on each sake as they were passed around. Mariko Yamazaki, also from Prestige and Kane from Landmark were also on hand and helped with the serving. There was a fun food item to go with each sake course and they did the smart thing and kept the food simple. I think it’s best to work with pure flavors when pairing.

Kazu-san gave us a detailed overview of the sake production process along with a flow chart diagram that took us from Brown Rice to Shipping. He Also gave us a bit of background on each sake, some history of sake and also answered a lot of questions. Once the sake starts flowing so does the conversation.

here is a quick overview of the sakes served in the order they were presented:

mr_yamazaki.jpgSTAR.png Ohyama Nigori: “Big Mountain”, SMV +6, Acidity 1.3, Yamagata Prefecture.
STAR.png Tsukinokatsura Nigori: “Eternal Tree on the Moon”, SMV +3, Acidity: 1.7, Kyoto Prefecture.
STAR.png Mineno Hakubai Ginjo Namacho: “White Plum Blossom”, SMV +4, Acidity: 1.1, Niigata Prefecture.

STAR.png Umenishiki Daiginjo Nama: “Gorgeous Plum”, SMV +3.5, Acidity: 1.5, Ehime Prefecture.

STAR.png Kariho Namahage Junmai: “Devil’s Mask”, SMV +17, Acidity: 1.7, Akita Prefecture.

STAR.png Suishin Junmai: “Drunken Heart”, SMV +3 Acidity: 1.8, Hiroshima Prefecture.

STAR.png Wakatake Onikoroshi Ginjo: “Demon Slayer”, SMV +3, Acidity: 1.5, Shizuoka Prefecture.

harushika_daiginjo.jpgSTAR.png Shiratake Jozen Mizunogotoshi Ginjo: “Pure Flavor”, SMV +3, Acidity: 1.4, Niigata Prefecture.

STAR.png Harushika Daiginjo: “Spring Deer”, SMV +2.5, Acidity: 1.3, Nara Prefecture.

STAR.png Hitorimusume Shizuku Daiginjo: “Only One Daughter”, SMV +5, Acidity: 1.5, Ibaraki Prefecture.

STAR.png Ichinokura Himezen Junmai: “Ace Brewery Princess”, SMV -65, Acidity: 5, Miyagi Prefecture.

STAR.png Hanahato Kijoshu: “Gorgeous BIrd”, SMV -44, Acidity: 3.5, Hiroshima Prefecture.

hananato_kijoshu.jpgI’ve sampled many of these sakes before, but there were some real standouts I would love to explore further. First, I really enjoyed the Ohyama Nigori. This Nigori was surprisingly light and fluffy for a nigori. The palate was dry and clean. Nigoris are usually all about the texture and for me, this one was about the taste!

The next sake to really catch my attention is a favorite of mind that didn’t disappoint: Umenishiki Daiginjo Nama. This is a rare daiginjo Draft sake and the flavors are really spectacular. Fruity-tootie yet elegant.

umenishiki.jpgLastly, I really enjoyed the Hitorimusume Shizuku Daiginjo. This sake was aromatic, fragrant and flavorful. A very smooth and complex Daiginjo, this was one of the best.

A final surprise of the evening was dessert! Soon to open in Hell’s Kitchen, the folks from Kyotofu stopped by and presented some delicious snacks to end our tasting. Now, I’m not one to jump on the tofu bandwagon all too often, but these yummy tidbits really rocked. Can’t wait until they open! Word on the street is they will serve some sakes to go with the desserts – sounds like my kinda place!

Well, Landmark hit it out of the park again. I had a lot of fun and really enjoyed the selection and pairings that were put together. I’m pretty lucky to have such a quality sake resource just a few blocks away from me – right in my neighborhood! …Well, I do know there are three Key Factors to finding truly the best sake that is most suited to you: Location, Location, Location.

chicken_marks_the_spot.jpgIt’s no big secret that Yakatori is (happily for me) taking the world by storm. The latest outpost in the Big Apple is Torys (248 E 52nd st. 2nd Floor; 212-813-1800).

This place was opened by the folks that run the amazing Yakatori Totto (251 W 55th St; 866-333-8047). Totto is perhaps my very favorite restaurant in NYC. I was excited to read about Torys and perhaps learn about a new spin on some delicious meat on a stick.

kubota hekiju bottle But first, the Sake. I ordered the Kubota Hekiju. (Asahi Sake Brewery, Seimaibuai 50ï¼…, ALC 15.5ï¼…, SMV +2, Acidity 1.5) This is one of my all time favorites. It’s got a cool, clean super-smooth taste, that can be the perfect backdrop to lots of food. It may be a touch on the elegant-dainty side for this hearty Yakatori grub, but, j’dore it just the same.

kubota_hekizyu.jpgThe Kubota was served in a 5 oz glass with a slightly asymectrical rim – very unique. This was easy to nurse throughout the whole meal as course after course of yummy grilled goodies came to our table. This sake is clean as I said, and also wonderful at giving the palate a clean sweep before the next round of skewers.

The food at Torys is very similar to Totto. It’s like they are twin restaurants. Double your pleasure! Double your fun! Everything we tasted was really good and it was fun to watch the grill-master lavish attention on the skewers under his care. All this focus on detail paid off – Everything we tasted was grilled to perfection.

I’ll be back to Tory’s soon to explore the rest of their sake menu. Can’t wait!

Azia_bar.jpgRecently, Scott invited me to travel with him to Minnesota for his college reunion. I know… Minnesota is out there, but I knew deep down there would be some sake adventure somewhere to be had, so off I went – and I’m glad I did. After a little research and a few emails with our friend Valerie of the sake diaries blog, I found out about a restaurant called Azia in Minneapolis. This place caught my eye in particular as their website boasts the “Biggest Sake List in Minnesota”. Just how big is the biggest sake list in Minnesota? Is it any good? Can Minneapolis put some ‘Urban’ in their sake? Inquiring minds want to know! So, we made a reservation and I hoped for the best.
We arrived at Azia and we were promptly seated. The decor was pan-asian. The menu was pan-asian and the sake list was, luckily, all japanese.

Rihaku_wandering_poet.jpgWhen I got my hands on the “Biggest Sake list in Minnesota”, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. They offered 21 sakes ranging from $10 – $34 for a 5 oz serving. The menu had a great explanation of basic sake terms and it seemed this place really put some thought into the way they present their nihon-shu.

Azia lists most of the sakes they serve on their website. All the brands are well known and solid. Included among them are: Onikoroshi, Ichinokura, Otokoyama, Tentaka, Mukune and more. I decided to keep focused for the evening and centered my attention on Rihaku. My first glass of the evening was Rihaku “Wandering Poet” (Junmai Ginjo, shimane Prefecture, SMV +3, ALC 15.2%, Seimaibuai 55%, Acidity 1.6). This junmai Ginjo is delicious and a wonderful warmup for the food of the evening. I actually ended up drinking the Rihaku Ginjo with a selection of Oysters that we ordered for appetizers. This was actually perfect because the sake did such a good job of ‘resetting’ my palate after each briny swig of oyster, it really added to my enjoyment.

Rihaku_Nigori.jpgWith my sushi main course, I stuck with Rihaku and ordered the Rihaku Nigori “Cloudy Dreams” (Tokubetsu Junmai, Shimane Prefecture, SMV: +3, ALC: 15.6%, Seimaibuai: 59%, Acidity: 1.6) With a little extra Wasabi mixed into my soy sauce, nigori goes well with sushi. I really enjoyed the Nigori from Rihaku. It was surprisingly light and smooth. Even a touch fruity, which you don’t usually get from nigori. Above all it was so food friendly and enjoyable. I will be looking for this one again!

I was so excited about the Rihaku Nigori that I wanted to get the perfect picture to include in the blog. It turns out that my picture taking (without the flash!) caught the eye of the owner who came over to our table and asked how we were enjoying the sake. I later discovered he thought I was trying to steal the sake list! That’s a very cold-war east-german-spy way of making off with a sake list, eh? Luckily our waitress figured out that I was just a sake obsessed blogger and she quickly smoothed things over. By the end of the evening I’d even been given a copy of the sake list to take home!

If you’re ever in Minnesota and looking for a little (or big) tipple of sake, Azia is hands down THE place to go. They take their nihon-shu seriously and it shows. Go thirsty and leave happy, but be sure to practice your covert secret-spy undercover camera operation before you go.

Japan Society bannerOk, we’re now entering the home stretch of NYC Sake Week ’06. Day 6 was centered around a wonderful event at the Japan Society called “For the Love of Sake”.

The evening started with a lecture by the restaurateur and star chef David Bouley. Mr. Bouley described in detail how he learned about Japanese cooking over the years and developed relationships with Japanese chefs and even attended the most famous japanese cooking school. He also talked about how japanese sake started his experimental uses of koji in his cooking.

John Gaunter introduces the sake export association membersNext, John Gaunter introduced the visiting members of the Sake Export Association. These were the Toji and Brewery reps on hand to introduce their Kura and their sake.

The Sake Export Association is a none-profit group of close to 24 breweries in Japan that have formed an organization to support the export of sake to countries outside of Japan.

Then came (well, for me at least) the main event: the Sake Tasting!

Each Brewer present had a table and poured their sake into little sample cups. These little cups totally remided me of those NyQuil cups. Sake is the best medicine I know of, so make mine a double!

Midori_nakazawa.jpgThe first table I stopped at was amazing Tentaka Brewery from Tochigi Prefecture. The Brewery was only founded in 1914, making them the relative ‘new kid on the block’. I met the very friendly brewery sales rep Midori Nakazawa who introduced me to this sake. The first thing that caught my attention was fact that Tentaka is producing organic sake. The three sakes the were serving are delicious.

tentaka_silent_stream.jpgThe first was Tentaka Kuni (“Hawk in the Heavens” Tokubetsu Junmai, ALC 15.6%, SMV +3, Acidity 2.1, Seimaibuai: 55%). This sake was dry with a strong kick of high acidity.

The second Tentaka brew was Tentaka Organic Junmai Ginjo (ALC 15.3%, SMV ±0, Acidity 1.7, Seimaibuai 50%) This sake was crisp wit a solid backbone. On the dry side but not overly so. Made with 100% certified organic rice.

The last one, and my personal favorite, was Tentaka Ginsho (“Silent Stream”, Junmai Daiginjo, ALC 16.3%, SMV +3, Acidity 1.4, Seimaibuai 35%) This sake is expensive and I understand why. It’s brewed with water from an underground stream that originates in the Yamizo adn Nasu Mountains. The palate is ultra smooth and enjoyable. I could drink this sake day and night.

brewmaster philip harperThe next big thrill of the evening was meeting Philip Harper. Philip is the Brewmaster (Toji) at Daimon Brewery in Osaka Prefecture. He’s world famous for being the first non-japanese person to achive this honor.

I was delighted to see Mr. Harper serving his wonderful Tozai Honjozo (“Well of Wisdom”, ALC 14.9%, SMV +5.5, Acidity 1.5) sake which I bought on my sake trip to Boston. Tozai is really one of my favorite Honjozo sakes available in the states. It’s got a full body and just enough fruity goodness to raise my interest.

Daimon was also was presenting Mukune Junmai Ginjo (“Root of Innocence”, ALC 16%, SMV +2, Acidity 1.8, Seimaibuai 55%) and Mukune Nigori (“Shadows of Katano” ALC 15.9%, SMV +5, Acidity 1.5, Seimaibuai 55%) Nell and Timothy enjoy DassaiBoth of these are just amazing. RUN don’t walk to your local sake retailer if you haven’t tried them yet. Philip Harper is doing great things at Daimon. Can’t wait to see what comes next.

Next, I met up with my new sake Friend Nell and we enjoyed a little Dassai. Asahi Brewery rep Sakurai-san was serving up all the Dassai “greatest hits” including the World famous Dassai 23 and the ever popular Dassai 50 and the yummy Dassai Nigori. I’ve posted on these sakes before and they are good! See my Dassai Post from NYC Sake Week Day 2 for more details on this great brand.

Moving on, I was happy to see a whole bunch of Brewery representatives I’d met before at various places and tasting this past year. This included:

miho imada* Miho Imada, the Toji at Imada Sake Brewing Co. in Hiroshima. Imada-san is always so gracious at explaining her sakes and they have such unique flavor – very worth exploring, especially her Junmai Daiginjo “Myokafuu“!

* Mr Yuichiro Tanaka representing Rihakau Brewery in Shimane Prefecture. Rihaku is near and dear to my heart. I really dig their stuff. If you get a chance, try the Rihaku Nigori “Dreamy Clouds“. pardon the pun, but, dear God, this stuff is Heavenly!

* Friendly Mr. Tomorori Yoshia of Yashida Brewery in Shimane Prefecture. Yoshida-san is of course presenting the Gassan brand. Gassan is a reliable, well known brand. You can’t go wrong here. I especially enjoyed the “Gassan Junmai Ginjo“.

* Kensuke Shichida of Tenzan Sake Brewery in Saga Prefecture. Shichida-san was presenting that well known “Jizake-Tenzan” with it’s distinctive packaging and strong alcohol content, it’s a favorite with many people I meet.

OK! well, at this point, the lights started to flicker on and off. I first thought I may have one too many NyQuils, but then I soon realized it was the polite Japan Society way of saying “time to go home”. Sad the evening was coming to a close, but I was feeling something special. Could it be? Dare I say? I do believe it was Love (of sake) at first sight.