daiginjo_table.jpgThe Joy of Sake event is the highlight of New York’s annual Sake week. It’s the largest sake tasting event outside of Japan and a definite “Don’t Miss” on the sake circuit.

At Last year’s Joy of Sake, I was an innocent newbie, untrained in the ways of mega sake tastings. This year however, I arrived at the the Puck Building a battle-tested veteran with my trusty tasting cup locked and loaded. Bring it, J.o.S.!

Well, I think a 300 bottle sake tasting would overwhelm even the most well trained palate, so I used guerrilla tactics to cover the most territory. Whenever I saw an opening at one of the tasting tables, I would swoop in and taste whatever caught my eye. This methodology produced some surprising results. I feel I got a broad overview of sakes in all the categories and fought the urge to be obsessed with sampling only the top award winners.

Amabuki.jpgThe first sake of note that I tasted at Joy of Sake really stuck out like a sore thumb. This brew is the color of an reddish over-steeped Lipton Tea. It’s a junmai called “Gin no Kurenai” from Amabuki Brewery in Saga Prefecture. Naturally, this sake stands out against all the rest due to it’s dark color. I saw more than one taster stare puzzled into the tasting cup!

As I learned from further research, the color comes from the use of an organically grown heirloom strain of black rice. How does it taste? well, I expected something either heavy, funky or sweet. It was none of these. Gin no Kurenai, billed as a “rosé sake”, was light, smooth and tasty. Quite a surprise from a very interesting sake. I’d love to learn more about Amabuki Brewery and see what else they have to offer. They seem like a brewery that doesn’t shy way from the unique.

keiko_shusen.jpgMoving on from the exotic brew to something more well known to me, I found my way to the Kamoizumi table and Keiko-san of World Sake Imports introduced me to Mr Watanabe. He poured me a healthy serving of Kamoizumi Shusen a junmai also known as “three dots”. This sake is well distributed in the states, but funky in it’s own right. It’s strong and mushroomy and great for drinking warm on a chilly day. If you like a sake that may strong arm you a little bit, this brew is for you!

eikun.gifAfter two Junmais I was ready for something a bit more delicate, and this time packaging caught my eye. At one daiginjo table I saw a fancy-pants daiginjo bottle dressed up in all it’s finery. The bottle reminded me a bit of Scarlett O’Hara dressed up in green velvet curtains to impress Rhett. (right?!)

I had found Saito Sake Brewery’s Eikun “Koto Sennen” Junmai Daiginjo from Kyoto Prefecture. Despite my not seeking out gold winners, I had found one! This sake is a winner of the highest gold award rating at the 2007 U.S. National Sake Appraisal. As you may expect, the aroma, taste and finish were all exceptional. I found it refined, smooth and complex… I’d say those judges were right on track. Kidding aside, this was one righteous smooth sake! As we say in the sake world, “yum!”

The rest of the evening at the Joy of Sake was a swirl of great tastes, good friends and delightful conversations that ended way to early. You know, one of the things I love about the Sake World is the really amazing people you meet. One of the thing I love about the Joy of Sake is being able to see them all in one place! Kanpai!

welcome.jpgMy first message from Melinda, the mastermind behind Tokyo through the Drinking Glass Blog, arrived in early July 2006. After a few messages back and forth it became clear that we were kindred sake otaku and so began our (online, 21st-century, cyber blogging) fast friendship.

Together with Melinda, we not only chatted back and forth but we also organized cyber sake tastings to help connect all the sake-interested bloggers in all parts of the world.

kimoto_genshu.jpgMs. “Drinking Glass” also did me the great honor of introducing me to her sake friends Rick and Hiroko here in New York who have now become dear friends of mine, too!

When word hit the sake underground that Melinda was headed to the US for a visit, I could hardly believe it. We were going to meet, as the kids text these days, “F2F”!

Rick and Hiroko arranged a wonderful night out to welcome Melinda to NYC and were kind enough to invite me along. This gave us all a wonderful evening to laugh and have a great time.

wt3.jpgNeedless to say, it was a blast to meet Melinda F2F and catch up after all these months of emailing. Our mutual passion for all things sake really makes us Sake Wonder Twins! Just Like Zan and Jayna! Ok, Melinda – can’t wait to see you again soon… and drink some urban sake on your home turf next time.

brewers.jpgSake week in NYC is upon us. And boy oh boy, did I find an event to kick it off in style! This evening brought me back to a new favorite spot of mine – Chanto. Just like my last visit to Chanto, they offered up an amazing triple play for the evening! This time around, 3 breweries were featured in a fantastic pairing dinner. Each brewery also had a representative on location to pour and give some background on the sakes. In attendance were Mr. Sakurai representing Dassai from Asahi Brewery, Mr. Kitahara from Shichiken Brewery and Mr. Imai from Kamenoi Brewery. (Brewer photo courtesy of KC).

kome_koji.jpgIn addition to our genial sake experts, Chanto’s general Manager Mr. Teramoto was as gracious as ever and ensured everyone was very well taken care of. I had some great company and shared a table with Mr. Nihonshudo KC, Hideo and Anthony. Before dinner began, we got a special treat and were presented with some “Kome Koji” or malted rice used in sake making. It was an interesting taste that kinda reminded me of trail mix.

dassai_23_pour.jpgMr. Sakurai started off with his Flagship brew – Dassai 23 (Junmai Daiginjo, Seimaibuai 23%, SMV +3, Acidity 1.3). This was paired with a beautiful, gold leaf encrusted sashimi platter. Alongside the Dassai 23 Sakurai-san gave us some Dassai 50 (Junmai Ginjo, SMV +3, Acidity 1.4, Seimaibuai 50%) to contrast and compare. The Dassai product line has always impressed me – there is a tremendous consistency and fine nuance of flavor around the Dassai sakes and the pairing with the melt-in-your-mouth sashimi was terrific. From what I can tell, it is Asahi Brewery’s disciplined and scientific approach to sake making that allows them to consistently deliver top-quality nihonshu. yum!

kudoki_jozu.jpgNext up Mr. Imai poured us the delicious Kudoki Jozu Junmai Ginjo (Seimaibuai 50%, SMV +1, Acidity 1.2, ALC 15.5%). This sake is a sentimental favorite of mine ever since I first tried it last year. This Yamagata brew is light, mildly fragrant and ooooh so drinkable – like buttah! Imai-san gave us a pour from a young bottle of Kudoki Jozu and a glass of the exact same sake that had been aged for two years. Side by side comparisons are fun and both versions of the Kudoki Jozu were good, but I have to say I preferred the younger, fresher taste – it seemed to better match the overall vibe of this easy-breezy, flirtyshichiken.jpg sake. Marketed more to women in Japan, this sake would really appeal to anyone who likes their sake light, tasty and easy to drink.

Last but not least Mr. Kitahara poured two interesting Shichiken sakes. The well-liked Shichiken Junmai Ginjo (SMV +4, ALC 14.5%) was served slightly warmed. This unexpected presentation woke up my palate. Finding sakes that work both chilled and gently warmed is not easy, so – note to self – Shichiken fits the bill.

For the “final final” sake, Shichiken’s “Bigin Bigin” Junmai Ginjo Koshu (Seimaibuai 50%, ALC 16.5, aged 3 yrs.) was poured and paired with my kind of dessert: chocolate cake and ice cream. This koshu was rich in color, texture and taste giving off a golden hue in the glass. Koshu has not traditionally been my thing, but recently I’ve had some great ones and this is no exception. Kitahara-san confirmed for me that Bigin yummy_sashimi.jpgBigin is aged at a chilled temperature which gives it’s complex richness a distinct clarity that really comes through.

Wow, what a night – the Chanto triple play game plan really hit the mark again. After all, don’t they say good things come in threes?

students_in_class.jpgSake education is hard to come by in the US. I’ve been anxious to learn as much as I could about sake, but beyond reading books and going to tastings, there have been few opportunities to learn in a classroom setting – until now! On August 27, 28 and 29, 2007, Mr. John Gaunter – the world famous “sake guy”, brought the sake seminar he usually teaches in Japan each year to New York! The first Stateside Sake Professional Course was an event I couldn’t miss!

John_Gaunter_teaching.jpgJohn is indeed the leading non Japanese sake expert in the world. This guy literally “wrote the book” on sake! I was excited to take a few days away from my work-a-day life and immerse myself in the sake world. And that was just what John’s course promised to do… three days of instruction and tasting that would leave no sake stone will be left unturned.

The class was larger than I expected with about 60 eager participants. This signaled to me that interest in all things sake is ever growing in the States. Our group was made up of industry and non-industry folks alike. I was happy to see some friendly faces in the crowd too… Amanda my friend from sake meetups, Nell my buddy from Aburiya Kinnosuke, and MJ Simkin, sake lecturer extraordinaire.

joto_tasting.jpgAs the course got underway, I realized this would be an intense review of all things sake spread over 3 days. The first day covered “the basics”… sake grades, brewing process and ingredients. Things soon got interesting when we looped in Yamahai and Kimoto sake into the conversation. Along the way for all three days we took breaks from the lecture for tastings! Unusual sakes were also discussed such as Nigori, sparkling and low alcohol brews.

The major difference between John’s sake course in Japan and New York, is the ability to visit breweries. There were a few events in the evenings that make up for this a bit. The opening night of the class we had the opportunity to go to a delicious Joto tasting at Sakagura.

amanda_closing_dinner.jpgOne of the most interesting topics for me over the 3 days was “sake chemistry”! This got into some of the nitty gritty of what drives the brewing process. This was very interesting and an area i’d love to study more.

On the closing night, there was a dinner at LAN Japanese Restaurant. This was a fun close to an exciting three days of sake learning.

At the end of it all, I was left with a lot to “digest”. Sake tastings, history, production, competitions – and on and on. I hope I will have absorbed it all by the time an advanced class rolls around… I’m sure by then, I’ll be ready to go Back To School – again.

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