This is another video in the “Sake 101” series which explains the 6 major classifications of sake. These different categories can effect both price and taste of your sake, so it’s worth learning about. I hope you find this useful and informative. Once you know these basics, you’ll be honjozo-ing with the best of ’em.

Please leave a comment or drop me an email if you have any questions, comments or feedback. Thanks so much for the comments so far – I’d love to hear from you.

This is the first in a series of “Sake 101” video blog entries. This entry is about the ingredients Sake is made from. In future Sake 101 episodes, I’ll discuss the sake production process and sake terminology etc. Please leave a comment or feedback – I look forward to hearing from you.

Hi everyone! I’m starting a new chapter today on Urban Sake – Video Podcasting! I hope you enjoy and stay tuned for more episodes soon! Please leave me feedback, comments or questions – I’d love to hear from you.

sg.jpgOne pop culture memory from the ’80’s that’s is hard to shake loose is the Solid Gold! Dancers strutting their stuff on TV. The creators of that show knew that gold has a glittering, glamorous allure that is second to none. Let’s face it, a show featuring the Sterling Silver! dancers would have flopped, big time! Without a doubt, gold has the power to not only make a hit TV show, but to build empires, and possession of gold imparts some serious caché.

Surprisingly, some Japanese brewmasters are also tuned-in to the undeniable appeal of pure gold. The connection between gold and sake was explored in detail at a recent American Museum of Natural History Event I attended called, “Adventures in the Global Kitchen: Golden Sake“. This enjoyable evening was co-sponsored by Sakagura restaurant and featured a lecture by Sake expert Michael J. Simkin.

golden_sake_lecture_slidesh.jpgThis was one of the most well put-together tasting events I’ve ever been to. The facilities, printed materials, food, lecture and sake were all first rate. The evening started out with some introductory remarks from Bon Yagi, the owner of Sakagura. I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Yagi at the end of the evening and it was an honor to talk to someone who played such a large role in bringing sake to New York.

Michael_J_Simkin_and_me.jpgNext, Sake expert Michael J. Simkin took the podium and began a lecture on the sake production process and sake’s connection to gold. Michael has traveled extensively through japan and has interned at breweries working in the trenches to learn first-hand how sake is made. For me, one of the highlights of the presentation was the many photos Michael showed of him involved in the hands-on production process.

Museum volunteers then brought each of us a tasting size of the 5 featured gold leaf sakes.

kamotsuru_gold.jpgAs chance would have it, I recently reviewed the first sake we tried just last month! It’s the Kamotsuru Tokusei Gold (Daiginjo, Seimaibuai 50%%, SMV +1.5, Acidity 1.4, ALC 16.4%, Hiroshima Prefecture). I liked this sake last month and I liked it again tonight. The way Kamotsuru uses gold sets it apart from the other sakes immediately. The gold leaf is pressed into beautifully finished flower shapes that dance about in the bottle and in a small 180ml bottle there are only two of these tiny bits of gold. The sake itself is quite good and it was the least dry of the sakes we tried. The long finish and smooth palate remained from my first sampling of this sake.

Next we tried Manotsuru Sakin Honjozo (Seimaibuai 60%, SMV +4.5, Acidity 1.4, ALC 15.5%, Niigata Prefecture, Obata Brewery). I found this sake to have a soft, round feeling on the palate. Noticeable dry notes pervaded from start to finish. Of all the sakes I tried, this one have me the most gold flakes per cup!

Third was Kinpaku “Gold Leaf” (Seimaibuai 55%, SMV +3.0, Acidity 1.5, ALC 15.5%, Mie Prefecture, Wakaebisu Brewery). Of all the sakes we tried, for me, this one has the most pronounced alcohol bite. The nose smelled slightly pasty to me and brought forth images of kindergarten arts and crafts. I think this was my least favorite of the group.

manotsuru_sakin.jpgNext sake up to bat was Shochikubai Jun-Kinpaku-iri Tokubestsu Junmai (Seimaibuai 60%, SMV +2.0, Acidity 1.6, ALC 15.5%, Kyoto Prefecture, Takara Brewery). This sake comes from a huge brewery and I learned from Michael that Takara is the #1 seller of sake in the USA. This sake came across with classic Junmai flavors and robust richness that kept the overall flavor profile “down to earth”. Nothing flowery or too elegant here.

The final sake we tried was Manotsuru Koshu Vintage 1999 (Seimaibuai 40%, SMV +5.5, Acidity 1.1, ALC 16.5%, Niigata Prefecture, Obata Brewery).. This interesting sake is not available in the US and is quite expensive – even in Japan – so it was a real treat to get to try it. Now, this was not the smoothest, most mind bending koshu I’ve ever had… but it’s better than most. The palate has hints of the Sherry-like flavors you get in less subtle aged sake. Along with a pleasant lingering finish, the color was also nice, keeping much of it’s clarity since 1999, unlike other sakes that turn various shades of amber when aged.

Chizuko_san_and_me.jpgOnce the lecture and tasting was over, Sakagura served some delicious food and refills on sakes were offered, too.

I finished the night understanding that gold leaf sakes are used often in gift giving and celebrations. Gold is considered a little something extra to set a gift of sake apart and let the receiver know they’ve gotten something special. Now, whether you’re drinking sake or watching some dancers on TV, these activites are meant to be fun, yet the moment you add some “Solid Gold” in the mix – you know you’re in for some serious fun.

logo.jpgSpending New Year’s eve at Sakagura is a tradition Scott and I started last year. It’s a new tradition that’s hard to argue against. What better way to ring in the new year? Drinking some of the best sake to be found in New York!

Sakagura Manager, Mr. Kadoi, greeted us warmly at the door and made us feel very welcome. I could just tell there was a festive feeling in the air. Once we were seated, I was quickly reminded how overwhelming the Sakagura sake menu can be. Page after page of choices! Since it was a celebration, I decided to focus my selections on the “Daiginjo” portion of the menu. um… even then, I was still a little overwhelmed. Mr. Kadoi introduced us to our waiter Yuki who advised us well on our first choices.

Tokugetsu.jpgMy first delicious sake of the evening was Tokugetsu Junmai Daiginjo (Asahi Brewery, ALC 15.5%, SMV +2, Acidity 1.3, Seimaibuai 28%). This velvety gem was a real find. With a Seimaibuai of 28%, Tokugetsu is made with only a tiny portion of the rice grain as they grind away 72% of the outer hull and only the purest starches remain for sake making.

The color was crystal clear and I only got slight hints of citrus in the nose. This sake really shines on the palate… it felt like a yummy steamroller over my tongue. There was a hint of velvety consistency there that rolled delightfully around my mouth. The finish was quick and left you contemplating the steamroller that just bowled you over. This is really one of the great sakes I’ve had and it was a real treat to get to try it. I enjoyed every sip!

hyousho_nigori.jpgMr. Scott ordered a sake from his favorite section of the menu – Nigori! He kindly let me drink one sip – er, a couple sips… um, I mean several sips of his Nigori. Scott chose the Amanoto Hyosho Usu-Nigori (”Diamond Dust”, Junmai Ginjo, SMV -2, ALC 15.3%, acidity 1.3, Seimaibuai 50%) This Nigori was a lacy white color in the glass. The nose was yeasty and not really for me.

I found The texture was very light and pleasant – I found that this mouth-feel was the best thing about this sake. The flavor had moments of less-than-perfectly balanced alcohol tones peeking through. This might be a good choice if you like your nigori texture light and breezy and your alcohol straight up.

kirinzan_daiginjo.jpgMy Second full glass of over the top luxury was the amazing Kirinzan Junmai Daiginjo (Niigata Prefecture, SMV +3, Acidity 1.3, Seimaibuai 45%, Alc 15.5%). Not only does this sake have one of the more beautiful sake bottles i’ve seen, but also had an amazing diamond clear color that was really stunning and literally sparkled. For me, the nose and palate of Kirinzan contained tiny hints of liquorice. nothing overbearing by any means, but an intriguing background note. This sake is also a super smooth operator. Imagine smooth and then take it up a notch. Unbelievable.

Last but not least, I asked Mr. Kadoi for a recommendation. After all those daigino high notes, I wanted to come back down to earth and requested ideas for a good junmai ginjo. Mr. Kadoi offered us a really special treat that capped of an amazing evening of tasting. He poured us a Special Reserve Sato no Homare (“Pride of the Village” Junmai Ginjo) especially bottled in a small sake cask. This treat I quickly dubbed the “Switzerland of Sakes”. It tasted clear as a bell with a pronounced neutrality in flavor coming across as crisp and clean as a newly pressed linen shirt. Also a very quick finish.sato_no_homare_junmai_ginjo.jpg This special reserve Junmai Ginjo was very delicious and a very, very wonderful indulgence! I loved it.

Before our night was over our waiter Yuki warned us the kitchen was running low on the homemade Toshikoshi soba noodles. As I understand it, eating ToshiKoshi soba noodles on New Year’s is a tradition as long noodles symbolize long life… at least I think that’s right.

Now I have never known much about soba per se, but this soba was a revelation! light delicious and perfectly textured and that lightness blended perfectly with the magnificent sakes we were enjoying. yum.

A little green tea ice cream and I was blissed out and ready to say goodbye to 2006. I wonder if it’s too early to book my reservation for New Year’s Sake-Eve 2007?