Berlin 1986

Not many people know this, but I had a secret life before I got into sake. In 1986, when I was 16 years old, I lived in West Berlin for one year as an exchange student. At that time, the Wall was still up, East Germany was going strong and the cold war was chilly as ever.

I stayed with a wonderful family there, attended a German High School and studied the language. The experience made such an impression on me, I went on to live for another year in Germany and study German Language and literature at University. All these years, I have stayed in contact with my Host Family from way back when and we trade off visits between Berlin and New York.

I was long overdue for a visit to Berlin to visit my host family. But since I was last there in 2003, I’ve changed careers and joined the sake world and boy was I excited to check out the sake scene in a city I knew so well. So we booked a non-stop on Lufthansa and before I knew it we were touching down at Tegel airport. Willkommen in Berlin!

Sake Kontor

At Sake Kontor

My first stop in Berlin is really sake central for all of Germany: Sake Kontor Berlin. Run by owner Suzanne Rost, Sake Kontor is Germany’s only retail sake shop and also a home base for the sakes imported and distributed by Rost.

I visited the shop on a rainy, cold January Berlin day but Suzanne welcomed me warmly. She carries over 40 styles of sake at the shop. There were many sakes represented but three brands stood out, Akashitai from Kobe, Masumi from Nagano and Takenotsuyu from Yamagata.

Sake Kontor is an oasis of sake in a country deeply entangled in wine and beer. It’s a great home base for any Berliners looking to get into sake. Suzanne has a great balance of offerings, too. There is a full range of prices as well as everything from Sparkling nigori to Yamahai Junmai to aged Koshu. I think Berlin is lucky to have it’s own sake shop!

Sasaya

Sake at Sasaya

After being away from New York City for a few days, Scott and I were starting to crave Sushi in a major way, but where to find sushi in Berlin? We settled on Japanese Restaurant Sasaya. I heard this was a Japanese-run restaurant which is a sure way to avoid falling into the pan-asian-fusion sushi trap.

I was surprised by the full sake list which included the likes of Urakasumi, Tomio, Kikusui and Shirakawago. I especially enjoyed my glass of Tomio Junmai Daigino. The sushi itself didn’t blow us away by our New York City Japanese-food-snob standards, but it certainly was tasty and this was a great place to have some sake and authentic Japanese food in Berlin.

Sake Dinner

Introducing Tsukinokatsura

On one of our last nights in Berlin, my German host parents Heribert & Dagamr, who own a really charming bio-organic cafe in the Wannsee neighborhood called the Hofcafe, offered to put on a special dinner for about 20 friends and made Japanese food for everyone, but only if I agreed to introduce and pour some sake! It’s on like Donkey Kong!

I arrived at the dinner anxious to showcase sake in it’s best light paired with my Host Mother’s wonderful cooking. I poured about 7 sakes including a wonderfully clean and dry Junmai from Masumi, a delicious and popular Junmai Ginjo from Takenotsuyu and a sake that was even new to me, a Zuikan Aigamo Junmai Daiginjo from Hiroshima – this last one was the crowd favorite. With the matcha ice cream dessert, I served a wonderfully sweet sparkling Nigori sake from Tsukinokatsura in Kyoto. I think the sake was a big hit and I felt good doing my little part to introduce sake to forward thinking, food friendly Berliners. Fun!

Well, they say you can’t go home again, but a trip to Berlin for me will always take me back to the future. Some parts of my time in 1986 Berlin I will remember as the happiest of my life; Some other parts of my exchange year were the biggest challenge I’ve ever dealt with. However, to return this year and to be able to marry past and present, German Language and Sake education, made for a wonderful, fulfilling experience. I know sake won’t overtake beer or wine at the German dinner table any time soon, but we’re off to a good start. All this and I was able to leave my Deloren at home.

Japanese Restaurant Sasaya
Lychener Strasse 50
10437 Berlin
(030) 447 17 721

Sake Kontor Berlin
Markgrafendamm 34
10245 Berlin
(030) 212 37 601

Hofcafe bei Mutter Fourage
Chausseestr. 15 a,
14109 Berlin-Wannsee
(030) 805 83 2 83

Samurai_logo.gifTomorrow, I’m leaving on a jet plane for my first ever trip to Japan. That statement, in and of itself, is exciting.

However, when I think about why I’m going to Japan, words can’t quite express what I feel.

In short, I’ve been invited to Japan for a tremendous honor: to become a Sake Samurai. This is a title given by the Japan Sake Brewers Association to folks who promote sake and Japanese culture. My invitation letter explained this:

The Japan Sake Brewers Association Junior Council has established a program to confer the title of Sake Samurai upon select individuals in grateful recognition for their love of Japanese sake and contribution to the dissemination of the joy of Japanese culture and sake around the world.

Working on UrbanSake.com has been a genuine labor of love and, if anything, I know I am truly passionate about sake. An honor such as this only makes me more committed to spread the word on Nihonshu, but it also encourages me to find new ways to grow interest in and appreciation of sake here in the States and beyond. I believe the internet is a powerful tool that can be used to make this happen.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll be in Kyoto and environs for 1 week for the conferment ceremony, sake tasting and some sightseeing. If time and computer access allow, I’ll be posting updates from the field, so please stay tuned. A special thanks to everyone who has supported and encouraged me on my sake Journey. I know the best is yet to come. Kanpai!

Enter to Win 2 Free tickets to the Japan Society’s May 19th Sake Tasting Event:
free-ticketWithout Koji, There’s No Sake

May 19, 2009 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm
The Japan Society: 333 East 47th Street New York, NY 10017

To enter, fill out the form below with your Full Name, Email and the answer to the Giveaway Question.
*One entry per person please.
*You must be 21 years of age.
*Winner will be randomly drawn from all correct submissions.
*Please submit your entry by May 7th, 11:59pm ET
*Winner will be notified by email on Friday May 8th.

Giveaway Question:
What are the FOUR ingredients in Junmai Sake?

If you would like to subscribe to my blog, you’ll always know what’s going on with UrbanSake.com. There are a few ways to go about it:

1) Sign Up for email notifications:
You can sign up for a free service that will send you an email everytime there is a new post. I recommend Squeet.com. Just go to the website and create a free account. In the field for “feed url” enter this: http://feeds.feedburner.com/Urbansake

Feedburner.com also offers a free email service that will notify you every time I post. For a quick and easy solution, enter your email in the subscribe box in the right side navigation and click ‘subscribe’ —>

2) Use live bookmarks:
Using a Live Bookmark to keep track of UrbanSake.com is another option. When UrbanSake.com updates, your bookmark updates automatically as well, no need to refresh the page. To read a post, just click the bookmark to go straight to that item saving you time and mouse clicks. Click here to see what a live bookmark looks like.

If you use Firefox or Safari your browser is already set up to support live bookmarks in the bookmarks bar. To set it up, just enter this URL into your browser: http://feeds.feedburner.com/Urbansake
…and then click on the orange icon that appears and save to the Bookmarks Toolbar Folder: live_bookmark.gif

IF you use Internet Explorer, you will need to install a browser plugin to manage live bookmarks. There many free RSS-enabled browser plugins available to download such as Pluck.

3) Use RSS reader software:
You can install a program on your computer that can manage all your blog subscriptions in one place. I like this option least of all because you have to open a additional program. using the above methods, you see the latest posts when you open your browser or check your email.

Your Name (required)

Your Email (required)

Subject

Your Message

S. and I both looked at each other and said “mmmmmmm….” The “smooth type” Sake at Tomoe was simply, in a word, amazing. You know, to this day, I still don’t know the brand name of the Sake we had that night, but it was utterly, totally and perfectly delicious. A perfect compliment to the perfect sushi. S. made a big impression on me on that 5th date. I hadn’t seen the value of waiting on line for an hour for sushi until I had the best sushi of my life. I saw the allure of the foodie lifestyle… then I realized the downside. Once you taste the very best, everything else becomes second runner up . It’s funny, I had that amazing Mystery Sake that night… It was a standout, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. S. and I were focused on the Sushi. The Sake was the elegant, unobtrusive, velvety support of the main course. Now I see, of course, that this is the very reason it was perfection. after that dinner i was in a kind of stupor/high/coma situation – reeling from the joys of the meal. But over the next couple of months when we recalled that dinner, we always said -“… and that sake was so yummy… who knew it could taste that good?” Little did I know that carafe was my first step down the path to sake infatuation.

Hi! If you’ve found this blog, you must have some interest in Sake. Well, so do I. Well, more than an interest. It’s a growing interest bordering on infatuation. I’m just a beginner and kind of intimidated by the vast universe of Sake knowledge, but I’ve decided to get serious about casual Sake habit. This blog is going to be my tasting journal, testing ground and diary as I learn everything I possibly can about fermented rice wine and profile any Sake I can get my hands on.

Everything i’ve learned about Sake, other than “it’s a rice wine that comes from Japan”, I learned in the last 2 months. let’s get up to speed…

Where did it all start? I think it started on the 5th date. It was the evening I had with current boyfriend S. at the amazing gem of a japanese restaurant Tomoe. S. is a total foodie and I am not, but I went along and stood in line for an hour to have sushi on our 5th date. We decided to splurge and we got a carafe of the most expensive sake of the three available on the menu to go with the amazing sushi. the only description of the Sake was a handmade cardboard sign of the wall that said “smooth type”. we thought that was a better bet over “fruity type”. We raised our glass for a toast and took a sip…