Akita Friends!

Another spring, another Akita Sake Club tasting! And let me tell you, those Akita folks know how to enjoy their sake! This event is always a lot of fun and recently, has graciously included sake from other prefectures as well.

All the Akita sakes where on one table and allowed you to taste your way through Akita and go right down the line. I tasted such delicious sakes as Taiheizan Tenko Junmai Daiginjo, Kariho Namahage Junmai, and Akitabare Shunsetsu Honjozo Nama.

A wonderful tasting and fun for all… Next Akita event should be in the fall. Stay tuned to the UrbanSake.com Events Calendar for an announcement!

With Philip Harper

New York’s biggest nihonshu blowout, The Joy of Sake 2012, is heading our way soon. As a run up to the big day, there are some fun events taking place.

The first of these was an evening of sake sipping and a little bit of sake learning with Tamagawa Toji Mr. Philip Harper. After a nice intro from World Sake Import’s Chris Pierce, Philip addressed the group about the ins and out of Kimoto and Yamahai sake production as it compared to the modern Sokujo yeast starter method. This may sound complex, but Philip made it easy to understand. Loved it. It was a great event and it really made me look forward to the main Joy of Sake event coming on September 20th. EN Japanese Brasserie provided a beautiful backdrop for the event as usual with some yummy nibbles to boot.

Some of the great sakes featured in this aftertaste event Shichida Yamahai Junmai Ginjo, Urakasumi Zen and of course all the Tamagawa sakes that Philip brought from Kinoshita Brewery. Can’t wait for the other Aftertaste events in New York!

Philip Harper & Sakagura's Manager Yukie

In Japan, a master sake brewer is known as a Toji. They train for years and it’s their job to manage the day to day operations of sake production. And it’s not everyday that a Toji superstar blows into town, so I wasn’t about to miss my chance to talk sake with the Kyoto toji who makes Tamagawa Sake. Besides making some kick-ass sake, this Toji is a little, well… different from his colleagues in the Toji Guild. I’m talking of course about Philip Harper, the only non-Japanese toji in Japan.

Hailing from Cornwall, England, Philip became a Master Sake Brewer the old fashioned way… he earned it. Arriving in Japan in 1988, Harper worked his way up the sake industry ladder, taking and passing the Nanbu Brewer’s Guild Exam in 2001, whereby he became the first and only non-Japanese person to earn the title of Toji. In 2007, he joined Kyoto’s Kinoshita Sake Brewery, makers of the Tamagawa brand and became their toji.

This week, Sakagura Restaurant hosted Philip Harper at a tasting event featuring four of his Tamagawa Sakes, two of which are not available in the U.S. All of the sakes served were very interesting – each in their own way. Two are currently imported, the delicious Tamagawa Kinsho Daiginjo and the loveable Tamagawa Tokubetsu Junmai.

The scene stealers, however, were the rowdy Tamagawa Junmai Yamahai Nama Genshu “White Label” and the outrageous Tamagawa “Time machine 1712” Junmai Kimoto. The Yamahai Nama Genshu is brewed letting the house yeast fermentation run pedal-to-the-metal until the alcohol tops out at a staggering 20-21.5%! This makes for a strong, seasoned and sneaky yamahai – sneaky because it is still so smooth, drinkable and enjoyable as such sky high alcohol percentages.

New Tamagawa Fans

The “Time Machine 1712” is brewed using a sake recipe from the year – you guessed it – 1712. This funky brew gives us a window into what sake lovers in Edo may have been enjoying. The taste is suprising – quite sweet with noticeably higher acidity. Pairing this sake with ice cream or blue cheese is a shogun slam dunk. Sakagura reserved the back room for the tasting with delicious appetizers served between generous pours of all the sakes in a socialble stand up style reception. Fun!

Tasting all these marvelous Tamagawa sakes, you can tell without a doubt that Philip is deeply devoted to his craft, and has a true love of creatively and deliciously pushing the sake envelope. But you know what? My sake spidey sense is telling me even more adventurous sakes from Harper are yet to come. What does the future hold? We’ll just have to wait and see where the Toji of Cornwall leads us next.

Sake Bar Yopparai kicked off May with a fun evening of yummy-sake-drinking and good-food-eating by partnering with Dassai Brewery for an event called “Deeply Dassai, Yopparai Style”. The event focused on a 5 course set menu, all paired with Dassai Sakes. Sounds good, but wait – there’s more… the little surprise is that many of the dishes were cooked using Dassai Sake Kasu (lees), the rice solids left over after pressing the sake. Dassai Sake Kasu is impossible to get here, but some was brought in especially for this one night.

Drumroll please – Here’s a glimpse at the menu:

Deeply Dassai Tasting Menu

Aperitif: Yopparai Cocktail w/ Dassai 50 Sparkling. Dassai 23 Sake Lees Wasabizuke.

1st Course: Daikon Radish Salad/Tomato Salad. Sashimi Assortment. Pairing: Dassai 50

2nd Course: Ebi Shinjo. Kurobuta Black pork Belly. Pairing: Dassai 39

3rd Course: Dassai 23 Sake Lees Marinated Grilled Fish. Pairing Dassai 23.

4th Course: Dassai 23 Sake Lees Kasu Jiru Miso Soup. Rice. Pickles.

Dessert: Dassai 23 Sake Lees soft serve ice cream.

If you’ve never tasted sake lees before, it’s important to know that not all lees are created equal. The Dassai 23 Junmai Daiginjo Lees are considered a rare and premium product. The taste is reminiscent of sake, but with hints of rice, a whiff of premium alcohol and light fermentation. Lees are used a lot in Japanese cooking and this menu allowed us to sample a wide range of uses for sake lees in one meal – from the Wasabi appetizer to the sake flavored ice cream – Genius! It’s a subtle taste that pairs so well with the sake, but doesn’t overwhelm. The folks at Sake Bar Yopparai got it right!

I think if I had to pick one, I most enjoyed the grilled fish that was marinated in Dassai 23 sake kasu and then served with Dassai 23 Junmai Daiginjo to drink. Simply delicious!

The Sakes themselves were served by Sakurai-san, 4th Generation Owner of Dassai Brewery as well as Dassai Sales Rep Asumi-san who came all the way from Japan for the event! The Dassai signature style is smooth, easy drinking, light fruit on the palate and delicious. You can read my interview with Saurai-san here.

The whole evening was a study in enjoying the essence of Dassai with a Yopparai twist. And, yes, I’ve think I’ve fallen again – you guessed it – Deeply, Madly, Truly for Dassai.

There’s one event each year you can rely on to provide some exotic food and sake, a dash of glamour and some killer views of the Park. We’re talking about the Lucky Rice Grand Feast. Held annually and benefiting City Harvest, the Grand Feast is a celebration of good food, good drink and SAKE! Some of the top producers donate their sake for this fun and exciting event. I was on hand this year to help pour and introduce the sake to the guests.

This event is fun and filled to the rafters with serious foodies wanting to sample everything the event had to offer. Most guests start off sampling the appetizers and then make their way to the sake table. The represented brands included Born, Dassai, Tatenokawa, Tengumai, Amabuki and several others.

Several quests came up to me and, pointing to the sakes said, “I’m an absolute beginner with sake. Walk me through what we’ve got here.” For me, this was the most fun – being able to introduce the various sake brands that I know and love to enthusiastic folks wanting to get on board the sake soul train.

Giving the guests their first taste of a premium sake is a great feeling – it always recalls my first “a-ha” moment with premium sake, too – good times!

If you want to experience Lucky Rice for yourself, get on their mailing list and get your tickets early for next year. It’s a great way to sample food from some star chefs and also drink you fill from some of the best sakes in the world – who can ask for more than that?! All aboard!!