Masuda Tokubee Shoten, makers of Tsukinokatsura brand sake are famous in Japan and throughout the world. They sell their sakes from Kyoto to New York, Paris, Berlin and beyond. I received an invitation to visit the brewery and got to see what makes Tsukinokatsura special. This brewery was founded in 1675!

Tokubee Masuda-san pours a tasting at his Kyoto Brewery

Tsukinokatsura makes several wonderful sakes for sale in the U.S., but one thing I learned on this trip, was that they have been aging sakes for years. Seeing their storage room for aging sakes was a revelation! I got to try some of their aged sakes too – just fantastic. Unfortunately, not for sale in the U.S. yet, but I got to sample a few of their aged sakes and they were fantastic.

Visiting the Tsukinokatsura brewery left me understanding better their dedication to sake and it’s traditional methods. But they also help forge a new path and have been aging sake for decades! Look for their sake everywhere!

This month, I had the wonderful the opportunity to travel to Kyoto, Japan to celebrate with three friends who were each awarded the title of Sake Samurai 2012!

I had the good fortune to be awarded Sake Samurai in 2007, and I’m over the moon to relive these good memories with good friends!

Meet the new Sake Samurai for 2012!

First up is Ayuchi Momose. I first met Momose-san when she was a sake sommelier at Sakagura restaurant. I always had lovely memories of Momose so kindly introducing me to new sakes and so many good nights at Sakagura. Momose has gone on to become the owner of a hot new sake bar in Hong Hong called Sake Bar Ginn. Check it out if you’re ever in Hong Kong!

Next is Sylvain Huet, who runs the popular La Passion du Saké Sake Blog in Paris. Sylvain is the premier sake authority in France and a wonderful guy to boot! We first met in NYC several years ago and connected as fellow sake bloggers. He’s spreading the good word of sake in the capitol of wine. Salut!

Chizuko being awarded Sake Samurai at Shimogamo Jinja in Kyoto Japan. Together with Sekiya-san of Horaisen Sake Brewery.

Last but not least is our dear friend Chizuko Niikawa Helton. Chiz also started her sake career at Sakagura Restaurant and went on to found her own sake PR and promotion company called Sake Discoveries, LLC. Chiz is well known in NYC for organinzing all kinds of sake event, tastings, fundraisers and, well, you name it! Anything related to sake, and Chiz is most likely a part of the action. I’ve had the good fortune to work closely with Chiz for several years. Congratulations!!

The Ceremony itself was little changed since 2007. I’ve found more than anything, I’ve changed! Since I became Sake Samurai 5 years ago, I’ve left my day job and devoted my work full time to the sake industry. It’s been quite the evolution! I still remember how nervous I was in 2007, but I hope I’ve grown a lot since then.

Sake Samurai Ceremony 2012 at Shimogamo Jinja in Kyoto Japan.

I want to extend my sincere congratulations to Momose, Sylvain and Chizuko. Three fantastic Sake Samurai doing good sake work around the globe! Here’s a Kanpai for lots of good sake events ahead!

Urban Sake Tasting Club

One of my big sake goals for this year was to start a tasting club in New York City. My idea was to create a monthly meeting where folks can come together and learn a little something about sake, taste something delicious and, of course, have some fun!

Well, as of Oct 8th, we’re wheels up on Urban Sake Tasting Club!

Tenzan, Narutotai, Born: All Genshu!

The Genshus for our tasting set were Jizake Tenzan Junmai Genshu, Narutotai Nama Genshu Ginjo and Born Muroka Nama Genshu Junmai Daiginjo.

Sakagura also provided us with a wonderful appetizer to enjoy with our Sake. This time it will be a delicious “Kinoko no Ohitashi” (Seasonal Mushroom seasoned with Bonito Infused Soy). This was a great mix of several fall mushrooms! yummy!

Check out our Urban Sake Tasting Club page for updates and info about our next meetings! Hope to see you there!

Mutual Trading Company has a wonderful trade show each year showcasing their food and sake products. It’s not open to the general public, but for industry folks, it’s something to look forward to each year.

Somehow, this year again, I managed to finagle my way in and enjoyed a lot of good sake. Check out the gallery below for snapshots and comments on the different sakes to discover at Mutual Trading! Kanpai for lots of good sake!

Sake Day!

Santa Claus has Christmas, Leprechauns have St. Patrick’s Day and I’ve got Sake Day. Designated as the official start day each year to the fall sake brewing season, it’s also a darn good reason to get out there and taste some sake.

Sakagura had an offer I couldn’t refuse. We’re talking about 7 Daiginjo sakes by the glass for a special price of $10.01 each (regular price $50 -23 per glass each). Mama mia, that’s the way to celebrate Sake day!

I started with Tedorigawa Mangekyo Daiginjo. This sake has the transcendent taste of a perfect daiginjo. Smooth, soft and silky, this beautiful sake is aged at a low temperature for two years for added depth. Production of this sake is limited to only 400 bottles per year. Clean, light, bright and seductive, drinking this sake at $10.01 a glass was virtual highway robbery, but I enjoyed very sip.

Tedorigawa Mangekyo Daiginjo

Next I tried the iconic Daishichi Horeki Junmai Daiginjo Kimoto. This is a pristine, perfect Kimoto Junmai Daiginjo as only Daishichi can do it. If you think Kimoto type sake is rough and tumble, you haven’t lived until you’ve tasted Daishichi. Elegant, effusive, beautiful and pure, this sake is a masterpiece!

Finally I ponied up for a fantastical Junmai daiginjo from Fukui. We’re talking of course about Born’s Yume Wa Masayume Junmai Daiginjo aka “Dreams Come True”. This aged sake is beautiful and rich with a clean palate that leaves you wanting more. It’s said that if you drink this sake, then you have dreams of our future that night. I think I clearly had dreams of drinking more Yume wa Masayume.

Grilled Ika

To wash down all this sake, I ordered a simple Sakagura appetizer of grilled squid. This was perfect to balance out all the fine flavors of sake with some clean grilled ika. delicious!!

Here’s hoping you had a wonderful, sake filled “Nihonshu no hi” or “Sake Day”! Sake production has stared in Japan and we’ve only got more and more wonderful sakes to look forward to in this brewing year! And here’s a big Kanpai to that! Thanks to Sakagura for the wonderful Sake Day celebration! Here’s to next year! Kanpai!!

That’s a lot of sake

The Annual Joy of Sake Event is the largest sake tasting outside of Japan, featuring over 350 sakes to taste, study and enjoy in an action packed 3 hours. This year’s Joy of Sake was a fun whirlwind as usual with table, upon table, upon table of delicious sakes to explore and lots of great sake friends, old and new, to catch up with.

Separated over two levels, sake and food from several top restaurants, are well placed and easy to navigate. The sake was judged back in July at the U.S. National Sake Appraisal held in Honolulu.

The results of that blind tasting are discernible on the tables – The entries that receive the highest scores at the Appraisal are marked with gold and silver stars accordingly. These stars let you know what the team of 10 judges liked, but the true test for anyone is to sample for yourself!

Yoshida Family Pouring Tedorigawa

Going up against this many sakes is certainly overwhelming to mind, body and palate, so I try to keep it fun and enjoy myself along the way.

This event also gives you the chance to talk to Sake Brewers who fly in just for this tasting. If you didn’t make it this year, don’t miss your chance next September!

One thing is for sure, by attending this mega-tasting, you’re certain to befriend a new sake… and find a new sake friend! Here’s to both! Looking forward to seeing you next year, Joy!

Akiko Ohashi with Akira Sake

JFC is one of the premier importing companies that bring sakes into the U.S. and as such they have a yearly trade show which I was lucky enough to attend this year.

JFC has some wonderful sake brands in their portfolio and this year, I got to do one of my favorite things – to meet sake brewers from Japan and talk to them about their sakes. I got in a few questions in my broken Japanese, but in the end we all spoke the language of Nihonshu!

Let’s start with some of the brands that were new to me this time!

Takenosuke Yasufuku with Fukuju Sake

I really enjoyed trying this sake from Kobe – we’re talking about Fukuju sake from Kobe Shinshukan Brewery. This sake in the beautiful blue bottle was extremely balanced and elegant. Refined and pure – Loved it! Brewery President Takenosuke Yasufuku introduced me to this gem. Delicious!

Next I enjoyed a brew from Yamagata Prefecture. I’m talking about a delicious sake from Hatsumomidi Brewery: Harada Muroka Nama Junmai Ginjo. I enjoyed speaking with Brewery President Mr. Yasuhiro Harada. I think I surprised him when I mentioned I’ve been to Yamaguchi several times. This sake was rich and delicious. It’s a satisfying, full bodied, undiluted Muroka style sake.

Later, I got a chance to try some brands that I knew already and really enjoyed trying again, looking under the hood and kicking the tires.

Takakasu Nate with Kurosushi Sake

One recent favorite was Kuroushi Black Bull Junmai Ginjo from Nate Shuzoten Sake Brewery in Wakayama. This Junmai Ginjo is milled to 50% and is a fresh, smooth and citrus-y brew with a touch of richness. It’s instantly like-able and so easy to enjoy.

I got a chance to talk to Brewery President Takakazu Nate and he seemed quiet and reserved, but I think I know – he let’s his sake do the talking. Once sip and you’ll get it.

Next I enjoyed meeting Mareko Shinjo, Senior Managing Director at Suehiro Sake Brewery. This Fukushima brewery has a wide range of sakes being imported into the USA. The most well known may be the Suehiro Ken Daiginjo. It has a fruity aroma and a bit of a dry finish.

Kakutaro Kubo of Ippongi Sake Brewery with Yukie Hashimoto from Sakagura

Now JFC has lots of well known breweries, which made this event such a wonderful experience. In addition to the above, I also enjoyed talking to Akiko Ohashi representing Akira Organic Junmai Sake. I had the pleasure of visiting Kanazawa Daiichi and it was great to see Ohashi-san again! I also caught up with Kubo-san from Ippongi Kubo Honten Sake brewery and I got a taste of his secret Umeshu – Spicy! Plus they had their wonderful seasonal Nama selection on display – watch for it around town.

Shindo-san pouring Gasanryu Sake!

I also had the pleasure of seeing Mr. & Mrs. Murai from Asabiraki Sake Brewery. I’m still dreaming of my sip of Kyokusen Junmai Daiginjo. Last year I also visited Masunobu Shindo in Yamagata. He brews the outstanding Gasanryu Sakes. Always delicious!

Last but not least, I also tasted the wonderful sakes of Daishichi Sake Brewery in Fukushima. These sakes are wonderful and really transport you to another place and time. Really wonderful to enjoy these sakes and taste the full range again. They represent a true achievement in Kimoto sake brewing technique! give them a try!

The JFC event was so much fun, and I learned, and tasted a lot, too. It is always so eye opening to meet the brewers who make the sake happen. Always a thrill. Can’t wait to explore the JFC brews next year!!