Here is a short video to share with you one of my favorite things about drinking cup sake… Enjoy!

ozeki_junmai_cupOn July 16, 2009, Kanpai NY and Soba Totto co-sponsored a “Cup Sake Matsuri” with UrbanSake.com at the Soba Totto Bar.

The event was part of “One Cup Sake” week here on UrbanSake.com. We had a great turn out and sold out all the cup sake they had! The distributor of the Cup Sake is JFC International and they even provided party favors for us in the form of Oyaji eyeball fans. really, really, fun and helped keep us cool!

We packed the bar with folks eager to try cup sakes! Here are the sakes we sampled that night:

Since Everything sold out, I assume everyone found the Cup Sake to be delicious. I sure did! A special “Thank You” to Eamon-san for organizing the Meetup and suggesting the event and to Bartender Gen-san for ordering the sake and being such an enthusiastic supporter! Here are some pictures from the event. Enjoy!

Cup sake was displayed on the bar and kept cold with ice!  That really was a delicious selection of fun cup sake.

Cup sake was displayed on the bar and kept cold with ice! That really was a delicious selection of fun cup sake.

Bartender extraordinaire Gen at Soba Totto.  Serving Cup Sake and his signature Fresh Fruit Cocktails!

Bartender extraordinaire Gen at Soba Totto. Serving Cup Sake and his signature Fresh Fruit Cocktails!

Eamon-san and friends enjoy Cup Sake at Soba Totto!

Eamon-san and friends enjoy Cup Sake at Soba Totto!

Enjoying  Oyaji and Kitaro Cup Sake!  Both actually Junmai Daiginjo grade... Wowza!

Enjoying Oyaji and Kitaro Cup Sake! Both actually Junmai Daiginjo grade... Wowza!

Oyaji cup uses Goriki sake rice.  Kitaro Cup uses Yamada-Nishiki Sake rice. Both are delicious!

Oyaji cup uses Goriki sake rice. Kitaro Cup uses Yamada-Nishiki Sake rice. Both are delicious!

After the Cup Sake ran out I had to resort to drinking sake from a regular glass!! ... and during One Cup Sake week no less!  Shocking!

After the Cup Sake ran out I had to resort to drinking sake from a regular glass!! ... and during One Cup Sake week no less! Shocking!

chiyomusubi_kitaro_cup2It seems everyone in Japan knows the anime “Ge-Ge-Ge no Kitaro“. Created by the famous Japanese artist Shigeru Mizuki (水木 しげる), Kitaro has had a wide impact on Japanese Popular culture. So much so that Chiyomusubi Sake brewery, located in Mizuki-san’s native Totori, produced special cup sakes dedicated to several of the characters in Mizuki-san’s stories, each made with a distinct sake rice to suit the character!

The characters are actually ghosts with special powers but shortcomings, too. Kitaro is the hero of the stories is usually trying to make peace between human and the ghost world. He is missing an eyeball and has flying Geta sandals. His father on the other is basically a walking eyeball with a great love for his son and for SAKE! The “rat man” character is a ghost/human/rat half breed who is always looking out for his own best interest.

Below are three videos I made outlining my tasting profile of each sake. Click the header above each video to see the full sake profile.


Chiyomusubi Ge-Ge-Ge no Kitaro Cup Sake Junmai Ginjo


Chiyomusubi Oyaji Gokuraku Cup Sake Junmai Ginjo


Chiyomusubi Nezumi Otoko Cup Sake Junmai Ginjo

Cup Sake Fan Chizuko Niikawa

Cup Sake Fan Chizuko Niikawa

Our friend Chizuko-Niikawa-Helton of SakeDiscoveries.com is a famous Sake Sommelier and a fan of “cup sake”.

I recently caught up with Chizuko-san at the beautiful Ippudo Ramen Restaurant and asked her some questions about cup sake. She provides us her unique perspective on this fun and fashionable way to drink sake!

Q: Before you studied to be a sake sommelier, did you have any experience drinking one cup sake in Japan? What was your impression?

Chizuko Niikawa: I had cup sake just a couple of times when I was in my early 20s for experience when I was in college. I don’t remember what sake I had, but definitely I hated it! Then I was convinced that One Cup Sake is cheesy, bad sake only meant for men over 50! (sumimasen men over 50 years old!….) because I had seen many drunk old men always drinking One Cup Sake on the train platform in my hometown very often when I was in high school. They smelled so bad! However, at the same time, I was longing to try One Cup Sake in a train someday like them because they seemed to be enjoying freedom as grown-ups, and some One Cup Sake designs were so pretty. In fact, I used the cute One Cup Sake glass as my regular glass at my home. I don’t know where it came from, but I could see so many One Cup Sake everywhere in my hometown Akita when I was a little, and I had imagined having One Cup Sake as a grown-up! What a stupid kid!

Q: Later, when you worked as a sake sommelier did you ever get to serve Cup sake? Are there any you can recommend?

kikusui_funaguchiChizuko Niikawa: I served some samples of One Cup Sake at my work for just few customers. It was frozen sake in One Cup Sake glass. You have to shake the glass before open the lid. It tastes so refreshing like a sorbet. They changed my mind in a good way about One Cup Sake right away. I really liked the cup design, too. It had a cute plum blossom print.

And my first One Cup Sake experience in New York was Kikusui Funaguchi. I heard that Kikusui Funakuchi is the number one “Cup Sake” in Japan. It’s Honjozo, but Nama and Genshu. So fresh and rich! It was my first “wow!” impression of a One Cup Sake.

chiyomusubi_kitaro_cup2Now, I highly recommend “Gegege no Kitarou One Cup Sake” from Chiyomusubi in Tottori prefecture! They are all Junmai Ginjo, and all use a different sake rice. Gegege no Kitarou is super popular and the most classic Japanese cartoon character. Most Japanese grew up with Gegege no Kitarou. I wish the label wasn’t on paper, though. If the characters were printed on the cups directly, I definitely keep the cups!

Q: Sometimes people believe that one cup sake means lower quality sake. What is your opinion?

Chizuko Niikawa:I don’t want to say they are “lower quality”, but the big point of One Cup Sake is to make it easy to find anywhere like in grocery stores and at train stations, regular delis or automatic vending machines on the streets in Japan. So, One Cup Sake is supposed to be a cheaper price, and hold it’s flavor longer than premium sake. That’s why most of One Cup Sake is Honjozo or Junmai class.

Q: Cup sake has many cute designs. do you have any favorite cup designs?

Chizuko Niikawa: Yes. My point is, definitely the print is on the glass directly. Not paper label on the cup. Of course, the paper label cup can be recycled, so I don’t ask them to change the design. I just want to keep the empty cup for using regular glass, if the design is very cute. Panda print of Miyozakura from Gifu prefecture and Bambi print of Akishika from Osake are exactly my taste. Little nostalgic old fashion design is my favorite part of One Cup Sake design! (They are not available in U.S. market)

Cup Sakes with Printed Designs

Cup Sakes with Printed Designs

Q: Right now, one cup sake is relatively hard to find in the USA. Do you think it could become more popular someday?

Chizuko Niikawa: It’s hard to say actually. Many sake breweries have been able to brew premium sake nowadays, and the quality is getting better every year. I wish I can have premium One Cup Sake in NY casually, but I heard the bottling system of One Cup Sake is little different. It costs more than regular one, and One Cup Sake hasn’t been had like 20, 30 years ago in Japan now. Of course, some of them are still very popular, though.
One Cup Sake has a big lid, and is not easy to keep long the first fresh flavor probably, but many breweries have brewed great Honjozo and Junmai class sake in all over Japan. So, I don’t ask breweries which have not made One Cup Sake to try making One Cup Sake for people in the world, but if you already have the system, please please never stop to make One Cup Sake in the future!

One Cup Sake from Akita!

One Cup Sake from Akita!

One Cup Sake Fan Todd Bellomy

One Cup Sake Fan Todd Bellomy

I first met Todd Bellomy in 2007 when he contacted me through my website with a friendly email. Todd is a cool guy who is fluent in Japanese, a master beer brewer, and a gifted home sake brewer.

Todd has always been so generous with his sake knowledge, it was no surprise to me when he enthusiastically accepted my offer to provide a guest post for UrbanSake.com “One Cup Sake” week. Todd also gives us some great photos and his picks for some of the best Akita Cup sake out there! Take it away, Todd…

Not all cups are created equal
Cup sake is becoming popular in US, so it is time for a clarification of vocabulary. “Cup Sake” and “One Cup” are different things. “Cup Sake” is a term for any sake sold in a cup container and sealed with a vinyl-coated metal lid. “One Cup” is a futsu-shu sake made by Ozeki Breweries and was one of the first cup sake available. With either kind, the peel-off lid just needs to be removed to uncover the full glass of sake underneath.

Cup sake selection seems to be increasing in Japan as well, with more cup sake varieties available now than just a few years ago. Sake consumption in Japan is falling; last year sake only accounted for 8% of the overall alcohol consumption there. It may be to combat this severe decline that Japanese breweries are offering more sake in this convenient package.

The selection of cup sake in Japan’s big cities used to be limited to sake from the mega-breweries. However, if you traveled to the more rural areas of Japan, you could find higher quality, locally made sake sold as cup sake. Now in the big cities, especially in Tokyo, there is an influx of jizake cup sake, creating not only an increase in variety, but also a boom in quality.

I noticed while in Japan last month that cup sake displays were everywhere. The displays were not only in the usual places like convenience stores, train stations and vending machines. I noticed that there were new shelves of cup sake in liquor stores, increased cup sake displays in supermarkets, and more cup sake for sale brewery tasting rooms. This convenient package is being heavily marketed in Japan this summer.

My favorite thing about cup sake in Japan is the fun and enjoyment of a delicious cup of Junmai Daiginjo that can be consumed anywhere. This is possible in Japan because there is no stigma connected to – or laws against – public drinking: you can enjoy sake or a beer on the train, in a park, or many other public areas. In the US, one barrier to distribution of high-quality cup sake is the lack of need for portable, convenient sake. Where would you be able drink it? Another reason for the scarcity of cup sake in the US is the American tendency to form preconceptions about quality based on packaging. We do this with beer in a can, even though there is now great craft beer available in cans, and with screw-top wine, even though the rest of the world now accepts screw-tops as a modern, quality preserving device.

Although it won’t happen overnight, my hope is that Americans will stop judging a drink by its container. Maybe accepting variety in packaging is a crucial first step to shedding our puritanical heritage and allowing responsible public drinking. After all, after a long day of working or traveling, opening a perfectly hand-crafted cup sake on the train is just so… civilized.

Mansaku no Hana Tokubetsu Junmai & Kariho Ginjo
todd_2cups
Mansaku no Hana Tokubetsu Junmai (above left)
Slightly lower alcohol lends a softness to this Akita sake. Soft, honey like nose with touches of flowers and rice. Clean, pear/apple notes on mid palette with a crisp, short tail of rice and alcohol

Kariho Ginjo (above right)
Not as delicate as their junmai ginjo; this ginjo cup sake delivers of restrained rice and soft fruit esters. In balance with the rice and fruit is a layer of yamahai like fermentation notes that adds some beefiness to this cup!

Hideyoshi Honjozo
todd_1cup
Hideyoshi Honjozo, Akita-ken
This honjozo sang with heavier akita rice flavors, paired with some surprisingly complex apple blossom and nectar flavors. We had this cup with some Kiritampo – akita rice formed on sticks and charcoal grilled with sweet miso glaze. Awesome mid day snack!

Grand Prix winner!

Grand Prix winner!

Did you know that there is a cup sake competition held each year in Tokyo, Japan? It’s like the Oscars of one cup sake and every year a new winner emerges to claim the champions “cup”!

The award is actually shaped more light an old time-y Edison light bulb than a sake cup, but it certainly is an impressive award to display in the old trophy case back at the brewery.

Sponsored by the Kano Takuya Cultural Institute of Wine Co., Ltd., the 2008 competition was tight – with over 55 different cups vying for the top spot, but there can only be one “Grand Prix” winner. This past year, that honor when to:

cup_kantyukatupuSake name:
Koshi no Kanchubai Ginjo Nama chozo TG Cup
Brewery:
Niigata Meijo Kabushikigaisha Corp.

Here are the details on this award winning cup sake:
Milling Rate: 57%
Alcohol: 15-16%
Price is ¥ 284 (~$3.00)

The saddest part of the whole story is that the Grand Prix award winning cup sake from 2008 is not even for sale in the USA! All we can do is wish to taste it ourselves. One Japanese review wrote:

Clearly the sweet, delicious taste of the sake rice emerge from the back. Including the sweet smell of incense… beautiful. Tightening the overall soft acidity, the flavors come out even more clearly. Tasted at room temperature, the flavors of alcohol become more prominent. Taste a bit sloppy.

Hmmmm. There may be a bit lost in translation here, but my interest is piqued! All I can say is, let’s bring on more cup sake in the USA and maybe have a little bit of sloppy cup sake fun on this side of the pacific. Who do you think should win our cup sake Grand Prix?

bq69 collectibles, when I was searching the internet looking for any information I could find about Japanese one cup style sake. You can't imagine my surprise when I wrote to Maki-san and discovered he spoke fluent english! Below is the interview!'>

photo © Maki Osugi

photo © Maki Osugi

I first discovered Maki Osugi’s ‘One Cup Sake’ Blog, bq69 collectibles, when I was searching the internet looking for any information I could find about Japanese one cup style sake.

You can’t imagine my surprise when I wrote to Maki-san and discovered he spoke fluent english! Below is the interview!

Q: How did you first discover One Cup Sake and what caught your attention? Do you remember the first one you tried?

Maki Osugi: In Japan, “Cup Sake” is very popular. When you are in Japan, you can find them very easily. So let me tell you why I love it.

Why I like “Cup Sake” is very simple. I love glass. I love that transparent material. In addition, I like Sake of course. Glass plus Sake makes Cup Sake! Roughly speaking, we have two types of “Cup Sake” here in Japan. One is decorated with a sticker. I call it a “sticker type”. As for the other type, a brand name or an illustration is printed directly on a glass cup. I call this “print type”. Some of “print type” cups looked so cute that I felt like keeping it at home. This is the beginning. While researching “Cup Sake”, I found there are more than 1000 cups sold in Japan. There are tons of cups which I’ve never seen or heard of before. As a matter of course, I felt like collecting them all!

I do not remember which my first cup, but “Suwaizumi” must be one of the first cups that turned me on. My favorite cups, in terms of “cup design”, are listed on the following page. -> http://blog.bq69.info/cup/stars/3-stars/

Ofukumasamune

Ofukumasamune

I also love traveling all over Japan. As some of you might know, Japan is consisted of volcanic islands. So I can enjoy “Onsen” (hot spring). I love “Onsen” as much as I love “Cup Sake”. I always go into local Sake shops and super markets wherever I may roam. I feel very happy when I encounter a cup never seen before.

Many “Cup Sake” from microbreweries are not available even in Tokyo or at online sake stores. Some “Cup Sake” illustrations shows their breweries local landmarks, products or sceneries. For example, “Ofukumasamune” from Niigata has “koi” (carp) and bull fight pictures. Its brewery is located near Yamakoshi area where is famous for both. This kind of local features attract me a lot. “Kobe Cup” is also interesting. Kobe has one of the oldest international ports in Japan, which is represented by a ship on the left side of the cup. There used to be a reservation for foreigners. The weathercock at the right side of the cup represents Kobe’s history.

Q: Why did you decide to start a blog devoted to One Cup Sake? Tell us about your website!

Maki Osugi: My site, “bq69 collectibles“, was started as an online storage of my favorite collections. I intended to list all of my favorite things including books, music, photographs and of course “Cup Sake”. My first post based on my collections was “Cup Sake” because I had collected more than twenty cups at that time. Once I posted a “Cup Sake” article, I wanted to post another and another. While doing so, I find and buy other new cups. The following is a typical cycle of my blogging.

Cup Sake Map

Cup Sake Map

1. buy a cup
2. shoot it
3. drink it up
4. blog it

I have so many cups that I made up my mind to let my site concentrate on Sake topics. I post “Cup Sake” and “Non-Cup Sake” articles one after the other. Although my site is featured in “UrbanSake.com”, my site is unfortunately all written in Japanese. Can’t read Japanese? Please look at my cups on Flickr! Are you a map person? Well, see geological distribution of my collection at my “cup-sake map“!

Q: I’ve heard some people say that One Cup Sake is considered lower quality stuff. How do you feel about this?

Maki Osugi: To those guys, I can say “You are right and wrong”. Most of “Cup Sake” contains “Futsushu” (regular sake). “Futsushu” is diluted with alcohol which is not made of rice. This added alcohol makes sake less tasty. “Cup Sake” was created in 1964 by Ozeki, co. ltd. It was a marketing strategic product. They thought it would be effective to change people’s image of drinking Sake in order to boost Ozeki’s market share. “Casual” and “reasonable” were big keywords. On the other hand, some “Cup Sake” contain “Junmaishu” or “Junmai Daiginjo“. They are very tasty. “Cup Sake is not worth drinking” is a bit stereotype opinion.

Regular archive link -> http://blog.bq69.info/cup/type/regular/
Honjozo archive link ->http://blog.bq69.info/cup/type/honjozo/
Ginjo / Daiginjo archive link -> http://blog.bq69.info/cup/type/ginjo-daiginjo/
Junmai archive link -> http://blog.bq69.info/cup/type/junmai/
Junmai Ginjo / Junmai Daiginjo archive link ->http://blog.bq69.info/cup/type/junmai-ginjo-junmai-daiginjo/

Q: Sake in general is becoming quite popular in the USA. You’ve spent some time living here… do you think One Cup Sake has a chance to catch on in the States?

Maki Osugi: It may be difficult for “Cup Sake” to become popular in the States. In my opinion, breweries do not think it’s a good idea to export their “Cup Sake”. The reasons are:
– cups for “Cup Sake” are not suitable for preservation
– cups itself is heavy, which impacts transportation cost
– “Cup Sake” is cheap (about two USD in Japan)

However, it must be good for breweries to give a “Cup Sake” as a sampler to Sake lovers in the States. At Sake conventions or tasting parties, breweries should give “Cup Sake” to the guests as a promotional sampler. Let them taste a bit at the parties and let them bring “Cup Sake” home. Drinking “Cup Sake” at home may be a good promotion.

Q: I notice that some sake cups have cute/funny/kawaii designs on them. Do you think the sake cup designs influence sales and popularity?

Maki Osugi: Absolutely yes! “Cup Sake” was a big (or medium?) hit in Japan two or three years ago. In those days, many young women bought cute cups just because they’re cute. Giant pandas of “Miyozakura” and cute deer of “Akishika” were big stars. Most of young Japanese women prefer wine or cocktails to Sake. It is very interesting to see that those animals attracted them and made them buy “Cup Sake”!

A cup designed by Yoshitomo Nara was a big hit, too. This contemporary artist is so popular among Japanese girls that they bought cups designed by him. Even those who do not drink bought his cups! You can see his paintings at MoMA in NYC.

Yoshitomo Nara’s cup at my site ->http://blog.bq69.info/2009/02/cup171a-to-z-house.html

Q: What are some of your favorite One Cup Sakes?

Maki Osugi: As I mentioned before, my favorite cups in terms of design are listed in “3 Stars” archive. But some of “2 Stars” cups are also pretty good in design.

If I may be asked what would be my best cups, I would say “Akishika“, which I mentioned before, “Kobe Cup” and “Yagibushi“.

As for taste, I recommend some cups on “Favorites” archive page. All the cups here are “Junmai”. Sake contained in these cups are so delicious that no one can argue, yes including those who claims that “Cup Sake isn’t worth drinking”.

Q: What are you hopes and dreams for the future of your One Cup Sake Blog?

Maki Osugi: Almost all the “Print type” cups I can buy online are already in my collection list. I hope I can get all “Print type” cups, but I do not know how many cups we have in Japan (nobody knows exactly, I guess). Until the day comes, I will roam everywhere in tiny island, Japan. And sometimes I drink “Sticker type” for sure. As for the new cups to come, check’em out at “bq69 collectibles“!

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‘One Cup Sake’ Matsuri at Soba Totto

chiyomusubi_kitaro_cup1UrbanSake.com and Kanpai NY are pleased to present… One Cup Sake Night at Soba Totto on Thursday July 16th at 7:00.

Please join us as we celebrate One Cup Sake Week (July 13th – 19th) on UrbanSake.com – featuring reviews and commentary on the best one cup sakes available in the U.S. We’ve created a special one cup sake list with 7 of our favorite one cups! Most of them are hard to find here in NY, and it’s rare to have so many available in one place!

If you don’t know, one cup sake is a glass of sake that comes in a collectible glass cup. They’re typically sold in vending machines in Japan. It’s a concept that was created by Ozeki in the 60’s, and now lots of sake breweries have their own version of the one cup!

Here’s our special one night only one cup sake list…
Chiyomusubi Kitaro Jungin Junmai Ginjo
Chiyomusubi Nezumi Otoko Jungin Junmai Ginjo
Chiyomusubi Oyaji Gokuraku Junmai Ginjo
Kosui Shizenjo Junmai
Ozeki One Cup Junmai
Shimantogawa Junmai Ginjo
Wakatsuru Junmai Daiginjo

Please join us as we celebrate the cult of the one cup! Kanpai!
RSVP and more information here:
http://www.meetup.com/kanpai-ny/calendar/10839810/
What: One Cup Sake Night at Soba Totto
When: July 16, 2009 7:00 PM
Where: Soba Totto
211 E. 43 St.
New York, NY 10017
212-557-8200

‘One Cup Sake’ Week is coming to UrbanSake.com. Below is a quick promo video I made to promote all of our Online events during ‘One Cup Sake’ week.

Want to try One Cup Sake in Person? UrbanSake.com and Kanpai NY are pleased to present… One Cup Sake Night at Soba Totto on Thursday July 16th at 7:00!

See you online from July 13-19!!

Kanpai!

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Join me online from July 13-19 as we celebrate “One Cup Sake” in the USA.
I’ll be posting daily “One Cup Sake” reviews, videos, articles, interviews & more!

It’s gonna be big…

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