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!

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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!

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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!!

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
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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”.

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!

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.

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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.

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!

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!