2008 Golden Masu Awards

golden_masu_1With 2008 coming to a close it’s only natural to want to look back and ponder the best sakes of the year. In other words, it’s time to announce the 2008 UrbanSake.com Golden Masu Awards! Let’s honor those sakes that stood out from the pack and made 2008 the best year for sake yet.

“Best Nama”


Born Muroka


And the Masu goes to: Born Muroka Nama Genshu Junmai Daiginjo

This year, pure decadence won out over the usual delights that most sweet and fruit-driven namas have to offer. Born Nama is a rich and compelling sake. It is aged for a year, giving it a greater complexity that speaks volumes on your palate. Being unpasteurized, this brew gives that fresh wake up call to your taste buds that only a nama can deliver, however, this sake sings a sultry ballad and not a sugar sweet pop song. Enjoy with someone you love, in a place you love, with some food that you love and you’ll love it – I promise.

“Best One Cup in the U.S.”




And the Masu goes to: Kikusui Funaguchi Shibori Honzojo Nama Genshu

I have a special place in my heart for sake sold in the “one cup” size. These tiny servings are wonders of engineering, not to mention portion control! The supply of sake sold in the one cup size is limited in the U.S., but of what you can get, Kikusui Funaguchi is far and away my favorite! The taste is full and strong and fruit-forward. Also, being a genshu, this sake is undiluted and can have a lot of impact, but in a good way. It’s a delicious tidbit to drink at a picnic or just on the go. I always try to have a few in the fridge ready to jet off on adventures when I am.

“Best Sake under $20”




And the Masu goes to: Kurosawa Junmai Kimoto

It’s just great the the papers are finally telling us we’ve “technically” been in an economic recession for the past year. While everyone loves to turn to booze when times are tough, expensive sakes can sometimes be just out of reach. What’s a sake lover,who has been socked in the wallet, to do? I recommend Kurosawa Kimoto Junmai as a very affordable drinking sake that happens to taste spectacular, too. You’ll get all the flavor and quality of higher priced brews, in a delicious package that retails for under $20. If that makes it a little more affordable to choose a sake to drown your sorrows, my work here is done.

“Coolest Label”




And the Masu goes to: Kuro Obi Do Do Yamahai Junmai

Fukumitsuya Brewery has style, no doubt about it. If you’re in Ginza or Kanazawa, a trip to their retail shop is all the proof you need that these folks understand design. This extends to the stunning packaging for their latest import, the delicious Kuro Obi Do Do or “black belt” in english. The gorgeous abstracted Kanji on the label stand out in silver relief against the black background. The best news of all is that the yamahai sake inside the bottle is as snazzy as the label. The depth of flavor will pair well with many foods, but I match this brew with cheese in particular. Black Belt is the new black.

“Most Deserving of a 99 Rating from the Wine World”




And the Masu goes to: Masuizumi Junmai Daiginjo

Oh, all those vaunted wine experts are just crazy for their numeric wine ratings! That little number can make or break the fortunes of any wine. Luckily, we’re not so bound by this system in the world of sake. However, I can’t help feeling that every now and again, this rating system could be used as a bridge to convert some wine enthusiasts into fervent disciples of sake. Enter scrumptious Masumizumi Junmai Daiginjo. This sake strikes me as tailor-made to get a magical rating of 99 from the biggest names in the wine biz and also as the perfect brew to ease wine lovers into sipping on some sake. As I know all too well, it only takes that one magical taste to get hooked on nihon-shu permanently.

“Most Umami”




And the Masu goes to:
Sawanoi “Kioke Jikomi Iroha Kimoto Junmai

All the foodies I know really connect with those sakes that may strike some as, well… funky. Sawanoi Iroha is the perfect example of a sake that can stand up to a foodie’s favorite flavors. In a word, “Umami”. This is considered the mysterious “fifth taste” that is often translated as ‘savoriness’. In a world of sake filled with those light and fruity Junmai Daiginjos, a little savory can go a long way to perk up your palate. My “a-ha” moment with this sake came the instant I paired it with shitake mushroom. The two together created pure foodie magic and made me a believer in Umami ever more.

“Best in Show”




And the Masu goes to: Dassai 23 Junmai Daiginjo

Oh Dassai 23… How do I love thee? Let me count the ways… um, 23 ways? Well, 23 of course stands for the ultra low milling rate of the rice used to make this dreamy sake. 77% of each grain is ground away prior to brewing, an astounding feat in and of itself, but what does that do to the taste? Dassai 23 has a smoothness on the palate that is hard to match, yet with the unmistakable characteristics and consistency of a sake that has been lovingly hand-crafted in small batches. This brew can be a real splurge but it’s worth every penny and it will restore your faith in the power of pure, delicious flavor to elevate the soul.

Well, there you have it. Congratulations to all the winners and I’ll be on the look out in ‘09 for any new sake stars on the horizon… Kanpai and Happy New Year!

Top 5 Sparkling Sakes for New Year’s Eve

Okunomatsu Sparking Formula Nippon

Okunomatsu Sparking Formula Nippon

Are you a little tired of the same old shoddy champagne? Well, kick that brut to the curb and this year, try something new to tickle your nose as you ring in the New Year. Sake seems to be the eternal up and coming underdog, but to be honest, the selection of sparkling sake available in the USA has never been better. Referred to in Japanese as “happo-shu”, sparkling sake undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle, just as champagne does, so you won’t miss a single bubble with the switch from grapes to sake.

Sparkling Sake is usually low in alcohol, so expect a light and breezy alcohol content of 5-8%. Also, note that most sparkling sake is sold in small bottles (180ml – 300ml) to facilitate a quick consumption, for as with other sparkling tipples, the fizz will fade relatively quickly after opening. So, to keep the sparkle alive, drink early and drink often! Let’s take a look at my top 5 picks for the best in New Year’s Eve Sparkling Sake!

Okunomatsu Formula Nippon Junmai Daiginjo Sparkling. Let’s start at the top! This sparkling sake is amazing! Interestingly, it was originally brewed specifically to allow the Formula Nippon race car drivers to spray Junmai Daiginjo Sparkling sake instead of champagne at the winners circle. However, if you don’t even own a car, you can still enjoy all the luxury this sake has to offer. I had a chance to taste it at a 2008 Japan Society event and it was smooth and bubbly on the palate with enchanting fruit notes in the aroma. A masterpiece well worth the price, this sake can be enjoyed for any important celebration. If there is any equivalent to the very finest champagne in the sake world, this is it!

Hou Hou Shu

Hou Hou Shu

Chikurin Hou Hou Shu Sparkling Junmai. The quintessential sparkling sake, this delight can go toe to toe with champagne any day. There is a wisp of nigori in this low alcohol brew with a delightful sparkle on the palate. I find it has a great balance of sweetness and acidity! Enjoy Hou Hou Shu as a perfect way to start a meal or as a way to celebrate!

This sake comes from the celebrated Chikurin Brewery in Okayama Prefecture in Japan. Their attention to every detail makes this a sure fire winner.

Hana Hou Hou Shu

Hana Hou Hou Shu

Chikurin Hana Hou Hou Shu Sparking Junmai. This sake is a sister brew to the Hou Hou Shu above. It’s a low alcohol nihon-shu infused with rose petal and hibiscus! Light and refreshing on the palate, this is an immensely popular sake in the USA.

Once people try the Hana Hou Hou Shu, they seem to come back to it again and again. It certainly stands out on a vast sake list you may find on a restaurant menu. Given the low alcohol and unique taste, this is a great sake for toasting that special event.

Dewazakura Tobiroku

Dewazakura Tobiroku

Dewazakura Tobiroku Sparkling Ginjo. Do you enjoy your New Year’s Eve drink a touch on the dry side? Thinking all these sakes may be too sweet? Check out Dewazakura Tobiroku! It’s a somewhat rare dry sparkling sake. This delightful brew is for those who like their sparkling sake on the crisp side. A touch of nigori adds a bit of texture, but this is foremost a light, brisk bubbly that is easy to enjoy.

The English name for this brew is “Festival of Stars”. If you’ve ever seen the firework festivals in Japan, it will give you a good idea of what they are after.

Harushika Tokeimeki

Harushika Tokeimeki

Harushika Tokimeki Sparkling Junmai. Quite full in sweetness, this sparkling sake balances that with a higher acidity. This sake is very, very refreshing and is a textbook example of a perfect aperitif for your evening meal. I have also paired this sake with fresh fruit in the past to great effect. Pairings with crisp apples seem to work best in bringing out the delicious fruity sweetness in this sake. It’s light and will tickle your nose for sure. Again, I can’t overstate the sweet fruit profile that comes across on the palate for this sake. This is a wonderful sake to demonstrate how unique and delicious sake can be.

So, there you have it. Take a walk on the wild side and give sparkling sake a try this Dec 31st at midnight. They say whatever you do on New Year’s Eve, you will do for the rest of the year… and if that happens to be drinking sparkling Nihon-shu, I can’t think of any better way to spend the year. Kanpai and happy 2009 to everyone!

Interview: Dewey Weddington at SakeOne

Dewey Weddington

Dewey Weddington

My recent trip to SakéOne in Forest Grove, Oregon gave me a chance to visit with Dewey Weddington, their Vice President of Marketing. Dewey was kind enough to answer some of my questions about SakéOne and the sake industry.

Q: SakéOne is our country’s only American-owned sake brewery. What are the advantages and disadvantages in producing sake in the US?

Dewey Weddington: The disadvantages to producing saké in the US are simply that we do not have the broader industry infrastructure that is found in Japan. There is no brewer’s education system, no guild, no saké industry associations or the events and systems that support and promote saké. Additionally, the available rice varieties are limited to very few choices which somewhat limits our ability to brew the styles we dream of. But we do have a strong information support system with Momokawa Japan and their master Toji Yoshio Koizumi who is Greg Lorenz’s, our Toji, teacher and on-going guide. It would be far more difficult without their support.

The advantages, oddly enough, are also related to not having the strength of the Japanese saké industry at our disposal. We are not bound to tradition, to regional styles, to the written or unwritten rules of saké. We do not have the cultural limitations imposed on our friends in Japan. Because we are “the Americans” brewing saké we are basically free to roam where our desires take us. It’s much like Oregon’s microbreweries and wine producers who began with a historical base but a fresh vision. While we work hard to keep our hands on the traditions we are not bound by them, so we look to the future and what is good for America. We bottle Genshu, Nigori, fruit infused saké which are not so common or desired in Japan, and were saké styles we were originally advised to not create. Today every importer or producer for the US has a nigori and nine years after we first bottled our Asian Pear infused saké under the Moonstone brand, we watched as another “domestic” producer rolled out their own infused saké and a small importer unveiled a few as well. We hear that today there are several infused saké showing up in Japan. Our ability to take risks, make fast decisions and head into uncharted territory is a real plus for us.

SakeOne in OregonQ: What do you think are the most misunderstood ideas about sake and American-made sake specifically?

Dewey Weddington: The most misunderstood idea about saké is still the simple idea that saké is only the cheap hot stuff. People here in the states have a long way to go in learning what saké is. The reality that hot saké is here to stay is challenging our ability to educate and change perceptions but there are a lot of us working on it including yourself, Beau Timken, Chris Johnson, John Gauntner among others.

The most frustrating challenge is perception that saké brewed in the US is not, and can not be, the quality of what is brewed in Japan. This comes from what most people associate with domestic saké – cheap, doesn’t taste good and always served hot. The brewers who were here before us continue to focus on the hot saké niche but we started out as a Junmai Ginjo producer facing an uphill climb from a domestic producer standpoint. The “can’t make good saké in the states,” also comes from the growing number of saké educated people who assume if it’s not from Japan it can’t be any good. As those people meet us and taste our finest we begin breaking down this myth.

When people taste our saké they are surprised, sometimes shocked that something that tastes so good was brewed in the US by Americans. One of our team loves to do blind tastings because of the surprise found when the saké are unveiled. Our G Joy saké has gained support from the leading saké Sommeliers in the US and our enhanced Momokawa line with the new Organics is getting a lot of attention. Saké brewed in the US doesn’t have to be rough tasting hot liquid and we hope we are proving that every day in every bottle.

Q: When you travel around the US and introduce your sake, what’s the reaction been?

Dewey Weddington: The main reaction is our favorite reaction – big smiles and bright eyes followed by “oh wow” comments. That really sums it up. We pour at major trade shows and consumer events all over the US and people are surprised at three things; Saké tastes so much better than they thought, more like a fine white wine. The saké is brewed in the US and, it is brewed by Americans in Oregon. Oregon? “Isn’t that the home of Pinot Noir and Micro brewed beer?” Yes indeed it is. Oregonians have a penchant for fine beverages and for pioneering new concepts, saké is an ideal fit and it goes so well with NW cuisine.

SakeOne Tasting Room

SakeOne Tasting Room

Q: Are there any specific pairings you recommend with your sakes?

Dewey Weddington: Oh, this is a favorite topic for us as we tend to look or unconventional, unexpected pairings. Here are some of our favorites.

G Joy РTypically big, meaty flavors like rosemary lamb chops, smoked Gouda or Vermont Cheddar. But, we also find that G Joy goes well with spicy foods. A recent Press lunch had us pairing it with Roulade of lamb on a lamb demi glaze served over Oregon chanterelles and cipollini onion sak̩ agro dolce Рit was amazing. We do know a great number of people who swear G pairs incredibly with pepperoni pizza and cheese burgers, simple, everyday American cuisine.

Momokawa Organic Junmai Ginjo РThis is very food friendly sak̩ but some of our favorites include: Fig Souvlaki: dried figs filled with feta, wrapped in alderwood smoked bacon and sage. Kasuzuke Wild Sockeye Salmon with a Boysenberry Glaze: Rice lees marinade, glazed with a ginger boysenberry reduction & served with a strawberry tomatillo salsa. And two of my personal favorites were discovered with friends at the Side Door in Honolulu; sea clam poke and grilled thick cut pork chops.

Moonstone Coconut Lemongrass (Nigori) – Outstanding with spicy Thai curry dishes, lime infused dark chocolate and simply poured over vanilla ice cream.

Momokawa Pearl (Nigori) – Flourless chocolate torte or anything with dark chocolate. Fresh strawberries and spicy dishes.

Momokawa Silver РKumumoto oysters, really any oyster, mussels and clams. A great seafood sak̩.

Q: You have a USDA certified organic sake for sale which is a rarity. What can you tell us about organic sake?

Dewey Weddington: Organic saké is indeed rare and in fact the Momokawa organic saké are the only saké to carry the USDA organic seal. For us it means even more careful attention to our rice handling and brewing, more hands on and detailed management. It means that every element in our brewing process is certified non GMO, organic or otherwise approved under the USDA standards. Our first brewing efforts were incredible. The organic rice brewed differently than our other rice. It brewed more robustly and was more flavorful in the end. Our Toji, Greg, noted that the organic rice made our yeasts very happy. The result is an
astonishing fruit forward and flavorful saké.

There are some saké from Japan that tout being organic but in the US they are not certified and technically can not even say they are organic. Japanese standards and US standards are different with Japan’s being less rigorous. So, a Japanese certified kura is not recognized as such in the US.

For our customers it means a guarantee that what’s in the bottle is organic and free of chemical pesticides, fertilizers and processing aids.

Tanks at SakeOneQ: The SakéOne facility in Forest Grove Oregon is impressive. Why did you pick this location? What can visitors expect when they visit you?

Dewey Weddington: We selected our Oregon location primarily for the water source. The Oregon coastal mountains, like most of the state, receives a great deal of rain that feeds our rivers and streams. Our water comes from a nearby reservoir which refills constantly so our water is soft with little to no iron or manganese. Its soft and flavorful. We joke that when it rains we simply look up and smile but its true, our core ingredient falls from the sky almost daily.

When people visit they can expect the unexpected. They can expect a detailed, educational tour of our kura and of course saké tasting in
the tasting room. They’ll see a kura that houses very Japanese equipment and approaches like our Satake mill and traditional koji room, as well as American equipment like our water cooled aging tanks borrowed from the local wine industry. Visitors can also expect unconventional food pairing flights, sakétini Saturday on the third Saturday of every month, concerts in the summer, saké 101 classes, sushi classes, and simply a great deal of activities with a focus on
education and tastings. We pride ourselves in a very knowledgeable staff who will change our visitors perception of saké.

Q: Tell us about your Sake Club. What is this program and what should participants expect?

Dewey Weddington: We started the first sak̩ club in the US, it is very much like wine clubs in that as a club member you get a shipment of sak̩ with pairing suggestions, technical notes, etc. every other month. In our case we have three clubs; Sak̩tini Рsix times a year with various sak̩ and mixers with recipes. Kura Рsix times a year focused on what we brew in Oregon and some select imports. Toji Рwhich also ships six times a year and includes specialty, small batch sak̩ from our kura and imports. The small batch sak̩ are typically grand experiments that we approve for club use. They have included nama zume, select genshu and other unique blends or processes. Fees for club memberships vary by the club but all members get discounts on their regular purchases, complimentary tastings and discounted or eliminated event fees.

Q: I feel that sake quality across the board is increasing year over year. What does the future hold for SakéOne?

Dewey Weddington: That’s the great news about saké today. There are more styles imported and produced here, more access and overall more quality. Its been a long 15 yeas of work but we are thrilled to see where we all are and where it looks to be heading.

Our future includes constant evolution of our core saké with diversified yeasts, rices and process. You’ll see new infused saké and some wild experiments. But, you’ll also see us evolve into the more classic styles such as Daiginjo and Tokubetsu Junmai. We dream that one day the US regulators will allow us to do a honjozo but that is far off for now.

We have no plans to sit back and relax any time soon. There is too much we want to brew, too much education to be done, and too much to do in promoting saké as a whole.


Thanks Dewey! It’s great to get your take on sake and learn more about SakéOne. …and I can’t wait to try some of those pairings!

820 Elm Street, Forest Grove, OR 97116
Tel: 503-357-7056
Fax: 503-357-1014

Minneapolis: Moto-i Sake Class!

MOTO-I Monthly Sake Seminar
Would you like to learn more about sake, taste a range of grades and styles, tour a sake brewery and eat some good izakaya fare? moto-i will host an 8 hour sake seminar for 15 people every month, or more, depending on demand. You will receive:

  • 20 page training manual
  • Tastings that include over 20 sakes, some of which you cannot get in Minnesota.
  • Lunch and snacks after the class will be included.
  • Blake Richardson and Elise Gee, Head Brewer and Assistant Brewer will be you hosts for this event.
  • Cost $150 Click Here to Register
    The seminars will be on the first Saturday of every month. If we add more, they will fall on the third Saturday of every month. To sign up, email class at moto-i dot com with sake seminar in the subject line and please include your shoe size (seriously).
    moto-i sake seminar is open to all professionals as well as non professionals. It is our goal to have the most educated sake enthusiasts right here in the state of Minnesota.

    2940 Lyndale Ave. South
    Minneapolis, MN 55408
    [email protected]

    Cost: $150.00 – Includes Training manual, brewery tour, lunch and snacks,
    and a tasting of over 20 different sakes to understand grade, styles, and
    flavor profiles. Give yourself or someone you know this experience as a Holiday Present!

    Click Here to Register

NYC: Elements of Sake 2: Pairing Sake & Food

tim_photo.jpgPlease join me!! I am teaching an advanced sake class at the new Astor center called the “Elements of Sake, Part II: Pairing Sake and Food.”

The perfect follow-up to The Elements of Saké or an ideal choice for any saké enthusiast eager to broaden their horizons! In Part II, we’ll deepen our exploration into this ancient brew. We will discover the wild side of saké by tasting bold Kimoto and Yamahai styles (made using yeast starters), as well as some sweet and delightful Sparkling sakés, and rich and decadent aged sakés. Furthermore, we’ll begin to explore the theories behind sake and food pairings by sampling some dishes made specifically to compliment our saké. Join us for an in depth look at Nihonshu to take your understanding of saké to the next level.

This class takes place at Astor Center. Tickets required. Cost $95

Please visit the website to Register for this class

399 Lafayette St. NY, NY 10003 (At East 4th Street) PHONE: (212) 674-7501

NYC: Elements of Sake Class

tim_photo.jpgPlease join me!! I am teaching a sake 101 class at the new Astor center called the “Elements of Sake.” This class 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!

This class takes place at Astor Center. Tickets required. Cost $65

Please visit the website to Register for this class

399 Lafayette St. NY, NY 10003 (At East 4th Street) PHONE: (212) 674-7501

NYC: Japan Prestige Sake Tasting at Sakaya

sakaya.gifFREE tasting of special sake from Japan Prestige sake! don’t miss it!

324 E. 9th Street (btwn 1st & 2nd Ave.)
NYC 10003
212.505.7253 (SAKE)

NYC: Niigata tasting at Sakaya

sakaya.gifFREE tasting of special sake from Niigata sake selection. They will be pouring: Kirizan Junmai Daiginjo, Minogawa Koshi no Omachi Junmai Daiginjo, & Kakurei Plum Sake

324 E. 9th Street (btwn 1st & 2nd Ave.)
NYC 10003
212.505.7253 (SAKE)

NYC: Tsushima Kagatobi Dinner

Join Kagatobi week!

Pairing Dinner at Tsushima Restaurant
141 East 47th St.
New York, NY 10017
Tel. 212-207-1938