Tomita-san sprinkling Koji spores on freshly steamed rice at Tomita Shuzo

I first saw Tomita Shuzo in Japan’s Shiga Prefecture on a visit I took there in 2008. It’s interesting to note that it seems both a lot and nothing has changed. The brewery is still making small batches by hand with a small staff and achieving amazing results. But on the other hand, you can sense that Shichihonyari is now a more famous and sought after brand and even a destination for sake-loving tourists, whom I saw popping into the brewery sake shop with regularity on this most recent trip.

Hanging right above the entrance to the brewery is a wooden plaque carved with the name “Shichihonyari”. This plaque is famous as it was carved by Kitaoji Rosanjin (1883 – 1959), who is widely acknowledged as a creative genius in Japan and is most well known for his works in ceramics and as a master of calligraphy. It also doesn’t hurt that Shichihonyari was Rosanjin’s favorite sake.

Famous “Shichihonyari” sign carved by the creative genius Kitaoji Rosanjin (1883-1959)

On the day we were there, we saw rice steaming in action. This was a hot, fast-paced maneuver. Rice was steamed and hoisted over to the cooling conveyor belt on which the warm rice, that was heading for the koji room, also got a sprinkling of koji spores. As Tomita-san supervised and regularly checked the rice temperature, the kurabito shuffled the rice into bins that were then whisked to the koji room. Speed was of the essence and everybody brought it – working together, sweating and working hard. So much goes on behind the scenes that translates into that bottle of sake on your table. It was amazing to watch.

I think the magic of Shichihonyari is that it is an ancient brewery – one of the oldest in Japan, still working on an artisanal scale, but powered by young people wanting to make a difference. If that doesn’t qualify as “craft sake”, nothing would. In the U.S., Shichihonyari is now selling 3 sakes which will give you an excellent idea of the taste and vision of this brewery. I hope you get a chance to try Shichihonyari soon, and experience for yourself everything that made Rosanjin such a big fan.

Shata’s Toji gives us a taste of the Moromi!

One of the most well known sakes in Ishikawa Prefecture is Shata Shuzo’s Tengumai. I recently had the opportunity for return trip to Ishikawa and didn’t want to miss another chance to see the latest goings on at Tengumai. We were lucky enough to get a tour of the brewery by the Master Brewer (Toji) and I enjoyed sampling sake right from the moromi tank… this is a rare treat!

Koji ready for the next step!

We also spent a fair amount of time touring the Koji Muro or Koji making room. Outside the koji room itself were large trays of stacked koji, fished and waiting for it’s next step – addition to the main mash or yeast starter. Each batch of Koji was marked with unique markings that tell which step of the brewing process the koji is meant for. These markings are quite beautiful and fun to look at… and a piece of living sake history too

At the end of the tour, we got to sample some sakes which included Shata’s Go-Rin brand as well as Tengumai. The weather was beautiful this day and coming off such a beautiful brewery tour, it make the sake taste just that much more delicious.

Outside Masumi’s beautiful “Cella Masumi Sake Shop” with Mr. & Mrs. Miyasaka.

Miyasaka Shuzo’s Masumi is a well known and well loved brand of sake in the U.S. and one that was among the very first sakes I ever tried. It was therefore a long, long overdue visit, when the stars aligned and I got a chance to visit Nagano Prefecture for the first time and see the home of the beloved Masumi Arabashiri for myself!

Plaque at Masumi marking the location of the birthplace of “Nanano” or #7 yeast.

Mr. Miyasaka, President of Masumi, gave us a tour of the two Masumi Breweries, the original “Suwa Kura” and the larger “Fujimi Kura” which opened in 1982. The Suwa Kura is still in operation and has the distinction of being the birthplace of the famous “nanago” or Number 7 sake yeast, first identified in 1946, when Masumi swept the national Sake appraisal awards using this newly discovered yeast. A plaque marks the location of that first fermentation tank that used number 7 yeast… a yeast that is still used by 60% of breweries throughout Japan and a true point of pride for Masumi Brewery.

Inside the beautiful “Cella Masumi Shop”

The Brewery Tour concluded at the Cella Masumi Shop – a wonderful store managed and curated with great love and attention to detail by Mr. & Mrs. Miyasaka. The shop is one of the most beautiful stores of it’s type I’ve ever seen. Certainly, there is sake for sale in a beautiful refrigerated cabinet. But the shop also features a glorious selection of sake cups, carafes, trays, sets and the like, all of the highest quality. The shop also features food, gifts, and all manner of wonderful goodies for the sake inclined. If you’re anywhere near Nagano, it’s worth a trip to Suwa to drop in on Cella Masumi Shop, for sure.

My sincere thanks to the Miyasaka family for welcoming me so warmly to their home and brewery. I have a deeper appreciation for their wonderful sakes having seen where they are made up close and personal. Now I know next year’s Arabashiri will taste all the better for it.

Chizuko with Mr. Kaburaki

Last night was a night of beautiful sake and Kutani Porcelain at the elegant BoConcept store in Chelsea. Organized by our friend Chizuko of Sake Discoveries, the event featured a range of top end sakes and a display of gorgeous porcelain made by Kaburaiki Kutani Ware and on hand as a special guest was kinomo-clad Mr. Motoyoshi Kaburaki, the 8th generation owner.

The sakes presented were really an all star lineup! There was Dassai, Tengumai, Hakkaisan, Amabuki, Tatenokawa, Daishichi and Nanbu Bijin. I think that premium sake and the beautiful porcelain from Kanazawa was a match made in heaven. I am a firm believer that sake tastes better from more beautiful glassware. It certainly enhances the experience and heightens the senses.

The setting of BoConcept was also fun. It felt like being in an elegant Manhattan loft… well, one that had 7 stylish living rooms! Oh, and yummy hors d’oeuvres provided by Moto Creative Services. Loved the chicken teriyaki bites over rice.

All in all, a beautiful night of sake, fun and wonderful people… and it doesn’t hurt that I was able to pick out a new sofa and coffee table for my dream apartment along the way.


Learn more about Kaburaki Kutani Ware here:

Kaburaki Shoho Kutani Ware
1-3-16 Nagamachi,Kanazawa city, Ishikawa, 920-0865
Telephone +81 76 221 6666
http://kaburaki.jp/en/

Akita Sake Happi Coat

The genius behind the Akita Sake Club’s bi-annual tasting event is that, contrary to the name, they don’t limit their sakes to Akita sakes only. About half are from Akita, but it’s a wonderful chance to taste sakes from all over Japan with an emphasis on Akita.

This event was also the debut of some spiffy new Happi coats (featuring Akita’s famous Namahage) worn by volunteers pouring sake.

The event was packed! Lots of sake fans came from all over the city to eat some traditional Akita foods and pair that with wonderful Akita Sakes.

IWC award winning sake Fukukomachi

A special treat this year was the Daiginjo Fukukomachi from the Akita Kimura Shuzo. This sake was the International Wine Challange Champion Sake for 2012. What a treat to try this brew! I went back a few times for a taste of this delicious, smooth and subtle sake. It had a wonderful rounded flavor with a short finish – and sublime balance. Well done!

If you want to attend a Akita sake event in the future, Check out the Urban Sake Calendar regularly or like us on Facebook to keep up to date on all the Akita events!

Fukuju Tasting set

Last night, I enjoyed another fun night of sake at Sakagura. Fukuju brand, made by Hoygo’s Kobe Shushinkan Brewery was celebrated and they offered a tasting set for all the guests.

Visiting directly from the brewery was Mr. Kubota. Each guest who ordered the tasting set received a cute ochoko (sake cup) with the Fukuju logo. Mr. Kubota visited each guest and introduced his sakes personally. This type of one on one connection is something I feel really helps the sake industry to connect with the U.S. market.

Mr. Kubota, Yukie Hashimoto and Mr. Akaboshi at Sakagura’s Fukuju Night

The three sakes in the set included the delicious Fukuju Junmai Ginjo and the Fukuju Mikageko Junmai as well as the delicious Fukuju Junmai Unpasteurized (not yet for sale in the U.S.).

The event was a wonderful exploration of this sake from Kobe. Smooth, delicious and food friendly, all the things you want in a well-crafted sake. Look for Fukuju on a sake menu near you!

Hiyaoroshi Time!

Last night was the second Urban Sake Tasting Club Event! We held our event at Sakagura and focused this time on Hiyaoroshi Sakes, which are also known as “Fall Namas”.

We started the meeting with a fun “kagami biraki” which is a ceremonial breaking open of the sake barrel. We had a handy tabletop version (from Shichihonyari Brewery) that we used to formally open our event. It was a lot of fun cracking open the barrel! The first sake was then poured for everyone to enjoy and to do our Kanpai!

Kagami Biraki

The three Hiyaoroshi sakes we sampled at this meeting were Denshin Aki Namazume Hiyaoroshi Genshu Junmai, Urakasumi Tokubetsu Junmai Hiyaoroshi Namazume and Wakatake Aki No Ki-Ippon Namazume Hiyaoroshi Tokubetsu Junmai. Phew! those are some long names, but Hiyaoroshi boils down to the fact that it is only pasteurized once, before storage/cellaring for about 6 months. It’s released in the autumn season and had a distinctive, fun flavor that pairs beautifully with autumnal foods.

Speaking of foods, Sakagura prepared a wonderful appetizer of seared scallop over cucumber with a mango-egg yolk sauce. Delish!

Everyone with their favorite Hiyaoroshi!

After a brief lesson on Hiyaoroshi, we tasting all the sakes and compared our notes. Everyone had their own favorite! Then for the final hour of our meeting, we just let our hair down and had a lot of fun.

If you’re interested in joining the club yourself, you can sign up for our December 2012 Urban Sake Tasting Club event now! See the event listing here. Hope to see you there!

Thanks to Sakagura and to all the Urban Sake Tasters for joining me! See you in December!

Mr. Kubota from Fukuju

Hyogo’s own Kobe Shushinkan Brewery recently made their debut of their “Fukuju” brand at New York’s most famous sake store Sakaya.

Mr. Kubota came directly from the Brewery to introduce his sakes here in New York. On this night, he was pouring Fukuju Mikageko Junmai and Fukuju Junmai Ginjo.

Fukuju Mikageko Junmai is an elegant but full bodied junmai sake. it was fun to try this sake at room temperature to really pick up on the lovely Hyogo rice taste on the palate. Hyogo Prefecture is so famous for rice, so this was a perfect fit.

The delicious Fukuju Junmai Ginjo was served slightly chilled which brought out the delicious fruity aromas and smooth body of this premium sake. Clean and beautiful, this sake is milled to an astounding 50% which lends such an air of elegance to this sake. It’s really enjoyable!

Be sure to check out Fukuju sake the next chance you get. The quality is superb and it’s a sake from the heart of Japan’s most famous sake rice region of Hyogo. Get ready to be wowed!

Earlier this year, Mr. Philip Harper, master sake brewer at Kyoto’s Kinoshita Sake Brewery came to NYC to promote his outstanding Tamagawa brand of sake. I used the opportunity to snag not only an interview with Philip, but also finagled an opportunity to visit his brewery in Kyoto.

Outside Kinoshita Shuzo, Makers of Tamagawa

When I was planning my trip to Japan, Philip warned me that his workplace was, well, let’s say ‘off the beaten path’. While it’s certainly within Kyoto Prefecture, it’s a solid 3 hour train trip each way from Kyoto City itself. I persevered, as there was, outside of touring the brewery and having the amazing opportunity to taste the full time of Tamagawa sakes, one thing driving me: the chance to taste the famous Tamagawa sake soft serve ice cream, which I really enjoyed.

Below is a gallery of photos from Tamagawa. Check them out and be sure to give Philip’s sake a try if you can. It’s unique, bold and really popular on both sides of the pond. I especially enjoyed the opportunity to taste the aged sakes. My special thanks to Philip Harper and Kinoshita Brewery for the wonderful tour, which I won’t soon forget.