CrowdsIf I had to be trampled at a sake tasting, I wouldn’t want it to happen anywhere other than Sakagura. Nihon-shu aficionados can be just like any other rabid fans out there: when the Star makes an appearance, everyone rushes the stage. So when the sake bottles were opened at the awesome Sakagura spring tasting event last Monday night, the crowd stormed the bar! One false move and I could have been sake road kill.

Whatever the risks, attending any Sakagura tasting event is not to be missed! There were 30, count ’em, 30 sakes to try! From sugary-sweet to gin-on-the-rocks dry; from mountain-spring-water clear to ultra-rich-velvety-floral: There was something here to please anyone’s palate.

Sake line up ready for tastingScott & I had a reservation for the 9:15 seating and the place was sold out. This is an Event! Here’s how it worked: The venue had two seatings for the evening. Once seated, you were given a sake chart for taking notes and a special limited menu of delicious food to compliment the sake. All of the sakes out for tasting were lined up along the bar with a Brewery rep or sommelier in charge of 3-4 bottles that they would pour you a tasting of upon request. So you would end up visiting the bar to sip a few new sakes, then sit down and enjoy some food – rinse and repeat.

Tamara and RobYour basic eat, drink and be merry! One thing I have come to love about sake tastings is how people really come together when the “Sake Magic” takes hold. For example, Scott and I had such a nice chat with our neighbors at the next table Rob and Tamara. Hi guys!

Since it would be really hard to taste and describe all 30 sakes, I have decided to highlight the best, boldest and weirdest brews by launching my very own award: The first-ever ‘Golden Masu’ Awards! Just like the Oscars! but only on my blog. And there’s no red carpet.

So here we go!

Most likely to convert Sake-Curious to Sake-Fan

KubotaGolden Masu Award! And the Masu goes to: Kubota Hekiju!
Kubota Hekiju (Junmai Daiginjo, Niigata Prefecture, SMV=+3.0, Seimaibuai=50%) is one of my all-time favorites. This sake is smooth and lovely. It was a joy to taste it again at the Sakagura tasting. This is one of those old favorites that feels like slipping on a much loved cashmere cardigan when you take a sip: Instantly familiar, soft, comfy, smooth and utterly delightful. This is also one of my favorite “conversion” tools. If a friend is “Sake-Curious” but a little wary, I may start off with a perfectly chilled glass of Kubota Daiginjo. One sip and a Sake-Fan is born!

Sexiest Label

Kokuryu DaiginjoGolden Masu Award! And the Masu goes to: Kokuryu!
When I tell people about my interest in sake, a lot of people respond by saying “those sake bottles are so beautiful”. They are! However, Kokuryu (Daiginjo, Fukui Prefecture, SMV=+4, ALC=15.5%) takes it too a whole new level. With Gold Glitter Kanji (!), and a dark chocolate background, it looks like this bottle just finished up a nite at Studio 54 and is on it’s way to the after party with Bianca and Liza. The very best surprise? Glitter Label is not all just flash. This sake tastes as good as it looks. It’s got a smooth clean taste, and to my palate, a slight hint of berry. Yum! I Loved it. This would be a great sake to order when you’re out with friends for a night on the town. The party will begin the moment this disco ball bottle hits the table.

Friendliest Alternative-Style Brew

Dassai NigoriGolden Masu Award! And the Masu goes to: Dassai Nigori!
Everyone who starts to learn about sake usually picks up the Junmai–>Ginjo–>Daiginjo concept pretty quickly… but then they learn there are variants out there. Aged Sake, Cedar-Tinged sake, Unpasteurized Sake, and then.. cloudy unfiltered sake with bits of rice swimming in it?? It can be a lot for a beginner to take in. Enter Dassai Nigori (Junmai Ginjo, Yamaguchi Prefecture, SMV=+3.0, Seimaibuai=50%) . This nigori is very friendly for the beginner – and it’s the sake I would use to introduce “alternative-style” brews to your friends. It is creamy with a wonderfully even texture – not chunky or to thick like other nigoris. And in the background is the wonderful Dassai attention to quality. One of my favorites!

Strongest Right Hook on a Nama

Kasumi Tsuru Shiboritate nama genshuGolden Masu Award! And the Masu goes to: Kasumi Tsuru Shiboritate!
Not every brewery could say, “My Sake could beat up your Sake.” but this one has got the chops. Kasumi Tsuru Shiboritate (Honjozo , Hyogo Prefecture) has a unique one-two punch. First, it’s a nama (unpasteurized), which gives a larger, more expansive taste, and second, it’s an genshu (sake not diluted after brewing), which gives the pow of a higher alcohol content. This type of sake is great on the rocks or when you want a real attention-getter. Just be careful not to drink to much or you really will be down for the count. Imported by Joto Sake.

Biggest Barbie Wannabe

KarenGolden Masu Award! And the Masu goes to: Karen!
Karen (Junmai, Niigata Prefecture, Ichishima Brewery) is one pink girl. The packaging designers got it right on this one. The über-pink bottle perfectly captures the taste: Think cotton candy, bubble gum, Malibu Barbie’s corvette. It’s an interesting niche in the sake world, though. It may not be my taste, but i haven’t seen a lot of brewers specialize in the much sweeter brews. This can be a great change of pace when only something sweet will do. If that’s your thing, be sure you have Karen’s number in your little black book. Just don’t call her Barbie by mistake – she hates that.

Best in Show

Ken DaiginjoGolden Masu Award! And the Masu goes to: Ken!
Speaking of Barbie, she knows better than anyone that Ken is a perfect Gentleman. This is true for the delightful and truly charming Ken Daiginjo (SMV=+4.0, ALC=15.5%). Again and again, i’ve been wowed by this sake. oh Ken… I wish I knew how to quit you!! The taste is clean, clear and smooth without being weak or watery. It’s got a taste I can only describe as the essence of “Sake-ness”. what the heck does that mean? it’s got the best aspects of many sakes I’ve had all rolled up into one, while still being elegant. It’s really something special, so I’ve called it here “best in show” although it really is impossible to pick a “best” at this tasting. Every person out there will find their own personal best. Congratulations to all the winners!

Well, all in all, it was an amazing evening! I’m looking forward to my next tasting at Sakagura – they really know how to put on a show. If you get the chance to attend, don’t miss it – and remember, it’s an honor just to be nominated.