If you can count on one thing, I would say it’s that the folks involved with the Akita Sake Club know how to throw a sake party! It’s that time of year again, and I was lucky enough to snag an ticket to the wonderful and fun Akita Sake Club sake tasting!

This time around, there was a great selection of sakes from Akita but also from other prefectures, too! A great time was had by all and I really enjoyed this chance to taste some old, new and reacquainted sakes.

IF you want to go to the next Akita Sake Club sake tasting event, keep your eye on my Sake Event Listing (subscribe to feed here). I’ll post it there for sure.

Lovely Akita Ladies pour sake!

Lovely Akita Ladies pour sake!

Fukuda-san is introducing Murai Family Sakes.  I served this on the sake cruise!

Fukuda-san is introducing Murai Family Sakes. I served this on the sake cruise!

Kuno-san pours Tengumai

Kuno-san pours Tengumai

This sake event was BYOB (bring your own Ochoko) to help save the earth.

This sake event was BYOB (bring your own Ochoko) to help save the earth.

The crowds love Akita sake!

The crowds love Akita sake!

Wearing Kimono makes sake taste better! Everyone knows that!

Wearing Kimono makes sake taste better! Everyone knows that!

Kanpai-NY.com

Kanpai-NY.com

From the Event Sponsor:
Kanpai NY

Hi Everyone, Please join us for our post-Thanksgiving bar night at Soba Totto on Saturday, November 28th. This time around we’ll be celebrating the end of the Fall with drink specials ($2 off) on three of the best Hiyaoroshi namazake of the season (Sawanoi, Urakasumi, and Wakatake Onikoroshi). Looking forward to seeing you as we begin the holiday season! Eamon

New York, NY 10017 – USA

Saturday, November 28 at 7:00 PM

Attending: 5

Details: http://www.meetup.com/kanpai-ny/calendar/11945928/

Mr. Sato President of Hinomaru Brewery

Mr. Sato President of Hinomaru Brewery

I was delighted to get the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Jouji Sato, president of Akita’s Hinomaru Jozo Sake Brewery. Sato-san was in New York promoting his sakes and my friend Linda Noel Kawabata arranged for us to talk. Linda is the USA Brand Manager for Akita Sake Promotion and Export Council (ASPEC) and she translated all my questions and the answers from Sato-san.

This was a really fun and unique opportunity to meet one-on-one with a sake brewer and ask just about anything. I had met Sato-san before at tastings and events, but this was my first opportunity to sit down and talk at length. Needless to say, I learned so much – Sato-san is a charming, engaging personality and his true love for sake and his native Akita Prefecture was easy to feel. He’s dedicated to making the best sake – and I think the career he had in banking, before taking over the family brewery, give him a special vantage point.

Manabita Kimoto Junmai Ginjo

Manabita Kimoto Junmai Ginjo

Timothy Sullivan: Do you have a message for American Drinkers of your sake?

Jouji Sato:

The first thing I would say is I want them to try my sake!! Try Manabito Jumai Daiginjo and Manabito Kimoto Junmai Ginjo!

Timothy Sullivan: How difficult was it to choose which of your sakes to import?

Jouji Sato: It was very difficult. It’s complicated because one company, one brand, one importer is the rule. We weren’t thinking so much about that when we first contemplated coming to the United States. In retrospect we may have been naive. I did not want to get behind the times.

When you export to a foreign country it’s a very complicated process. We actually tried our first exports 10 years ago. At that time, we would have never imagined that this New York Market for Sake would expand as it did.

Timothy Sullivan: 10 years ago?

Jouji Sato: Yes. 10 years ago I lost my Father suddenly. I was working as an investment banker and I had to suddenly quit the bank and take over the family brewery. At that time I never would have dreamt there would be any opportunity to travel internationally for sake business. When I left the bank, I thought for sure that was the end of my traveling – I actually put my passport away. So, this interview right here, right now – and what’s happening with the blossoming of the New York / USA sake market – I could never even have imagined this 10 years ago.

Timothy Sullivan: How important is the New York/American market? I hear from Brewers that sake sales are increasing in the US market, but is that just a drop in the bucket in regards to overall sales? or is this emerging American market a true help?

Jouji Sato: I think there are only one or two breweries for whom the tremendous investment to export to America has really paid off. For the most part, most brewers export well under 10% of their production to foreign markets. But I think a handful of brewers export up to 20% of their production. At Hinomaru Brewery we export 3% of our production – I’m aiming for 10%.

Timothy Sullivan: Do you brew your sake differently to be geared towards your local Akita market? …or geared towards the larger Japanese market? …or even geared towards foreign markets?

Manabito Junmai Daiginjo

Manabito Junmai Daiginjo

Jouji Sato: That’s a great question. Now, the sad thing is we can’t brew only for our local market anymore. We have to approach brewing our sake with a national market in mind, so we’re thinking of Tokyo, which is our primary market. In regards to the sake I sell here in the US and the sake I sell in Akita, Japan – I brew different products. I don’t know about otherbreweries but for me, it’s different products for different markets.

For example, when my sake is tasted in New York, I want it to express and carry with it Japanese culture, so I’m bringing a very sophisticated sake to this market. I don’t have confidence that the sake that is enjoyed by locals in Akita would be successful in the New York or US market because it’s a hard sell in a market like Tokyo. On the other hand, the interesting thing is that the Americans are so open and receptive, that the likelihood of succeeding with even the local Akita style sakes is more of a possibility here than in Japan.

The food in Akita is very salty, so we have to make something for the local Akita market that is slightly sweet to balance with the local cuisine. We bring that sake to Tokyo or other parts of japan – it doesn’t fit their cuisine. But as we’re eating here in New York or other parts of the United States the Japanese restaurants are not serving “regional” food – it’s more “homogenized” in the US. And for us the greatest joy is the abundance of other cuisines in America for which sake is such an ideal match. Cheese dishes, seafood dishes, vegetarian dishes and the wonderful eclectic food here.

Timothy Sullivan: Since you brew a sake targeted to the American market, have you made any changes or adjustments to the profile of the sake so far?

Sato-san at Joy of Sake 2009

Sato-san at Joy of Sake 2009

Jouji Sato: We’ve only been exporting this sake for a year, so we haven’t done any of that yet. But for me, more than considering changing our recipe is to continue to make our sakes that hold up so well at room temperature . Because I have observed that room temperature is the temperature that most of the sake is going to be stored, like wines. So my observation is that you can’t be 100% successful in this market if you don’t have a sake that stores like wine, and can be served chilled or warmed. The American customer will demand that.

My sake is very unique in that both the Manabito Jumai Daiginjo and the Manabito Kimoto Junmai Ginjo are matured in air tight bottles at very low temperature at the brewery for a full two years. So they have two years to become exquisitely balanced, round, rich, smooth and stable. They hold up beautifully to whatever cuisine they encounter. Whereas a sake that is released young is going to be constantly effected by the variable temperatures. In brewing Manabito sake we aim for the perfect acidity levels that also help the sake remain stable regardless of the storage conditions in wine stores and restaurants. I’m confident that my sakes are incredibly delicious and incredibly stable.

Timothy Sullivan: Since you had years of experience as an investment banker in the business world outside of the brewery before becoming president, is there anything you changed in the production process to modernize things or did you stick with traditional brewing methods only?

Jouji Sato: We have an expression in Japanese… “There are things worth changing and things worth keeping the same.” Regardless of my desire to have my sake be popular in New York or Tokyo, there are things about the production of sake that cannot stray from tradition.

For example, the yeast. In my Grandfather’s day, it was the milling of the rice that allowed them to attain more delicate flavors. Nowadays there are many more types of yeast available. I don’t want to come out with a new sake every year using a different yeast. We use a limited number of yeasts that we traditionally used in the brewery. For me, the more important thing is how we handle the rice. So if you ask me, my joy comes from playing with the rice combinations… Earlier you asked me about regionality – that’s where I want to hold on to regionality because Akita is the Empire of Rice. I love using those rice blends to create elegant, aromatic yet stable sake. Having said that, I still enjoy the challenge of creating new things.

Timothy Sullivan: When was your brewery founded?

Jouji Sato: Hinomaru was founded in 1689. We are commemorating our 320th year. During the War we had to stop production for a little while – we had no rice for brewing.

Timothy Sullivan: How many brewery works do you have?

Jouji Sato: We have ten workers.

Timothy Sullivan: Only ten?!

Jouji Sato: At one time, we had 80 workers. Before the War, we were one of the largest breweries in the Tohoku region. The Second world war brought a lot of destruction to the area and to our brewery. So after the War, my father had to start from zero, or even less than zero, to rebuild.

Hinomaru Kura Building

Hinomaru Kura Building

What was left was a single Kura building and the entitlement to our Brewery Name “Hinomaru”. Hinomaru is also how we Japanese refer to our National Flag.

320 years ago when the name was given our brewery was the pride of the country. But we have suffered the political consequences of the name “Hinomaru” is also what went down with the War. So after the Japanese lost the War, anything to do with the flag was indicative of our defeat. But my father didn’t want to give up the name and continued to brew sake under the name “Hinomaru”. Even within Japan just the Brewery name is part of the pride and the burden we carry. It should be the thing that gives us most pride, but when the name of your business is the name of the National Flag, it has a burden too.

Timothy Sullivan: Do you have any final message for your American consumers?

Jouji Sato: I’ve only been in the American market for just a year, so many people may have not had a chance to know I’m in the market. But I would love to ask the American Public – once you’ve had a chance to try my sake please tell me what you think of it! Because with that in mind, you can be sure that I’ll do my best to make the sake from my brewery that you will always love. When I sell my sake in Japan, inside the box is a little postcard. In America, there is not box, it’s just the bottle… so I can’t put a postcard in. But today we’ve got the internet! You can leave a comment at the ASPEC web-site: info@ aspec-sake.com or even with you Timothy at urban sake. I value every comment!

When you’re a brewery of our size – we’re the 5th smallest sake brewery in Akita – the most valuable thing we offer our customers is ourselves. Some sake may be cheap or new and different, but the most important thing in the long run is the Brewery..the people…. so when they taste Manabito sake, I want them to taste the brewery and the spirit of “manabito” or “true integrity”… and maybe a little bit of my quirky personality, too!

Timothy Sullivan: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions… I feel like i’ve learned so much!

Jouji Sato: I could answer only because you asked. Thanks for asking!

Timothy Sullivan: Thank you, Sato-san!

Timothy with Sato-san

Timothy with Sato-san

I saw this great news tidbit on Kyodo News and found this fantastic! I wonder if sake has been served in the White House yet? prolly has! I’m especially excited as this story features Koichi Saura from Sake Samurai and Urakasumi fame! Yea Saura-san!

Via Kyodo News:

Japanese sake makes debut in British parliament

Saura-san

Saura-san

Koichi Saura (L), a board member of the Japan Sake Brewers Association, and Lord Pearson of Rannoch open a sake barrel in front of a picture of the House of Lords during a party at Westminster in London on Nov. 18, 2009. The party, held to commemorate the 150th anniversary of bilateral relations, became the first event at which Japanese rice wine was served in the building. (Kyodo)

When Sake Hana talks, people listen! or at least rabid sake fans listen. I was happy to be on the Sake Hana email list to get a notice about a special event being held in their little sake hideaway.

Scott, Chizuko-san and I made our reservations for a special event: Naraman Muroka sake at different temperatures! Same sake – 5 different tastes.

Sake Sommelier Chizuko and Tim Enjoy Naraman

Sake Sommelier Chizuko and Tim Enjoy Naraman

Best part of all, Nobuo Shoji-san, Executive Director of Yumegokoro Sake Brewery – makers of Naraman – would be introducing all sake! Shoji-san gave us a fascinating overview of his Brewery and we sampled only Naraman Muroka sake with a little tuna sashimi and increasingly warm sake.

Here is an overview of the different sake temperatures:

Sake Naming and Temperature Chart
Japanese Name Celsius Fahrenheit English Name
Tobikirikan 55° C 133° F Very Hot Sake
Atsukan 50° C 122° F Hot Sake
Jokan 45° C 113° F Slightly Hot Sake
Nurukan 40° C 104° F Warm Sake
Hitohadakan 35° C 95° F Body Temperature
Hinatakan 30° C 86° F Sunbathing in Summer
Zuzuhie 15° C 59° F Cool autumn Breeze
Hanahie 10° C 51° F Blooming Spring Flower
Yukihie 5° C 41° F Falling Winter Snow

Honestly, I liked Naraman at all temperatures, but I think that hitohadakan (body temperature) was one of my favorite. Shoji-san was excited to try this temperature experiment with his sake, too. Everyone in attendance had a great time. I was left with the understanding that served warm or cold, Naraman is hot, hot, hot!

Shoji-san and Tim enjoying Naraman

Shoji-san and Tim enjoying Naraman

sakaya.gifVine Connection Sake Tasting at Sakaya

Vine Connection Sake Tasting
When: Sat Dec 19, 2009 5pm to Sat Dec 19, 2009 7pm EST
Where: Sakaya

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

Sakagura

Sakagura

KAMOIZUMI NIGHT Night at SAKAGURA!

Sakagura and Kamoizumi Shuzo Co., LTD. Present
“KAMOIZUMI NIGHT”
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 19TH, 2009
7:00 PM TO 9:00 PM

Sakagura is cordially invites you to a Thursday evening tasting event of great sakes and seasonal appetizers with Kamoizumi Shuzo
from Hiroshima, Japan.
http://www.kamoizumi.co.jp/about/index.php#gaiyou (Japanese only)

We will welcome Mr. Kazuhiro Maegaki, the 4th generation Kamoizumi, and Ms. Keiko Sato from World Sake Imports as special SAKE lecturers.

Tasting event will feature carefully selected sakes and seasonal appetizer and also, special price of “Nurukan “, warm sake.

Kamoizumi Sake and Appetizer Set (50ml each) $20.00
· Kamoizumi Daiginjo (Not to be sold in the U.S. yet)
· Kamoizumi Nigori Ginjo “Summer Snow”
· Red Maple 2-Year aged Nama Genshu
And Lightly Seared Oyster

“Nurukan” Special $10 → $5
Kamoizumi Shusen Junmai Ginjo (150ml)

Plus, special gift from Kamoizumi Brewery is being panned for you! Join us and look forward to the nights of delight and fun with sakes!

RSVP HOTLINES: 212-953-SAKE (7253)
Prompt RSVPs are recommended.

*Please note that this event is “first-come, first-served” basis. We cannot hold orders in advance. We have a minimum charge $10 per person.

We are looking forward to seeing many of you. Kanpai!!

SAKAGURA
211 EAST 43RD STREET B1F NEW YORK. NY 10017
(BET 2 AND 3RD AVENUE)
212-953-SAKE (7253)
www.sakagura.com

The good sake times keep rollin’ people! What is it about the Fall that delivers so many wonderful sake-rific events?! Must be the start of the sake brewing season that gets everyone’s sake mojo flowing and the events underway.

I’m all for sake mojo so let’s take a look at my latest tasting adventure took me to the Wine of Japan Fall 2009 Sake Tasting event.

When Sake fans hear the word “Shirakawago”, they usually think of one thing: Nigori! This event finally afforded me the opportunity to meet Mr. Miwa who makes the famous Nigoris. I learned something interesting – the Nigori that they export is called “SasaNigori” which is not the thickest they have their full nigori is super, super thick and creamy – I’ve never had anything like it! I was happy to get a taste! If you love Nigori, you gotta check out Shirakawago.

Miwa-san makes the famous Shirakawago Nigori

Miwa-san makes the famous Shirakawago Nigori

I also met the president of Nakamura Brewery. They are located in beautiful Ishikawa prefecture. The Sake they are importing now is called Kaga Setsubai and is a wonderfully rounded Junmai. They also had a smaller cup sake that is meant to be frozen and drunk like a slushie. Slushies have never been so fun!

Nakamura-san with the delicious Kaga Setsubai Sake

Nakamura-san with the delicious Kaga Setsubai Sake

Takaisami Brewery is another producer I got to know a little better at this tasting. They were serving a Junmai and their Nakadare Junmai Ginjo. Both were excellent and the visiting Brewery reps were super friendly. I really enjoyed drinking their sake.

Takaisami Brewery introduces Nakadare Junmai Ginjo

Takaisami Brewery introduces Nakadare Junmai Ginjo

I didn’t get to try everything at this tasting, but I still had a lot of fun. There were many outstanding brews from Wine of Japan imports that are still to be tasted. Hope you’ll join me to explore their sakes!

I was lucky enough to hear about a true “underground” tasting at Decibel, the much beloved downstairs sake bar in the East Village. The vibe was very much a Japanese speakeasy crossed with a flash mob. It was crowded, but fun to see all the regular Decibel customers enjoying a taste of some fantastic sakes.

The sakes featured were Wine of Japan imports and included Tenzan, Sawanoi, Shirayuki and many others and were being introduced by the brewers themselves!

Tenzan Brewery President Mr. Shichida called on his friend Tenzan Man to step in and help introduce his sake to Americans. Although he looks like he might bodyslam you ala Hulk Hogan, Tenzan Man is all about the sake. His mask even has “Tenzan” written in Japanese Kanji! The most well known of their sakes is the ‘Jizake Tenzan’, which is the very strong Genshu style sake. Powerful and delicious!

Ya gotta love New York! Meet Tenzan Man!

Ya gotta love New York! Meet Tenzan Man!

I also met up with Mr. Kodama who was kind enough to show me around Sawanoi Brewery on my recent trip to their brewery. Kodama-san was introducing his Tokyo Prefecture sakes to the large crowd at Decibel. The sakes from Sawannoi are fantastic and despite making a lot of sake, they maintain the hand crafted, micro brewed feeling. Delicious.

Kodama-san from Sawanoi

Kodama-san from Sawanoi

Shirayuki is a brewery I have not had the chance to visit yet, but I was happy to meet Mr. Minamikawa who let me taste a selection of their brews. They are a large producer of sake and have a big distribution both at home and abroad. Minamikawa-san was great at explaining the ins and outs of each of his sakes.

Minamikawa-san Introducing Shirayuki

Minamikawa-san Introducing Shirayuki

This was such a fun event! I hope you all have a chance to visit Decibel sometime soon. It’s the ultimate east village “underground” sake bar! Tell ’em Urban Sake sent you!

The Crowd at Decibel

The Crowd at Decibel

Matsuri Restuarant has been ramping up their sake events and I was delighted to attend a recent event there devoted to Umenoyado sake sponsored by Daiei Trading Sake Importers. I last had Umenoyado sake at a tasting event at Sakaya back in Feb 2009. It was there that I first met Mr. Moriura. Moriura-san did a great job presenting his sake and I loved getting to know the great Umenoyado sakes again.

With Moriura-san and Bizen Omachi

With Moriura-san and Bizen Omachi

Let’s take a look at the sakes we tasted at this great event:

ume no yado junmai ginjoUme No Yado Junmai Ginjo

This is perhaps the best known sake from Ume No Yado currently in the US.

What I like about it is the somewhat rich character and the fact that it doesn’t shy away from rice flavors. It’s extremely drinkable and very enjoyable.

umenoyado junmai_daiginjoUme No Yado Junmai Daiginjo Bizen Omachi

This is a delicious sake made with the rare but well known “Bizen Omachi” rice.

It’s hard to grow and gives this sake a beautifully unqiue taste. this Junmai Daiginjo is milled to an amazing 40%. Look for the signature smooth taste.

umenoyado_yuzuUme No Yado Yuzu-shu

Yuzu is a well known taste in Japanese cuisine, but less so here. it’s often called a “japanese lemon” and it a unique citrus worthy of your attention.

This low alcoholsake is made with the addition of fresh yuzu juice that is summed up in one word: “Refreshing”!

umenoyado_umeUme No Yado Ume-shu

This is a low alcohol Plum sake or “ume-shu”. It’s sweet without being overpowering and if you like the taste of plums, you in for a treat. Enjoy as dessert after a meal! And who better to explore what Ume can do than the Plum house itself “Ume no Yado”!

Sake Tasting

Sake Tasting

We've arrived at Matsuri

We've arrived at Matsuri

sakaya.gifNiigata SENA Tasting at Sakaya

Niigata SENA Tasting
When Sat, December 12, 4pm – 6pm
Where SAKAYA
Description Kakurei Daiginjo & Kirinzan Daiginjo

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

sakaya.gifSakaya Anniversary Tasting

SAKAYA Anniversary Tasting
When Fri, December 5, 5pm – 7pm
Where SAKAYA

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

sakaya.gifSakaya Anniversary Tasting

SAKAYA Anniversary Tasting
When Fri, December 4, 6pm – 8pm
Where SAKAYA

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

sakaya.gif Takaisami Tokubetsu Junmai Tasting at Sakaya

Takaisami Tokubetsu Junmai Tasting
When Sat, November 28, 5pm – 7pm
Where SAKAYA

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

sakaya.gif JFC Sake Tasting at Sakaya

JFC Sake Tasting
When: Fri, November 20, 6pm – 8pm
Where: SAKAYA
Description: Gasanryu Honjozo & Junmai (Yamagata)

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

sakaya.gifWataribune Junmai Ginjo at Sakaya

Wataribune Junmai Ginjo at Sakaya
Sat, November 14, 5pm – 7pm

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