kiaseki.jpgThe Kaiseki dinner is food’s answer to the japanese tea ceremony: elegant, rarefied and focused on every detail. Scott took me to just such a dinner for my birthday this year.

He chose Kai Restaurant above Ito En Tea store on Madison ave. The setting was perfect. Our table for two was next to a floor to ceiling window looking down on the river-like flow of taxis up Madison. Across the street, Dolce & Gabbana had a huge flatscreen looping video of their latest fashion show. It really was beautiful – in a very New York kind of way.

nanbu_bijin_nama.jpgThe sake I ordered for us was the Nanbu Bijin Nama Junmai. The sake was presented in a very unique way. After the carafe was ordered, the waiter came over with a large shallow bowl filled with ice on which was displayed a selection of hand blown glass Ochoko sake cups of all different shapes and colors. We were to pick the chilled cup of our liking for our sake. very elegant and it really added a sense of ceremony to the evening. The carafe arrived on ice and was also beautifully presented.

This Nama from Iwate Prefecture was supple, and spoke to me of soft fresh fruit. Nama all the way without being brash or cheeky. The overall sake selection at Kai did not leave me disappointed in the least. Besides the special Nama I went for, they had a well curated list of fantastic sakes that includes: Nishi no Seki Junmai, Dassai Ginjo Nigori, Tsukinokatsura Yanagi, Kokuryu, Yuki no Bosha Daiginjo, as well as Koshi no Kambai Chotokusen.

The Kaiseki Dinner itself was 7+ courses of delicate and fetchingly beautiful food ending with one overstuffed birthday boy and a dessert platter to die for. They even wrote out “Happy Birthday” in chocolate. Well, it is true that I am another year older and definitely grayer, but a magical night of New York-tinted Kaiseki and nama sake certainly helped soften the blow. I’ll drink to that!

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Here are four unique Junmais I’ve reviewed in the month of July. Click through to the Full review page to see more. If you’ve tried any of these, please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts!

ohyama_junmai_nama.jpgOhyama Tokubetsu Junmai Nama

Sake Grade: Junmai

Brewery: Ohyama

Prefecture: Yamagata

Ricetype:

Seimaibuai: 60%

Alchohol Content: 15.5%

Sake Meter Value: +3

Acidity: 1.5

lightly fragrant nose. hints of crisp pear – not too fruity. mild, light nama flavors. lingering finish. More

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suishin_junmai.jpg

Suishin

Drunken Heart

Sake Grade: Junmai

Brewery: Suishin Yamane Honten & Co., Ltd.

Prefecture: Hiroshima

Ricetype:

Seimaibuai:

Alchohol Content: 15.5%

Sake Meter Value: +3

Acidity: 1.7

Suishin junmai “drunken heart” hiroshima prefecture. honey in the nose. full body thick mouthfeel. dry finish. More

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echigo_tsurukame.jpg Echigo Tsurukame

Sake Grade: Junmai

Brewery: Uehara Shuzo Sake Brewing Co., Ltd.

Prefecture: Niigata

Ricetype:

Seimaibuai: 60%

Alchohol Content: 14.5%

Sake Meter Value: +3.0

“Classic” rice-y taste. very dry, full bodied solid junmai. strong rice in the nose. More

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sawanoi_iroha.jpg Sawanoi Kiokejikomi Iroha Kimoto

Fountain of Tokyo

Sake Grade: Junmai

Brewery: Sawanoi

Prefecture: Tokyo

Ricetype:

Seimaibuai: 65%

Alchohol Content: 16.5%

Sake Meter Value: -1

Acidity: 2.1

Nutty creamy, full on robust kimoto style. unique – something to really dig your teeth into. Aged in a wooden barrel, but that cedar flavor does not overwhelm here. I found the flavor a bit unusual, but not at all unpleasant. More

sobaya_sake_storageDown old East Village way is a little soba place called Soba-ya that is just the bees knees. I’ve been there twice now, so it’s finally time to post on the sake happenings at this terrific soba joint. First thing to know – there will always be a wait to be seated if you arrive without reservations- this place is popular! The interior could pass for your standard just-above-average sushi restaurant, but I don’t think people come here for the ambiance.

pouring_izumijudan.jpgIt was raining the night I went last, so we lucked out and there was only about a 10 min wait to sit at the bar – which is the most fun place to sit in most japanese restaurants anyway, i’m learning. Before we get to the sake, a quick word on the food. ok, it’s delicious. The soba is perfect and the tempura is dreamy. Something I learned: They also give you soba cooking water to pour into your dipping sauce to make a yummy broth to finish your meal – I wasn’t sure what to make of this practice at first, but it’s really delicious. It’s like a free soup with your meal! and nothing goes to waste.

kurosawa_junmai_kimotoSoba-ya sake menu is broad and well chosen. This could almost be sake soba heaven. I say almost because there is one tiny little drawback. What is it? All about the Moola. The prices were a bit on the steep side – about $18 for a single masu. This sticker shock drove me again to a carafe of a lower-priced, yet lovable stand by: Kurosawa Junmai Kimoto (Kurosawa Brewing Co., SMV +2, Junmai Kimoto, Nagano Prefecture). Ahh… Kurosawa Junmai Kimoto is a favorite of this sake lover. It may not be overly complex or layered but, it is smooth, drinkable, a touch dry and I think it pairs just perfectly with more hearty fare like the tempura I wasdewazakura_izumijudan.jpg enjoying. Since this Junmai is easy on the wallet, i try to buy this sauce in the 1.8 liter size and I think it often as an everyday sipping sake after a long day at work.

After my Kurosawa ni-go carafe ran low, I looked again to the sake menu for something else – I wanted just one more “go”! for the evening. I turned to another well known sake: Dewazakura Izumijudan Ginjo (”Tenth Degree” ALC 17.5% SMV +12, Acidity 1.4, Seimaibuai 50%, Yamagata Prefecture). This charmer is drier and more layered than the Kurosawa. It goes down smooth, though and I really enjoyed it. It has a nice depth of flavor that was great to sip on after my meal.

When all is said and done, the folks at Soba-ya get it right. They focus on great soba and terrific sakes to go with them. If headed here to make a sake soaked night of it, be prepared for the nihon-shu prices, but if you plan well and drink conservatively, you will no doubt leave happier than you arrived.

oh! taisho entranceIn December 2005 I tried that Saint Mark’s stand-by Yakitori Taisho. That experience left me feeling like i’d been run thru the Maytag spin cycle and was also my unfortunate introduction to rough and overpowering taru sake. Recently, I discovered however that Yakitori Taisho had opened a sister restaurant down the block called “Oh! Taisho” and I felt compelled to investigate. I will leave no sake stone unturned!

Upon our 7PM arrival, “Oh! Taisho” was jammed packed but they were able to squeeze us in at the bar. Soon after we sat down, a long line of folks formed outside. “Oh! Taisho” is a restaurant that is a real sensory experience. yummy grilled bitsUsually I prefer a SAKE Sensory experience with my Japanese food… sipping the bouquet, lingering over the mouth-feel… “Oh! Taisho” however forces other demands on my senses. Above the din of patrons chatting away, waitresses scream orders at the cooks, cooks scream replies back. Smoke billows from every grill and deep fryer in a wild mix of smells. Two seats open in the back? More screaming and the petite hostess in charge of seating has the loudest voice of all. Barring an outbreak of laryngitis, she’s got tremendous job security.

yamada_nishiki.jpgEnjoyment of sake was forcibly demoted to supporting player in this distracting whirlwind of sight, sound and smell. The sake menu was mostly limited to a shortlist of sturdy workhorse junmai sakes. They seemed a good fit for the rapid fire grill and fry fare served at “Oh! Taisho”. Needing a drink quickly, I picked the Ozeki Yamadanishiki Junmai (Ozeki Brewery, Nada Prefecture, ALC 14.8%, SMV +3, Acidity 1.8, Rice Yamadanishiki) and hoped for the best.

All sake is offered warmed or chilled – and regardless of the temperature, it’s served in a ceramic tokkuri and ochoko used normally only for heated sake. I must say, given the surroundings, the Yamadanishiki Junmai filled the bill nicely – Instead of fishing for nuance or a lingering tail in this sake, I ended up drinking swigs of this hearty Junmai as a chaser to the various grilled and fried bits slapped down in front of me. The stronger alcohol flavors in the Junmai worked well to cleanse the palate before the next rich, dare I say greasy, bite.

cold_sake_is_served_thusly.jpgOne such dish was the stand out deep-fried tempura squid legs. Pairing the squid with the Ozeki Junmai was delicious. quite recommended! When our supplies of fried food and sake began winding down, the crowd waiting at the door only seemed to grow. We fled “Oh! Taisho” for dessert one block north at the refined Cha-an tea house. Cha-an was a serene oasis of calm and refection… the silence was deafening. I realized that “Oh! Taisho” earned every bit of that exclamation mark built into it’s name.

Thanks to everyone for reading these posts.  I’ll be posting some more videos soon – so stay tuned. かんぱい!Kanpai!

Orbit trajectory Sake Captain’s Log, Stardate 1215.6 — I was recently invited to join some friends at awesome Sake Hana (265 E. 78th St btw 2nd and 3rd Ave 212-327-0582) to try Tsukasabotan “Space Sake”. Sake from outer space? Well, not exactly… It’s actually sake made from yeast that was blasted into orbit. Houston, do we have a problem? …could this all be a big marketing gimmick?

Turns out, Space Sake is for real. The Japanese “Space Sake Committee” from Kochi Prefecture negotiated with the Russians to send yeast into space via a Soyuz rocket for 10 days, from Oct. 1 – 11, 2005. Starting in April 2006, Sake made from this high flying yeast was made available to the general public.

And now I was about to Boldy Go into the world of space sake. First the stats… Tsukasabotan Tosa Space Sake space_sake_bottle.jpg(Kochi Prefecture, SMV +5, Acidity 1.5, Seimaibuai 55%). When I first tried this sake, the thing i noticed was light hints of fruit on the palate and in the nose. To me, it was very specifically strawberry. So in a nutshell, Outer Space tastes less like a dark, infinite void and more like a strawberry Lifesaver.

The finish was short and also had light fruit tones – kind of lychee-esque. Overall, space sake didn’t send me over the moon, but it was good. This sake was refined and smooth and enjoyable but for my palate it lacked that balance that I like best, but I’m sure there are others who will love this stuff.

To make things even more interesting, Toshi, our host at Sake Hana, offered me a sip of two other sakes made by Tsukasabotan to contrast and compare the tastes. They were Tsukasabotan Junmai (ALC 15.5%) and Tsukasabotan Senchu Hassaku (Tokubetsu Junmai, SMV +8, Acidity 1.4, ALC 15.5%). Tsukasabotan_sake_smackdown.jpgThese two Earthbound Tsukasabotan sakes are ones I’ve tried before, so I already had an idea of their flavor profiles, but I was excited to do this comparison.

This head-to-head tasting was like the tale of the 3 bears.

The plain old Junmai was earthy and a bit dank, the space sake was not quite balanced for my taste, but the Senchu Hassaku was just right!

Tsukasabotan Senchu is cool. Even the label is written in orange neon kanji. This sake has a unique flavor profile and I highly recommend it. It’s dry, but smooth and supurbly balanced. Watch for a quick finish. I think this sake is a real treat and for my yen, it’s the best value, too.

Sakurai_san_Ai_san.jpgIt was a lot of fun going in this space adventure with my friends Toshi-san, KC-san, Tomo-san, Lefty-san, Min-san and Ai-san. Even Mr. Sakurai made an appearance! The Star Trek geek in me loved the romantic notion of “space sake” orbiting the earth, but the jaded New Yorker in me was left wondering – do I really taste anything special? When all is said and done, i’m going to give in to the romance of space travel. Who wouldn’t want to rocket to the stars? Even if it’s only for a few sips.

awning.jpgI always had a feeling that there were japanese bars and restaurants out there that were hidden speakeasy type places that you had to know a friend of a friend to learn the Japanese password and find their secret location.

My recent trip to Tsukushi restaurant (300 East 41st Street; 212-599-8888) hinted at this kind of intrigue and exclusivity, but was easy to find and even had it’s name on the awning. From there, you enter through a nondescript black door, step down some stairs and you land in what looks like… someone’s wood paneled suburban den. for real!

serious_wood_paneling.jpgThe interior is really striking as it is about as far away from “tokyo underground” as you could imagine. The waitresses are friendly and shuttle from bar to table to kitchen and back wearing cute hausfrau aprons.

All the food here is Omakase – Chef Norihiko Manabe’s choice. This meant that the only thing I really had to worry about selecting was the Sake – and that was the real challenge of the evening.

yamadanishiki_glass.jpgI scanned the sake menu and decided to go with the Hakushika Tokubestsu Junmai Yamadanishiki (Tatsuuma-Honke Brewing Co., Ltd., HYOGO Prefecture). “Yamadanishiki” is in itself a type of rice, but not just any rice. It’s regarded as one of the best sake making rices there is. The taste was clear and soft. What I liked about this Yamadanishiki brew was how well it went on it’s own as well as with the food. The sake was served in a sizable tumbler with a hausfrau-ish quilted coaster. It was so enjoyable I ordered another!

Tsukushi was really a fun experience. You have to let yourself go a little and be open to whatever the chef wants to send out, but if you can do that, you’re bound to have a good time. Even though it wasn’t the real Tokyo underground speakeasy I was hoping for, this somewhat hidden gem is a real NYC find.

sake_bar_sign.jpgThe phone in my office rang bright and early last week. It was Scott asking me “Did you see the Times?!?!” well, at that point in the morning I’m usually just staring down at my iced coffee, not the newspaper. Scott proceed to inform me that the coveted “$25.00 and under” food column in the times was indeed covering a sake bar. A NYC sake bar we’d never heard of.

sake_fridge.jpgNow that was news! Finding out about a new sake bar is akin to finding $50 bucks buried in the pocket of some jeans you haven’t worn in forever. It doesn’t happen often, but you sure are happy when it does. The bar in question was Sake bar Hagi (152 West 49th Street, lower level (212) 764-8549). The Times article talked about spaghetti with ketchup (yuk!) and no smoking allowed (duh!), but I knew the real story was sake!

Scott and I settled on a rainy night to head up to Times Square and try out Hagi. Now, Times Square is well known for it’s Family Friendly “theme” Mega-restaurants: ESPN Zone, Planet Hollywood, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. …Applebees. yikes! It’s enough to make any sane person run screaming. Could a taste of genuine Japanese izakaya really exist along side all this corporate artifice? We were about to go into the belly of the beast and find out.

sasaori_nama_chillin.jpgSeeing that Hagi was recently in the NYTimes, I wasn’t surprised that there was a wait for a table. We also arrived at prime time – around 8pm. (Things thinned out later in the night and they are open until 3am – every day!)

I didn’t mind the wait one bit, as their small entrance hallway was also home to their sake display refrigerator. The sign said clearly “PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH” – not the most welcoming thing to see when you first step into a restaurant. but I understand. I wouldn’t want anyone manhandling my sake stash either.

So, I was obedient and didn’t ‘squeeze the charmin’ (aka touch the sake), but I did take a long look inside to get an idea of their offering. It was an interesting mix of old standbys and some stuff that was new to me too.

sasaori_bottle.jpgOnce we were seated, job #1 was picking a sake. The waitress was helpful and as soon as I displayed some knowledge about sake that went beyond “hot or cold”, she knew we were serious sake sippers. She disappeared for a second and returned to our table with 4 or 5 bottles of summer Nama from the sake stash fridge which she set up like a display on our table.

We chatted about each one and finally decided on something really unique and uniquely delicious.

sasaori_glass.jpgI ended up ordering a 500ml bottle of Otokoyama Sasaori (Junmai Nama Tokubetsu, Hokkaido Prefecture, SMV: +5, Acidity: 1.4).

As soon as Sasaori hit the table, I knew we had something unique. This sake is a bit of an enigma…

* It was a nama with a strong hints of tropical fruit in the nose and palate. I got banana and scott got Melon. A touch sweet, but well balanced.

* And, it was slightly cloudy – like a wisp of nigori.*And, it was a sparkling with a touch of draft carbonation.

*And, there was a solid 15% ALC under the hood to drive this Junmai. And all this in one bottle?

Donny_Marie.jpgIt made me think immediately of Donny and Marie. “I’m a little bit country… I’m a little bit rock’n’roll…”

A little bit of this and a little bit of that CAN add up to a real crowd pleaser.

Scott and I have tried to adopt the Japanese custom of always filling the glass of the other and never pouring for yourself. This works out sometimes, but I fear I may give poor Scott ‘sake elbow’ from pouring into my glass so much.

Let’s mark this one down as a pleasant surprise – both the venue and the sake. I still don’t like Times Square, but as long as Hagi stays ‘as is’ and doesn’t turn into the “Hagi-Disney© Japan-Experience® Bistro brought to you by Toyotaâ„¢”, I’ll be back again soon.

Tomoe_sushi.gif“Japanese Roulette” is a dangerous game. This is what I call the act of blindly picking unkown sakes off the menu just to “try something new”. The highest risks can have the best rewards, but sometimes things don’t quite go your way.

Manzairaku_junigo.jpgScott and I have been to Tomoe several times, and it’s our open little secret that it’s the best sushi at any price in NYC. The line starts outside half an hour before the doors open… and it’s worth the wait. Normally, I order the best sake on the menu that I know – our dear old friend Hakkaisan. However, I noticed a name on the sake menu that I had never heard of – and with Scott’s permission, I ordered a carafe of this unknown.

What I ordered was Manzairaku “Junigo” No. 12 (Junmai, ALC 15%, Ishikawa prefecture). The carafe arrived and with the first sniff, my sake-spidey sense told me something was wrong. The smell was flat and a tad unwelcoming. Well, you can’t judge a sake by the nose alone,right? Well, then I noticed as I poured, this sake had an unmistakable yellow cast. This was particularly alarming as the Tomeo sake menu described this Junmai using only one word…”clear”. Ok, I’m starting to panic a bit now.

shirakawago.jpgMy first sip of this Junigo and it tasted off. flat. reminded me of somthing like mothballs or tree bark. But, being the optimists we are, Scott and I agreed that the sake perhaps needed to simply warm up ten degrees or so. Ice cold sake direct from the fridge sometimes affects the flavor. Once it warmed a bit, we sipped again. Oi. still no improvement. Now denial started to set in.

“Maybe it will taste better with food?” I suggested. Our amazing sushi deluxes arrive and we dig in. Well, even the best sushi in New York, was not camouflaging those mothballs. As a lame last ditch effort to figure out what the heck was up with this train wreck, I hypothesized… Maybe it’s a taru? A heavy handed Cedar-tinged taru can taste weird, right? A quick check in with the waiter and he confirmed it’s not a taru.

At this point I just give up. It most likely was just old sake past it’s prime. I wasn’t man enough to complain and send it back. Maybe Junigo Junmai was supposed to taste like mothballs? Screw it! I’m not gonna waste all this amazing sushi on some sucky sake.

Then in the back of my mind I hear Bonnie Tyler singing…

I need a hero!
I’m holding out for a hero til the morning light
It’s gotta be strong
And it’s gotta be fast
And it’s gotta be larger than life
I need a hero!

There must be a sake here that can swoop in, save the day and restore my faith in Japanese Roulette!

super_nigori.jpgSo with nothing left to lose, I grab the waiter and we order a nigori i’d never tried before. Scott loves those funky nigoris, but if this one sucked, the whole evening, sake-wise, was down the tubes! no pressure. I got a 300ml bottle of Shirakawago Sasanigori (Junmai Ginjo Nigori, SMV +1, ALC 15.5%, Gifu Prefecture). The moment the Shirakawago hit the table, I knew things were going to be OK!

First off, the little shot glasses that came with the nigori were beautiful and gave me hope the sake would be too. The nose and texture of this nigori was really great. it went down smooth and worked perfectly with the amazing sushi we were having. The mouthfeel was creamy, but lightly so. The well balanced Nigori was there to support the sushi, not demand center stage. delicious! Not only was the evening saved from disaster, but I discovered a nigori I actually really dig! More than that, I learned that it’s OK to take risks out there in Nihon-shu Land. You can’t win them all, but chances are high you’ll come out ahead.

After all this sake Sturm und Drang, I needed to end the meal with an unmitigated sure thing. Green tea ice cream, please… two scoops.

jeffersonsJust like Weezie and George Jefferson, I made my way on up to the East Side last sunday afternoon. It’s not a common haunt of mine, but predictably, it was sake that lured me out of my geographic comfort zone.

My Sake Buddy KC organized a really fun and relaxed B.Y.O.S. event at the ‘De-luxe apartment in the sky’ of his friend Hideo. Guest of honor was again our friend Mr. Sakurai, of Dassai Brewery who is in New York for a few weeks.

The set up of our event was simple, everyone bring your own sake with appetizers provided and dinner afterwards. Let’s start tasting!

daishichi1) DaiShiChi Kimoto Honjyozo (SMV +1, ALC 15.5%)
KC suggested we start with the largest bottle as that would take the longest to finish. I like the way this guy thinks! So, we popped open the huge 1.8L bottle. There is really something festive about these huge bottles. Having them around means you’re having a party or at least a lot of people over for drinking. DaiShiChi is an interesting brand. As faithful readers of my blog know, this is the company that makes, quite possibly, the world’s best sake, Daishichi Myouka Rangyoku.

The DaiShiChi Kimoto Honjyozo was, of course, not in that league, but it’s fun to look for a family resemblance. This Brewery is known as an innovator in the Sake production process, being especially well known for their unique method of milling the rice. The Kimoto Honjyozo had a noticeable grainy flavor. It hinted at a dryness that was more pronounced that you might expect for a sake with an SMV of only +1. A good way to get the party started.

Masumi Okuden Kantsukuri 2) Masumi Okuden Kantsukuri (Junmai, Seimaibuai 60%)
Masumi is another well known brand that takes it’s production methods seriously. With a SeimaiBuai of 60%, this sake could technically qualify as a Ginjo, but they choose to to keep it labeled a Junmai. I found this sake to be sprightly, very clean tasting, and a touch on the dry side. KC was telling me that the especially long and colder fermentation of this sake makes for a more complex taste. And I think the bottle shape is cool.

otokoyama momenya 3) Otokoyama Momenya Tokubetsu (Junmai, ALC 15.5%, Seimaibuai 55%)
Yet another sake from another really well known brewery. Otokoyama is well known for it’s “Man’s Mountain”. This is a Tokubetsu Junmai take on their Manly-Man traditional Junmai. I was excited to taste and see what I’d find. To my surprise, I initially noticed a flat taste. Then came an earthy, grainy, expressive palate… finishing up with a very Otokoyama-ish super dry finish.

4) Tomoju Junmai Ginjo (SMV +2, ALC 15.5%)
This was a treat from a brewery I know a little less well – Aiyu Brewery in Ibaraki Prefecture. I found the taste to be medium dry. and well balanced. This would be considered a “rich type” sake. We all agreed there was a looooong finish. Quite a treat. Maybe I should get to know Aiyu a little better.

5) Kurosawa Junmai Daiginjo (ALC 15.5%)
Next we had a sure fire winner – and I wasn’t disappointed. Kurosawa is a superstar that always comes through, at all their grades. This was my first time trying the Junmai Daiginjo, so I was like a kid at Christmas when this one hit the table. I was interested to learn that they only make 1500 bottles a year of this Daiginjo grade. That’s not a lot… it made it taste even more special. In brief, I’m in love. This gem was super clean and delightful – A classic Daiginjo with great balance and elegance.

Trifecta of Dassai 23, 50, Nigori 6) Dassai 23:
Sakurai-San stepped up to the plate next. He brought with him the “trifecta” of Dassai goodness. In the spirit of “eat dessert first” we went straight for the superlative Dassai 23 Daiginjo. This Sake has been profiled here before. The rice used to make this elixir is milled down to 23% of it’s original size before brewing. That is the smallest seimaibuai in the known universe. It’s light, but flavorful with hints of the most delicate fruit. Being both complex and balanced, this is a sake for serious sipping. you don’t want to be distracted from the flavors by anything. This sake demands your full attention!

7) Dassai 50:
Next was the Dassai Ginjo with a seimaibuai of 50%. This sake tastes fresh and easy to drink. It’s not fussy or overly complicated, but just plain good! Sakurai-san told us this makes up 70-80% of the Dassai production. I understand why it’s so popular.

8) Dassai Nigori: (Seimaibuai 50%)
Last was the Delightful Dassai Nigori. For those Nigori fans out there, this one can’t be beat. Scott and I brought this sake (with mixed results) to Thanksgiving dinner as a dessert wine. I enjoyed it, but I think most guests didn’t know what to make of it. The wonderful thing about this unfiltered sake is the slight hint of fruit with a touch of natural carbonation sparkle. And who couldn’t use a little more sparkle in their lives?

senkin.jpg 9) Senkin Ginyu Sizuku Junmai Daiginjo (SMV +5, ALC 16%)
Last but not least, was MY contribution to the B.Y.O.S. event. I brought a super fruity perfumy Trickle sake. Did I mention this was Fruity, fruity fruity? Trickle sake is made when sake is not pressed through a filter by machine at the end of the process, but when the sake is allowed to drip naturally through the filter. This is a labor intensive process that produces an amazing treat. With an SMV of +5, I tasted more fruity complexity that out and out dryness. remember SMV is just a guidline! This sake was a special treat and akin to having a fruit salad after all that sober dry sake we had at the beginning of the evening. My palate was barely holding together at this point, but that didn’t stop my enjoyment of this yummy treat.

Around this time, our chinese takout arrived and I was never so happy to see a dumpling in my life. After 9 taste tests of all kinds of sake, I needed some grub. I’m telling you – you haven’t lived until you paired a trickle Junmai Daiginjo with steamed shrimp dumplings.

Then it hit me – Now I finally see that the Upper east side is nothing to be afraid of. As a matter of fact, it’s quite nice! Sorry, George and Weezie… your secret is out.

The Sake Cru saddles up to the barThe Sake Meetup group, well, ‘met up’ last night at Landmark for a private tasting. It was quite fun as usual. This night was a study in old friends and new friends… this goes for both the sake AND the people!

I knew two of the sakes that were served on sight. (see, I am learning!) These familiar friends were Mineno Hakubai and Otokoyama We started with an old standby Otokoyama “Man’s Mountain”. Check out my last review of Man’s Mountain here. It tasted quite dry.

Paul preps the tasting and chills the sakeI actually think this Junmai may be a little softer and rounder if you drink it the day after it’s been opened.

Another familiar standby was Mineno Hakubai. Check out my review of this sake here. Old Mineno has been dubbed the “smooth operator” and it didn’t disappoint.

If you see this on the sake menu your next time out, it’s a solid choice if you’re not sure what to try.

Our two nigoris: Hitoimusume and RihakuPaul and Lefty did the organizing for tonight. Thanks guys!! They picked up some great sake snacks – crackers, cheese, mochi as well as Paul’s secret ingredient – banana chips – who knew?

I was so glad to see Amanda on hand as well. We always have fun. Great to get her perspective on what we were tasting and an update on Fiasco, too.

There were some sakes that were new to me as well. It’s always a treat to try something new – you’ll always learn something.

Masumi Arabashiri Name Sake just chillin' outThe new sake kids on the block were Nama Masumi Arabashiri, Rehaku Ginjo Nigori and Hitorimusume Junmai Nigori.

Personally, I really enjoyed the Nama Masumi Arabashiri (ALC 17.5%, SMV=0). It’s a classic nama. If you looked up Nama in the dictionary, you’d find a picture of this sake. It’s Nama-ness was hard to miss: young, fresh taste, super fragrant, floral and fruity.

Both Nigoris were creamy and went down smooth. it was a marked contrast to the somewhat sharp and dry Otokoyama. To my palate the Rehaku had the upper hand.

I think it’s fun to compare nigoris. Seems to me that nigori appreciation is an acquired taste. I disliked them at first, but now I’ve really come to enjoy them.

Mimi Checks out OtokoyamaThere were also some really nice new folks at the meeting – Scott, Nick and Mimi. Great to meet you guys and I hope to see you again.

See? You get the best of both worlds when you try new sakes with new friends and familiar sakes with familiar friends… or is that vise versa? um… Kanpai!






ISE interiorHave you ever seen that show Survivor Man? It’s about this MacGyver-type survival expert guy that gets dropped by helicopter into a remote, harsh and desolate area (mountain top, death valley…) and he has to survive for a week and film the whole thing showing his survival tricks along the way. I felt a little like Survivor Man myself last Wednesday night when I was leaving the Japan society after seeing a movie there. I found myself stranded in unknown terrain, (midtown east), starving (for sushi) and dying of thirst (for some sake).Luckily for me, Scott’s survival instincts quickly kicked in and he rememberd a japanese restaurant in the area recommended to him long ago by a japanese hairdresser who has long since returned to Japan. A recommendation from a native, even one possibly past it’s expiration date, was good enough for me… so we were on the hunt for ISE restaurant.

We found ISE at 151 East 49th Street and this place looked promising from the start. the place was packed and they found room for us upstairs in what they called the “asian style room”. When we got upstairs, we found a small tatami room with three tables.

KirosawaOur petite waitress was delightful, but when it came to a sake recommendation, she confided that she didn’t drink sake as just a little bit made her dizzy. The sake selection was limited and traditional, but solid.

I started with the Kurosawa Junmai. I was psyched to see that ISE serves their sake using the laquer (plastic?) masu with a clear glass inside just like Decibel! Only catch is that since, we were upstairs in our private “asian style room” we didn’t get the bottle presented and poured to overflowing in front of us. Kirosawa is what I would call a great dinking sake. I would compare it to a fine table wine. yummy just to have on hand and it goes great with food, but nothing to scream from the rooftops about.

Sake Glass in MausJust a littel side note: I’m still figuring out how exactly one is supposed to proceed with this glass-in-masu treatment. To the left is basiclly what you start out with. Sake in glass, sake in Masu. How to drink?!Sake pours out of Masu!If you leave the glass IN the masu and sip, you will soon reach an angle where the sake in the masu pours out at you. this one strikes when you least expect it! And the sharp corner of the masu acts like a spout. Usually ends up in your lap!

Sake Cup dripping in a masuIf you lift the glass out of the masu, it drips. The sake that is in the Masu drips off the bottom as soon as you get the glass anywhere near your face. what a waste!What I HAVE been doing is lifting the masu and sipping from the glass until the sake is about 1/3 gone, being careful not to spill. Then I’ve been taking the glass out, letting it drip over the masu for a second or two and then pouring the remaining sake into the masu and drinking from there, setting the glass aside. sound right? Can anyone advise me?Ichinokura Himezen The second sake I tried was the Ichinokura Himezen, a very light Junmai. This sake’s key word was neutral… in a good way. Very middle of the road in it’s flavor profile. again very drink-able. delightful. Scott also had a glass of Ichinokura and he was kind enough to let me finish his. The big news on this sake is that it’s only 8.5% ALC content. So you can enjoy more – i’m sure this would refresh you perfectly on a hot summer day.ISE is a real treasure. If you find your self lost in the Urban Jungle, knowing about this place and their neat sake selection is one survival skill you can’t live without.

Birthday Cake Suprise Sometimes, you just have to believe in good omens. On my first trip to Uminoie Japanese restuarant (86 E. 3rd St.) the neighboring table handed me a piece of their birthday cake just after Scott and I were seated. I took it as a sign that our experience at this place was going to be SWEEEET! …and it was.

The food was home cooked and excellent, the sake interesting and the service/atmosphere was what I would call ‘refreshingly odd’.

First things first… be aware that the sake selection on the menu is limited. As soon as you take one look at the drink menu – it’s obvious: this is a Shochu joint. There is an entire page of the small drink menu that is devoted to every strain and variant of shochu you could imagine. If you bring your own Shochu, they even offer to store your bottle and have it ready to pour for your next visit. What about the sake? well, here is what Uminoie offers in the way of sake to those customers that are not yet ready to board that bullet train to Shochu-ville:

Otokoyama
Hakkaisan (honjozo)
Kurosawa
Kubota (senju)
Tengumai
Koshinokanbai (muku)
Shiwakawago (unfiltered)
Dassai

Sake servered at UminoieWhenever I look at a new sake menu, I’m always instantly drawn to the sakes i’ve never heard of (or… maybe don’t remember). When the waiter came around for our drink order, my first question was about the Koshinokanbai (muku). What does muku mean? never heard that term before. He quickly informed me that they were out of Koshino Kanbai Muku and he strongly recommended I try some shochu. Undeterred, I asked if they had the Tengumai on hand and he said, yes, they did have that sake, but I should really consider the shochu… it is the specialty of the house. Seeing that my questions about sake were getting me nowhere, I needed to take action. I looked him in the eye and firmly ordered the Tengumai Junmai sake and Scott, in a clear sign of sake solidarity, ordered a glass of the Kubota Senju Junmai.

I sensed our waiter was a tiny bit dissappointed he didn’t ‘convert’ us. However, if they are as passionate about shochu as I am about sake, I can understand the motivation at least. Our sake arrived in decidedly dowdy little cups. As you can see by the shape, they may have had a previous incarnation as an airwick scented candle. I don’t mean to be a grouch, but presentation is such a big part of the sake experience IMHO. On to the tasting:

Tengumai JunmaiMy selection was the Tengumai Junmai brewed by Shata Shuzo Co., Ltd. from Ishikawa Prefecture. The name for this sake in English is Dance of Long Nosed Goblins. love that.

Some other stats:
ALC : 15.5%
Nihonshu-Do : 4
Sake Rice : Gohyakumangoku

I found this sake to have a thick, full and pungent flavor. This sake has the backbone to stand up to fuller fare when pairing with food, which is good. However it does seem to lack that understated essense that draws people to premium sake in the first place.

Kubota Senju JunmaiScott’s choice of the Kubota Senju Junmai was the evening’s winner. It’s brewed in Niigata Prefecture by Asahi-Shuzo Sake Brewing Co., Ltd. with an ALC content of 15.5%.

This was a delightful junmai that I would describe as crisp and light and oh so drinkable. it was an excellent match to all our delicious food. When chilled, it really had that taste of drinking fresh moutain spring water on a hot day. refreshing!

All in all this was what I would call an “away game” in terms of sake friendliness. But, it was a great sake learning experience. I got to try some new sakes and get some fresh perspective on what other types of drinks people are passionate about. Well, I realize sake can’t be everyone’s favorite drink. After all, It Takes a Village! If you get the chance, check out Uminoie. Tell them Urban Sake sent you – and keep your eyes peeled for cake.

Rihaku junmaishuI had the pleasure of getting another chance to try the excellent Yakitori Totto on W. 55th Street. If you have not gone yet, give it a try. trust me. Scott and I were out with friends recently and we quickly powered through a carafe of Wakatake and thought it was time to move on to a bottle. In our price range, the only one they had in stock was something unfamiliar to me. It was a excellent Tokubetsu Junmai sake from Rihaku Brewery. “Tokubetsu” means ‘special sake’. I guess they are allowed to say that when there was some special brewing method.

The taste was full and round and it had a little bitty sweetness to the flavor which was nice. it went very well with the yakatori. We had grilled and/or fried everything. fish cakes, chicken meatballs, pork, asparagus – and Rihaku was a great complement. This sake bottle was a great blue color that almost glows. or maybe I was glowing from too many sips. In any case, it’s a great sake! so try it when you would like something with a pinch of sweet to cut some meaty fare.

Here is are the stats on Rihaku Tokubetsu Junmaishu
Rice Gohyakumangoku
Polished to 59%
ALC 15.5%
SMV +3
Acidity 1.6

Man's MountainOk, I have to admit, the english name of Otokoyama’s Tokubetsu junmai reeled me in. MAN’s MOUNTAIN! I just had to give it a try. This could be the very same Otokoyama I had at Menchanko-tei. So, having scaled the heights of man’s mountain and returned with an empty bottle, I can safely say this Junmai is solid. the stats are SMV +10; Acidity 1.6; ALC 15.5%. You can really taste that this is a strong, very DRY Junmai with a hint of fruity-something melon-something. It stands up for itself. I think if the Man Show picked a sake, this would be it. I enjoyed it. It is a good sake to have around for those informal times when something good and strong fits the bill. I’m thinkin’ pizza or chinese take out. I will climb this Mountain again!

Otokoyama served up all purdyI am coming to love japanese websites translated into english! I am starting a japanese class in march, so I’m sure it won’t be so funny when I need to translate Japanese into english myself. Be that as it may, when I was researching this sake called Otokoyama that I sampled last night, their website referred to sake as an “International Habitual Drink” he he. You can say that again! I may rename my blog Urban-International-Habitual-Drink.com. I think it will catch on.

However sketchy their webmaster’s translation skills, Otokayama came as a startling suprise. This was was one of my signature Sake “stab in the dark” selections off a Sake menu — luckily this time I was rewarded. My Friend Scott B and I went to this cute noodle house on W. 55th called Menchanko-tei. The serving of Otokoyama in question was about 6 oz for $8.50. The presentation was great – a very handsome red laquer bowl with a spout and a small blue sake cup. Presentation, I’m coming to understand, is one of the factors that makes drinking sake such a pleasure when out on the town.

Otokoyama hand model
The Sake menu at Menchanko-tei was a little sparse on the details… I think this is the Otokoyama Junmai Export sake you see on their website here. In any case, it was a smooth and very drinkable sake, quite a treat and very good with the japanese dishes we had such as shumai and ramen. For me, the price was right and the sake a real standout, if it is indeed a junmai. I’ll have to go back – I didn’t think to ask. next time, next time.

Menu CoverI realized the other day, I love my new hobby as a sake appreciator, but you know what my hobby really is?…. DRINKING! Obviously, I was never a frat boy and don’t really have a past history of drinking games and waking up outside on the lawn wearing someone else’s pants. I’ve never done a bodyshot or consumed beer thru a funnel, so it’s safe to say I normally don’t get too wasted while enjoying my new hobby. um, but last night was the exception. It was the first Sake Pairing dinner I had every been to, so, in my defense, I wasn’t really sure how things were going to work and before I figured it out, it was just too late. I brought along my dear friend David who is a food adventurer in his own right, so I was at least in great company as I slid into my first evening of all-out sake abuse.

Upon arriving at Matsuri, we were ushered into a side room that looked like it might seat about 50 or 60 people. There were communal tables so we had to sit with people we didn’t know which was unusal, but I tried to make the best of it. There were four glasses set in front of us on this kind of sake placemat. The pairing dinner was 5 courses and 4 sakes… no sake with dessert which is a big oversight in my book. Anyway, we were served our first sake which was the Tedorigawa “Iki na Onna”[LADY LUCK] Daiginjo. they had all the folks from the actual brewery on hand wearing these orange kata robes and a few ladies in colorful kimono. Mr. Toshio Yoshida was a handsome older gentleman with an eye for the ladies who was the senior representative from the Tedorigawa brewery sponsoring the pairing dinner. You can see an overview of the brewing process at Tedorigawa here He said a few words in japanese about each sake we were tasting and about the region of japan where the sake was produced. His comments were translated by another gentleman who I think also worked for the brewery. The first glass was poured and I took a sip. tasted familiar, but i wasn’t sure. I was sure it tasted good. I paced myself because I wanted to make sure I didn’t drink my entire glass befor the first course came out. Mr. Yoshida explained this sake was requested by the lady sake brewers of Japan He said that Iki means kinda like a chic, classy lady. I quickly finished my glass and, honestly, I was feeling kinda bummed that we had such a small tasting. before I really completed my thought, one of the nice ladies in kimono came around with a bottle and filled my glass of Iki na Onna back up to the brim. oh! a refill! well,. then I enjoyed Iki na Onna with larger swigs. the first course was Kobe Beef Tataki, Seared Tuna and Roasted duck which tasted yummy but was literally the size of 3 postage stamps. My glass got refilled again! It was slowly starting to dawn on me that they were giving our unlimited refills… I knew I had 3 other sakes ahead of me, but I pressed on – and they kept refilling!

Sake DescriptionsThe next sake was Tedirugawa “Arabashiri”[RIPPLING STREAM] Ginjo (Nama) and it was paired with a small skewer of yakitori, a few crabmeat Shumai and a poached sardine. Mr. Yoshida called this sake strong and flavorful. At this point Mr Yoshida was walking around with an assistant and stopping at each table for a picture and some flirting with all the women. I’m assuming Mrs. Yoshida was not along for this trip. My theory of endless refills was proving to be correct as the Arabashiri was refilled as fast as the Iki na onna. Everyone at the table remarked at the strong contrast between the two.

A Tiny piece of black cod was the next course and it was paired with Tedorigawa “Yamahai Junmai” [SILVER MOUNTAIN]. This Junmai was strong and a little on the sweet side. Could be my imagination but this one seemed to pack more of a punch – I bet the ALC content is higher on this one. Food-wise, this was the most forgettable course. the cod was tiny. It wasn’t bad, to be sure, but the food was not keeping pace with my sake consumption. I quickly put these thoughts out of my mind and focused on the task at hand.

the final sake was Tedorigawa “Yamahai Daiginjo” [CHRYSANTHEMUM MEADOW] and was paired with Sushi. I’d like to tell you what this sake tasted like or even what Mr. Yoshida said about this one, but i’d crossed the line. The bottomless sake up caught up with me. I was pretty far gone at this point. in fact, I remember everyone at the tasting was in a pretty good mood at this point.

After a yummy desert of Yuzy Crem-brulee the Matsuri chef Ono came out for a bow and dinner was over once the checks were paid. I made my way home – I was way beyond the sake zone at this point- but feeling giddy and indulgent and really tipsy. The sake’s were delicious and the tiny portions of food were delicious. the evening was delicious

Map of Japan showing TedorigawaThe next morning… ah, yes. what was the price to pay for all this merriment? I woke up a little thirsty, but no hangover. I swear, No hangover! I had a little water and I was good to go. I had escaped a direct hit from the velvet hammer. I think it was due to the higher grade of sake I was drinking. Sake really is a wonder! Now, I know that I would have enjoyed the pairing dinner even more if I had slowed down and valued the real taste of each sake instead of marveling at the sheer quantity, but that is a lesson I will put into practice at my next sake pairing. for now, all I can say is I love my new hobby!

Bozu DarumaOK sake fans, run, Run RUN, to Bozu!! This place is da’ bomb. the sushi bomb that is… On Jan 22, I graduated from Feng Shui school and wanted to meet up with some friends the night before the ceremony at a sake-friendly bar to celebrate. I heard about Bozu from Scott and checked it out online – a good website goes a long long way for me. So, I just sent out an email and asked my friends to meet me there at the bar. Turned out to be a wonderful night!
We were the first people to get to get there right when they opened.

Bozu BartenderThe atmosphere inside is dark and filled with black stained wood. kinda gives you the feeling of what an underground sake brewery might be like in Japan. When we sat down at the bar, I was overwhelmed with the sake menu. There was an entire board of sakes by the glass (tasting glass, and masu size), carafe and bottle. They also offered 3 tasting options. I picked the tasting that had the most Daiginjo on it and crossed my fingers. what I ended up having was really yummy but little did I know that I would be drinking those sake’s again just a few days later. The initial tasting I had consisted of 3 sakes by the same manufacturer

1)Tedorigawa yamahai Daiginjo chrysanthemum meadow
2)Tedorigawa Iki na onna lady luck
3)Tedorigawa yamahai junmai silver mountain

Tedorigawa SamplerAll in all, these were very solid sakes, tasting serious, well-produced, smooth and elegant. my tasting glasses were emptied quickly. Since I was in a very festive mood, I began ordering masu (about 3 total) of my old standby the Wakatake Daiginjo – demon slayer. The masu were served in a unique way at Bozu. They used clear acrylic masu boxes set in a shallow blow and overflowed the masu into the bowl. Usually I’ve seen either a round glass overflowed into a wooden/lacquer masu (such as at Decibel) or a round glass overflowed into a shallow bowl (like at yakatori totto). I really enjoy drinking out of the masu, so the sake presentation won high marks.

I also have to mention our bartender. Didn’t catch his name, but you could just tell he was a pro. He knew a lot about his sakes and poured them in front of you, and he was super friendly to boot. Most amazing of all, he was able to pour from a huge 1.5L sake bottle into a 2 oz tasting cup and fill the sake just to the rim and not spill a drop. Quite an expert move. If you’ve ever tried to fill a tiny sake cup from a huge bottle, you’ll know what i’m talking about.

Bozu MasuAs for food, I ordered off the bar menu and had to try their “sushi bombs”. This dangerous sounding meal was actually just a usually square piece of Sushi turned into a rounded shape. I guess “sushi bomb” had more marketing appeal then something like sushi tennis ball. whatever they’re called they tasted good and paired well with the Tedorigawa sake!

The Wakatake I used to round out my evening at Bozu was just the right note of comfort and elegance. When we left Bozu, I was in the “Sake Zone”. You know, that comfortable feeling of being happy, well taken care of, content… all facilitated by liberal sake consumption and the company of good friends. I want to thank all my friends who trucked all the way out to williamsburg brooklyn to help me celebrate. it meant so much to me. thank you guys. I know I’ll be back to bozu for sure to venture elsewhere on the sake menu and see if I can re-create the magic and find my way once again to my happy place, the Sake Zone.

Momoya Chop Stick SleeveWe have all been there…Whether it’s being passed over for that promotion, getting splashed by a cab on a rainy day or finding that one-of-a-kind prized collectible you got on Ebay was smashed to bits by the post office, life can suck sometimes. Lucky for me, i’ve found that a few sips of sake is quite a magic tonic that can pull me back from the brink of dispair on those poopy days and, of course it reminds me that there are are things of beauty, complexity and refinement left to explore in the world. Well, 17% ALC content doesn’t hurt either.

Recently, I had to put my magic tonic to work to *eventually* help save a date night with my boyfriend that was quickly degrading into a disappointing evening for the both of us. It all started when we tried a new restaurant that was the worst ever. I mean ever… that’s saying a lot! Ok, It’s Tono Sushi on 7th ave and 20th. STAY AWAY! it’s bad. (Ok,OK! of course it was my suggestion to go there to try someplace “new”! geesh). After such a yucky dinner, scott and I both agreed that some sake would hit the spot and save the evening from total gastonomic ruin. we ran across the street the the wonderful Momoya japanese restaurant. One look inside and it was clear that we would be out of luck. The line waiting for tables was out the door and every table was taken. damn! well, ever the optimists, we set out across chesea looking for a cozy yummy place to have some sake and save the evening…
Veloce wine bar across from Momoya and next to yucky tono sushi has 3 kinds of sake on the menu (who knew?!) but the jam packed scene inside was not inspiring the ‘cozy yummy’ feel we were after. Neither did the tres tragique 20 year old chick outside taking a cigarette break from her merlot wearing a trucker hat that had the word “whatever” printed on it in a colorful faux-urban-graffiti style font. whatever indeed! onward.

our sake wanderings brought us to some other japanese place on 23rd and 8th…. but that place had a problem, too. The bar had these interesting hanging sake bottle lamps but the bottoms of the bottle were cut jagged to let the light flow down and seemed quite disquieting overhead. not my idea of cozy yummy, ( however, I do love the sake bottle lamp idea, minus the jagged edge) onward!

Cream Puff  says Next door on 23rd is the choux factory cream puff shop. by this point, I was quite tempted to discard my quest for sake and bury my sorrows in a gigantic japanese cream puff. ummm. creampuff… but… no… must escape…

Scott and I managed to break away from the gavatational pull of Choux factory
and were quite ready to give up and admit defeat. on the way home we walked one block out of our way to swing by Momoya once more. Lo and behold there was no line and OMG, there were tables free. as it turns out, we ended up walking around so much that it was now almost 10pm. magic!

So told the hostess we wanted to just order sake and the waitress was kind enough to give us a cozy table with a view. things were starting to look up! ok, so Scott and I had been here before and we’ve tried all the sakes they have by the glass. Scott ordered the $10 sake sampler and I got a small carafe of Wakatake Daigngo.

Momoya Sake SamplerFirst to Scott’s Sampler. This is an attractive selection of three unique sakes running from a Junmai to a nigori Ginjo.
First up is the junmai “Hoyo Manamusume” Momoya describes this as:

a welcome departure from harsh “dry” jumai sakes. Mild, soft and gently evocative. crafted from rare Manamusume rice grown only in miyagi prefecture.

This description fits the sake quite well. Scott and I both enjoyed it.

Next in the sampler is a Ginjo “Dewazakura Izumi Judan”. This is described as

a Martini-lover’s sake: dry clear and high octane with a hint of juniper reminiscent of tanquery. no other ginjo combines dryness and edginess to such exhilarating effect.

Yum, I enjoyed this ginjo quite a bit. Needless to say i’m a huge tanquery fan, so any sake with a hint of Gin is for me. This was my favorite of the 3.

Last is the unusual choice of a Nigori Ginjo.”Kamoizumi Nigori Ginjo”.

This premium unfiltered sake is rich creamy and brimming with exuberant flavor. Mildly sweet, yet surprisingly robust, it is an excellent introduction to the world of sake enjoyment

ok, unfiltered Nigori is not my favorite, but Scott is crazy for it and he loved the kamoisumi. for my taste, this nigori tasted a little ferment-y. but I enjoyed it more than my first time drinking it.

Wakatake Daiginjo - Small Carafe at Momoya. yumWhile scott was trying to enjoy his sampler as I was stealing sips from everything, I was enjoying my small carafe of Wakatake DaiGinjo. perfect! the presentation, color, aroma and taste are all wonderful. I was happy to sit back and relax and enjoy every sip of this redemptive carafe, like meeting up with an old friend. And before we knew it, the sake had worked it’s magic just as we’d hoped… our evening had gone from drab to fab and we polished it off with a little green tea mochi for good measure. nice way to end what became the cozy yummy perfect date night.

My last post was about the Brewing process we got to see at the sake meetup. Here is an overview of the Sakes we got to taste. yum. it was a really good selection and I left feeling very… happy! Thanks to Jeff, Paul, Sebastian and everyone for a great event.

Sakes we tasted from the left… Taihei-zan Kimoto Junmai, Sirakawago Sasanigori, Sawanotsuru Zuicho Dai Ginjo (1.8 L), Itami onigoroshi junmai (1.8 L)

Here is a snapshot of our 5th sake we tasted a Niwa No Uguishi Junmai – Daruma label. Here is a review of this sake I found in the Japan Times Online Authored by the revered John Gauntner

Niwa no Uguisu (The Nightingale of the Garden) is brewed at a tiny firm known for putting great care into their brewing. This “Daruma” sake, of which there is also a daiginjo version, bears the image of the founder of Zen. Daruma is dry and narrow in flavor, clean but with a soft pull to the recesses. There is a slight essence of dried autumnal fruit to the fragrance and flavor, backed and delivered by a nice standing acidity. Although it may be hard to find at just any old liquor shop, Niwa no Uguisu Daruma is comparatively easy to find at good sake pubs.

A close up of Taihei-zan Kimoto Junmai. This one was my favorite!

One of my dearest friends Alysia was given a suprise Birthday Party at Congee Village. It was a chinese banquet kinda thing and it was a lot of fun to sit around those big tables with the huge lazy susan. The waitstaff was very nice too, and they really take care of you. I asked for a saké and they only had one kind. I never really caught the name of it, so this will remain a mystery until my next trip to congee, but it was strong – I’m guessing a junmai and a little coarse, but quite serviceable!

I picked up this sake at my trip to Mitsua on Nov 12. What caught by eye about this one was the big “Jizaki” sticker on the front of the label. I’ve learned this means a regional or local sake. What this really means is sake produced in small-ish traditional breweries.

What are the chances that this imported sake with English on the import label was really a hand crafted small production Sake from a traditional sake microrbrewery? I guess it all boils down to how you define Jizake, eh?

Well, upon closer inspection, Jizake Inc is the name of the IMPORTING company. Kaori is the name of the sake as best I can tell and it is a Junmai Ginjo. The producer of this sake is Yamagata Honten CO. in Yamaguchi. Sake Meter Value is +3 Alc. content is 14.5% A suggested food paring is “Squid and celery salad” … Oh shoot, I just had that last night! 😉 The label aslo says “Smooth type” just like that mystery sake that started my obsession. BUT, this one isn’t anywhere near the same.

BUT – how does it taste? Kaori has a very round smooth taste but it had a finish that tasted a little “frement-y” to me. not entirely unpleasant but I don’t think this will be one of my all time favorites. still on the hunt for a real jizake… I’ll probably have to hit Japan first. Hey – what about a trip to Japan. when money allows, I’d love to. stay tuned…

Tonight i’m trying my first Organic Sake. It’s also one of the first domestic sakes i’ve ever had. I picked this up on my trip to Mitsuwa last weekend.

It’s Sho Chiku Bai Junmai-Shu / Nama Sake. Produced by Takara Sake of berkely CA. Made with Organic rice. I got the 300 ML bottle. the first thing you notice about this lable is the big word Organic in orange letters. I had to try this since I’d seen it both at Landmark and Mitsuwa. So, it’s easy to get. let’s see how it tastes.

Well, it tasted good! My first foray into domestic, organic sake didn’t disappoint. The flavor was clean, sooth and a little robust with slight, but not unpleasant burnt undertones. quite smooth and drinkable. I enjoyed it. It’s a +5 on the Sake Scale, which is where I tend to like things – no wonder this appeals to me.

Here is what the website has to say:

ho Chiku Bai Organic Nama
It’s totally natural, using OCIA certified rice harvested from the Sacramento Valley with absolutely no preservatives, no brewers alcohol added, no sulfites. It is brewed under the direction of Takara’s master brewer combining the most traditional methods with modern technology to arrive at the Ginjo grade.

Type: Junmai Nama/ Draft(Organic)
Character:
Full, dry and balanced flavor with fruity and fresh taste
Dry/Sweet: +5 (dry)
Texture: Soft and smooth
Aroma: Pleasant ginjo aroma
Suggestions:
Serving: Chilled
Pairing food: Cold or vinegar-marinated
Alcohol: 15%

I give this organic Saké 3.5 saké bottles
[rate 3.5]