A Sake Industry promotion company called “Kuramoto US” recently put on a sake tasting event at the fantastic Kitano Hotel. Twelve Sake breweries were featured at the tasting, many bringing their precious and fresh Namazake for us to try. That delicious Namazake was really a highlight – but several were only for this tasting and not for sale in the US – yet!

It was really an exciting event with the attendees comprised of restaurant owners, bar managers and other food and beverage professionals. I got to meet some brewers and taste some great sakes! I can’t wait for the next Kuramoto US event!

Welcome to the Kuramoto US sake tasting!

Haruo Okasora Introduces Chiyomusubi

Chiyomusubi sake - Cup sake! My favorite!!

Michiko Kanehira presents her delicous Tomoju sake

Hidetomo Suto of Ehime's Seiryo Shuzo

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In March the International Restaurant Show was held at the Javitz Center. This year a large Japanese pavilion was featured and I was lucky to be asked to speak at the event. I held a Sake 101 lecture and spoke alongside Monica Samuels and Yukari Sakamoto.

This was a fun event and I was really pleased to see so many sake brewers in attendance. I love introducing folks to sake and this was a great opportunity to do so!

Welcome to the restaurant show. Photo by Noriyuki Kuroda

Teaching Sake 101 at the International Restaurant Show at the Javitz. Photo by Noriyuki Kuroda

Sake! Sake! Sake! Crowd goes wild at the Javitz. Photo by Noriyuki Kuroda

with Yukari Sakamoto and Monica Samuels. Photo by Noriyuki Kuroda

Born's Kato-san introduces his sakes

Fukuda-san pours Murai Family Nigori Genshu

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With Ambassador & Mrs. Nishimiya

The Consulate General of Japan in New York recently hosted a reception at the Ambassador’s official residence to promote the “Washoku -; Try Japan’s Good Food” campaign.

On a very snowy afternoon in February, press, chefs and guests were assembled to learn about the good food (and sake!!!) of Japan. This event was also a kick off for the Japan Pavillion at the international restaurant show.

Ambassador Shinichi Nishimiya welcomed us into his home and I was honored to be ask to speak and present a brief Sake 101 lecture for the assembled guests. After the speech, there was a wonderful tasting prepared upstairs which everyone enjoyed. Many sake companies were represented and provided samples for all the sakes.

Yukari Sakamoto was the MC for the afternoon and she also did a lecture on Shochu.

This was a snowy afternoon but the turn out was still strong. You can read more about this event on the website of the Consulate-General of Japan.

My Sake 101 Lecture at the Japanese Ambassador's Residence. Photo by Noriyuki Kuroda

Sake Tasting

Toshi-san and Sakurai-san introduce Dassai and other sakes

Introducing Tomoju and Ken sakes

Senshin Junmai Daiginjo!! Today, Sanjo-san, visiting from the brewery that makes Kubota, was serving a special and beautifully presented Kubota Junmai Daiginjo set. This set included Kubota Manju Junmai Daiginjo, Tokugetsu Junmai Daiginjo, and last but not least Senshin Junmai Daiginjo.'>

Sanjo-san with Sakagura Manager Yukie-san

Sanjo-san with Sakagura Manager Yukie-san

After my fun Kubota Adventure at Decibel, I didn’t want to miss the Kubota event at Sakagura!

This time I was in for one of my new favorite sakes…Senshin Junmai Daiginjo!! Today, Sanjo-san, visiting from the brewery that makes Kubota, was serving a special and beautifully presented Kubota Junmai Daiginjo set. This set included Kubota Manju Junmai Daiginjo, Tokugetsu Junmai Daiginjo, and last but not least Senshin Junmai Daiginjo.

I was delighted to celebrate Kubota sake and Chizuko-san of Sake Discoveries joined me! We had fun enjoying sake together and toasting to Niigata sake from Asahi Shuzo. Sanjo-san stopped by and introduced us to his sake. We also got some special gifts, too!

Sanjo-san is of course the gentleman that gave me tour of the Kubota Sake Brewery (Asahi Shuzo) on my 2008 trip to Niigata. I was delighted to come out and support any Kubota event happening in New York.

I hope Sanjo-san makes another trip to New York this year. I’m always happy to toast this delicious sake! Kanpai!

Kubota Junmai Daiginjo Set

Kubota Junmai Daiginjo Set

Crowds at Sakagura all trying Kubota!

Sanjo-san introduces Kubota sake to some Niigata Fans

Sanjo-san introduces Kubota sake to some Niigata Fans

Sanjo-san and Chizuko-san enjoy Kubota Sake!

Sanjo-san and Chizuko-san enjoy Kubota Sake!

Funky Sake Bar Decibel

In early February, on the night of one of our many awful winter storms this year, I trekked over to Decibel to attend a fantastic Kubota event. They weather was storming outside, but I followed by Sake Samurai Motto:

Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays the sake samurai from the swift attendance of their appointed sake tastings.

Now, not only was awesome sake being served, but the event was hosted by Masamichi Sanjo. Sanjo-san was the gentleman that gave me tour of the Kubota Sake Brewery (Asahi Shuzo) on my 2008 trip to Niigata.

The tasting on this night was a set of 3 sakes: Kubota Hekiju Junmai Daiginjo, Tokugetsu Junmai Daiginjo, and Kubota Senju Tokubetsu Honjozo

These three sakes were delicious! Sanjo-san served the Senju Honjozo with some yummy rice crackers and some preserved salmon from Niigata. It was an earthy mix and a robust flavor! A really fun way to taste a big of Niigata local cuisine!

I had such a fun time at this tasting and stay tuned for my report on another kubota tasting shortly! Thank you to Sanjo-san for bringing such great sake to Decibel!

Kubota Sake Tasting Set

Sanjo-san

Sanjo-san Introduces Kubota Sakes

Sanjo-san Explains Kubota Sake to Decibel customers

Kubota Sakes

From left to right Kubota Senju Honjozo, Tokugetsu Junmai Daiginjo and Kubota Hekiju Junmai Daiginjo

AKIRA!

I was lucky enough to attend some wonderful and cutting edge sake events this past week. What makes them cutting edge? One word: Organic.

Organic seems to be everywhere you turn these days and now, I’m happy to report that organic is starting to hit in the sake world. A wonderful new organic sake is coming to market that I really enjoyed and I hope you’ll get the chance to taste!

That is a Junmai sake called “Akira” and it’s got a really cool story! It all starts with the owner of the farm that makes the sake, Mr. Akira Imura. Imura-san is Chairman of an organic farming company called Kanazawa Daichi located in Kanazawa Japan. He is incredibly enthusiastic about organic farming and he has a true connection to the spirit of the land. Their farm produces organic barley, wheat, soybeans and of course, rice!

The triple Organic rice (Japan, US and EU organic certified) used to make Akira is called “mitsuhikari” rice and it’s interesting to note that this is not usually a sake making rice! The farmers at Kanazawa Daichi told me they feel this sake best represents their brand and their focus on organic products! Their next idea was to bring this great sake to New York City!

Sake Sommelier Chizuko Niikawa-Helton of Sake Discoveries worked with the folks at Kanazawa Daichi to arrange for some great events:

Akira Kanazawa Daichi Night at Kitano Hotel Hakubai Restaurant

The Elegant Kitano Hotel was the setting for the first Akira event. About 100 especially invited guests dined on the wonderful food at Hakubai restaurant and enjoyed Akira Sake! Chizuko was pouring the sake three ways… chilled, room temperature and gently warmed. The guests that I spoke to were all enthusiastic about Akira and many people told me that they have never enjoyed warm sake so much. This made me very happy!

Sake Samurai with Organic Farmers at Hakubai


Akira Sake Tasting at Sakaya

Our Friends Rick and Hiroko at Sakaya also hosted the organic farmers from Kanazawa Daichi. This event allowed all of Sakaya’s sake fans to taste the delicious organic sake, too! Here, too the folks loved Akira – only problem is it’s not for sale in the USA…yet!!!

Tasting Akira at Sakaya


Kanazawa Daichi Night at Sakagura

Last but not least, Sakagura hosted a wonderful evening of Akira Sake tasting – and eating, too! The farmers from kanazawa Daichi brought over some of their organic sake which was made into the most delicious organic onigiri rice balls. The rice was served along side of Akira served at 3 temperatures. Everyone, including myself, flipped out over the fatastic flavor of the organic rice. It’s not every day you can sample the rice your sake was made from – what a treat! Another magical night at Sakagura!!

Chizuko-san and Farmers Introducing Akira sake at Sagakura

Akira Tasting set: 3 temperatures

Elegant Organic Onigiri! utterly delicious!

All told, this was a wonderful start to the organic sake revolution in New York! I think the organic farmers from Japan were thrilled to spread the joy of the organic farm to the big city – and I for was was delighted they did! Again, “Akira” is not yet for sale in the U.S. but hopefully soon! If these events were any indication, it will be a big success! Kanazawa Kanpai!

If you can count on one thing, I would say it’s that the folks involved with the Akita Sake Club know how to throw a sake party! It’s that time of year again, and I was lucky enough to snag an ticket to the wonderful and fun Akita Sake Club sake tasting!

This time around, there was a great selection of sakes from Akita but also from other prefectures, too! A great time was had by all and I really enjoyed this chance to taste some old, new and reacquainted sakes.

IF you want to go to the next Akita Sake Club sake tasting event, keep your eye on my Sake Event Listing (subscribe to feed here). I’ll post it there for sure.

Lovely Akita Ladies pour sake!

Lovely Akita Ladies pour sake!

Fukuda-san is introducing Murai Family Sakes.  I served this on the sake cruise!

Fukuda-san is introducing Murai Family Sakes. I served this on the sake cruise!

Kuno-san pours Tengumai

Kuno-san pours Tengumai

This sake event was BYOB (bring your own Ochoko) to help save the earth.

This sake event was BYOB (bring your own Ochoko) to help save the earth.

The crowds love Akita sake!

The crowds love Akita sake!

Wearing Kimono makes sake taste better! Everyone knows that!

Wearing Kimono makes sake taste better! Everyone knows that!

When Sake Hana talks, people listen! or at least rabid sake fans listen. I was happy to be on the Sake Hana email list to get a notice about a special event being held in their little sake hideaway.

Scott, Chizuko-san and I made our reservations for a special event: Naraman Muroka sake at different temperatures! Same sake – 5 different tastes.

Sake Sommelier Chizuko and Tim Enjoy Naraman

Sake Sommelier Chizuko and Tim Enjoy Naraman

Best part of all, Nobuo Shoji-san, Executive Director of Yumegokoro Sake Brewery – makers of Naraman – would be introducing all sake! Shoji-san gave us a fascinating overview of his Brewery and we sampled only Naraman Muroka sake with a little tuna sashimi and increasingly warm sake.

Here is an overview of the different sake temperatures:

Sake Naming and Temperature Chart
Japanese Name Celsius Fahrenheit English Name
Tobikirikan 55° C 133° F Very Hot Sake
Atsukan 50° C 122° F Hot Sake
Jokan 45° C 113° F Slightly Hot Sake
Nurukan 40° C 104° F Warm Sake
Hitohadakan 35° C 95° F Body Temperature
Hinatakan 30° C 86° F Sunbathing in Summer
Zuzuhie 15° C 59° F Cool autumn Breeze
Hanahie 10° C 51° F Blooming Spring Flower
Yukihie 5° C 41° F Falling Winter Snow

Honestly, I liked Naraman at all temperatures, but I think that hitohadakan (body temperature) was one of my favorite. Shoji-san was excited to try this temperature experiment with his sake, too. Everyone in attendance had a great time. I was left with the understanding that served warm or cold, Naraman is hot, hot, hot!

Shoji-san and Tim enjoying Naraman

Shoji-san and Tim enjoying Naraman

The good sake times keep rollin’ people! What is it about the Fall that delivers so many wonderful sake-rific events?! Must be the start of the sake brewing season that gets everyone’s sake mojo flowing and the events underway.

I’m all for sake mojo so let’s take a look at my latest tasting adventure took me to the Wine of Japan Fall 2009 Sake Tasting event.

When Sake fans hear the word “Shirakawago”, they usually think of one thing: Nigori! This event finally afforded me the opportunity to meet Mr. Miwa who makes the famous Nigoris. I learned something interesting – the Nigori that they export is called “SasaNigori” which is not the thickest they have their full nigori is super, super thick and creamy – I’ve never had anything like it! I was happy to get a taste! If you love Nigori, you gotta check out Shirakawago.

Miwa-san makes the famous Shirakawago Nigori

Miwa-san makes the famous Shirakawago Nigori

I also met the president of Nakamura Brewery. They are located in beautiful Ishikawa prefecture. The Sake they are importing now is called Kaga Setsubai and is a wonderfully rounded Junmai. They also had a smaller cup sake that is meant to be frozen and drunk like a slushie. Slushies have never been so fun!

Nakamura-san with the delicious Kaga Setsubai Sake

Nakamura-san with the delicious Kaga Setsubai Sake

Takaisami Brewery is another producer I got to know a little better at this tasting. They were serving a Junmai and their Nakadare Junmai Ginjo. Both were excellent and the visiting Brewery reps were super friendly. I really enjoyed drinking their sake.

Takaisami Brewery introduces Nakadare Junmai Ginjo

Takaisami Brewery introduces Nakadare Junmai Ginjo

I didn’t get to try everything at this tasting, but I still had a lot of fun. There were many outstanding brews from Wine of Japan imports that are still to be tasted. Hope you’ll join me to explore their sakes!

I was lucky enough to hear about a true “underground” tasting at Decibel, the much beloved downstairs sake bar in the East Village. The vibe was very much a Japanese speakeasy crossed with a flash mob. It was crowded, but fun to see all the regular Decibel customers enjoying a taste of some fantastic sakes.

The sakes featured were Wine of Japan imports and included Tenzan, Sawanoi, Shirayuki and many others and were being introduced by the brewers themselves!

Tenzan Brewery President Mr. Shichida called on his friend Tenzan Man to step in and help introduce his sake to Americans. Although he looks like he might bodyslam you ala Hulk Hogan, Tenzan Man is all about the sake. His mask even has “Tenzan” written in Japanese Kanji! The most well known of their sakes is the ‘Jizake Tenzan’, which is the very strong Genshu style sake. Powerful and delicious!

Ya gotta love New York! Meet Tenzan Man!

Ya gotta love New York! Meet Tenzan Man!

I also met up with Mr. Kodama who was kind enough to show me around Sawanoi Brewery on my recent trip to their brewery. Kodama-san was introducing his Tokyo Prefecture sakes to the large crowd at Decibel. The sakes from Sawannoi are fantastic and despite making a lot of sake, they maintain the hand crafted, micro brewed feeling. Delicious.

Kodama-san from Sawanoi

Kodama-san from Sawanoi

Shirayuki is a brewery I have not had the chance to visit yet, but I was happy to meet Mr. Minamikawa who let me taste a selection of their brews. They are a large producer of sake and have a big distribution both at home and abroad. Minamikawa-san was great at explaining the ins and outs of each of his sakes.

Minamikawa-san Introducing Shirayuki

Minamikawa-san Introducing Shirayuki

This was such a fun event! I hope you all have a chance to visit Decibel sometime soon. It’s the ultimate east village “underground” sake bar! Tell ’em Urban Sake sent you!

The Crowd at Decibel

The Crowd at Decibel

Chizuko-san Pours Myoka Rangyoku

Chizuko-san Pours Myoka Rangyoku

Sake Sommelier Chizuko Niikawa-Helton, Founder of Sake Discoveries, recently held her third official sake party.

Known as “A Night to Remember”, Chizuko-san introduces those lucky enough to get a ticket some wonderful and usually hard to find sake. I attended the previous “Night to Remember” which you can read about here. This “Night to Remember” was no different as it was dedicated to the fantastic sakes from Daishichi Brewery. Above all, he helped explain why Daishichi so appreciates and respects the traditional kimoto brewing method. This gives Daishichi sake a wonderful dimension and sense of history.

Timothy with Ad Blankestijn

Timothy with Ad Blankestijn

Mr. Ad Blankestijn, a visiting representative from Daishichi Brewery helped everyone present navigate the Delicious sakes.

In all, we tasted Daishichi Myoka Rangyoku, Horeki Daishichi, Daishichi Minowamon, Daishichi Classic, Daishichi Yukishibori, Daishichi Kimoto Umeshu, and Daishichi Kijoshu 2001. Tasting all this Daishichi left me with a strong urge to visit the brewery someday to see where it is made and taste it at it’s source! Someday this dream will come true!

The event itself was held at secret sake hideaway “Bohemian” with Mr. Kyotaka Shinoki as executive chef creating a special menu to suit the Daishichi. The food and sake together were excellent. This was a wonderful event – I’m so grateful to Chizuko-san for arranging and for Ad-san for being such a wonderful ambassador for Daishichi sake.

Beautiful Ladies, Beautiful Kimono

Beautiful Ladies, Beautiful Kimono

Union Sq Wines & Spirits doesn’t showcase sake very often, but when they do, it’s a doosie! I recently attended their late summer 2009 “Sake Brewer’s Showcase”. It a jam packed collection of the best sake from Five different importers:

  • World Sake Imports
  • Mutual Trading Company
  • Prestige Sake
  • SENA Niigata Sake
  • ASPEC Akita Sake

The thing that impressed me more than anything was the size of the crowd. I wasn’t really prepared for the throngs of sake lovers that showed up to sample the nihonshu. Crowds were sometimes 5 people deep to get a sip. See the notes in this slideshow for more info on the sake tasting at Union Sq Wines & Spirits.

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer

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!

I recently attended a fantastic sake event sponsored by Nishimoto Trading at Megu Tribeca. I got Interviewed by MTV and below is the result. I’m the only one in the whole video without subtitles! Check it out:

Ataru Kobayashi

Ataru Kobayashi

Mr. Ataru Kobayashi was found at Sakaya last week pouring samples of two of the fantastic Niigata sakes he imports through his company SENA Niigata Sake Selections.

Kobayashi-san is an eloquent advocate for sake from his home prefecture of Niigata. You can really feel his passion for sake and that passion comes through in the sakes he selects to import.

Kirinzan Junmai
First, I tried the Kirinzan Junami. In other posts I have already reviewed the beautiful Kirinzan Junmai Daiginjo that really is to “dai” for! I first had it at Sakagura and it was love at first sip.

Kirinzan

Kirinzan

This junmai grade sake from the same brewery is also a dream, but with a touch more rice in the nose and more broad flavors on the palate. It retains however, it’s gentle and soothing niigata je ne sais quoi.

I also can’t mention Kirinzan without mentioning the thoughtful packaging. The bottle for the Junmai is total eye candy and a wonderfully thoughtful touch!

Manotsuru Daiginjo

Manotsuru

Manotsuru

Next Kobayashi-san poured the delicious Manotsuru “Four Daimonds” Daiginjo.

This sake is made by Obata Sake Brewery’s President Mr. Hirashima. He’s a soft spoken man that makes a wonderfully smooth and serene beauty of a sake. Clean, yet with a light sweetness and mild melon and apple on the palate, I found myself wanting even more of this delicious brew than would fit in my tasting cup!

If you can’t tell by now, Niigata and it’s elegant sake has surely cast a spell upon me. The Niigata style of sake is lighter, easy to drink and very easy to enjoy. Pick up one of these sakes for yourself and you can see what a little Niigata can do for you. Kanpai!

Hibino-san

Hibino-san

The first time I met Brewmaster Mr. Hibino, I found myself a little lost in translation and deep in the heart of Shizuoka Prefecture visiting Oomura Sake Brewery, home of the famous Wakatake Onikoroshi brand.

This time, however, we were on my turf. I was very happy to hear that Hibino-san was coming to Astor Wines to promote a long standing favorite of NYC sake drinkers, Wakataki Onikoroshi Junmai Daiginjo. I was happy to see Mr. Hibino remembered me as well, but shocked to hear that he has just arrived from Japan that morning and was already pouring sake! If he was tired he didn’t show it. Onward with the tasting! it was time to sip some Wakatake for myself. I had recently served it in an Elements of Sake Class and it was every bit as good as I remembered. SMV ±0 and super clean, this sake is very easy to love. Welcome to New York City Hibino-san! Please come back again soon!

Maruyama-san

Maruyama-san

Hibino-san was kind enough to introduce me to. Mr. Kazuo Maruyama, representing the Shirataki Sake Brewery in Niigata prefecture. Maruyama-san was pouring one of their most well known sakes: Shirataki Sara Wind Junmai. I recently had this sake at Buddakan Restaurant and really enjoyed it. One delightful feature of buying Shirataki Sara Wind Junmai is that the bottle comes with a cute cloth bag and a small glass “ochoko” sake cup. Who wouldn’t love that? The label is beautiful as well. It was drawn by a french artist visiting the region and it represents the local rice fields. The taste is clean and light and unobtrusive. It is beautiful in it’s Niigata-ness.

Shiratake also produces the much loved Jozen Mizunogotoshi Junmai Ginjo. This is a sake I did one of my very first (and embarrassing) videos on!

I was happy to visit these brewers serving their best sakes at Astor. I have always told people that attending events with the brewers visiting from Japan is one of the best ways to learn about sake. You can get the info on the sakes right from the source. And if your interested in learning about sake, and meeting some really wonderful people, there is nothing better than that. Kanpai!

We Drank This!

Behold the Bounty! We Drank This!

It goes without saying that I really enjoy teaching sake classes at Astor Center! June started off with our super fun ‘Sake and Food Pairing’ class. This class takes a walk on the wild side of sake and really goes in search of some of the more unique flavors in the sake world.

The Pairings
Sparkling: Harushika Tokimeki Junmai (pairing: apple wedge)
Kimoto: Sawanoi Iroha Kimono Junmai (pairing: Grilled shitake w/bonito)
Yamahai: Hiraizumi Yamahai Junmai (pairing: tsukune chicken meatball)
Genshu: Umenishiki Junmai Ginjo Genshu (pairing: Edamame.)
Nigori:Ichinokura Junmai Nama Genshu Nigori (pairing: blue cheese)
Koshu: Hanahato Kijoshu (pairing: vanilla ice cream)

Which sake food pairing do you think was voted as the class favorite?
Drumroll please……
Ichinokura Nama Nigori with the Blue Cheese! Wha? I know! But it really worked. The texture of the sake and cheese were both super creamy, but the blue cheese had a little bit of saltiness that was just fantastic with the nama.

Special Guest

Sake Glass

Sake Glass

Riedel O Daiginjo Sake Tasting Glass

It was not only blue cheese and nama that made this class special! We had a very special guest, Mr. Maximilian Riedel. He spoke for a few minutes and introduced his Riedel “O” Daiginjo sake tasting glass.

We enjoyed the very special Wakatake Junmai Daiginjo with Mr. Riedel’s glass. He showed us the finer points of tasting sake using his stemless tasting glass. We also each got to take home our glass! Yeah!

Here is a video of Maximilian Riedel introducing is “O” line of glasses:

2007 and 2008, I was eagerly awaiting this year's tasting. '>

John Gauntner introduces Sake Brewers at the Japan Society

John Gauntner introduces Sake Brewers at the Japan Society

It’s becoming an delicious yearly ritual in my sake tasting routine: The annual Japan Society Sake Tasting and Lecture. Just as in 2007 and 2008, I was eagerly awaiting this year’s tasting.

Koji, Koji Koji
John Gaunter was again the special guest speaker and his lecture was entitled: “Without Koji, There is No Sake”. Koji is the true mystery ingredient in sake. Often called the “mold that makes the magic”, the title of the lecture couldn’t be more true. John focused on many of the interesting aspects of how koji works, how brewers work with it and also, descriptions of the unique rooms used at breweries to propagate koji mold.

This year, we had the following Breweries represented:

  • Tenzan Sake Brewing Co. (Saga)
  • Asahi Sake Brewing Co. (Yamaguchi)
  • Rihaku Sake Brewing Co. (Shimane)
  • Imada Sake Brewing Co. (Hiroshima)
  • Marumoto Sake Brewing Co. (Okayama)
  • Sudo-Honke Inc. (Ibaraki)
  • Tentaka Sake Brewing Co. (Tochigi)
  • Okunomatsu Sake Brewing Co. (Fukushima)
  • Kaetsu Sake Brewing Ltd. (Niigata)
  • Tenju Sake Brewing Co., LTD (Akita)
  • Akita Seishu Sake Brewing Co., LTD. (Akita)
  • Nanbubijin, Inc. (Iwate)
  • Takasago Sake Brewing Co. (Hokkaido)

Miho Imada

Miho Imada

Meet The Brewers
The sakes from all the above Breweries were amazing! The news for me was some wonderful unique treats that I got to try.

One special treat was the delicious Fukucho Junmai Daiginjo “Hattansou” Muroka Genshu made by Miho Imada at the Imada Sake Brewery in Hiroshima Prefecture. This sake was unique in several ways. It was made using a lesser known sake rice “Hattansou” which I learned is a parent rice to the more well known Hattan-Nishiki rice. This leaves this sake with a wonderfully concentrated sense of flavor and aroma. I have high hopes to see this sake for sale in the US this year!

Also from Imada-san, don’t miss:
* Fukucho Junmai Ginjo “Moon on the Water”
* Fukucho Junmai Ginjo “Biho”

Dassai 23

Dassai 23

Mr. Sakurai was also on had from Yamaguchi Prefecture’s Dassai Brewery. He brought with him three of his wonderfully loved sakes for sale in the US:

* Dassai 23 Junmai Daiginjo
* Dassai 39 Junmai Daiginjo
* Dassai 50 Junmai Ginjo

However, A rare treat for me on this night was the chance to taste Sakurai-san’s Dassai Junmai Daiginjo 39 Sparkling Nigori! This is a beautiful light bubbly brew worth savoring. Not for sale in the US, but we can hope for the future!

So many sakes were tasted and enjoyed! This was another enjoyable year at the Japan Society. This year we learned that “without Koji, there is no Sake”. Can’t wait to see where in the sake world they take us next year!

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a litte thing for sake from Niigata prefecture. That first brew that enchanted me years ago, Hakkaisan, hails from Niigata and I’ve kinda been smitten by this region ever since. You can imagine my thrill when I got an invite to attend a recent sake industry tasting hosted by the Niigata Sake Selections importers! I met up with several brewers and here’s a brief overview of what we sampled. [spoiler alert: it was gooood!]

Shigeno-san

Shigeno-san

Yukikage Snow Shadow

First, I met Ms. Shigeno representing Kinshihai Shuzo. She was pouring her signature sake Yukikage “Snow Shadow” Tokubetsu Junmai.

This is an award winning sake that has a nice light body yet a full and clear finish. Niigata makes some beautiful sake and this is a prime example!

“Snow Shadow” is a name that makes me think of Nigori, but this is a delicious clear junmai.

Hirashima-san

Hirashima-san

Manotsuru “Four Diamonds”

Hirashima-san is the president of Obata Shuzo and makes the stunningly beautiful “Manotsuru” brand sake.

I first tried the delicious Manotsuru Junmai Ginjo and really enjoyed the smooth flavor. Four diamonds? I give it five or more! After the Junmai Ginjo, I enjoyed their delicious Manotsuru Daiginjo. Mildly sweet and very well balanced, this alcohol added Daiginjo is a fantastic treat with just the right amount of melon. Delicious!

Saito-san

Saito-san

Kirin-zan
I first tried Kirin-zan Junmai Daiginjo at Sakagura on New Year’s Eve a few years ago. I was impressed with the incredible clarity of this sake. Super-Niigata type sake!

Bracingly clean and laced with mild nuance of citrus goodness. A classic niigata sake made with the signature soft Niigata water. A beautiful bottle for a very beautiful product. Saito-san explained to me there is a different color bottle for each of his sake lines… Blue is for the delicious clean, clear taste of the Junmai Daiginjo. I couldn’t agree more.

Furusawa-san

Furusawa-san

Matsunoi Wishing Well
Furusawa-san was really nice and introduced me to two of his great sakes. They were more earthy, but earthy in a strictly Niigata way. I first tried the Matsunoi “Wishing Well” Tokubetsu Junami. This sake is dry with a great tone and balance.

I also enjoyed Furusawa-san’s Matsunoi “Wishing Well” Tokubetsu Honjozo. This sake was nutty and lightly rich. yummy in the classic niigata style. I loved tasting the Junmai and Honjozo side by side. I’ve seen the Honjozo around town before and I know I always enjoy it. You can always find room for a special honjozo to go with delicious Japanese cuisine.

Aoki-san

Aoki-san

Kakurei

I first met Mr. Aoki-san at a Sake Hana event in December 2006. Aoki-san was kind enough to remember me and was as nice as ever!

A delicious Kakurei Junami Ginjo started me off and running! light floral notes and a clean finish personify this sake. Just fantastic. I also was happy to revisit their Kakurei Junmai Daiginjo. A perfect little gem of Niigata sake, this is an elegant daiginjo with mild fruits on the palate and light floral aromas in the nose. Smooth and clean – so drinkable.

All in all, this tasting left me loving Niigata more and more! If you enjoy the classic light and airy feel of Niigata Nihonshu, I implore you try the sakes from this region. World famous for sake, Niigata won’t disappoint you. Please try it and and enjoy – and tell them Urban Sake sent you! Kanpai!

Joto Sake importers recently held a sake tasting at LAN restaurant in the East Village. Best part was, the Brewers themselves were there to introduce their sakes. When people ask me what they can do to learn more about sake, I always encourage them to attend events just like this one. Talking directly to the people who make the sake is one of the best ways to learn. Let’s check out the Joto sake!

Yuho “Happy Rice”

Miho Fujita

Miho Fujita

This sake is from outer space? That’s what Miho Fujita told me when I first sampled her brews. Seems their brand name “Yuho” sounds an awful lot like the way “U.F.O.” is pronounced in Japanese. Well, I will say it is “out-of-this-world” delicious.

It’s a new offering from Joto sake importers and quite a find. Yuho has been creating buzz in Japan and rightfully so. I tried Fujita-san’s Yuho Junmai first. A thoroughly modern Junmai, it’s well balanced and slightly rich. I also sampled the Yuho Junmai Ginjo. Bright and vibrant, this is a very versatile sake. I tasted light hints of citrus with a wonderfully crystal clear finish.

Yuki no Bosha “Cabin in the Snow”

Kotaro Saito

Kotaro Saito

Snowy and remote Akita Prefecture is well known for sake making, and the magnificent sakes from Yuki no Bosha keep that reputation alive and well. I was happy to meet a sake rock star, Mr. Kataro Saito, the Fifth Generation maker of these sakes.

I started exploring these sakes with one of my all time favorites, Saito-san’s famous Yuki no Bosha Nigori. It’s light and breezy with all the very best parts of Nigori texture and limited release Junmai Ginjo in one. If you want to explore Nigori – I recommend you start here. I also enjoyed the delicious “Akita Komachi Daiginjo“. This delicious sake was rich, super smooth and just exuded elegance. A real gem among fortified daiginjos.

Wataribune

Takaaki Yamauchi

Takaaki Yamauchi

Yamauchi-san (please call him “Taka”), the man behind Wataribune, is a bundle of energy and enthusiasm for sake. I had the pleasure of visiting Huchu Homare Brewery, home of Wataribune, and getting the grand tour from Yamauchi-san himself! Please read about my visit HERE.

Tasting his brews again brought be back to that wonderful trip. I enjoyed getting reaquainted with the Wataribune Junmai Daiginjo. A rich and fruity daiginjo, look for peach and honeydew on the palate and also a nice long finish that stays with you sip for sip. Delicious!

Chikurin “Bamboo Forest”

With Niichiro Marumoto

With Niichiro Marumoto

Marumoto-san is the wonderful maker of “Chikurin” brand sakes. He looked great in his kimono and I just had to get a pic with him. I enjoyed Marumoto-san’s wonderful hospitality last October on my trip to Japan. Read my full account of Marumoto Brewery HERE. Fantastic!

Today I got to try Chikurin Karoyaka “Lightness”. It’s light with mild fruits and enough body to hold it perfectly together. I also enjoyed Chikurin Fukamari “Depth”. This sake is good and There is a touch of richness that comes from the fact this sake is blended with a small amount of aged sake. Great to enjoy these Chikurin sakes again!

When you get a chance to try these Joto sakes don’t miss it! They offer a wonderful taste of the artisanal brewery movement in Japan: Delicious, hand-crafted, amazing. Kanpai!

Chizuko-san

Chizuko-san

Most of the time, I’m years behind the curve when it comes to knowing the newest, coolest and most secret places to eat and drink in New York. This week however, the gods of New, Cool and Secret were smiling upon me as I was lucky enough to snag entrée to Sake Sommelier Chizuko Niikawa-Helton’s latest invitation-only sake tasting event called “A Night to Remember” and held at New York’s newest hidden sake hideaway, the soon-to-open private club Bohemian.

Rare Sakes
Chizuko-san recently traveled to Japan and came back with a bevy of rare and hard to find sake that she wanted to share with us at this tasting. Most of the sake we tasted is not for sale in the U.S. and a few special bottles were directly from the Brewer and not for sale even in Japan!

Kimono Sleeves are Better than Pockets

Kimono Sleeves are Better than Pockets

I decided to try my hand at wearing Kimono for this event. Honestly, it was a little nerve wracking. I did my best to tie my obi correctly and headed out the door onto the NYC streets in my shiny green haori! When I arrived, I was greeted warmly and all the Japanese folks at the event seemed happy to see me in Kimono. It ended up being a lot of fun! You can hide a lot in those sleeves!

A Sparkling Warmup
We were greeted at the door with a flute of Dassai 39 Sparkling Junmai Daiginjo Nigori. Delicious, elegant and a perfectly fizzy way to start the evening off right.

After the Dassai 39 Nigori, the sakes came fast and furious. Chizuko-san poured each with a grace and hospitality that can only come from years of Sommelier experience. In a field of already extra delicious brews, two sakes from Iwate Prefecture’s Nanbu Bijin Brewery stood out as extra, extra delicious.

Nanbu Bijin Shines
First was the Nanbu Bijin Daiginjo First Run 2009 “Hatsu Bashiri”. This sake was alive with luscious fruits on the palate and a refreshing juicy mouthfeel, all the while feeling smooth, elegant and expressive. A really wonderful Daiginjo!

Nanbu Bijin Hatsu Bashiri

Nanbu Bijin Hatsu Bashiri

The second sake of note was the Nanbu Bijin 12 year aged Daiginjo “9BY”. This sake is special as it was brewed by the late Master Brewer of Nanbu Bijin, the Honored Mr. Hajime Yamaguchi.

This sake was aged for 12 years at very cold temperatures which gave it a very rare deep level of complexity on the palate. Rich, full and ravishing, this sake was a true masterpiece. Although I had never met him, I couldn’t help feeling the spirit of Yamaguchi-san was there with us through his magnificent sake.

Food, Glorious Food
I’d really me remiss if I just reported on the sake. Bohemian Executive Chef Kiyotaka Shinoki paraded several courses of really delicious and inventive food to pair with the sakes. From fresh tuna and kanpachi sashimi to fresh oysters with a spritz of key lime to a delicious fresh ikura caviar rice bowl, all the food was amazing. We sampled 11 unique dishes and each had an elegant touch and refined simplicity. Just beautiful Japanese food.

Ice Bucket/Ice Sculpture

Ice Bucket/Ice Sculpture

Beautiful Space
Bohemian itself was beautiful. Think ginormous skylight, live moss garden, sake ice bucket free form ice sculptures, backlit bar and modern Asian art light sculptures. yeah, I know. The whole 9 yards. Beautiful space, beautiful food, beautiful sake and beautiful company all came together to make a pretty darned beautiful evening. My special thanks go out to Chizuko-san for spearheading this special event with Bohemian. It really was “A Night to Remember!”

en_signThe folks at Joy of Sake don’t just stick to their one mega sake tasting event each year. Lucky for us, they also have smaller get togethers they call “Aftertaste” events, each usually focused on a new sake-related theme. Last June, I attended a Joy of Sake Aftertaste event devoted to “Umami”.

However, last week, I was lucky enough to attend the latest Aftertaste event being held at En Japanese Brasserie. This event focused on the concept of “Balance and Harmony” in sake. This is the event description from the invite:

One characteristic all prize-winning sakes possesses is “balance.” For most sake judges, balance is more important than either taste or aroma. But what exactly is it that is in balance? And how can we tell if a sake is balanced or unbalanced? This month’s tasting explores one of the more elusive concepts in sake appreciation.

sake_bowlBalance in Sake
It’s true! Balance is something that’s very prized in the world of sake. I look at balance as finding the most pleasant equilibrium between sweetness and acidity as well as richness and lightness.

So what sakes were on tap to explain “Balance and Harmony”? Let’s take a look at some highlights! Check out these sakes if you want to find some Balance and Harmony of your own!

tentaka_silent_streamTentaka “Silent Stream” Junmai Daiginjo: From Tochigi Prefecture. This sake won a silver award in the 8th US National Sake Appraisal.

shichihonyariShichihonyari Junmai: From Shiga Prefecture. This sake won a silver award in the 8th US National Sake Appraisal.

Dassai 50 Junmai Ginjo: From Yamaguchi Prefecture. This sake won a gold award in the 8th US National Sake Appraisal.

taiheikai_junmaiTaiheikai Tokubetsu Junmai: From Ibaraki Prefecture. This sake won a gold award in the 8th US National Sake Appraisal.

Here’s to lots of “balance and harmony” in your sake drinking experiences!

I recently enjoyed teaching my Sake 101 class at Astor Center! The class is referred to as “elements of Sake” and that is really true! We break down what the basic classifications are, what to look for when tasting sake and we review the sake production process.

Let’s take a look at the SEVEN sakes we tasted during this fun sake 101 lecture. Can you guess which one was the class favorite??

otokoyama_junmaiOtokoyama Junmai 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.

kubota_senjuKubota Honjozo Fuller in flavor and bolder, this honjozo is a touch on the dry side with a real food friendly vibe. This brewery is top notch and very highly regarded in Japan. This was our only “alcohol added” sake of the evening. Robust, full and very high quality.

senchu-hassakuTsukasabotan Tokubetsu Junmai This sake is dry, but has a well-rounded depth of flavor. It’s impressive and understandably a favorite! I enjoyed every sip. For lovers of dry sake, this is a “must try”. just beyond being dry, this delicious brew also offers depth of flavor.

dassai_50v2Dassai Junmai Ginjo Light, balanced, clean and easy drinking, this sake is a star. It’s wonderful for beginners to get into sake and fantastic for others to simply enjoy. There are wonderful fruits on the palate without coming off too sweet. Just fantastic.

dassai_nigoriDassai Junmai Ginjo Nigori A Nigori version of the famous Dassai 50 junmai Ginjo. The story here is all about texture and the light sweetness conveyed by the rice solids left in this nigori. The nose on this sake makes you say “wha?” , but the palate is all “ahhhh, delicious”. a beautiful choice if you’re hankering for some nigori action.

masumi-arabashiriMasumi Arabashiri Junmai Ginjo Nama Genshu This delight just screams springtime nama. It’s fresh, fresh flavor is alive with a fruitiness that may come across a touch sweeter than it actually is. This sake tastes alive and makes me happy to be alive. This is so yummy you can easily drink more than you perhaps should.

kurosawa_daiginjoKurosawa Junmai Daiginjo Truly one of my very favorite Junmai Daiginjos… This one is masterful. Wonderful light apple and soft pear on the palate. lightly luscious with a resounding smoothness you’ll be hard pressed to find elsewhere.

So, what do you think won out as class favorite? If you guessed Masumi Arabashiri, you’re right! The super bold, fruity and spring time zing-fest that is Masumi Arabashiri won out as the favorite of all the picks. Have you tried it? If not, get thee to a liquor store and order some as soon as possible! it’s only available in the springtime and supplies are limited!

Please join me for my next Sake classes at Astor Center!! We have a Sake and Food pairing course on June 3rd as well as another Sake 101 class on June 24th. Don’t miss them!

A whole lotta Dassai

A whole lotta Dassai

My good friend and sake sommelier extraordinaire Chizuko-san alerted me to a special tasting event that was happening at Momokawa Restaurant (157 East 28th Street New York, NY 10016). Now, I DO know the Dassai brand very well, but I have never been to Momokawa, so I was intrigued to try a new place. I eat Japanese food a lot in NYC, so finding a new place would be a great find.

From street level, you need to go down stairs and then up spiral stairs inside to reach the dining room. This may be a feng shui consultant’s nightmare, but once you navigate your way, you will find it’s work the trip.

I was greeted by Chizuko-san and Sakurai-san from Dassai Brewery. Momokawa normally specializes in shabu-shabu, but on this night I was focused on Dassai. They were offering a special appetizer tasting of 3 Dassai sakes with individual food pairings.

Dassai with Appetizer

Dassai with Appetizer

Here is what we had as part of the Dassai Tasting:

Dassai 39 Junmai Daiginjo paired with marinated sardines. The sardines were delicious but on the bone. Peeling off the fish, it was delicious and succulent, a great match for Dassai 39.

Dassai 50 Junmai Ginjo paired with rich chicken liver paté. I was surprised how much I loved the liver! It’s not usually my thing, but I have to say I really enjoyed the rich flavor of this dish.

Dassai 50 Junmai Ginjo Nigori paired with white fish sashimi. This sashimi was my favorite dish of the evening. The freshness of the fish was a delightful contrast to the fresh fish. I really enjoyed this pairing.

All in all, this was a fantastic adventure in a great new restaurant! I can’t wait to go back and try the shabu shabu! It was fun seeing Sakurai-san and Chizuko-san at this tasting. I was so happy to learn that Dassai 39 is now being imported into the US! this was great news for all of us. It’s a wonderful addition to the sakes available here! If you get a chance, stop by Momokawa restaurant and try whatever Dassai Pairing they have on the menu – it’s delicious! Enjoy and Kanpai!

Astor Sake deliciousnessLast Tuesday was my latest class at Astor Center, teaching the “Elements of Sake” Class. It was a blast!

The class was sold out and I was lucky to find myself in front of a room of students anxious to learn more about sake! My goal at each “Elements of Sake” class is to provide a survey of the basic classifications of sake. I know not every student will love each and every selection, but they will come closer to knowing what they do like and don’t like as far as the range of sake tastes go. This is very important to make good decisions about buying sake in the future. You’ve got to know what you like!

With a basic survey in mind, These are the 7 sakes that I chose for our most recent class:

If you want to join us for the next session, don’t hesitate to check out all the details for our April 29th Elements of Sake class. I look forward to seeing you then!

Moriura-san & Fufu-san

Moriura-san & Fufu-san

Have you ever gotten a call from a long lost friend and picked up right where you left off without missing a beat?

That’s exactly how I felt after getting re-acquainted with some delicious sakes from Nara’s Ume No Yado brewery. Sakaya recently sponsored a tasting of four delicious Sakes from this well known brewery.

At the tasting I met the delightful Mr. Moriura and Ms. Liao, aka Fufu-san, who were both visiting from Ume No Yado to help introduce some delicious new imports to New York from their Brewery. I was delighted to taste their new sakes and happy to taste their existing offerings again.

“Ume No Yado” means “Plum House” and from what I could gather, the name stems from having an ancient plum tree on the grounds of the Brewery for as long as anyone can remember. The Brewery is located in Nara prefecture which was the first capital of Japan in the 700s and can be considered one of the cradles of sake brewing culture in Japan. Let’s suffice to sake sake has a long and storied tradition in Nara.

Of the sakes I tasted there were two new fruity imports and two existing standbys. Let’s take a look!

ume no yado junmai ginjoUme No Yado Junmai Ginjo

This is perhaps the best known sake from Ume No Yado currently in the US. What I like about it is the somewhat rich character and the fact that it doesn’t shy away from rice flavors. It’s extremely drinkable and very enjoyable.

umenoyado junmai_daiginjoUme No Yado Junmai Daiginjo Bizen Omachi

This is a delicious sake made with the rare but well known “Bizen Omachi” rice. It’s hard to grow and gives this sake a beautifully unqiue taste. this Junmai Daiginjo is milled to an amazing 40%. Look for the signature smooth taste.

umenoyado_yuzuUme No Yado Yuzu-shu

Yuzu is a well known taste in Japanese cuisine, but less so here. it’s often called a “japanese lemon” and it a unique citrus worthy of your attention. This low alcoholsake is made with the addition of fresh yuzu juice that is summed up in one word: “Refreshing”!

umenoyado_umeUme No Yado Ume-shu

This is a low alcohol Plum sake or “ume-shu”. It’s sweet without being overpowering and if you like the taste of plums, you in for a treat. Enjoy as dessert after a meal! And who better to explore what Ume can do than the Plum house itself “Ume no Yado”!

So whether you want to meet a new friend or say hello to an old acquaintance, give the sakes of Ume No Yado a try. It’s a fantastic brewery that doesn’t shy away from rich and unique flavors while still honoring the ancient traditions of Nara. It’s a sure bet whatever you choose! kanpai!

Hakkaisan Sakes

Hakkaisan Sake

Nobody was more excited than me to learn that Sake Hana was hosting my beloved Hakkaisan Brewery for a “vertical” tasting of their sake. From Futsu-shu up to Junmai Daiginjo… we were going to taste it all. So, you can imagine, I was psyched!

This event was part of the education series put on by Toshi-san at Sake Hana Sake Bar. I was lucky enough to teach a sake 101 class there last month, which was a lot of fun and where we tasted TEN delicious sakes.

What Makes a Hakkaisan?
This class was lead wonderfully by Hakkaisan’s special envoy in the U.S., Ms. Kumino Kurosawa. Kurosawa-san instructed us in several interesting points that all focus in on one interesting question: How can a large and famous sake brewery like Hakkaisan produce the quality of hand-crafted sake you find at small jizake micro breweries?

Kurosawa-san with Hakkaisan Junmai Daiginjo

Kurosawa-san with Hakkaisan Junmai Daiginjo

In my opinion, it all comes down to effort of the brewery to produce the best quaility with no cutting corners. Several great observations were made that raised my awareness of what goes into this scale of production:
  • Best quality Sake rice. Working with local rice farmers to ensure the best of the crop is used in Hakkaisan Sake.
  • Special Milling Rates (seimaibuai). Using higher than usual milling rates help ensure a superior product.
  • Hand crafting Koji. All Koji used in Hakkaisan production is make by hand.
  • “Long and Low” fermentation. Using low temperatures and a longer time frame helps achieve that special taste.
  • Accomplished staff. Full staff of well trained artisans help maintain quality of koji and sake production.

The Hakkaisan Sakes
Well, what did we taste? It was a wonderful journey up the offering of what Hakkaisan has to offer:

hakkaisan_futsushuHakkaisan Futshushu Futsushu is often considered “table sake”. Most Futsushu is rough and tuble, but Hakkaisan is dry and clean and not your average futsushu. Much more elegant that you would usually find. You can tell this sake is a younger brother to the more elegant Hakkaisan Ginjo sake. Great for pairing with richer foods.

hakkaisan_honjozoHakkaisan Honjozo Delicious and slightly rich honjozo. On the dry side with plenty of body to stand up to hearty food. you could enjoy this honjozo both chilled and gently warmed.

Hakkaisan Ginjo Truly one of my very favorite sakes. 2007 Urban Sake Golden Masu winner for “best in show” sake. The added alcohol in this sake gives a more floral character to the nose and a touch of added richness to the body while staying true to it’s smooth and lighter Niigata roots. A fantastic argument for premium ginjo-shu style sake if there ever was one.

hakkaisan_ginjoHakkaisan Junmai GinjoI have a real soft spot in my heart for this sake. It’s a touch dry with tremendous balance and a crisp refreshing finish. Elegant and not to be missed! A perfect example of Niigata class and elegance.

hakkaisan_junmai_ginjoHakkaisan “Kongo-shin” Junmai Daiginjo This sake was a surprise for class attendees. It’s not available in the US, and I have never had a chance to try it! It presents in one of the most beautiful sake bottles you’ll ever see. The taste is quite rich and full with tremendous depth of flavor. It goes down extremely smooth – this is accounted for by it’s fantastic milling rate of 40%. Balanced and deep, I found my glass empty much too soon!

Even after spending a fantastic day personally touring Hakkaisan brewery last October, I still found myself learning more and more about this wonderful sake producer. I left feeling lucky we have it here in the States, so if you haven’t yet, be sure to try Hakkaisan first chance you get. It’s an incredibly well known brand in Japan and you don’t reach that level of brand awareness without a lot of hard work and passion for sake making. I feel it’s a wonderful marriage of small scale commitment to detail and larger scale quality production that creates that something very special. And nothing beats the chance to taste these sakes all side by side… Delicious!

Drink Up!

Drink Up!

Last night I had the great pleasure of teaching a Sake 101 class for the fine folks at Sake Hana. Arranged by Manager Toshi-san, the class was the second in a series of instructional classes that were requested by Sake Hana Customers.

The class was structured as a basic sake 101 class which covered sake classifications, sake ingredients, Production Process and of course sake tasting! The tasting is really what set this class apart. For the 20 or so Students in attendance, we were able to taste TEN sakes during the class. This allowed us to try both pure rice and fortified sakes, along with Nama, Nigori and Koshu! Phew! Everything was delicious. Here is our tasting list:

Drinking the Mystery Sake!

Drinking the Mystery Sake!

  1. Welcome Sake: ???
  2. TakeNoTsuyu Junmai
  3. Kikusui Honjozo
  4. Kaiun Junmai Ginjo
  5. Okunomatsu Ginjo
  6. Dassai Junmai Ginjo Nigori
  7. Narutotai Ginjo Nama Genshu
  8. Wakatake Junmai Daiginjo
  9. Tedorigawa Ikinaonna Daiginjo
  10. Hanahato Kijoshu Koshu

Needless to say, it was a blast to teach and I really hope the students enjoyed it as well. We shook things up by serving a mystery sake to welcome students at the beginning of class. After they had a chance to taste all classifications, we had them guess what grade the sake was… Junmai? Ginjo? I’m happy to report, most guessed correctly! Click on the welcome sake link above to see what we chose!

Special thanks to Toshi-san for arranging this fun class! If you haven’t been to charming and romantic Sake Hana (265 E 78th St, NYC, NY 10021), please plan a trip there. the sake selection is top notch and the atmosphere is wonderful. I am looking forward to the upcoming classes at Sake Hana! Hope you’ll join me!

Shichiken & Naraman

Shichiken & Naraman

Tonight Sakaya hosted a fun and informative tasting to allow sake fans to try two fantastic sakes side by side – and also both warmed and chilled. The results were really interesting to say the least.

Shichiken Junmai Ginjo is a sake already well known for it’s ability to blossom when warmed and tonight was no exception. When warmed, this sake takes on an added richness with a warming gentle finish. I picked up on enjoyable woody notes on the palate this go round and that just added to the cozy feeling this sake gives me. Chilled, this sake is also great. It comes off as less rich and less alcohol forward while retaining it’s balance. Both warm and cold were delicious. If you want to learn more about Shichiken, you can read my interview with Tsushima Kitahara, the 13th generation maker of this sake.

Naraman

Naraman

For me, however, the real surprise of the evening came with my tasting of Naraman Bin Hiire Junmai Muroka. When warmed, Naraman was one smoooooth operator! Stunningly smooth in my opinion. It went down like silk and warmed me up in a way that felt like wrapping myself in a cashmere throw! And disspite having a slightly higher alcohol percentage at 16,5%, the alcohol notes didn’t trample the flavor when warmed. In addition, the nose was also remarkable… gentle and evocative of mild floral essences… yes, in a heated sake! Naraman is a “muroka” or non-charcoal filtered sake. This gives the chilled version of this same sake an added rich dimension and a wonderful balance between sweet and acidity.

My takeaway from the whole experience tonight is that I will try to drink more warmed sake! Sure, it’s a little more work to prepare, but the rewards can be rich. It gets such a bad wrap sometimes, but winter is here to teach us what a joy and visceral pleasure warmed sake can be on a cold, cold night.

Daishichi and Chiyomusubi

Daishichi and Chiyomusubi

Tonight was freezing in New York! What an inspired idea then to enjoy some warmed sake. This versatility is one of the real secret weapons in the sake world. Sake can be fantastic both warmed and chilled.

People often think sake should only be served warm OR only served chilled. Truth is both can be fantastic depending on the sake and your mood. Try that Chardonnay!

Lucky for me, Sakaya was putting on a free tasting tonight with some real winners both warmed and room temp. Let’s take a look at some of the premium sakes we enjoyed.

First, we had Daishichi Junmai Kimoto Classic. The fact that this Sake is a Kimoto (all sakes from Daishichi are…) predisposes it for having the body and structure that would take kindly to warming. I’m happy to report that the Kimoto “classic” does not disappoint! Warmed, this sake exudes a sexy, restrained tone that reminds me of Lauren Bacall in her prime: Sultry, smooth and seductive.

Second, we tried the delicious Chiyomusubi Goriki Junmai Ginjo. When this sake was warmed, I felt the nose led me a bit astray… wasn’t sure what to expect. On the palate, however, this sake did shine when warmed. It had a wonderful balance of body and alcohol and an unexpected touch of light-sweet-something or other that was just fantastic. Both these sakes delighted me and passed the test. Yum-o.

Sipping these winners warmed me right up. If the cold, blasting winds of a NYC night like tonight can’t turn you onto the charms of warmed premium Nihonshu – nothing can. Kanpai!

Elements of Sake

Elements of Sake

Last night was my first sake teaching gig of the new year and we had a really fun Elements of Sake class at Astor Center. We were sold out to capacity and the weather was damp and drizzly, but students arrived excited and happy to learn more about sake.

As I introduced myself to students before class, I learned that for at least 3 couples attending, one spouse had given the class to the other spouse as a holiday present! How fun is that? Whenever I start my class, I take a quick survey and ask students how much exposure they have had to sake. As is usual, the majority of students responded by saying, they really love good sake when they try it, but don’t know much about sake in general. My ideal students!

Popular Wakatake

Popular Wakatake

This class we tried 7 sakes to give everyone a survey of basic sake types. Here is what we tried last night.

Of the above Sakes, Wakatake Junmai Daiginjo and the Norutotai Ginjo Nama Genshu were both well liked by the students. The Wakatake had a few more fans and came out on top as class favorite in the final voting. This class was a sharp group and asked some fantastic questions when we discussed sake ingredients and the sake production process.

I had a blast teaching and this really got my New Year off to a great sakelicious start. We enjoyed some fantastic sake together and had some fun along the way. If you would like to attend a Sake class at Astor Center for yourself (or as a gift for your spouse!), please book early to ensure your spot. Please visit either the Elements of Sake Level I or Elements of Sake Level II page to enroll. I look forward to meeting you in a future class! Kanpai!

With Ted & Etsuko

With Ted & Etsuko

What do you get when you mix Tokyo Foodcast Sake Bloggers Ted and Etsuko, Jocelyn and Carlos from the You, madam, are no Ambrose Bierce blog, Bloggers Rick and Hiroko from New York’s SAKAYA Sake Shop, Scott and yours truly from UrbanSake, along with wonderful friends and family? Well, obviously, the first Sake Blogger Summit of 2009!

A wonderful reason to get together for Ted and Etsuko’s visit to the NYC area, we enjoyed a fun dinner at a stellar restaurant, Aburia Kinnosuke. Of course, sake was on my mind and we enjoyed some wonderful stuff.

To get the ball rolling, I ordered us a bottle of the delicious Kokuryu Junmai Ginjo. Umami-laden, savory and smooth, this is a sake you can really sink your teeth into. In short, a supreme pleasure to drink and I find it perfectly positioned between elegance and casual.

Hiroko-san with Senchu Hassaku

Hiroko-san with Senchu Hassaku

Next, to go along with some fantastic sashimi and Aburia’s famous tsukune chicken meatball, several tokkuri of lovely Masumi Karakuchi Ki-Ippon Junmai Ginjo hit the table. Known as the “Mirror of Truth”, this sake tells no lies. Dry, smooth and delicious, the clean edge of this sake was a perfect counterpart to our delicious food.

As our evening was drawing to a close, I winked to Hiroko-san and suggested we order one last bottle… and happened upon one of our favorites, Tsukasabotan Senchu Hasaku Tokubetsu Junmai. This sake is dry, but has a well-rounded depth of flavor. It’s impressive and understandably a favorite! I enjoyed every sip.

It was wonderful to see Etsuko-san again, this time in New York. I also really enjoyed meeting Ted-san and all my new friends! I hope we all have another chance to get together again and enjoy sake in the U.S. or Japan sometime soon!

Nanbu Bijin Junami Nama

Nanbu Bijin Junami Nama

I love New Year’s Eve traditions… but I really love a New Year’s Eve traditions that involve sake! No problem for me, as I’ve got one!

Scott and I have made it our tradition to head to Sakagura Restaurant each New Year’s eve to celebrate in true style and luckily for me, this year was no exception! From the moment we sat down, Sakagura manager Mr. Kadoi made sure that we were well taken care of. He personally helped us select our sakes for the evening and he’s got one of the best palates in the city, so I knew we were in good hands.

Sougen Chilled vs Sougen Warmed

Sougen Chilled vs Sougen Warmed

I wanted something fresh and interesting to start off with and after a few samples of alluring Kubota sakes, we decided on the delicious Nanbu Bijin Junmai Nama. This Namazake from Iwate Prefecture was supple, and spoke to me of soft fresh fruit. I enjoyed the gentle nama flavor profiles, and was so happy to be reminded of this sake’s specific charms. It has such a nice, pleasant level of nama juiciness without being overwhelming or brassy. Nanbu Bijin Nama went down easy and was the perfect brew to let one’s mind wonder to the sky high hopes for the new year. Alongside the nama, we feasted on a sashimi platter that was darn near perfect.

Mr. Kadoi at Sakagura

Mr. Kadoi at Sakagura

Once we hit our stride, I ordered a wonderful treat: Sougen Junmai. Kadoi-san let us sample Sougen chilled and warmed side by side. This was really facinating. The chilled sougen was more clean and easy drinking, while the warmed Sougen (warmed to the perfect nurukan temperature by Kadoi-san) came across as richer and rounder on the palate, and of course perfect for a cold New Year’s eve. Both were extremely enjoyable and it just goes to show you, sake is the most versatile booze around. (Yeah, don’t try this nurukan trick with your prized Pinot, ok?)

After a lovely meal and these fantastic sakes, it was time to head out into the night to welcome the new year. I can’t think of a better place to get 2009 off to a fantastic start. Special thanks to Kadoi-san and all the wonderful folks at Sakagura for the wonderful evening. …and it goes without saying that dinner and drinks at Sakagura beats out New Year’s Rockin’ Eve on TV. um, Seacrest out!

*Membership Has It’s Privileges“, or at least that is what Amex says. You know, I’ve gotten through life pretty well without being a member… and I don’t just mean Amex. I’m talking no Fraternity, no food co-op and I’ve never even owned a Member’s Only jacket! However, on my second day in Japan, the wonderful folks at Prestige Sake extended an invitation I was not about to miss: a private sake tasting at their Member’s Only sake club in Tokyo, Club Okanaga.

They arranged for Melinda and I to meet with Prestige Sake Sensei Mr. Mori and also Mr. Takatsu who helped me out with Japanese translation. I was thoroughly expecting a secret knock or special handshake to get entrance to the club, but Melinda and I were greeted at the door and brought to our table. After meeting our hosts we sat down for what would be, little did I know, a very significant sake tasting.

When all was said and done we tasted over 14 sakes on their own and with food pairings. It was quite a ride on the leading edge of sake with the emphasis on Kimoto, yamahai, Koshu and sparkling.

Just take a look at this list!

morisan.jpgOur first duty was to taste these sakes on their own. We all soon had a gaggle of sake filled wine glasses in front of us. I worked hard to keep all of the glasses straight, but was rewarded with a unique and wonderful experience… the ability to taste so many sakes side by side. It was a joy to learn from Mr. Mori and discuss sake and get his personal take on some of our selections.

Some of the sakes really stood out in my mind.

Hanahato.png1) Harushika Tokimeiki Sparking: Sparkling sake with full sweetness and high acidity. This will tickle your nose! A wonderful aperitif for your evening meal. This sake is also refreshingly low in alcohol.

2) Hiraizumi Yamahai Junmai: This sake has light grapefruit on the nose and full complexity on the palate. Lactic acid come thru strong on this one. excellent with food and excellent for warming.

3) Hanahato Kijoshu: Smokey, rich and sherry-like, this aged sake is special. I serve this as a topping over vanilla ice cream or with chocolate. The brewing method of Kijoshu is very unique because pure rice sake is added at the final stage instead of water and aged in wood for eight years.

The Sakes were all interesting and unique and totally fun to taste. I have never had so much yamahai, kimoto or koshu in one sitting. My sincere thanks to everyone at Prestige for such a fun and educational evening. So, I guess I enjoyed being a member and belonging to the club… even if it was only for one night.

one_cup.jpgI was a man on a mission. This was only my second trip to Japan, and I had my priorities clearly defined. What was my number one top priority upon arriving in Japan? Catch up with friends? Eat Sushi at Tsukiji Market? Commune with nature at an ancient shrine? ….um, none of the above… My primary concern was finding One Cup sake!

One cup sake is sake packaged in a single serving 180ml cup that is often attractively decorated. This cup sake movement has been something that fascinates me, but it is pretty hard to come by in the States, so I had to find it in Tokyo! Well then… who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters! You’re Sake Wonder Twin of course! My Sake Sibling Melinda was given marching orders to find me cup sake by the time I touched down at Narita.

wonder_twin.jpgLucky for me, Mel is totally down with the Tokyo cup sake underground and hooked me up with the fantastic Sake Bar Buri!

Buri was the site of some Tokyo sake meetups and I was anxious to give it a try. Mel warned me that the place was a “standing bar”… something that may not be best directly after a 13 hour flight from New York, but I summoned my Sake Samurai spirit and off we headed to Buri. The place seemed small, even for a cramped New Yorker like me. Everything was centered around a large circular bar with a kitchen in the back.

buri.jpgMel took the lead and ordered some of her favorite cups. Details are fuzzy, due to Jet Lag, of course, not inebriation. All I do remember is that it was fantastic to see Melinda and catch up with her and that everything was delicious including the skewers and yummy tidbits we got to eat.

Would I go back to Buri? In a heartbeat. Hey, it’s only 13 hours away. It was fun, relaxed and right up my alley. oh, and of course getting to keep your little cup as a souvenir doesn’t hurt either.

Watch this space for soon to be published Reports from my Recent trip to Japan! I visited many Breweries and rode the shinkansen from one end of Japan to the other (almost). There were a ton of new experiences for me… I harvested sake rice, helped stir moto, was served sake by maiko, toured 10 breweries, took a real Japanese bath, ate purple soba, and (finally) saw Mount Fuji! Stay Tuned!
heaven.jpg

room_1.jpgI had the distinct pleasure of giving a sake 101 lecture again this year at the New York Anime Festival. Faithful readers of UrbanSake.com will remember my big adventure last year at this event, where I was totally unprepared for the raucous crowds and energetic anime crowds. Well, all I can say is that this year I am older and wiser about anime!

tim_1.jpgThis year, I knew much better what to expect and even got into the cosplay spirit by wearing a real japanese mens’ kimono for the event. Figuring out men’s kimono was an education in and of itself but well worth the effort! This lecture consisted of my “Sake 101” talk which included sake ingredients, Sake production process and sake classifications. Since there are a lot of visitors from out of town for the anime festival, I also always include my recommendations for where to visit for all things sake in NYC!

This was a fun event! It was really fun to meet all the anime folks interested in Sake and to see all the crazy kids running around! to see more pics, check out the photos on flickr here!

Webster_hall_1.jpgThe annual Joy of Sake event is the mother lode of sake tastings brought right to our backyard. In the span of 3 hours, there is more sake, great food and enthusiastic drinkers than you can shake a stick at. Best of all, there are tons of sakes that are not for sale in the US. If you want to save yourself the round trip airfare, 26 hours cramped in coach, and a week and a half of jet lag – this is really your best bet.

crowd_1.jpgMy recent interview with Joy of Sake Organizer Chris Pearce gave me some new insight into this event, so check it out if you haven’t already. Also of note this year was the new location. Moving from the puck building to Webster Hall was quite a change, but I think a successful one. I started the evening up at the top floor with all the Junmai daiginjo and daiginjo sakes that are not available in the US. I thought that would be a good place to start tasting while my palate was still somewhat fresh. I wasn’t disappointed and tasted some super duper daiginjo-y treats up there. Among some of the luscious sakes I sampled were Gasanryu “Gokugetsu” Junmai Daiginjo (Shindo Shuzoten, Yamagata), Shizukuzake Daiginjo (Sakai Shuzo, Yamaguchi) and Tobindori Daiginjo (Kamisugi Shuzo, Aichi).

kudoki_bottle_1.jpgBack on the ground floor, I was happy to find a new sake that really turned my head. I’m talking about Kudoki Jozu Junmai Daiginjo (Kamenoi Shuzo, Yamagata). This delightful sake has an SMV of ±0 with a milling rate of 48%. Refreshing and elegant yet substantive, this sake was a shimmering delight. I hope they will import it soon here to the US!

Along with all the tasting, there was lots of socializing to be done, too! I ran into friends new and old and future and had a great time talking with everyone and comparing notes on sake reactions. Everyone had a favorite sake – and with hundreds to choose from, everyone could have their own.

This night is always a whirlwind and before I knew it, our three hours were up and the Joy of Sake 2008 was coming to a close. The only comfort that came to mind was that the Joy of Sake will be back next year delivering more fantastic and hard to find sakes right to our doorstep. Now that is a special delivery worth waiting for.

denshin_1_1.jpgJFC is a well known importer of Sake and Japanese food stuffs and I was delighted to recently attend their Fall ’08 New York Sake Expo! As I traveled from table to table at the Expo, I met some very interesting people, and some very interesting sake.

First, I meet Mr. Kakutaro Kubo, Vice President of Ippongi Kubohonten Brewery, makers of Denshin. This sake is known for it’s luminescent packaging and it’s light and refined taste. Among the delicious Denshin options are the Denshin Yuki Junmai Ginjo, Denshin Rin Junmai Daiginjo, Denshin Ine Junmai. The taste on these sakes does indeed come across to me as light in style, which I really enjoy. In addition, people always remark on the Denshin Packaging. The bottle labels are made from rice paper with cut outs for the Kanji letters. When the bottle is held up to the light, the Kanji seems to glow. there is a different bottle color for each grade of sake making them easy to tell apart, and the junmai ginjo and junmai daiginjo grades get a paper wrap and tassel at the cap. beautiful! These gems are hard to miss on the shelf, so check them out if you can!

daishichi_1.jpgNext, I had to distinct honor of talking to the President of the renowned Daishichi Sake Brewery, Mr. Hideharu Ohta. I met Mr Ohta once before, over two years ago at a Daishichi tasting at Sakagura, but this time Ohta-san had a few more sakes in his protfolio and some really interesting sake at that. Daishichi is very well known for being a Kimoto brewery only.

The Big news fro Daishichi was the arrival of some very unique kimoto sakes. The most interesting was their kimoto plum sake. That’s right… A kimoto Plum sake. It’s light and sweet with a touch of cream that just hints at it’s Kimoto origins. Very beautiful right down to the yellow label. I also enjoyed drinking the Daishichi Kimoto Nigori. It was creamy and rich without being too chunky and I found this nigori to have just the right touch of sweetness. Thank goodness Daishichi is so committed to Kimoto… it’s a blast to taste kimoto versions of many popular kinds of sake. Arigato Ohta-san!

cup_sake_1.jpgThe final bit of super exciting sake news was the arrival of Cup Sake! well… it’s not yet actually in New York, but word on the street is that it’s coming! Anyone who knows me knows about my not so secret obsession with cup sake. Ok then JFC… you read it here first! NYC is the perfect market for cup sake, so let’s bring it in! Think big!

These trade events are a lot of fun and I really enjoy getting a chance to meet the folks who make the sake. I hope they enjoy meeting their eager NYC sake bloggers just as much.

ichishima_2.jpgWinebow is a importing company that focuses mostly on bringing great Italian Wines to the U.S. Of late, they have made a move into the world of sake! Currently importing two diverse portfolios, one from Akita and one from Niigata, more sake brought into the States is a win for everyone. I had a chance to taste both portfolios at their September “Vintner’s Harvest” event. Lucky for me, the sake table was right near the entrance. Let’s take a look at their offering…

sake_1.jpgIchishima Brewery from Niigata presented an impressive portfolio of sakes that give new meaning to the idea of “vertical tasting!” From soup to nuts you can try just about every type of sake from this one brewery. It’s a bold and welcome move. Here is a listing of all the sakes Ichishima-san is now importing:

From Ichishima Brewery: Futsu-shu, Honjozo, Junmai, Junmai “silk deluxe”, Junmai Ginjo, Junmai Genshu, Daiginjo, Ginjo Koshu, Competition Daiginjo.

Of the above offering a few sakes in particular caught my attention. First, the standard Junmai was a real standout in my opinion. It was a classic junmai with structure and substance yet with a soft hand that is so indicative of Niigata goodness. Also, the Competition Daiginjo was certainly of note. It had all the presence and flourish you would expect from a competition brew. yet, this sake wasn’t overwhelming or too in your face. A great chance to try competition sake, which is often hard to come by. Speaking of hard to come by, Ichishima-san is also importing his brewery’s Futshu-shu. This type of sake is incredibly rare in the states as it is usually considered a ‘non-premium’ sake, but this hearty Ishishima brew makes me dream of pairing combinations with each sip. I know this one will be great with food! oh yeah.

linda_claudioWinebow also imports a range of sakes from Akita Prefecture.

This band of merry sake brewers is known as A.S.P.E.C. (Akita Sake Promotion & Export Council) with Linda Noel Kawabata working as Brand Manager. Our friend and Akita native Chizuko-san was also on hand in beautiful Kimono to help introduce these sakes.

Linda-san introduced me to some wonderful Akita sakes, some that I knew and some I’m having for the first time. Let’s take a look at the ASPEC offering…

Suzuki Shuzoten: Hideyoshi Namacho Honjozo, Hideyoshi Amakarapin Junmai, Hideyoshi Honjozo, Hideyoshi Akinota Junmai Ginjo, Hideyoshi Flying Pegasus Koshu Daiginjo.

Tenju Shuzo: Chokaisan junmai Daiginjo

Hinomaru Jozo: Manabita Kimoto Junmai Ginjo, Manabito Junmai Daiginjo.

Akita Seishu: Desatsuru Kimoto Junmai, Dewatsuru Habataki junmai Ginjo, Dewatsuru Matsukura Tokubetsu Junmai, Dewatsuru Hihaku junmai Daiginjo.

Naba Shoten: Minato “harbor” Tsuchizaki Yamahai Futsu-shu, Minato “harbor” Tuchizaki Yamahai Nama Genshu, Horoyoi Junmai Ginjo

chizuko_1.jpgEasily the Hideyoshi “Flying Pegasus” koshu Daiginjo made one of the biggest impressions. Suzuki Shuzoten brewery only makes about 300 bottles a year, so this is easily what you could call a “limited release”! The presentation of this sake begins with the bottle which is shaped like a simple old fashioned gourd tokkuri, but in this case with a golden sheen. The taste is impactful and precious with a strong nose and off dry palate. a lot to take in… I’d love to take a bottle home some day!

In addition, I loved seeing again the Dewatsuru Hihaku Junmai Dainginjo. This sake is elegant and lightly fruity… so easy to drink and very, very easy to enjoy.  I also enjoyed some sakes that I have had at previous Akita sake Club Events including Chokaisan Junmai Daiginjo and The Manabito Kimoto Junmai Ginjo and the Manabito Junmai Daiginjo, both with a touch of dryness that begs to be used in food pairing. fantastic!

All in all, this Winebow event was fantastic and so encouraging to see traditional wine importers branching out to include some of the world’s best sake in their portfolios! Keep the sakes coming and here is a big old Kanpai to that!

wild_for_akita_sake.jpgThe Akita Sake Club has come a long way, baby! The most recent event was held again at the Japan American Association offices in Midtown and was the Club’s 6th meeting that celebrates the sake from Japan’s Akita Prefecture.

In addition to the sake, The club also features the food and music of Akita. I’ve read that Akita ranks Highest for per capita sake consumption in Japan…and after this event I can believe it! I had a great time and wanted to share a couple of the real standout sakes that I had.

kariho_daiginjo3.jpgI really enjoyed a fantastic Kariho Daiginjo Genshu This sake was billed as “fragrant and silky” and boy did it deliver. I was really wowed the the ability of this sake to stand out from the crowd without shouting. I think I can best describe it as an elegant richness. very nice! Rice Polished down to 35% of it’s original size. this adds tremendously to it’s smooth as silk allure!

dewatsuru_daiginjo2.jpgNext I found myself drawn to another Daiginjo Genshu (anyone seeing a trend here??). I’m talking about Dewatsuru Daiginjo Genshu. This sake was another winner. I found the taste to have something scrumptious about it. I can’t really put my finger on it, but something in this sake compelled my arm, almost involuntarily, to raise the sake cup to my mouth… repeatedly. Seriously, this sake was just delicious, complex and commanding. I’m crushing on this brew big time!

Next I caught up with my friend Linda Kawabata who is helping introduce a new line of Akita sakes to the world. She started off by my introducing me to Mr. Sato, President of Hinomaru Brewery. Sato-san let me taste two of his sakes coming to the US this fall. They are are Manabito Kimoto Junmai Ginjo and the Manabito Junmai Daiginjo. Linda pointed out that both of these sakes spend time being aged in the bottle before shipping. Once opened, they both blossom when they get a chance to breath. I love sakes that expand like this. they give you a chance to enjoy the changing aspects of a sake over the course of an evening.

manabito.jpgManabito Kimoto Junmai Ginjo was a lovely kimoto sake coming across to me as softer and smoother than most Kimono i’ve tried. I think that is due to the fact that this was a Junmai ginjo grade and not just a junmai. This is one of those sakes you just want to pair with food! I would guess this sake is a fantastic pair with all the hearty foods of the Akita region. yum! Manabito Junmai Daiginjo also had a wonderfully soft touch! smooth and very drinkable. I really enjoyed this junmai daiginjo.

Last but not least, I headed over to the Joto Selections and tried Kacho Gesseki Junmai Daiginjo Genshu. OK, now there is definitely a trend!! This was another wonderful sake from Akita! The aromas on this sake were fantastic and bold. You pick up lost of tropical fruit on the palate. This sake is bold and full of melt in your mouth flavors. fantastic!

Well, another successful evening with the cool cats from the Akita Sake Club. I don’t know what was drawing me to all those daiginjo Genshus! whatever it was I was bowled over. I hope the drinking we did this night gets added to the per capita consumption stats of Akita Prefecture. They’ll be number one for a while. Kanpai!

kohiyama_san.JPGHokkaido is the northern most island of Japan, a huge place with lots of agriculture, open spaces and cold winters. It’s capital is Sapporo which calls to mind another certain alcoholic beverage more so than sake in the minds of most folks. However, one man is working to change all that.

His name is Mr. Shunsuke Kohiyama and he travels the world teaching about the special sake that comes from his brewery,taisetsu_junmai_ginjo.jpg the beautiful Takasago Sake Brewery in snowy Hokkaido. Kohiyama-san started his latest New York City tour at Sake Hana, where Manager Toshi-san hosted a fantastic pairing dinner and lecture evening. Kohiyama-san regaled the assembled sake disciples with stories about sake production, some history of Takasago brewery and lots of insider information on the workings of a brewery. Also, he answered lot of questions from the crowd and never lost his excitement for talking about sake! One of the biggest treats of the evening was the special competition sake from Takasago that we each got to sample. Fantastic! suuuuper smooth and just the right touch of richness.

I caught up with Kohiyama-san later in the weekend at a fun tasting event at Sakaya. This allowed for an in depth study of the two main sakes created by Takasago. First, I tried the Taisetsu “Big Snow” Junmai Ginjo. What makes this sake so interesting is that the brewery takes full advantage of the cold winter and actually builds an ice dome igloo where they age the sake at a stable temperature and protected from the elements. The taste is smooth and fragrant and you just can’t help but feel a delicious chill when you think of that ice igloo!

lecture.JPGThe next sake was a real stand out! We tasted the famous Takasago Ginga Shizuku “Divine Droplets” Junmai Daiginjo. Divine, indeed! This is a very well known and well respected Shizuku sake… that means instead of pressing the sake mash with a machine, they hang up bags and collect the free run sake that drips down by the force of gravity alone… all of course in the ice dome igloo! This “trickle sake” is highly prized as the creme de la creme of the sake world. It has a smoothness and wonderful complex fruitiness that must be experienced to be believed. Try it!

Reflecting now on Kohiyama-san’s lecture, I feel like I learned so much about Takasago! and I for one won’t be thinking about that “other brewed beverage” when I think about snowy Hokkaido! Ice dome sake all the way! Kanpai!

New York City is crowded, loud, humid and dirty. Why on earth would anyone want to live here? For me, the answer is easy. Where else in the U.S. can I get such easy access to top notch sake tastings?! A recent event I went to was simply fantastic and reminded me why I do what I do! Not surprisingly, Sakagura and Joto Sake Importers were involved!

brewers.JPGThe evening was a fantastic exploration of the sakes from two sake brands: Wataribune from Ibaraki Prefecture and Kasumi Tsuru from Hyogo Prefecture.

The evening started with Joto Sake’s President, Henry Sidel Introducing Mr. Yoshio Fukumoto, president of Kasumi Tsuru Brewery. Fukumoto-san introduced Each of his sakes.

First we enjoyed our “welcome sake” from Hyogo, namely the Kasumi Tsuru Shiboritate Nama Genshu Honjozo. This sake is a favorite of mine mostly because of it’s full throttle nature. Nama Genshu by nature is flavor-forward and the Kasumi Tsuru is no exception! If you want to try something with a real charge, or make a big impression – give this sake a try.

fukumoto.JPGNext we moved on to the core of the Kasumi Tsuru line. These sakes make up the type of sake this brewery is known for: Flavorful, smoky and full of texture. The wonderful Kasumi Tsuru Yamahai Ginjo is a great example of this. Wondrefully layered yet solid, this brew is a delight for folks who like more complex flavors to their sakes. I also fully enjoyed the Kasumi Tsuru Shiboritate Yamahai Junmai. The Yamahai production method comes across loud and clear with this sake. You’ll enjoy the earthy body and complex smoky flavors with each sip!

Also, I really enjoyed the Kasumi Tsuru Extra Dry Junmai. For folks who like a real dry twinge to their nihonshu, this extra dry doesn’t disappoint. It’s dry without losing it’s ability to stand on it’s own. The Kasumi Tsuru brand offers a wonderful “Suite” of sakes that are all unique but harmonize wonderfully!

yamauchi.JPGNext, Henry introduced Mr. Takaaki Yamauchi, President of Huchu Homare sake brewery, makers of the Wataribune and Taiheikai Brands of sake. The Big Story with Yamauchi-san’s sake is of course his efforts to revitalize the WatariBune strain of sake rice. Yamauchi-san personally oversaw the restoration of this lost rice strain and uses it in all of his “wataribune” brand sakes.

After a kick off with a fantastic unpasteurized sake, “Wataribune Shiboritate Nama Ginjo“, I tasted one of the fantastic treats of the evening – namely the Wataribune Junmai Daiginjo Nama. This is one of those mega rare junmai daiginjo nama sakes. Wonderfully delicate nama fruits on the palate with a mild viscosity that made it very elegant and easy to drink. Next, for a quick comparison, I got to taste the Pasteurized version of the same sake, the Wataribune Junmai Daiginjo. This sake is a rich and fruity daiginjo. Look for peach and honeydew on the palate and a nice long finish that stays with you sip for sip. fantastic!

tennyo_toiki_angel.jpgWe moved on next to the fantastic Watribune Junami Ginjo 55 and in rapid succession to the Taiheikai Tokubetsu Junmai. This sake is named “Taiehikai” which means Pacific Ocean. This ties into Ibaraki’s location on the pacific ocean side of Japan’s main island. Next was “Taiheikai Tokubetsu Junmai Nigori“. This sake was another favorite of the evening. I found it layered and exhibiting a wonderful texture. Yamauchi-san was a fantastic representative of his brand and an enthusiastic ambassador for Ibaraki.

A final treat of the evening was a “special sake” brought from Kasumi Tsuru called “tennyo no Toiki” (roughly translated as “Angel’s breath”… correct me if I’m wrong!) This sake was special indeed, but quite the hammer at the end of such a vast sake tasting. This sake is very, very special and was clocked in at an astounding 25% alcohol. This was achieved through a method of freezing the sake and siphoning off the alcohol from the frozen sake, thereby concentrating the alcohol and flavor. it was super rich, delicious and very strong. As close to shochu as you can get without crossing the line… and much more delicious in my opinion!

The food at Sakagura was top notch, too! There was a food pairing for each and every course! Delicious to say the least… I think the soft shell crab karaage was my favorite. what doesn’t that pair well with?

This evening did indeed prove to me why I love New York so much! I love it because so many of the fantastic and varied flavors of Japanese sake come to me! If that isn’t proof of Angel’s Breath – I don’t know what is!

takemura2.jpgPrestige Sake Association Importers had another wonderful tasting event to introduce sakes in New York. This time, the focus was on an array of summer nama sake along with two outstanding breweries in the Prestige portfolio: Umenishiki and Tsukasabotan.

I started tasting with the Tsukasabotan sakes and had the pleasure of meeting Tsukasabotan Brewery President Mr. Takemura, who was personally introducing his sake. I started with the glorious Tsukasabotan Senchu Hassaku Tokubetsu Junmai. tsukasabotan_fuin2.jpgThis sake is one I have poured for sake fans myself at my first Sake Samurai Tasting at Sakaya. Senchu Hassaku did not disappoint. I like to describe this sake as having an overall dry presence but with a depth and complexity you don’t usually find in dry junmai sake. And this sake has the coolest label you’ll see. safety orange always catches my eye.

Takemura-san also introduced me to some other fantastic sake. I tried the Tsukasabotan Fu-in Junmai Ginjo with great interest. Again here the packaging was unique! Fu-in exhibited a wonderfully balanced acidity and light fruits across the palate. It really lives up to it’s fancy pants packaging. Get out there and try it if you can find it.

I also tasted the mesmerizing Tsukasabotan Junmai Daiginjo sake, milled to an amazing 40% as well as the Tsukasabotan Junmai, which I found to be dry and structured, which I see pairing well with heartier foods. This Junmai also comes across with a hint of savory Umami, too.

Next I tried the sake of Umenishikicoming from Ehime Prefecture and was introduced to Brewery President Mr. Koichiro. He poured me his very best sake first and I found myself swept away by Umenishiki Junmai Daiginjo. I felt this sake was quite complex with perhaps a touch higher acidity you may find in other daiginjos. simply delicious… look for the red box with the gold kanji!

koichiro.JPGI also sampled two other Umenishiki standouts, the very dry Umenishiki Oh Kara Junmai as well as the well balanced but higher-in-alcohol Umenishiki Hitosuji Junmai Ginjo Genshu. I don’t know many sakes from Ehime, so this has to be my very favorite!

Last but not least I indulged in one of my favorite activities: savoring cold nama sake on a hot summer day. Prestige didn’t disappoint! I tried a number of fantastic namas including a rare crown jewel of the nama world… namely the Umenishiki Junmai Daiginjo Nama. umenishiki.jpgI love this sake! an ultra rare nama (unpasteurized) junmai daiginjo, the palate on this sake is alive with tropical fruits and melon. with the easy to enjoy smooth countenance you would expect from a ultra premium sake.

I also quiet enjoyed the easy to drink Ohyama Tokubetsu Junmai Nama as well as Otokoyama Sasaori Tokubetsu Junmai Nama, an intriguing, delightful sake. Quite fruity and more of a sweetness on the palate than an SMV +5 would lead you to believe. A whisper of nigori adds a fantastic subtle texture to this nama.

After I sampled just about everything, I glanced at my watch and saw I was due at my Japanese Language class. So I said my goodbyes and headed out into the summer afternoon to meet my tutor. I think the Tsukasa-botan, Umenishiki and summer nama sakes washing across my brain made me more fluent in Japanese than ever! Hey, I’d chose them over flashcards anytime.

Kanpai!

henry.JPGI recently attended a small but spectacular tasting at my dear Sakagura restaurant. It was an evening dedicated to Sake from Saiya Sake Brewery, maker’s of Akita’s well regarded Yuki No Bosha brand.

Saiya Brewery President Kotaro Saito-san spoke at the beginning of the event to introduce Akita and his sake. Henry Seidel, President of Joto Sake, the Importer of Yuki No Bosha, spoke as well about the special nature of the “cabin in the snow” sake. We learned that Akita prefecutre is home to 51 breweries and ranks number 4 in total sake production. I took this chance to ask Saito-san about the rice shortage mania sweeping the globe and he assured us that bento.jpgsake rice was a specially produced crop and that the mass consumption global rice markets were on a different scale, so we won’t be running out of sake anytime soon. (phew!).

All in all, 6 sakes were served and a special Akita meal Bento box was prepared. I guess you could call it a gourmet Akita “happy meal” as it sure did make me happy.

yukinobosha_nama.jpgThe First sake I tasted of the evening was the Yuki No Bosha Junmai Ginjo Nama. This nama sake is on the sweeter side and was poured first to greet guest as they arrived. No objection here! This nama sake is refreshing and sweet. Not as “in-your-face” zingy as other namas this season, but lovely to drink just the same. The packaging for this sake is a foil wrapper that reminds me kinda of a sake baked potato from outer space, which, of course, I absolutely adore. This sake is in very limited supply so grab a bottle if you can find it.

yukinobosha_nigori.jpgNext I tried my number one nigori, Yuki No Bosha Junmai Ginjo Nigori. This Nigori is the lighter style of nigori that what you might find out there… In opposition to the super creamy Piña Colada style nigori, this nigori is whisper light with all the spectacular texture you expect from Nigori without the funky rice vibe you can sometimes get. This is a sake for Nigori haters and Nigori lovers both. If you don’t know Nigori, start here. Trust me.

A third sake of Note that I had the good fortune to try was the Yuki No Bosha Daiginjo. This sake is a real treasure. It’s got all the best qualities of a Daiginjo without being overbearing or heavy handed. Alcohol Added Daiginjos are less common in the US than their Junmai Daiginjo brethren so i never miss a chance to try one and wasn’t disappointed i the Yuki No Bosha Daiginjo.

Sake Sommelier Chizuko-san, an Akita native herself, was also on hand to help explain the Akita-ness of our food and drink for the evening. Akita sake means different things to different people, but I’m getting a sense of it’s unpretentious and homey nature. And in extravagant, hectic New York City, a little ‘unpretentious and homey’ in your masu can go a long way towards a great evening. Kanpai!

table.jpgThe yearly “Joy of Sake” event is the Big-Fat-Greek-Wedding of sake tastings. It easily wins, hands down, the title of largest sake event in the U.S. It’s huge, sprawling and a lot to take in… over 300 sakes at one event. I was surprised therefore when a notice arrived in my inbox for “Joy of Sake: Aftertaste ’08 Umami the 5th Taste“. Measured against the original Joy of Sake event, the Aftertaste happening was featuring a modest 45 sakes and the theme was ferreting out the taste of “Umami” in these sakes.

Umami is roughly translated as ‘savory’ and it’s a taste widely recognized in Asia, but relatively unknown in the west. Chris Pierce of the Joy of Sake organization spoke briefly about the interesting background of how Umami was discovered. Modern chemistry identified the Umami taste as our perception of Glutamic acid, one of the essential Amino Acids. This discovery in turn gave rise to the commercialization of Monosodium glutamate aka MSG. To zero in on Umami, think of the essence of some of the following flavors: soy sauce, parmesan cheese, anchovies, and A1 Steak sauce.

kokuryu_daiginjo_final.jpgAfter Chris’ brief lecture, we were unleashed on the 45 bottles and left to hunt for that elusive Umamai. I hit the ground running and found so me fantastic sake right out the gate. I started with the sakes from Kokuryu. First, the Kokuryu “Ryu” Daiginjo. Word on the street is that this is one of the Japanese Emperor’s favorite sakes. That is one thing I have in common with His Royal Highness. This daiginjo is smooth drinking and I almost always drink a glass or two extra when I get access to a bottle. You can expect delicious floral notes in the nose and a soothing smooth finish. This sake is worth a king’s ransom.

Next the Kokuryu Gohyaku-Mangoku Junmai Ginjo. I found this sake to be a Wonderful Umami-laden Junmai Ginjo. Savory and smooth, this is a sake you can really taste some depth of flavor on and really sink your teeth into. A supreme pleasure to drink and perfectly positioned between elegant and casual.

yaemon_final.jpgSome other stand out sakes that offered up some Umami flavors to me were the hearty and hand-crafted Shichihonyari Junmai, a delicious Okunomatsu Tokubetsu Junmai, and two yummy sakes from Tentaka Brewery, the Tentaka Junmai and the wonderful Tentaka Junmai Daiginjo.

My favorite new discovery of the night was Yaemon Junmai Ginjo. While certainly not a mega umami bomb, smooth drinking with a pleasant light umami on the palate… also known as scrumptious! Short finish and not too heavy a rice flavor. really nice! This is a sake I really made friends with. I kept coming back to Yaemon again and again.

When all was said and done, I feel I got closer to an understanding of Umami. Well, I learned enough to know I want to learn more. And if you’ve got to stay up late doing homework, what could be better to study than scrumptious, savory, mouth watering umami. Kanpai!

crowd.jpg On a beautiful early summer day, I took off from work and headed to a sake tasting hosted by the fine folks at Nishimoto Trading Co., a sake importer of some very fine sake. The event was up at the Bryant Park hotel but located downstairs at the beautiful cellar bar.

yageta1.JPGI started my rounds visiting the Kagatobi table and I was happy to see Mr. Yageta-san representing the Kagatobi Brewery. I first met Yageta-san back in February at a Sakaya tasting event. I was re-introduced to three standout sakes from Kagatobi! I first had the Kagatobi Cho Karakuchi Yamahai Junmai. This is their “super dry” selection. Kagatobi takes an even hand with what they call “super” dry – It’s noticeably dry for those who love it dry, but not overpowering for those who might not. This would also be an excellent sake to warm up! Next I tried The Kabatobi Junmai Ginjo, which is a really delightful sake. Very smooth and rich with a well balanced acidity, I really enjoyed this selection… so easy to drink! I also enjoyed the Kagatobi Ai Junmai Daiginjo. This sake was lighter than the Junmai Ginjo, but perhaps a bit smoother and a touch more elegant. Just as delicious. Kagatobi left me with the impression of wanting to learn more about this well crafted sake!

toshi.jpgNext I caught up with Toshi Imai-san from Kamenoi Brewery, the makers of Kudoki Jozu, which I can easily say, has to be one of my very favorites! I first met Toshi-san back in 2006 at a Yamagata sake event. I was happy to sample the delicioso Kudoki Jozu Junmai Ginjo. Toshi-san also introduced me to two new sakes possibly coming into the U.S. this year. First, was a fantastic sparkling sake. What was different about this sake is that it’s not too sweet or heavily carbonated. I was clued into the secret… the sake on it’s own is so good, that you can still drink and enjoy even if the sake goes flat. Third, there was a unique red rice sake that had a deep color and unique taste. I’ve never had anything much like it before and I’ll be excited to see what you all think if it does get imported!

naraman_junmai.jpgThe Next sake I tried was a real find! We’re talking about something new here that will only be available starting this month! It’s Naraman Junmai Muroka Bin Hiire. This is really a special sake that I will look forward to trying again. It’s a Junmai Muroka with a flavor-forward palate and a bit higher than usual alcohol percentage. The taste was balanced with a surprising structure for a junmai. This sake gives you quite a good value for the money. Enjoy it warmed or chilled.

This Summer 2008 preview of the Nishimoto Sake selection was really fun! There were more sakes than I reported here, but even Sake Samurai have their limits. I hope to see more Nishimoto imported sakes at future events and it’s a great way to kick start summer. Kanpai!

tim.JPGI was lucky enough to be invited to host another “sake samurai” tasting at Sakaya, New York’s ONLY all sake store. It’s really fun when I get to meet people and introduce them to some of my favorite sakes one on one! This time, we focused in on three Junmai Ginjo sakes, with three unique flavors, all from different parts of Japan. urakasumi_zen.jpgHere is a look at what we tasted…

First, we looked at Urakasumi Zen Junmai Ginjo. This sake approaches you with an even hand across the board. It’s got a wonderful medium body with a medium dry palate. And you guessed it… a nice medium acidity rounds out this very well balanced, smooth sake. A wonderful textbook example of “junmai ginjo”. A nice slow brewing time at a low temperature is one of the secrets of this fantastic brew. Enjoy it on it’s own, or even better – pair with some food. Urakasumi is extremely food friendly and I encourage you to experiment! You’ll be sure to find your own state of “ZEN”. ooohmmmmm.

kaiun_junmai_ginjo.JPGNext we tried Kaiun Junmai Ginjo. Kaiun is a rich and layered sake. Quite delicious! I think it’s interesting that this sake is from Shizuoka Prefecture. Shizuoka is know around the world for it’s refined tastes and palate. An example I often site is the exquisite production of Green Tea crop that comes from Shizuoka. I find this refined palate reflected in the sake. There is a special flavorful nuance in Kaiun that speaks to me of it’s home. If you’ve tried Kaiun Junmai Ginjo, please post a comment below and let me know what you thought.

mantensei.jpgLast I served Mantensei Junmai Ginjo. This sake has a strong aroma of organic honey on the nose. smells just like the farmer’s market honey! I’m telling you!! give this sake a whiff and you’ll see. Such a fun thing to find the smells and flavors in sake. Moving on from the nose, this sake came across to me as rich in texture with a touch of a dry finish. Really an interesting brew and I can’t wait to drink it again for further investigation.

“Junmai Ginjo” means different things to different people, but talking with sake fans at this tasting convinced me that there is no one answer to what it is. I think it will easily be a life-long quest to try and better understand this classification of sake. The good news is, that’s a mission I am happy to sign up for. Kanpai!

kobayashi3.JPGNiigata is a special place for sake. Not quite sure what makes it special… some say the water, some say the snow, some say the climate, but when it comes down to it, above it’s the taste.

If anyone can help us unravel this mystery, it’s Ataru Kobayashi, Founder of SENA Niigata Sake Selections, an importer that focuses exclusively on sakes from Niigata Prefecture. I had the pleasure of meeting Kobayashi-san again at his recent tasting at Sakaya in New York City, and got to sample some fantastic Niigata sake.

kakurei_Daiginjo_final.JPGFirst I had a fantastic sake that is one of my favorites! It’s Kakurei Junmai Daiginjo. I first tried this sake way back in December 2006 at a late night sake event at Sake Hana featuring all Niigata Sakes. At that 2006 event, I bet the Brewery President Mr. Takafumi Aoki who I remember to be a young and very enthusiastic champion of specialty brews from Niigata. It made quite an impression and I was happy to try it again almost two years later. I’m happy to report, Kakurei Junmai Daiginjo is still a perfect little gem of Niigata sake. It’s an oh so elegant Daiginjo with mild fruits on the palate and light floral aromas in the nose. Smooth and clean – so drinkable.

Hakuryu_Daigino_Final.jpgNext I sampled Hakuryu Daiginjo. This is an alcohol-added Daiginjo with a Niigata pedigree. “Hakuryu” means “White Dragon” in English. So, of course, I reached for the “Flagon with the dragon”, hoping it had the “brew that is true”. I lucked out and found Hakuryu to be light fruity and sooo smooth, this sake is one of Niigata’s finest. enjoy this with lighter fare such as sashimi and other raw fish. just a fantastic example of the light style of niigata brewing.

Yukikage_junmai_final.jpgLast but not least I tried Yukikage Tokubetsu Junmai. This sake is called “Snow Shadow” in English. An important note about “Snow Shadow” is it’s lower alcohol percentage. that makes for a Junmai that has a lighter profile than you might expect. So, if you like your junmai light and airy, this Niigata treat is for you. Mild fruits and a nice soft palate, smooth and clean drinking. a real gem if you want to chill out with a no nonsense but very easy to enjoy sake. It seems all the Niigata sakes here have that lightness about them. I have to say, for me, it’s a style I really dig.

Given all this yummy Niigata sake, I feel like I have only touched on the tip of the iceberg. There is a lot more to learn, and a lot more to taste when it comes to those Niigata Sake Selections! Kanpai!

mabuchi.JPGWith weekly tastings going on at Sakaya, there is a lot to taste and enjoy! It’s hard to keep up with all the goings on, but I will give the old college try. A recent highlight was Tamanohikari a.k.a. “Brilliant Jade”.

It was a wonderful treat to meet Mr. Kenzo Mabuchi-san, General Manager of Export for TamanoHikari Sake Brewing Co. He introduced me to three fantastic TamanoHikari sakes all imported from beautiful Kyoto Prefecture.

First, we were treated to Tamanohikari Junmai Daiginjo. The unique nuances of this glorious sake come from, among other things, the use of Bizen Omachi rice. This ancient rice strain is not commonly used for sake, and lends this exquisite Junamai Daiginjo a down to earth touch. “brilliant jade” is a crown jewel indeed! Everyone who tries this Junmai daiginjo seems to love it, myself included.

Next was the intriguing Tamanohikari Yamahai Junmai Ginjo. This is a unique yamahai, in that this sake is a junmai ginjo grade, milled to 60%. The higher acidity makes this yamahai perfect for pairing with lots of foods. tamanohikari_softpack.jpgthat earthy yamahai flavor comes thru powerfully without throwing the taste of balance. a dream sake for yamahai fans.

Last but not least is the Tamamohikari Tokusen Junmai Ginjo Paper Pack. This is really Tamanohikari’s “tokusen” junmai ginjo in a super unique package: a paper soft-pack, not unlike juicy-juice from your childhood lunchbox. The taste is lighter, dry and no-nonsense. Tamanohikari recommends freezing this pack and then pouring out for instant “sake slushies” On a hot summer day, what could be more refreshing? also perfect for picnics… the uses for paper pack sake seem endless!

Any of these fantastic sakes from Tamanohikari in Kyoto deserve a second look. Not only do they taste good, but each has something special that makes them really shine. Have you tried any of these sakes? if so, leave a comment and let me know what you think. In my book, “Brilliant Jade” really does sparkle.

akitacrowd.jpgSake from Akita has some rabid fans. And I understand why – I’m becoming one of them myself. I really woke up to this fact after attending the recent Akita Sake Club tasting event held at the Japanese American Association of New York.

This event was a nice mix of the familiar and the new. I enjoyed seeing many friends I know well but I also met some new friends (with the help of “sake magic”). The same held true for the sake I tasted. There were some familiar names and tastes, and some fun new brews to sample.

akitabare_shunsetsu.jpgLets start with some of the Akita sakes I know and love. What better place to start than that? One Akita Sake that I’ve been drinking since the very first days I get into premium nihonshu has been Akitabare Shunsetsu Honjozo Nama. This is an alcohol-added nama that is available year round. It’s got a refreshing sharp finish that stands up to that hearty Akita food. If you look at what’s imported into the U.S., Honjozos are not as plentiful as Junmai sakes, so I think it’s worth the effort to get to know this one.

taiheizan_tenko.jpgI also was happy to see a well known and yummy Daiginjo that I’ve had at these Akita events in the past. I’m talking about Kimura Brewery’s Fukukomachi Daiginjo. This delicious brew offered, in my opinion, everything that is good about Nihonshu. It was very smooth drinking. The low SMV and low acidity placed it more on more of a neutral horizon, but neutral can be just as delicious as any sake out there. Being a Daiginjo vs a Junmai Daiginjo give this sake a “little something extra”. It was clean, yummy and simply Perfection!

Now, as for some of my new sake acquaintances, I’m going to first mention the stellar Taiheizan Tenko Junmai Daiginjo. This sake came across to me as fantastically light, yet aromatic and is really one smoooooth operator. yes, very smooth. This is a top notch Junmai Daiginjo from Akita’s Kodama Jozo Brewery.

The next sake I was very happy to get to know better was the outstanding Yuki No Bosha Daiginjo. My notes kumi1.jpgon this sake say “this is definitely a daiginjo!” Makes me think that if you looked up daiginjo in the dictionary, you’d see a picture of this brew. These alcohol-added Daiginjo’s tend to be a bit more fragrant than their junmai daiginjo brothers, but the delicious light fruit and smooth texture are all in the brewer’s art. A real masterpiece!

In addition to my new and old sake friends, There was fantastic music, food and conversation at this Akita event. Now, I’ve never been to Akita Prefecture myself, but something tells me I have a lot of friends there I haven’t met yet. Kanpai!

sakagura.jpgSakagura’s Spring fling, their annual “ohanami” tasting event, was one of those events that reminded me how I fell in love with sake in the first place. in a nutshell there were 1) fantastic, lovely people. 2) fantastic, lovely food and, last but not least, 3) outrageously fantastic and lovely sake.

First, the peeps – The staff at Sakagura is always so gracious! If you want a taste of the type of impeccable service you would get in Japan, this is the place. The attendees were also in good spirits and seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as I was! Sakagura itself was wonderfully decorated with springtime cherry blossoms.

momose_san.jpgNow, a word about the food. The folks at Sakagura really outdid themselves in my book. The event was served buffet style, which I had not seen at Sakagura before, but I really enjoyed it. Foremost in my memory were these crab puffs and an epic spread of sashimi. Just really above and beyond! oh, and, of course – in the words of Ms. Rachel Ray – totally yum-o!

As for the sake, there were over 50 kinds of sake to choose from with many different brewers, importers and regions represented. Too many to mention individually, but here are some of the highlights:

Momose-san was pouring one of my all time favorites, Kudoki Jozu Junmai Ginjo from Yamagata. This sake distinguishes itself by being so darn drink-able. the glorious Yamagata water is really in evidence here and you can’t help but become a believer yourself by your first sip. “kudoki Jozu” means “good at flirting” and after a few glasses of this elixir, you’ll be the Don Juan/Belle of the Ball you always knew you were.

midori_san.jpg What could be more in the spirit of a springtime “ohanami” than some zingy unpasteurized Nama sake?! To this end, our friend Midori-san re-introduced me to one of my very favorite namas that I had in 2008: Eiko Fuji Junmai Ginjo Nama Genshu. This sake just exudes elegance. It’s got a complexity you don’t usually find in namas and just has that little something extra. As with Kudoki Jozu, this sake is also from Yamagata. What are they putting in the water up there?

Our friends at the NY Mutual Trading table were presenting a fantastic array of sake including one of my favorite indulgences, Sake in a can! namely, Kikusui Funaguchi Honjozo Nama Genshu. The rich, rich taste of this fun confection is hard to beat. I just love sake in a can because it puts the old ‘one cup’ stereotype of cheap sake on it’s head. this sake is bursting with flavor and is quite a high octane brew. With a noticeable tilt to sweeter side,mutual_trading.jpg I find this perfectly enjoyable and it always makes me think – this would go perfect with picnic food! throw of few of these cans into your picnic basket and you are good to go. what could be more springtime than that?!

The only downside to this sakagura event was the need to exit when it sadly came time for the next seating. I really enjoyed this event and always look forward to attending such fun events at Sakagura. if you’re looking for a way to step into learning about premium sake don’t hesitate to reserve a space at the next sakagura special event. Oh, and be sure to say hello…. you know i’ll be there.

rick.jpgOur friend Rick Smith of New York’s only all sake Shop, Sakaya, recently held a tasting devoted to Daiginjo. I found this tasting to be interesting on many levels. Instead of opting for a “vertical” tastings where one might compare three grades of sake from the same brewer, Rick-san chose to taste three Daiginjo sakes from different brewers! And what better treats to taste than daiginjo!

Now, Daiginjo, in some quarters, has a rap sheet of being expensive and elegant to the point of being vacant! However, Rick’s “Different Daiginjo” tasting shows us this is anything but the truth.    

   Kirinzan.jpg The first sake I tried was the Kirinzan Junmai Ginjo. I have to confess out the gate that I kinda of have a ‘sake crush’ on this brew. I mean, just look at that bottle. The guys up in Niigata know what they are doing when it comes to the packaging design! This fantastic Kirinzan sake is made using the largely Niigata-identified rice strain Gohyakumangoku. However, Gohyakumangoku is a rice with a little secret. It tends to crack when ground down to smaller and smaller sizes – which is exactly what is needed for daiginjos. So why go to the trouble to use a troublesome rice? for the same reason you’d climb Mount Fuji – because it’s there! The Brewers love a challenge. How is the taste? Bracingly clean and laced with a mild nuance of citrus-y goodness. A classic Niigata sake made with the signature soft & pillowy Niigata water. A beautiful bottle for a very beautiful product.

tamanohikari.jpgNext up was Tamanohikari Junmai Daiginjo.  The big story with Tamanohikari is the rice.  It’s made using an ancient strain of rice known as Omachi.  Omachi rice is sometimes called the ‘Grandfather’ of rice because it is so old (perhaps the oldest surviving rice strain?) and has not been cross-bred with any other rice varities which is so common with sake rice. Omachi rice is not known particularly for it’s fragrance, and that seems to me to lend the Tamanohikari a down to earth vibe that makes this a very like-able and quite approachable Junmai Daiginjo. The taste is quite delicious and this rice gives Tamonohikari a nice viscosity. Lovely to look at in the glass and lovely on the palate.

kuheiji_Daiginjo.jpgLast but not least was the Kamishibito Kuheiji Daiginjo Muroka.  Now this Daiginjo uses the most popular of any sake rice by far, Yamadanishiki. This Kuheiji is a “Muroka” sake. That means that this sake was not charcoal filtered at the end of the production process. This fine charcoal filtering can really clean the color of sake to a crystal clear color, and some argue, strip away some personality, too. I’ll just let that debate rage on and let you know that Muroka sake can have a unique richness you won’t find as easily in micro-filtered sake. In this case, Kuheiji a distinctly rich daiginjo! It is a wonderful rich and luxurious sake with the rice milled down to an amazing 40%. Nice clean finish with superior balance.

 All this in depth Daiginjo study has got me thinking… I have to get out there and taste more, more, more daiginjo grade sake!! Far from being vacant, Daiginjo is alive with nuance! This is not something to drink just because it’s there, but rather because it has such an expressive taste.

Oh, and if I ever really do climb Mount Fuji, note to self… Daiginjo in the fannypack.

otokoyama.jpgI was thrilled to recently get a close up look, and taste, of the latest offerings of Prestige Sake Imports. There was another rich array of selections from some of the best Prestige has to offer. Three breweries in particular were featured: Kaika, Otokoyama and Gokyo.

My first stop of the day was to visit with Mr. Hiroyuki Yamazaki representing Hokkaido’s Otokoyama Brewery. Otokoyama Tokubetsu Junmai has to be one of the most well known and best selling sakes in the U.S. 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 enjoyed it. It is a good sake to have around for those informal times when something good and strong fits the bill.

Otokoyama Yukishibare Tokubetsu Junmai Nama was also presenting a spring release nama. I found it to be an interesting nama that is a touch on the dry side, but otherwise quite balanced. I find this sake tends to be out-gunned in the big-bold-flavor department by other Namas out there, especially the muroka genshus of the world, but Otokoyama always deserves a look-see.

shimada_san.jpgNext, I enjoyed visiting with Mr. Yoshinori Shimada, Executive Director of Daiichi Sake Brewery, makers of Kaika brand sake. First I tried their Kaika Shiboritate Tokubetsu Junmai Muroka Nama Genshu. (phew!) Juicy, Juicy Juicy! this nama is, well, Juicy… full of viscosity on the palate, the sweetness comes on strong and luscious. Full power muroka nama genshu – if that tickles your fancy.

Next I tried a really special treat: Kaika Tobindori Daiginjo Shizuku Genshu. This is a special, and quite expensive sake that comes in a striking package… a mini sake storage bottle in a fantastic blue color. In this case, the packaging measures up to the contents. This sake has light fruit salad on the palate with an elegant complexity throughout. The primary thing I noticed when tasting was how SMOOTH this puppy is. An elegant bottle for an elegant sake. Drink up!

gokyo_bridge.jpgMy final visit at the tasting was to visit with Mr. Hideki Fujioka of Sakai Brewery, the makers of Gokyo (“5 bridges”) brand sake. This sake is from Yamaguchi prefecture, and I was luck enough to visit this area of Japan on my last trip there. The actual Gokyo bridge is perhaps the most famous bridge in all of Japan… It’s gorgeous. Mr. Sakurai of Yamaguchi’s dassai was kind enought to take me there.

gokyo_arabashiri.jpgMy first taste of Gokyo sake was their spring release draft sake known as Gokyo Arabashiri Junmai Nama Genshu. Full cask strength and full of fruity flavors, this is a nama to sit up and take notice of. You’ll GO back to this GO-kyo again and again. Last but not least, I tried the Gokyo Junami. I found this to be a no nonsense, no frills and full bodied junmai. It’s more on the dry side and with a touch of creamed rice on the palate.

Prestige brings in some good sakes! please check out any sakes from these brewer’s if you get a chance, but be sure to never pass up a chance to sample the draft nama sakes that are only around in the beginning of the year. I can guarantee you’ll have a spring awakening all your own!

marumoto_san.jpgI was so honored and excited to recently meet Mr. Niichiro Marumoto, President of Okayama Prefecture’s Marumoto Sake Brewery – makers of well regarded Chikurin brand of sake which is imported by Joto Sake. I met Marumoto-san twice on his last trip to New York City, once at the recent Japan Society sake tasting and again at a tasting event at Sakaya.

Both times I met him, Marumoto-san was a tireless educator about his sake! He was enthusiastic and excited to answer questions and help people (myself included) understand better what makes Chikurin tick.

chikurin_junmai2.jpgI started by tasting the Chikurin Fukamari “Depth” Junmai. This sake is in the fuller and richer range of the two sakes we tasted. Very interesting to note that they add a small percentage of Koshu, or aged sake, to their junmai to ‘pump of the volume’ so to speak. Learning this explained a lot about what made the taste of this brew so intriguing. You can pick up on rice aromas in the nose. Marumoto-san confided that he was inspired by the essence of rich incense at the local temple when creating this sake. This must be one aspect of what the name “depth” refers to… fascinating!

chikurin_junmai_ginjo.jpgNext, i eagerly dove into Chikurn Karoyaka “Lightness”Junmai Ginjo. Lightness is well named. This sake if so easy to enjoy. it’s light yet with enough body to hold it perfectly together. An important note is that this sake is only pasteurized once instead of the usual 2 times giving more vibrancy to the sake. It is also easy to pick up on and enjoy the light fruits in this aromatic brew. This is a true winner in my book! loved it.

Besides the Chikurin brand, Marumoto brewery also makes the run away hit sake sparkling Hou Hou Shu Junmai. This confection is enjoyed by people far and wide! It’s sweet and lower alcohol adding to it’s appeal with some contingents that my not be 10o% on board with sake yet. Hou Hou Shu also comes in a version infused with rosehip and hibiscus if plain sparkling sake is not enough razzle dazzle for you. The bottle design is well executed and quite interesting.

bizen.jpgTowards the end of his visit, Marumoto-san surprised me with an really amazing omiyage gift… he gave me a beautiful small Bizen tokkuri. Bizen is a stoneware pottery that has been made for hundreds of years in Marumoto’s native prefecture of Okayama. Part of the beauty of Bizen is that is is completely unglazed.

Maruomoto-san wanted to show us the effect this local pottery could have on the taste of sake. We tasted Fukamari that was just slightly warmed in the Bizen Tokkuri and then some Fukamari straight from the bottle. The sake from the Tokkuri had a pronounced yet pleasant mineral taste that the sake from the bottle did not. It was really exciting to see concrete examples as to how serving and temperature can influence and/or improve the experience for the drinker. Side by side taste test are fun!
I really left this week with a new respect for Chikurin and I surely want to drink it some more to get even better acquainted with this sake brand and brewery. If you get a chance to try Chikurin, let me know what you think! kanpai, everyone!

hanami.jpgOk, one thing I’ve certainly learned in my pursuit to understand even a little bit about Japanese culture over the years is that the Japanese sure do love their cherry blossoms. There is even a specific word for the activity of “flower viewing” called Hanami which basically consists of picnicking under the cherry tree and admiring the beauty of the flowers and hoping a flower petal will float down and land in your sake cup.

welcome_cha-an.jpgWell our friend Chizuko-san, sake sommelier at Sakagura, hosted her own version of springtime Hanami at Cha-an tea house with a special emphasis on that delicious and ever more popular unpasteurized nama sake. I didn’t get a sakura petal to land in my cup, but I had some fantastic nama. The Chef at Ch-an, Tomoko Kato-san, provided course after course of really scrumptious appetizers.

Of the sakes served, here were some of the highlights that stood out for me:

Masumi Arabashiri Junmai Ginjo Nama Genshu: This is rich and full and the fresh, fresh flavor is alive with a fruitiness that may come across a touch sweeter than it actually is. This sake tastes alive and makes me happy to be alive.

sake_slips.jpgEiko Fuji Junmai Ginjo Nama Genshu: light and very elegant sake. I found this sake super refreshing and radiating luscious hints of all those summer fruits you love. more expensive and worth it.

Shutendouji Oh-Oni Junmai Ginjo Nama Genshu: One cool thing about this sake is that the brewery uses home grown sake rice, which is not usually the case. The flavor of this sake is full-on genshu – you really feel the full weight of the almost 18% alcohol, but it is balanced with wonderful nama fruit and thankfully not too sweet.

Kamikokoro Toukagen Shiboritate Tokubetsu Junmai Nama Genshu: This sake is one of my favorites and winner of the 2007 Golden Masu Award for best nama. hazaah! Of course, one of my favorites! This Ohkayama sake always heralds the coming of spring and to me is “spring in a bottle”. On the sweet side and fruity, this is a very, very, very easy to drink sake. They use a peach yeast to give it an extra punch of strawberry-licious flavor. yum-o.

mika.JPGOther sakes of note that we tried were Dewazakura Oka Ginjo, Dassai Sparkling Nigori Nama and Wataribune Nama Ginjo. This tasting was stand up cocktail party style and very popular! It didn’t take long for ‘sake magic’ to kick in and everyone was chatting up a storm and comparing sake flavors and pronouncing their favorites. I think a few new sake fans were brought into the flock on this night. Thanks, Chizuko-san for spreading the word on Nama!

tentaka.jpgApril has seen an influx of very interesting sake brewers visiting Sakaya. This is always really exciting! The brewers are my Superstars – they are as close to the brewing process as you can get and they make the magic happen. Here are some highlights.

Mr. Munenorei Ozaki is President of Tentaka Shuzo Co. Ltd in Tochigi Prefecture in Japan. Ozaki-san was at Sakaya presenting two of his signature sakes. First, Tentaka Kuni “Hawk in the Heavens” Junmai. This sake is rich and on the dry side with hints of earthiness and fullness of flavor that I imagine would pair well with lots of types of food. Ozaki-san also presented the delicious “Silent Stream” Junmai Daiginjo. Wow, this stuff is good. it made me think that there was a magical sake stream of Junmai Daiginjo somewhere in Tochigi prefecture and Tentaka and discovered it and bottled it! This brew is expensive but I think worth every penny. It’s luscious, smooth and dreamy.

Imada_san.jpgAnother brewer to visit Sakaya was Ms. Miho Imada of Imada Sake Brewery Co. Ltd. Ms. Imada is well known as one of the few female Master Brewers or Toji in Japan. Meeting Imada-san again was a big thrill for me. I have a great respect for her and her obvious dedication to making fantastic sake. She was presenting her signature sake Fukucho Biho “Moon On the Water” Junmai Ginjo. This sake really stayed with me and offered a long finish with just some mild hints of fruit. I really enjoyed this sake. Easy drinking and very easy to enjoy.

sudo_san.jpgNext, it was an honor to meet Mr. Yoshiyasu Sudo, President of the famous Sudo Honke Brewery in Ibaraki Prefecture. Why so famous? Sudo Honke is recognized as the oldest brewery in Japan! Sudo-san is the 55th generation of his family to be making sake at this brewery… I feel this is kind of staggering as I can only trace my family back 3 generations at most. From my point of view, keeping a sake brewery going for that long in one family is an accomplishment to be proud of. Not surprisingly, Sado-san was pouring a wonderful brew called Sato no Homare “Pride of the Village” Junmai Ginjo. I found this sake to be aromatic and quite the classic example of a fantastically well-crafted Junmai Ginjo. The pictures I saw of Sudo Honke brewery were gorgeous and it makes perfect sense to me that such a beautiful place would inspire such a beautiful sake. 55 generations in the family business don’t hurt either.

Sakaya is just abuzz with activity these days! A great chance to try sake and meet brewers and importers and all kinds of sake people. I really enjoyed meeting all the brewers in town in town this month and I am really looking forward to what next month has to offer. same sake time, same sake channel!

gauntner_san.jpgThe Japan Society yearly tasting event is a real hum-dinger and one of the true not-to-be-missed events of the sake social calendar in NYC. This year was extra fun as Sake Sensei and all around great guy John Gauntner was going to lecture on the 100 year anniversary of the Japan National Sake Appraisal.

John’s lecture was really fantastic and I always learn something new anytime I get to hear him speak on the subject of sake. One interesting fact I came away with: did you know that the Japanese government employees professional sake tasters? it’s a real job… for reals! And what to the government tasters do during those times of the year when there are no tastings? well, they practice of course!

Tsushima_san.jpgAfter John’s lecture, and a fun kagami biraki, we were all unleashed onto the tasting floor and boy, oh boy was it crowded. Be careful not to get in between a determined New Yorker and their free sake sample. You may lose a finger or worse.

After the crowds died down a bit, I was able to get my bearings and took at look at the breweries represented at this tasting. There were some old friends I knew well and some new breweries I had yet to meet. Very exciting!

We we lucky to have:

  • Takasago Sake Brewing Co – Hokkaido
  • Nanbubijin Inc – Iwate
  • Akita Seishu Co – Akita
  • Kaetsu Sake Brewing Co – Niigata
  • Okunomatsu Sake Brewing Co – Fukushima
  • Tentaka Sake Brewing Co – Tochigi
  • Sudo-Honke, Inc – Ibaraki
  • Daimon Sake Brewing Co – Osaka
  • Marumoto Sake Brewing Co – Okayama
  • Imada Sake Brewing Co – Hiroshima
  • Rihaku Skae Brewing Co – Shimane
  • Asahi Sake Brewign Co – Yamaguchi
  • Tenzan Sake Brewing Co – Saga

Ito_san.jpgPhew! There was a lot to explore!

I stopped by the Okunomatsu Table and met Takeshi Tsushima-san who is General Manager for the Brewery. I was happy to taste their delicious Okunomatsu Ginjo and a very special opportunity to taste their Sparkling Junmai Daiginjo!! This is the Sparkling sake used to shower winning formula one racers. I’ve been wanting to try this brew and this was my chance! It was an interesting mix of bubbly and complexity. cool!

I also visited with Akiko Ito-san from Akita Seishu Brewery. They make the world famous super dry Kariho Namahage Yamahai Junmai. Ito-san also introduced me to Kariho Rokushu Junmai Ginjo which was a more refined and softer older brother to Namahage. ok, at this point I was getting really happy!

I visited with many other brewers and sake community friends and generally had a great time. A final note about this particular tasting was that several brewers brought their “competition sake” from japan to give us a sneak peek. Competition sake is it’s own thing and I didn’t get to try a lot of it on this night, but the few I did try were special and borderline overwhelming and every bit as John says… “daiginjo on steroids” – best part? it’s legal.

chizuko_recommends.jpgSakaya has been having some great tastings! A recent enjoyable afternoon was spent visiting with Chizuko-san, our friend and well known Sake Sommelier at Sakagura. Chizuko-san was introducing us to 3 sakes that are perfect for the coming spring.

The first sake is from Chizuko-san’s home prefecture of Akita. It’s the aptly named Akitabare Shunsetsu Honjozo Nama. It’s interesting to note that this sake is pretty much available year round and not a strict spring release. That sure makes me happy when I’m craving a little nama fix outside of nama season. The taste is great with a bit of a sharp finish that stands up to all that hearty Akita food.

Next, Chizuko-san introduced us to Miyasaka Yamahai 50 Nama Ginjo. This is an amazingly interesting sake from the makers of Masumi. It does an exquisite job of balancing the zing of fresh spring nama and the boldness of Yamahai in one bottle. Unique and delicious! Watch for some interesting fruits in the nose… are those yamahai peaches?

The third and final treat is another delight from Masumi, their well regarded Masumi Arabashiri Junmai Ginjo Nama Genshu. This delight just screams springtime nama. It’s fresh, fresh flavor is alive with a fruitiness that may come across a touch sweeter than it actually is. This sake tastes alive and makes me happy to be alive. However, this is so yummy perhaps you might drink more than you should??

Now, now… you can’t really drink too much nama sake. That was a trick question, people! Stop by Sakaya for one of their tastings! It’s the best gig in town for free tastings on a great array of sake. Oh – and if you see Chizuko-san at Sakagura, tell her Urban Sake says hello.

sakes_2.jpgIn early March, The Japan External Trade Organization (Jetro) held an industry tasting event and lecture called “Japanese Jizake: Artisan Sake Tasting at the Ambassador’s Residence.” This really fun event was held at the official residence of the Counsul General of Japan in New York, Mr. Sakurai. Funny as it would seem, I’ve actually been to the Consul General’s home once before!

chizuko_san.jpgThis event was similar to the previous one in so far as the goal was to support awareness of Japanese sake as an export in New York. The day started with Sake 101 lecture given by well known Sake Specialist Michael Simkin. Michael was very well spoken as usual and helped convey the basics of sake in an easy to understand way. I always learn something new when listing to Michael teach, so I’m delighted to hear his lectures whenever I can.

The tasting took place upstairs and was set up according to Sake Distributor Company. Represented was JFC International Inc, Daiei Trading, Nishimoto Trading Co. Ltd., New York Mutual Trading Inc, and Wine of Japan Import Inc. There were over 80 sakes being poured! Did I get to try them all? well… not ALL of them, but here is a sneak peek and some of the highlights.

kudoki_jozu.jpgOur friend and sake sommelier Chizuko-san was helping pour at the Daiei Trading table and introduced us to a new sake: Tenryohomare Sessuiginshizu Junmai Ginjo. This sake was enjoyable. A clean refreshing taste with mild hints of fruits, but a higher acidity than you may find elsewhere. A real discovery!

When I visited the Nishimoto Trading company table, a near and dear sake caught my eye: Kudoki Jozu. My Friend Kuno-san was there and helped me find some great sakes at the Nishimoto table including the fantastic Urakasumi Zen and that wonderfully light Jozen Mizunogotosh.

What a fantastic way to spend an afternoon! I really enjoyed getting to know the sakes a little better and you just could not beat the setting! Word may have gotten around about my second trip to the Ambassador’s Residence. You may even read about it in the papers!

classroom.jpgI recently taught my second sake class at the new Astor Center. I have to say, we had a really fun night! The students were enthusiastic, interested and asking some great questions. Since this was my second class in “the study” classroom and I now had some experience with the technology, I integrated more “interactive slides”. These slides allow me to poll the class, with each student using individual remotes. The computer calculates the totals to give us an immediate response – just like on a game show. IDassai_50.jpgt’s pretty cool! The new technology is one of the things that makes teaching in this space so much fun.

koshino_homare.jpgThe Elements of Sake class is, of course, about teaching the basics of sake and introducing students to the basics of tasting sake. I do have to say, we had some fantastic sakes to taste! This class included the following sakes:

Hoyo Manamusume Junmai ( SMV +1, Acidity 1.5, Miyagi Prefecture) Full Flavor with prominent alcohol.

Hitori Musume Junmai Nigori (SMV +4, Acidity 1.4, Ibaraki Prefecture) Texture, texture texture! creamy and soothing.

Koshinohomare Nama Shiboritate Genshu ( Niigata Prefecture, Seimaibuai 65%, Alcohol 17.5%). Full octane genshu nama that maintains it’s poise! very drinkable.space_sake_bottle.jpg

Dassai 50 Junmai Ginjo (Yamaguchi Prefecture, Alcohol 15.6%, SMV +3, Acidity 1.4 Seimaibuai 50%) The classic Dassai 50. balanced and smooth – perfect.

Tsukasubotan Space Sake Junmai Ginjo (Kochi Prefecture, SMV +5, Acidity 1.5, Seimaibuai 55%) The Class Favorite! Made with yeast sent into orbit, this “spacial” sake speaks to me as fruity and it is a real conversation starter!

Wakatake Daiginjo Junmai Daiginjo (Shizuoka Prefecture, SMV +0, Acidity 1.4 Seimaibuai 50%, Alcohol 16.5%) Such a reliable Junmai Daiginjo. My favorite sake to pour for people new to the Junmai Daiginjo classification.

Asako_alan_tim.jpgIf YOU want to get in on all the fun and all the tasting, please sign up for the March 19th Elements of Sake class at Astor Center.

I know we will have a lot of fun and great discussions about sake! I hope to see you in class!

kazu_san_pours_nama.jpgMy friends Rick and Hiroko at Sakaya (324 E. 9th Street, 212-505-7253) have a fantastic and seemingly endless parade of superior, and FREE tasting events happening at their Sake Shop. If you haven’t yet, be sure to check their website to learn about the tasting schedule or better yet, contact them at the store to get on their email list for future events! Here is a “greatest hits” of what Sakaya was up to in February.

dassai_nigori.jpgFebruary 9, 2 to 4PM: Our beloved Sakagura Sake Sommelier Chizuko-san was at Sakaya introducing customers to some great sake selections for Valentines day! As usual, Chizuko-san was spot on in her selections that fit the occasion perfectly. Forget flowers and chocolate… Sake is bringing sexy back. We sampled:
*Yuki no Bosha Junmai Ginjo
*Hanatomoe Junmai Ginjo
*Dassai 50 Nigori

February 15, 6 to 8PM: Oh joy, oh rapture! the first release spring namas are here and Rick and Hiroko hosted sake master Kazu Yamazaki of Japan Prestige. These namas FLY off the shelf and are only around for a limited time, so drink early, drink often. Kazu-san is a font of knowledge when it comes to sake and there is always something to learn from him. This fantastic tasting included:
*Koshi no Homare Shiboritate Junmai Nama Genshu
*Kamikokoro Tokagen Tokubetsu Junmai Nama Genshu (Golden Masu winner!)
*Shutendouji Oh-Oni Junmai Ginjo Nama Genshu

yoshi_san.jpgFebruary 21, 6 to 8PM: One of the great things about Sakaya events is the chance to sample some sakes that are off the beaten path. that is just the case for this insightful tasting. Yoshihiko Takao from the Jizake was pouring two great sakes!
*Daishichi Junmai Kimoto Classic
*Chiyomusubi Tokubetsu Junmai

February 22, 6 to 8PM: Kagatobi in da’ house! Kagatobi is a name you should know! It’s a fantastic brand from Ishikawa prefecture. These sakes are balanced and really speak to me. Watch out for that Yamahai Junmai. It’s a special one. You can tell that all these sakes are brewed with strong attention to detail. never a bad thing in sake!  We enjoyed:
*Kagatobi Cho Karakuchi Yamahai Junmai
*Kagatobi Ai Junmai Daiginjo
kagatobi.jpg

place_setting2.jpgThere are currently only 5 seats left for my Feb 18th Sake Class at Astor Center!

If you want to get in on this class please Click Here to sign up soon! Also, there is a special coupon below that is good for this February 18th class only!

Here are the details…

  • What: Timothy’s Element of Sake Class
  • When: Monday, Feb 18th, 6:30-8:30pm
  • Where: Astor Center’s state-of-the-art classroom – 24 East 4th St. Second Fl.
  • Why: OMG, we’re going to taste some fantastic sakes and have a lot of fun!
  • SAVE!!: Special coupon! for my February class only, buy 2 tickets and one of them will be FREE if you use promo code “ACWelcome

I look forward to meeting you in class!

If you cannot make the Feb 18th class, you can also currently sign up for my Elements of Sake class on March 19th or April 18th, 6:30 – 8:30pm. Kanpai!

oni.jpgI’ve never met a real, live Ogre before today, but I have to say I was surprised how nice and photogenic he was. I would say downright friendly! …And any Ogre that is passing out sake is a friend of mine!

I met my new “Oni” friend at a special tasting hosted by Kazu-san and Mariko-san of Prestige Sake International Distributors. They held the event to introduce some new sakes, and some stand-by favorites, to retailers and restaurant folks.

Besides our friendly Ogre, there were some even more friendly sake brewers who were on hand, too… I even had the thrill of meeting Mr. Fujii-san, the creator of the 2007 Golden Masu Award Winning brew “Kamikokoro Nama”!

Imanishi.jpgI started the event meeting Mr. Imanishi, President of Harushika Brewery. Harushika from Nara Prefecture is a popular brand in New York City. Along with their well known sakes, I also tasted two daiginjos I wasn’t familiar with. here’s the breakdown:

*Harushikia Extra Dry Junmai (SMV +12, Acidity 1.6) Dry as a bone. great for lovers of Extra Dry

*Harkushika Tokimeki Junmai (SMV -80, Acidity 5.5) Sparkling sake that is off the charts on both SMV and Acidity, this low alcohol sake breaks all the rules.

*Harushikia Daigomi Junmai (SMV +4.5 Acidity 1.6) light and drinkable.

*Harushika Daiginjo (SMV +2.5, Acidity 1.3) Smooth and light. Excellent Daiginjo

*Harushika Daigninjo Shizuku (SMV +3.5, Acidity 1.3) Clean, clean clean trickle sake.

*Harushika Shiboribana Junmai Ginjo Nama (SMV +3, Acidity 1.4) fresh and springy nama.

kamikokoro.jpgNext I got to meet my nama rock star, Mr Nobuhiko Fujii. Kamikokoro is a relatively young brewery in Ohyama Prefecture. The exciting thing about their nama is the use of peach yeast to make it taste extra fruity and special. I find that the zest and zing really come across in this exciting brew. Fujii-san was also presenting a Tokubetsu Junmai and a Junmai Daiginjo. I find Kamikokoro a brewery to really get excited about.

* Kamikokoro “Tokagen” Tokubetsu Junami Nama Genshu (SMV -11, Acidity 1.4) This sake is a winner in my book. Sweet and infused with a peachy-strawberry fruit that is just delightful.

* Kamikokoro Nagisanouta Tokubetsu Junmai (SMV -2.5 Acidity 1.25). this sake is intriguing and soft as a cloud.

* Kamikokoro Koi Junmai Daiginjo. (smv +2, Acidity 1.1) Mild fruit and a touch of a dry finish.

namas.jpgIchinokura is a great reliable brewery that was my next stop. I tried the following brews:

* Ichinokura Junmai (SMV +2, Acidity 1.4) Rice in the nose and full junmai flavor

* Ichinokura Nama Tokubetsu Junmai Nama (SMV +3, Acitidy 1.5) Year round nama with light fruit but not a fruit bomb.

* Ichinokura Himezen “princess” (SMV -65, Acidity 5) Sweet Low alcohol sake for the Princess in your life.

* Ichinokura Nama Gneshu Nigori tokubetsu junmai (SMV -1, Acidity 1.8) This was a very intriguing sake. higher acidity gives this cloudy confection a fantastic bite.

nakanishi.jpgLast, I tried some fascinating sakes from Shutendouji “Red Ogre” Brewery from Kyoto Prefecture. Mr. Nakanishi, the president of this brewery was enthusiastic and brought his Ogre all the way from Kyoto. Besides the ogre, the big story from Shutendouji was the special rice grown especially for the brewery in Kyoto prefecture. These sakes are new to the US and I enjoyed tasting them.

* Shutendouji Kyo-onna Tokubetsu Junmai (SMV -7, Acidity +1.6) Mild aroma with hints of rice.

* Shutendouji Mitaiken (SMV +2 Acidity 1.5) Now, this sake spoke to me. Balanced but with a full bodied richness. I think this sake clearly qualifies as yummy.

This tasting was a rip roaring good time and I was really pumped up by the enthusiasm of the brewers on hand. It’s always a fantastic thrill to meet brewers and I feel like I can ask them more as I learn more. Prestige put on a great event and it was a real thrill to attend. Only drawback is now I’ll have to think twice before drinking Demon Slayer!

takasawa_san_introduces.jpgSakaya has started the new year off right with weekly free sake tastings! On a recent evening, Representatives from Kikusui Brewery were on hand to explain about there sakes and sample some special sakes just for the occasion.

Kikusui is a very well known brewery, in a Prefecture already world famous for it’s sake: Niigata. The Kikusui website has an extensive explanation of the company and the brewing process all in English. Not to be missed!

Visiting from the Brewery were Kikusui President Mr. Takasawa and Export Sales Manager Mr. Endo. They were both incredibly enthusiastic and gave us the low down on what they were pouring. We tasted:

last_bottle.jpg*Kikusui Junmai Ginjo: Clean, clear and a fantastic representative of that renowned Niigata water. Everyone comments on the beautiful Blue bottle. Drinkable and enjoyable everyday with great versatility.

*Kikusui Funaguchi Nama Genshu Honjozo in a can: This sake is well known to me and I have had enjoyed it many times. This sake deserves a guest spot on “The Bold and the Beautiful” because it’s just that. And come on, people! The can is just fun. Full, juicy and quite a handful (in a good way).

*Kikusui Daiginjo Genshu Competition Sake in a can: ok, if the Nama Genshu Honjozo was bold and beautiful, this puppy is bold and beautiful and a Ph.D. Gorgeous, with_takasawa_san.jpgfull flavor and a deep complexity. Not a sake to drink everyday, but this was an amazing opportunity to taste something so well crafted.

Rick and Hiroko had quite a crowd at the event and there was a run on Kikusui Junmai Ginjo which was sold out by the end of the evening. Mr. Takasawa was a fantastic representative for his Brewery and helped every one to enjoy their introduction to Kikusui. I can’t wait to try more from this brewery next chance I get!

Explaining_masu.jpgOne of the more exciting opportunities I’ve had recently to preach the gospel of sake is teaching the first of several “Elements of Sake” classes at the brand new Astor Center in New York’s East Village. What a thrill!

First, a word about the new Astor Center Facility. “The Study” is one tricked out classroom folks! It’s really a fantastic, state-of-the-art facility… a dream for both students and teachers alike! Each student gets a workstation with individual sink, and an individual lightbox for judging color. place_setting.jpgAlso included are stadium seating, three overhead widescreen TVs, so everyone gets a perfect view.

Last but not least, the slideshow system comes equipped with a dynamic student response system. If you put a multiple choice question or rating on a slide, the students can reply using a handheld remote and the computer gives an instant view of the replies. it’s cool!

The class itself was 36 people strong. urakasumi_title.jpgHere is a quick overview of what we covered in class:

  • what is sake
  • sake ingredients
  • sake production process
  • tips for serving and tasting

In addition we also tasted 5 fantastic sakes. they are:

Urakasumi Junmai: This is a classic example of a Junmaishu. wakatake_nama_title.jpgFirm, full bodied and full rice in the nose.

Hakkaisan Ginjo: One of my very favorites! This sake is the poster child for a Niigata Ginjo. aggressively clean and balanced.

Rihaku Nigori: The sake that launched a 1,000 nigori fans. dassai_title.jpgThis sake has the perfect texture to show students what Nigori is all about.

Wakatake Nama: Spring Namas have yet to hit the shore, so fall namas are our fall-back til spring. I like this nama by Wakatake in Shizuoka Prefecture. Full forward flavor with a touch of zing and full fruit.

Dassai 23: What can I say. I just didn’t feel right having a sake class without letting students taste a masterpiece. Dassai 23 was a hit and understandably so. complex and layered with hints of fruit and a touch of a dry finish. A true show stopper.

sake_flowchart_tim.jpgThis class was a load of fun for me to teach. If this sounds like fun to you and you would like to attend a Sake Samurai “Elements of Sake” class you can sign up on the Astor Center website.

Important Note: As a bonus for Urban Sake readers, you can get two tickets for the price of one for the February class. please use Promo code “ACWelcome” when buying your tickets!!

hair.jpgI got an email out of the blue from a gentleman asking me if I would be interested in holding a lecture on Sake at the December 2007 NYC Anime Convention at the Javits Center. What does sake have to do with Anime? Well the organizers of the Anime Festival were also wisely holding Japanese “culture panels” on subject such as “Kabuki Theater”, “Japanese Woodblock Prints”, “Samurai and Feudal Japan” and of course my favorite cultural topic: “Sake!”

Since I became a “Sake Samurai” last October, one of my vows was to educate about sake, precisely: “Spread the word about Japanese sake around the world with pride and passion”. I knew this lecture opportunity was a chance to do just that! Now, I’ve never been to a Convention before, Star Trek, Sci Fi, Anime or otherwise… so I didn’t know really what to expect. When the day of my lecture arrived, I packed up my laptop and powerpoint and headed off.

swordplay.pngI arrived at the Javits Center on the big day and was immediately overwhelmed by the crowds and costumes. I mean… this Anime Festival was ginormus! I saw lots of kids dressed up in lots of crazy costumes. Oh… and lots and lots of spike-y anime hair. Oh… and lots of maid uniforms. Oh… and lots of samurai swords. …and that was just in the lobby.

I found my way to the check in counter for Presenters and got my badge and then I waded into the crowd. Walking to the room where my lecture was being held, i was truly bewildered by the roaming gangs of various Anime characters, many of them chasing and “sword fighting” each other. I couldn’t help feeling like I was the odd man out on the playground. The lecture before mine was cancelled, so I had plenty of time to set up for my sake lecture. lecture_room.jpgEach presentation has tech support provided by the Javits Center – they seemed like old school union guys who were just as bewildered with the parade of costumes as I was.

The lecture room itself was a 200 seat auditorium with a microphone, raised stage and a gigantic movie theater sized projection system. I really wasn’t sure what to expect giving the mildly rowdy shenanigans going on outside the lecture room. I had some time to peek in on some of the other panels and found some of the anime panels overflowing their rooms. My lecture however, was a “panel” of one – Me!

podium.jpgWhen the time came I called the room to order and began my lecture and slide show. I had about 75 people show up which I thought was a really good turn out! The crowd was mostly professionals in their 30s and 40s with a smattering of young people.

I started by talking about Sake ingredients and then the sake production process. At the request of the organizers I also took some time to make recommendations about where to go to experience sake in New York City for the out of town visitors to the convention. sake_set.jpgMy favorite part of the lecture was opening up the floor to questions from the audience. The crowd asked some fantastic questions and I really enjoyed answering them! All in all it was a great success.

About a month after the lecture, I got a “thank you” package from the organizers of the Festival. It included a couple of T-shirts, a mascot doll and a very special memento of the day… an engraved NYC Anime Festival Sake set! Pretty darn cool if you ask me.

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Anime hair photo © 2007 Flicker user A. Seraphin.
Licensed under CC 2.0 Generic

golden_masu.jpg

The Blogosphere has been abuzz lately wondering about the winners of the 2007 UrbanSake.com Golden Masu Awards. I know people were concerned that 2007 would draw to a close without the sake blogging world’s highest honors being bestowed this year. Fear Not! Just in the nick of time, the 2007 Golden Masu Awards are here. This allows us to take a look back over the year and acknowledge some of the sake high points we’ve seen this year.

Forgive us if we skip the fashion, fluff and fake tans on the red carpet and get right to the good stuff. Without further ado, drumroll please…

Best Nigori

golden_masu.jpgyuki_No_bosha3.jpgAnd the Masu goes to: Yuki no Bosha Junmai Ginjo Nigori

It’s not every day that a fantastic Nigori enters your life. If the truth be told, I’m actually not the biggest Nigori fan on the planet… however, I can appreciate the stuff.

One thing that makes a nigori really shine in my eyes is subtlety and Yuki no Bosha Nigori has that in spades. The nigori here is whisper-light and elegant with just a hint of texture.

Made by a small artisanal brewery in the Northern prefecture of Akita, the taste is smooth and soothing – a real winner in my book. If you’ve never had a nigori, start here and you can’t go wrong.


“Best Spring Nama”

golden_masu.jpgKamikokoro.jpgAnd the Masu goes to: Kamikokoro Toukagen Shiboritate Tokubetsu Junmai Nama Genshu

Namas in April and May really do herald the coming of Springtime. The best nama I had in 2007 was only available in the spring and I have no trouble thinking back to the taste of this memorable elixir. It was fruity with a strong strawberry-peachy bend. Yeah, just kinda yummy that way. The sneaky secret is the use of peach yeast in the making of this Okayama Prefecture brew.

In addition to the big flavor, the name can be a mouthful, too. Let’s break it down: Kamikokoro (brewery name), Shiboritate (first run), Tokubetsu (special), Junmai Nama (unpasteurized/draft junmai), Genshu (undiluted/cask strength). hmmm. Maybe we should just enjoy the flavors. can’t wait for spring ’08!


Best Fall Nama

golden_masu.jpgurakasumi_nama.jpgAnd the Masu goes to: Urakasumi Hiyaoroshi Tokubestsu Junmai Nama

Fall Namas are a different beast from the springtime ones. However, they do have their own particular charms. They have that nama freshness, but taste more of the end of harvest than the buds of spring.I was able to try Urakasumi Fall Nama several times in 2007 and grew to appreciate it’s mild fruit, subtle flavors and balance. Miyagi Prefecture’s Urakasumi Brewery goes to the trouble to produce a fall nama and their efforts are rewarded.

One of the key points of this sake is it’s tie to the changing of the seasons. They have captured the essence of Japanese Autumn in a bottle. we’re very lucky to be able to get it here in the states.


“Best Sake for Warming”

golden_masu.jpgshichi_hon_yari.jpgAnd the Masu goes to: Shichi Hon Yari Junmai

Shichi Hon Yari or “The Seven Spearsmen” is a sake that keeps alive the Samurai Spirit. Anyone who has seen a PBS special on Feudal Japan knows that the samurai way of life was simply about honor, but also fierce and intense. Shichi Hon Yari is also an intense and honorable sake when chilled, but gentle warming brings out the intensity in this Shiga Prefecture brew.

If you warm this sake, I guarantee you a sensory experience. You can almost feel it running through your veins. On a cold night the gentle warming of the alcohol is just what the Dr. ordered. The perfect thing to sip before any Samurai battle… or even for a quiet night in.


“Best Label”

golden_masu.jpgsenchu_hassaku.jpgAnd the Masu goes to: Tsukasabotan Senchu Hassaku Tokubetsu Junmai

They say you can’t tell a book by it’s cover… but sometimes you can. This is the case for the delicious, and deliciously designed, bottle of Tsukasabotan Senchu Hassaku.Being the only sake label I know of that screams out in neon safety-orange kanji, it immediately caught my attention. A cover like this better house an interesting book – and Tsukasabotan delivers.

The flavor is rich and full, the nose hints and mild fruits, while maintaining an overall dry character. Yeah, it’s kinda punk rock. I might even brave a mosh pit to get my hands on Senchu Hassaku.


“Best Sake Bang for Your Buck”

golden_masu.jpgDassai_50.jpgAnd the Masu goes to: Dassai 50 Junmai Ginjo

I’ve fallen hard for the allure of Dassai 50. I was really lucky to visit this Yamaguchi perfecture brewery in Oct. 2007 and saw up close how they lavish attention on every detail. It’s really hand crafted.

The reason I think this sake in particular is a great value is that it’s sold as a Junmai Ginjo, yet is milled to 50% which would allow it to legally qualify to be sold as a Daiginjo. Given the fantastic taste, attention to quality and a current retail price of around $25.00, you really can’t go wrong. While it’s no “2 buck Chuck”, This is a fantastic sake to introduce beginning sake drinkers to the joys of Nihon-shu.


“Best in Show”

golden_masu.jpghakkaisan_ginjo.jpgAnd the Masu goes to: Hakkaisan Ginjo

For me, 2007 was the year of Hakkaisan Ginjo. Simply put, I love this stuff. How do I love thee? let me count the ways! 1) Smooth and oh oh so drinkable. 2) Just enough richness and depth to keep the tastebuds activated. 3) That fantastic Niigata water doing it’s thing. 4)The crystal clear color of this brew sparkles in the glass. 5) A nose that any greek statue would envy. 6) Yum-o!

Have you not tried Hakkaisan Ginjo yet? Well, get thee some, pronto. If you like smooth, clear and clean drinking sakes like I do, this brew may just enchant you, too.

Well, there you have it. Congratulations to all the winners and I’ll be on the look out in ’08 for any new sake stars on the horizon… Kanpai and Happy New Year!

Ambassador2.jpgAttending a sake tasting at the Japanese Consul General’s private residence was a unique experience.

Upon arriving, we went through security and found ourselves in the grand foyer of a town house that looked like it belonged to a robber baron of the Golden Age… with a touch of Liaisons Dangereuses decor thrown in. Think wide marble staircases, mirrored doors with rococo gold trim, and ornate crystal chandeliers.

beautiful_kimono.jpgThe Event was sponsored by Akita Sake Connoisseurs club and this was their most unique event to date. This tasting was like none I had ever been to. There was sake tasting, to be sure, but also speeches, Akita food tasting, a small display of cultural wares from Akita and multiple music performances. Where to start, where to start! With the sake of course…

Kiichironosake.jpgThis Akita event had many well known Akita Sakes and some unavailable in the States. Among the unavailable sakes was the delightful Kiichiro No Sake Tokubetsu Junmai. Using underground water from Kaji river, Kikusui Shuzo makes this fantastic stuff. Sakagura Sake Sommelier Chizoko-san recommended this sake highly and I enjoyed the taste. It was clean with a surprising depth.

Some delicious but more widely available Akita sakes included Akita Shuzo’s Akitabare Suirakuten Daiginjo, which came highly recommended by Asami-san from World Sake Imports.

henry_miho.jpgHenry Seidel and Miho-san representing Joto Sake also had some fine offerings. My favorite is their Yuki No Bosha Junmai Ginjo Nigori. This sake seems like a full & think nigori at first glance, but it’s whisper light on the palate… very drinkable and quite delicious. It’s probably a good thing they only sell it in small bottles here. That helps me with “portion control”.

Prestige sake was sampling a delightful Nama sake from Aramasa Shuzo called Akitaryu Hiyaoroshi Junmai Ginjo. It’s a seasonal autumn release that had the lively but grounded essence we’ve come to know and love in the fall namas.

ambassador_sakurai.jpgOnce the sakes were sampled, the evening was in full swing, Ambassador Sakurai held a short speech to welcome everyone and extol the virtues of sake. That man has got my vote! One thrilling surprise was the musical performances. Both western and Japanese classical music was played to dramatic effect in this elegant setting. I realized more clearly than ever that drinking sake does make you a happy person. So, it goes without saying that there is no better way to help along diplomatic relations of any sort, then some friendly conversation and some premium nihon-shu. Kanpai to that.

kaiseki.jpgAfter my morning and afternoon of sipping and spitting sake at the Kyoto Sake Samurai sake tasting, I dashed off to Chion-in Temple by Taxi and tried to find my way to the sake tasting dinner. My hosts were gallantly looking for me on the vast temple grounds and luckily I was found and quickly escorted to the dinner without having missed too much!

we_love_sake_tshirt.jpgThe event was hosted by a group of sake loving Kyoto-ites banded together under the name “We Love Sake”. Today, they were featuring sakes from Yamagata’s Takenotsuyu Brewery and on hand as honored guests were Mr. Aisawa, the President of Takenotsuyu and his lovely wife. In addition, Mr. Beau Timkin, owner of True Sake and 2006 Sake Samurai himself was also an honored guest.

talking_to_the_crowd.jpgSoon after settling in (sitting on the floor) and starting on my first course of a fantastic Kaiseki dinner (my second in two days), Mr. Aisawa informed both Beau and myself that he was going to ask us to address the 60+ ‘We Love Sake’ folks enjoying their dinnner. Um… ok! So, After Mr. Aisawa said a few words about his Sake, Beau-san got up and spoke eloquently about his sake experiences at his True Sake Store. takenotsuyu_bottles2.jpgThen it was my turn… well i did my best and tried to tell these Kyoto sake fans that interest in Sake in the US is on the rise and that sake makes you happy, so I was happy to be with all of them for this event.

The Sakes featured were a fascinating line offered by Takenotsuyu. They are all Nama Genshu sakes made with with same water, same milling rate (55%) with the only difference between them being the strain of rice used. Cool! It’s always interesting to taste similar sakes side by side, but this takes it to the extreme. Paired with Kyoto Kaiskei, it was heaven. aisawa.jpgTo top it off Mr. Aisawa provided his trademark Yamagata water, the same delicious water the sake is brewed with. Evian – watch out!

At the end of the night, I made it back to the hotel with my taste buds all tasted out. I am quite sure, I had never tasted this much sake in one 24-hour period before. Boy, I needed to hit the hay. This samurai had a 6:30 AM date with the Bullet Train tomorrow to speed me to my next sake adventure…

big_sake_tasting2.jpgDay 2 of the Sake Samurai events had me up early to head off to a very large sake tasting connected to the Sake Samurai Association. I felt pretty good after last night but was in for a long day of tasting… and we were starting early – 10AM! When I arrived at the tasting, the attending brewers gave me the low down on this tasting.

_sip_spit_repeat.jpgThe sakes were broken up by grade… Junmai and Ginjo grades in the main auditorium and Daiginjo grade and specialty sakes in a near by building. Sakes were further broken down by price. I was handed the tasting sheet and told to start tasting. I quickly surmised there were 511 sakes at this tasting. That is much larger than the largest tasting in NYC – the Joy of Sake. Even so, how does one navigate a tasting of 511 sakes? any way you can.

The only way I knew I was going to make it thru was by mastering the fine art of spitting. Funky ashtray-like spittoons were provided and I quickly got the hang of it. Since I was starting early, the spittoons had a hollow ring to them when I spit. I was just feeling lucky that I wouldn’t have to clean them out.

takenotsuyu2.jpgI started the tasting in the larger Junmai/Ginjo grade room which had 2/3 of the sakes offered. I took a stroll and around and was pleased to see several sakes that I had seen before in the States.

The first sake I tried was a delicious Takenotsuyu Junmai Ginjo fromKatafune.jpg our friend Mr. Aisawa in Yamagata prefecture (SMV: +1.5, Seimaibuai: 55%, ALC: 17.5 %). This brew is made with full on Yamagata grown Dewasansan rice. The Sake has a light touch on the palate, but has a strong backbone with 17.5% Alcohol. With a nice balance and a touch of sweetness, this sake is terrific.

Next I tried the Katafune Junmai (SMV: -2, Seimaibuai: 65%, ALC 15.6%). This sake was awarded ‘best in show’ at the press and industry tasting the day before, and I can see why. The smooth flavor profile had a great arch of flavor on the palate and a good acidity providing excellent balance. I think this sake is only available in Japan.

gekkeikan_office.jpgAfter I finished my rounds in the Junmai/Ginjo room, I was anxious to find the Daiginjos and Ichishima Sake Brewery President Mr. Kenji Ichishima was very kind indeed to help me find my way to the second half of this tasting in a nearby building that was formerly a Gekkeikan administration office. It was a beautiful walk on a sunny day in very stark contrast to the downpour we has at the temple yesterday.

dassai_39.jpgIn the Daiginjo room, I honed in on some real gems. Right away i spotted a great sake that is impossible to find in the US. It’s Dassai Junmai Daiginjo 39 (SMV: +4, Seimaibuai: 39%, ALC: 15.8%). This stuff is really one of my all time faves. gassan.jpgIt’s a superb junmai daiginjo, but, believe it or not, it’s not their most refined sake (That would be the über-elegant Dassai 23). It has all the sophistication but with a firm foothold in flavor, so it’s not too lacey or floral. Great stuff.

Next I tried Ginrei Gassan Daiginjo (SMV: +5, Seimaibuai: 40%, ALC: 16.5%) from Yamagata Prefecture. I met Junichi Suzuki, 9th Generation Brewer and he recommended his Daiginjo – I’m glad he did. This sake was delicious. Smooth and round with a long finish.

sake_samurai_cup.jpgOne final note on this tasting was the observation that they know how to do it right here. The execution of the tasting event itself was spot-on. It was well organized with plenty of documentation on each sake for geeks like me who love to review the stats and percentages. Each sake was labeled with a number for easy identification. A great selection and easy access to all samples. Bravo! but beyond that, every taster got a special keepsake with the price of admission – their own Sake Samurai tasting cup. Now what could be better than that?

with_the_brewers.jpgAs the tasting wound to a close, I felt real appreciation for the opportunity to be here and experience this. Once more look around to take it all in and a hearty thank you to my hosts, the members of the Japan Brewer’s Association Jr. Council.

My morning and early afternoon were filled with sake tasting – but my watch was telling me it was time to rush off to another event for the evening… a sake pairing dinner at Chion-in Temple. Can this Samurai keep up…?

shimogamo.jpgOn Oct 19th, 2007, my first full day in Japan, I had the honor of being named a Sake Samurai by the Japan Brewer’s Association’s Jr Council. Ok, this experience was definitely once in a lifetime. The day started with my arrival by taxi at the UNESCO World Heritage site known as Shimogamo Shrine. It was pouring rain and I was feeling a little down we we weren’t going to have perfect weather, but as I started walking the grounds, I stumbled on a japanese wedding ceremony. The bride and groom looked so happy and full of life, I felt invigorated and the rain seemed somehow more romantic than before.

accepting_the_tenets.jpgSoon, Mr. Saura, President of both Urakasumi Brewery and the Japan Brewer’s Association Jr Council found me and led me to the starting point of our ceremony. After brief introductions and some instructions on what to expect, we headed single file through the main gate and into the shrine. We removed our shoes and had our hands purified with water by the shinto priest. We were then lead into the main chamber of the shrine for half an hour of formal worship. The Priestess rang bells over our heads and each guest had the honor of presenting a branch to the altar with a deep bow. signing_the_book.jpgThe music they played on what looked like a bamboo flute was haunting and spiritual. As I sat there trying to take it in, I couldn’t help but wonder for how many hundreds and hundreds of years this ceremony had been preformed on this very spot.

After formal worship, we processed to a raised platform off the main shrine. This is where the induction ceremony was to take place. There were 5 people receiving the title of Sake Samurai today. Mr. Takahashi, Mr. Wakuda, Ms. Seno, Mr. David Wrigley and myself. One by one, we were called up to the platform. The first order of business is to accept the three tenets of being a sake Samurai as read out by Mr. Saura, they are:

  • with_saura_san2.jpgLove both sake and the beautiful culture of Japan.
  • Strive to gain a deeper understanding of sake culture and work on behalf of its further development.
  • Spread the word about Japanese sake around the world with pride and passion.

After accepting these tenets, we were each invited to write our name into the book of Sake Samurais. Then, Saura-san stamped our certificate as well as the book with a seal. We there then, one by one, presented to the crowd and assembled photographers as a new Sake Samurai! At the final stage, all new Sake Samurais were invited back up onto the stage for a final Kanpai!

my_view_of_photographers.jpgAfter the ceremony was over, we processed to the main gate for a formal group portrait. The rain continued to fall hard and we were barely protected from the rain as we sat under the protection of the main gate roof far above us. Despite the rain, the photographers crowded around to snap our picture. After the photo, we came in from the rain for a the press conference.

kyoto_geisha.jpgThe day drew to a close with a magnificent Kaiseki Dinner. There was course after course of delicious Kyoto delicacies. The feast began with the traditional breaking of the barrel by the 5 new sake samurai. now, that was a lot of fun. We had real Geisha in attendance who entertained with song and dance and helped pour sake. That was yet another of many firsts for me on this trip. amazing.

I also had the opportunity to finally meet Beau Timkin of San Francisco’s True Sake. Special thanks go out to Beau-san for all his guidance and support on this day. I also especially want to thank Mr. Saura for all the hospitality and all the brewers who are members of the Japan Brewer’s Association Jr Council for the invitation to Kyoto and for this tremendous honor. I will certainly continue to work hard to promote sake both in person and on-line. I think sake as a great future in the US and I’m happy to be a part of it.

When I made it back to the hotel, my mind was awash with impressions of this day. I tried hard to collect my thoughts, but jet lag had caught up with me. As I drifted off to sleep I was delighted about they day but couldn’t help but wonder what further adventures awaited me this week in Japan…

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!

daiginjo_table.jpgThe Joy of Sake event is the highlight of New York’s annual Sake week. It’s the largest sake tasting event outside of Japan and a definite “Don’t Miss” on the sake circuit.

At Last year’s Joy of Sake, I was an innocent newbie, untrained in the ways of mega sake tastings. This year however, I arrived at the the Puck Building a battle-tested veteran with my trusty tasting cup locked and loaded. Bring it, J.o.S.!

Well, I think a 300 bottle sake tasting would overwhelm even the most well trained palate, so I used guerrilla tactics to cover the most territory. Whenever I saw an opening at one of the tasting tables, I would swoop in and taste whatever caught my eye. This methodology produced some surprising results. I feel I got a broad overview of sakes in all the categories and fought the urge to be obsessed with sampling only the top award winners.

Amabuki.jpgThe first sake of note that I tasted at Joy of Sake really stuck out like a sore thumb. This brew is the color of an reddish over-steeped Lipton Tea. It’s a junmai called “Gin no Kurenai” from Amabuki Brewery in Saga Prefecture. Naturally, this sake stands out against all the rest due to it’s dark color. I saw more than one taster stare puzzled into the tasting cup!

As I learned from further research, the color comes from the use of an organically grown heirloom strain of black rice. How does it taste? well, I expected something either heavy, funky or sweet. It was none of these. Gin no Kurenai, billed as a “rosé sake”, was light, smooth and tasty. Quite a surprise from a very interesting sake. I’d love to learn more about Amabuki Brewery and see what else they have to offer. They seem like a brewery that doesn’t shy way from the unique.

keiko_shusen.jpgMoving on from the exotic brew to something more well known to me, I found my way to the Kamoizumi table and Keiko-san of World Sake Imports introduced me to Mr Watanabe. He poured me a healthy serving of Kamoizumi Shusen a junmai also known as “three dots”. This sake is well distributed in the states, but funky in it’s own right. It’s strong and mushroomy and great for drinking warm on a chilly day. If you like a sake that may strong arm you a little bit, this brew is for you!

eikun.gifAfter two Junmais I was ready for something a bit more delicate, and this time packaging caught my eye. At one daiginjo table I saw a fancy-pants daiginjo bottle dressed up in all it’s finery. The bottle reminded me a bit of Scarlett O’Hara dressed up in green velvet curtains to impress Rhett. (right?!)

I had found Saito Sake Brewery’s Eikun “Koto Sennen” Junmai Daiginjo from Kyoto Prefecture. Despite my not seeking out gold winners, I had found one! This sake is a winner of the highest gold award rating at the 2007 U.S. National Sake Appraisal. As you may expect, the aroma, taste and finish were all exceptional. I found it refined, smooth and complex… I’d say those judges were right on track. Kidding aside, this was one righteous smooth sake! As we say in the sake world, “yum!”

The rest of the evening at the Joy of Sake was a swirl of great tastes, good friends and delightful conversations that ended way to early. You know, one of the things I love about the Sake World is the really amazing people you meet. One of the thing I love about the Joy of Sake is being able to see them all in one place! Kanpai!

brewers.jpgSake week in NYC is upon us. And boy oh boy, did I find an event to kick it off in style! This evening brought me back to a new favorite spot of mine – Chanto. Just like my last visit to Chanto, they offered up an amazing triple play for the evening! This time around, 3 breweries were featured in a fantastic pairing dinner. Each brewery also had a representative on location to pour and give some background on the sakes. In attendance were Mr. Sakurai representing Dassai from Asahi Brewery, Mr. Kitahara from Shichiken Brewery and Mr. Imai from Kamenoi Brewery. (Brewer photo courtesy of KC).

kome_koji.jpgIn addition to our genial sake experts, Chanto’s general Manager Mr. Teramoto was as gracious as ever and ensured everyone was very well taken care of. I had some great company and shared a table with Mr. Nihonshudo KC, Hideo and Anthony. Before dinner began, we got a special treat and were presented with some “Kome Koji” or malted rice used in sake making. It was an interesting taste that kinda reminded me of trail mix.

dassai_23_pour.jpgMr. Sakurai started off with his Flagship brew – Dassai 23 (Junmai Daiginjo, Seimaibuai 23%, SMV +3, Acidity 1.3). This was paired with a beautiful, gold leaf encrusted sashimi platter. Alongside the Dassai 23 Sakurai-san gave us some Dassai 50 (Junmai Ginjo, SMV +3, Acidity 1.4, Seimaibuai 50%) to contrast and compare. The Dassai product line has always impressed me – there is a tremendous consistency and fine nuance of flavor around the Dassai sakes and the pairing with the melt-in-your-mouth sashimi was terrific. From what I can tell, it is Asahi Brewery’s disciplined and scientific approach to sake making that allows them to consistently deliver top-quality nihonshu. yum!

kudoki_jozu.jpgNext up Mr. Imai poured us the delicious Kudoki Jozu Junmai Ginjo (Seimaibuai 50%, SMV +1, Acidity 1.2, ALC 15.5%). This sake is a sentimental favorite of mine ever since I first tried it last year. This Yamagata brew is light, mildly fragrant and ooooh so drinkable – like buttah! Imai-san gave us a pour from a young bottle of Kudoki Jozu and a glass of the exact same sake that had been aged for two years. Side by side comparisons are fun and both versions of the Kudoki Jozu were good, but I have to say I preferred the younger, fresher taste – it seemed to better match the overall vibe of this easy-breezy, flirtyshichiken.jpg sake. Marketed more to women in Japan, this sake would really appeal to anyone who likes their sake light, tasty and easy to drink.

Last but not least Mr. Kitahara poured two interesting Shichiken sakes. The well-liked Shichiken Junmai Ginjo (SMV +4, ALC 14.5%) was served slightly warmed. This unexpected presentation woke up my palate. Finding sakes that work both chilled and gently warmed is not easy, so – note to self – Shichiken fits the bill.

For the “final final” sake, Shichiken’s “Bigin Bigin” Junmai Ginjo Koshu (Seimaibuai 50%, ALC 16.5, aged 3 yrs.) was poured and paired with my kind of dessert: chocolate cake and ice cream. This koshu was rich in color, texture and taste giving off a golden hue in the glass. Koshu has not traditionally been my thing, but recently I’ve had some great ones and this is no exception. Kitahara-san confirmed for me that Bigin yummy_sashimi.jpgBigin is aged at a chilled temperature which gives it’s complex richness a distinct clarity that really comes through.

Wow, what a night – the Chanto triple play game plan really hit the mark again. After all, don’t they say good things come in threes?

students_in_class.jpgSake education is hard to come by in the US. I’ve been anxious to learn as much as I could about sake, but beyond reading books and going to tastings, there have been few opportunities to learn in a classroom setting – until now! On August 27, 28 and 29, 2007, Mr. John Gaunter – the world famous “sake guy”, brought the sake seminar he usually teaches in Japan each year to New York! The first Stateside Sake Professional Course was an event I couldn’t miss!

John_Gaunter_teaching.jpgJohn is indeed the leading non Japanese sake expert in the world. This guy literally “wrote the book” on sake! I was excited to take a few days away from my work-a-day life and immerse myself in the sake world. And that was just what John’s course promised to do… three days of instruction and tasting that would leave no sake stone will be left unturned.

The class was larger than I expected with about 60 eager participants. This signaled to me that interest in all things sake is ever growing in the States. Our group was made up of industry and non-industry folks alike. I was happy to see some friendly faces in the crowd too… Amanda my friend from sake meetups, Nell my buddy from Aburiya Kinnosuke, and MJ Simkin, sake lecturer extraordinaire.

joto_tasting.jpgAs the course got underway, I realized this would be an intense review of all things sake spread over 3 days. The first day covered “the basics”… sake grades, brewing process and ingredients. Things soon got interesting when we looped in Yamahai and Kimoto sake into the conversation. Along the way for all three days we took breaks from the lecture for tastings! Unusual sakes were also discussed such as Nigori, sparkling and low alcohol brews.

The major difference between John’s sake course in Japan and New York, is the ability to visit breweries. There were a few events in the evenings that make up for this a bit. The opening night of the class we had the opportunity to go to a delicious Joto tasting at Sakagura.

amanda_closing_dinner.jpgOne of the most interesting topics for me over the 3 days was “sake chemistry”! This got into some of the nitty gritty of what drives the brewing process. This was very interesting and an area i’d love to study more.

On the closing night, there was a dinner at LAN Japanese Restaurant. This was a fun close to an exciting three days of sake learning.

At the end of it all, I was left with a lot to “digest”. Sake tastings, history, production, competitions – and on and on. I hope I will have absorbed it all by the time an advanced class rolls around… I’m sure by then, I’ll be ready to go Back To School – again.

_Akita_sake_is_popular.jpgOur Friends over at the Akita Sake Connoisseurs’ Club hosted another gathering to celebrate summer and to celebrate some awesome Akita Sake. Thanks to their efforts, Akita sakes are getting even more props in New York.

One of the wonderful parts of this event was the fantastic kimono worn by the hosts which added to the festive atmosphere.

Another fun aspect of the summer Akita tasting was of course some exposure to Akita breweries new to New York. There were some real stand outs – but one in particular: Kimura Brewery

chizuko_with_fukukomachi.jpgWhy not cut to the chase? Kimura offered my favorite brew of the evening, Fukukomachi Daiginjo (Kimura Brewery, ALC: 16.5, SMV: +2.5, Acidity: 0.9, Seimaibuai: 40%, Rice: Yamada Nishiki). This delicious brew offered, in my opinion, everything that is good about Nihonshu. It was very smooth drinking. The low SMV and low acidity placed it more on more of a neutral horizon, but neutral can be just as delicious as any sake out there. Being a Daiginjo vs a Junmai Daiginjo give this sake a “little something extra”. It was clean, yummy and simply Perfection!

Asami_Akitabare_Shunsetsu.jpgAnother standout to me was Akitabare Shunsetsu Honjozo Nama (Akita Shuzo, SMV: +2 ). This was a terrific sake and a terrific example of watching my tastes evolve over time. Last year I found this sake a challenge, but this year I see it as smooth and delicious. This World Sake Imports brew retained it’s sharp finish, but I enjoyed it all the same. I found this to be a wonderful and unique Honjozo Nama.

Another Honjozo that caught my palate was again back at the Kimura Brewery table. This time, I was enchanted by their Tsukiyo Tokubetsu Honjozo (Kimura Brewery, Akita Prefecture). This sake had a mild nose and a full, round flavor. Consistent with the honjozos i’ve tried, Tsukiyo also had a touch of full alcohol flavor at the finish.

akita_komachi.jpgFinally, what discussion of Akita Sake gems would be complete without a word about the great Yuki no Bosha Akita Komachi Daiginjo (Saiya Brewery, Rice: Akita Komachi, Seimaibuai: 35%, Nihonshudo: +2.0, Acidity: 1.5). This sake, imported by Joto Sake, is not overly fragrant for it’s category, but rather has a nose that is filled with mild fruit aromas that I find to be “just right”. The overall flavor across the palate is full and rich, yet balanced. I noted a small but not unpleasant bitter note at the finish that provided balance.

This Akita Sake Connoisseurs’ Club event has been one of the best events yet in this group’s efforts to promote the fantastic sake and culture of Akita Prefecture. Events such as this are a true benefit of life in New York City and my thanks go out to the organizers for their hard work to bring this sake to our City. I’m looking forward to Akita’s next visit to the Big Apple.

_Sake_hana_sign.jpgOur friend Toshi at Sake Hana was host to another Late Night tasting devoted this time to the fantastic Dassai brand sakes from Asahi Brewery in Yamaguchi Prefecture. The July 20th tasting was indeed late – starting at 11pm, but in the name of sake research, I persevered.

An entire tasting devoted to one brand of sake? Dassai carries it off as an elegant study in perfection. You can just tell from the taste that Dassai is the real deal and they are focued on quality and refinement.

Mr. Sakurai and his colleague Mr Kinoshita from Dassai brought over some tremendous sakes from Asahi Brewery that are not currently available in the US.

Here is a quick rundown of what was served:

  • Dassai 23
  • Dassai 39 (not available in US)
  • Dassai 39 Sparkling Nigori (not available in US)
  • Dassai 48 (not available in US)
  • Dassai 50
  • Dassai 50 Nigori

Dassai_50.jpgIn addition to the sakes, this tasting promised two other spectaular treats. There would be appetizers served that were made with Dassai kasu (kasu refers to the sake lees – the left over bits of rice solids after brewing and pressing) AND, most exciting of all, a serving of Yamadanishiki 23% steamed sake rice! I mean – how often do you get to taste what some consider the finest sake rice around milled down to an astonishing 23% of it’s original size? Unless you happen to live in a sake brewery, I bet not very often.

KC_serving_dassai.jpgKC was helping pour and the bar. Always nice to see a friendly face behind the bar! So on I went to start tasting!

I started with the crown jewel of the dassai family – the stellar Dassai 23 (Junmai Daiginjo, Seimaibuai 23%, SMV +3, Acidity 1.3). This is a super, duper deluxe junmai daiginjo made with sake rice milled down to 23% of it’s original size before brewing. The Dassai 23 is expensive and I think rightfully so, given the care and attention it’s made with. And the taste? It’s super smooth and one of the most elegant sakes out there. This is one of those brews that will not hit you over the dassai_23.jpghead with a punch of flavor – it’s all about the subtlety, complexity and refinement. Dassai 23 is meant to be savored and sipped.

I then moved on to taste again my favorite Dassai sake! The amazing Dassai 39! (Junmai Daiginjo, Seimaibuai 39%, SMV +3, Acidity 1.3) This is a fantastic sake and I always, always savor it when I get a chance to drink it. Dassai 39 is not available in the US at this time. I find this sake so appealing because it has much of the refined, elegant tones of the Dassai 23 and a touch of the backbone of the Dassai 50. dassai_39_bottle.jpgin short, it’s the best of both worlds! The taste is sublime. If you have a chance to go to a dassai tasting or go to Japan, I recommend this sake as a “must try”.

Dassai 39 Sparkling Nigori (Junmai Daiginjo, Seimaibuai 39%, SMV +3, Acidity 1.3) is like the Dassai 39 dressed up for a night on the town with all the bells and whistles. As the handout from Sake Hana described it: “A delicate bubble takes you to a sake world”. I couldn’t agree more!

Finally, I enjoyed the sample fo Yamadanishiki Rice ground to 23% of it’s original size. Since this rice was mostly the pure starch, it was indeed on the sweeter side. It was sticky and quite soft on the palate. Such a unique opportunity!

Yamadanashiki_sake_rice.jpgBy the time the tasting ended – around 1 am! – I was feeling good and delighted to have has such good sake. As I walked home down the quiet streets of the upper east side, I thought about all the work and care that went into the sakes I had just enjoyed.

I was more sure than ever that sake will be an ever larger part of the beverage landscape here in the U.S in months and years to come. Kanpai to that!

Kyotofu_storefront.jpgI first heard of Kyotofu back in October when they provided yummy tofu desserts for a Landmark Sake Seminar. They were a few weeks away from opening at that point, but I made a note to visit when I got the chance.

That chance arrived when I got an email announcing a Sake-Dessert pairing at Kyotofu on Dec 4th. Dessert and sake together – all night? Like a kid in a candy store, this sounded like my absolute dream evening come to life.

Chris_Johnson.jpg On the big night, I was greeted by Nicole, one of the owners – and handed a fruity shochu cocktail. Shochu of course is Sake’s more alcoholic younger brother – and not my favorite guy to have around. These cocktails however were just delicious. a nice light hand with the alcohol and yummy fruit juices.

After our welcome, the main event was about to begin. Anyone who knows me – even a little bit – soon learns of my huge sweet tooth. And I was about to have dessert for dinner! yeah! Asami__and_sister.jpgScott and I had the good fortune of sitting with our favorite friends from World sake Imports: Keiko-san and Asami-san as well as Asami’s sister visiting from Japan.

Chris Johnson, internationally known Sake expert and owner of Bao 111, was the guest lecturer for the evening. He briefly introduced each sake and entertained questions at each table throughout the night. Compared to the speech type sake lecture, this was a much more personable style of talking about sake that I really enjoyed. All the sake came from the Banzai Sake importing company.

Here is a rundown of the sakes featured

  • crazy_milk.jpgSetsugetsu Bijin (Junmai Ginjo, Oimatsu Brewery, ALC 14.5%, Seimaibuai 55%, SMV +3, Oita Prefecture)
    Served with a few small savory items. This was our ‘meal’ before the onslaught of desserts began. Setsugetsu Bijin was served at our November BYOS event and I wasn’t blown away then or now with this sake. It was definitely more earthy and less polished than sakes I’ve had from Niigata for example. The nose had a touch of sweetness and the palate was a bit lifeless. Onward and upward.
  • moon_rabbit.jpgKissui Miyanoyuki (Junmai, Miyanzaki Brewery, ALC 14.5%, Seimaibuai 60%, SMV +2, Mie Prefecture)
    Served with delicious Black sesame Sweet tofu. This sake was served both warm and chilled to compare and contrast the flavors. The chilled version disappeared against the sweet tofu as there wasn’t much contrast. The warmed Junmai fared better and worked well with the sweet background flavor of the wonderful Sesame tofu. I loved this dish so much, I helped both Scott and Asami finish theirs. This would prove to be a mistake.
  • Crazy Milk (Junmai Nigori, ALC 15.5%, Seimaibuai 70%, Oita Prefecture)
    Served with beautiful Chestnut Mochi Chocolate Cake. Crazy Milk is a ‘rough around the edges’ Nigori I first tried in my last visit to Boston. This brew is really best with food, not to drink on it’s own. It is heavy thick and hardcore with some unbalanced aspects and strong heat from a strong alcohol finish. The pairing idea however, was pure genius – with the “milk” and “chocolate cake” mixing well. I helped both Scott and Asami finish their portions… again, I think this was a misstep on my part… I’m starting to feel full…
  • Koten.jpgTsukiusage “Moon Rabbit” (Junmai, ALC 6.5%, Seimaibuai 55%, SMV -30, Nara Prefecture)
    Paired with a wonderful Miso Tofu Cheesecake. This is a well known sparkling sake. It was my favorite of the evening. Sparkling sakes are becoming more and more a favorite of mine. Moon Rabbit had strong citrus on the nose and palate. I smelled very distinct grapefruit aromas in the nose. This picked up on some citrus in the cake. It was sweet, but you can’t beat those tiny bubbles. Sake really is the Swiss Army Knife of booze, don’t you think? It can do just about anything. Now, it was at this point that I “hit the wall” with dessert intake. 2 more courses to go??
  • Koten (Junmai Koshu, ALC 15.5%, Seimaibuai 65%, SMV -5, Saitama Prefecture.)
    Served with Tahitian Vanilla Parfait. This Aged sake is a mix of different vintages – kind of a mutt. The taste is similar to sherry if you enjoy that. The sake was smooth and for me it had a distinct nutty finish. The parfait was delicious, but I only managed a taste since I OD’d on the second and third course.

The final course was a round of Petit Fours which I could only look at — I was down for the count! My eyes were definitely bigger than my stomach tonight, but I did give it the old college try.

The Banzai imported sakes didn’t all hit a home run with me, but there were some nice ones. The Kyotofu desserts were amazing across the board and I think the sesame pudding was the winner for me. Next time you’re near Kyotofu, stop by for some sake and pair it with something sweet. After all, they are a match made in Hell’s Kitchen Heaven.

Aoki_sake_co_ltd.jpgToshi over at innovative Sake Hana (265 E. 78th St. Bet. 2nd & 3rd Ave.) surprised me again with a notice about a “late night” sake tasting. The timing was definitely off-hours being 11pm to 1am but it was a really fun idea! I’ve often been up drinking sake to the wee hours – why not do it on purpose this time!? This particular midnight madness was an exploration of the sakes from Niigata prefecture.

So, I had a little rest after work and then headed over to Sake Hana at 11pm. The tasting was already in full swing! I wasn’t surprised to see KC at the bar already sipping and taking notes. So I sauntered up to the bar and dug right in myself.

Kobaiyashis.jpgI was first formally introduced to sakes from Niigata during the Joy of Sake event when I visited the folks at the Niigata sake importers table. It was there that I met Mr. and Mrs. Kobaiyashi who work on bringing delicious Sakes from Niigata to the U.S. They were on hand again tonight and very gracious about explaining about Niigata sake. This late night event offered me a great opportunity to try some more and learn some more.

Mr. Takafumi Aoki of the Aoki Sake Brewing Company was on hand presenting three sakes produced by his brewery. The first sake I had from Aoki was Kakurei Junmai Ginjo (SMV +2.5 Acidity 1.5). I enjoyed this sake very much. It was a great re-introduction to the Niigata flavors. It struck me as crisp and sharp. I also agreed with the tasting notes provided that this sake offered a hint of mineral on the palate.

kakurei_plum.jpgNext up, Aoki-san poured me Kakurei Daiginjo (SMV +5, Acidity 1.5). I saw a lot of people flocking to this bottle repeatedly, so my expectations were a bit raised. This Daiginjo did not disappoint! It was floral-fruity and soft. The taste just smoothly glides along your palate from start to finish. Just Delicious. This is the kind of sake you would think of when trying to explain to someone how elegant the Niigata sakes can be. Definitely my favorite of the night. Aoki-san was a very enthusiastic Ambassador of Sake from Niigata and tasting this Daiginjo made me enthusiastic, too!

Kakurei Plum Sake was the third sake I tried. Not to be clear, this is not plum wine made directly from plums. This is a plum sake made by soaking plums for three months in Kakurei Junmai Ginjo sake. To me, it tasted similar to plum wine but lighter an cleaner, not sticky sweet. I thought while tasting that this has the sweetness to make a good aperitif sake to start off a meal. Also, this sake as an amazing label design – wacky and totally fun.

kiminoi_yamahai.jpgThe unique Kiminoi “Emperor’s Well” Junmai Ginjo Yamahai (SMV +2, Acidity 1.6) was the next sake up. My first thought when I tried Emperor’s Well was: “You got your Peanutbutter in my Sake!” “No, you got your Sake in my Peanutbutter!” It’s true! To my taste, this Sake had very distinct peanut aromas in the nose and it spread like peanut butter over the palate. The tasting literature provided called this nose like a malted chocolate milk. This is one of those I would Label a “tasting” sake. It’s so unique that you should present it at a tasting to show the extremes to which sake flavors can go, but perhaps not something you would sip on to relax after a long day at the office.

Last Sake I had was Manotsuru “Nature Island” Daiginjo (SMV +5, Acidity 1.1) By the time I got around to trying Nature Island, the sake had warmed to a little closer to room temperature and I got distinct earthy flavors with each sip. Overall it had a very autumnal feel with hits of that wonderful leafy aroma you smell in the fall. I only tasted a bit of fruit at the very beginning of each sip.

Takafumi_Aoki.jpgThey were also serving Karen “Coy” Junmai ( SMV -23, Acidity 2.9) which I did not try. Karen and I have had some run-ins in the past and we’re not really on very good terms right now. Maybe we’ll be talking to each other again someday, but for now, we kept our distance. Karen – if you want to talk, call me.

This late night Niigata rendezvous was a ton of fun. Toshi was an amazing host and always making sure everyone was comfortable and had their glasses filled. The Niigata delegates did a great job in introducing their sake even if the hour was very late and they had been pouring all day long. Staying up late was fun, too… and if there’s any good reason to stay up past your bedtime, a little Niigata Nihonshu may just be it.

Nell_chao_i_timothy2.jpgAfter my friend Nell heard about all the fun we had at the International cyber-sake tasting, she suggested another event: an at-home B.Y.O.S. (bring your own sake) tasting.

Bring Your Own Sake events are such fun – you never know what the heck is going to show up! I mean Sake-wise, of course! I thought it was a great idea, so we booked Urban Sake Headquarters and Nell and I started planning the menu.

Gassan_junmai_ginjo.jpgSomehow I got the brilliant idea in my head that I should make homemade chicken yakitori meatballs. Nell came over to Urban Sake Headquarters before the event and pitched right in helping in the cooking and we had a grand old time. It would never have come together without Nell’s help, that’s for sure. But, when all was said and done, we had quite a spread! Shrimp Spring Rolls, seaweed salad, yakitori vegetables and meatballs.

When the guests started to arrive, so did the sake! Here’s an overview of who brought what and how the sake hit me.

matsunoi_wishingwell.jpgScott & I contributed a Gassan Junmai Ginjo (SMV +3.5, ALC 15.5%, Seimaibuai 50%, Yoshida Brewery, Shimane Prefecture) to share. This was our starter sake and I LOVED it! I’m not just saying that because this was my contribution, but it was really delightful. Just a gentle touch of fruit and a hint of balanced sweetness made this sake really sing!

shichihonyari_junmai.jpgNell brought Matsunoi “Wishing Well” Tokubetsu Honjozo (Niigata Prefecture, ALC 15.5 %, SMV +5, Acidity 1.3). This sake was fun and we heated it up to “Nurukan” (aka 104° F). To me it tasted full and hearty. The fact that this was a honjozo lent an expansive-ness to the sake I enjoyed. Luckily KC was on hand to help me with my first attempt at heating sake at home. I learned that you heat the pan of water to boiling, then turn the heat OFF, and then place the tokkuri in the water.

mutsu_hassen.jpgI totally geeked out and bought a digital thermometer to track the heating of the sake. It hit 104° F way faster than I expected, so I’m really glad I had it on hand however big a sake-geek it made me.

Staying with the theme of warmed sake, our Nihonshu-Wunderkind KC brought the perfect sake for heating:setsugetsubijin.jpgShichi Hon Yari Junmai (”The Seven Spearsmen” ALC 15.5%, SMV +4, Acidity 1.5, Seimaibuai 60%, Shiga Prefecture). There is something in this sake that makes it feel a little sinful when you drink it warmed. It really opens up and offers depth on the palate.

My friend Chao-I stopped by with a treasure that I really enjoyed. He brought us Mutsu Hassen Junmai Daiginjo (ALC 16%, Seimaibuai: 50%, SMV +2, Acidity: 1.4, Hachinohe Brewery, Aomori Prefecture). It’s got a fancy packaging and a fancy taste to match. Quite fruity on the palate yet balanced and complex.

Brad brought a sake that was a real mouthful: Setsugetsubijin Junmai Ginjo (ALC 14.5, Oimastsu Brewery, Oita Prefecture) This is a sake with a solid consistency and a sharp alcohol taste on the finish.

keiko_san_tim.jpgMy friend Julie brought Tenranzan Junmai Nigori (“Sake Romance”, Seimaibuai: 65%, Nihonshu-do: +2, Acidity: 1.4, Igarashi Brewery,) I ended up really enjoying this “sake romance”! It was a mild nigori with just a touch of rice-y fullness in the body, but not too much. I found it very easy to drink and quite sip-able!

Last, but not least, Keiko-san brought the Kamoizumi Shusen Junmai (“Three Dots” ALC 16%, SMV +1, Acidity 1.6 Seimaibuai 58%, Hiroshima Prefecture) This is a hearty drink that we also heated to “Nurukan”. Nell_tenranzan.jpgThis is a sake I last had at the Cha-an Warm Sake Seminar earlier this month. As I noted then, this sake is really a good fit with heating. It brings out the earthy notes and just tastes like a bundle of that cozy feeling that is just so good during winter-time. The other thing I like about “Three Dots” is that it’s easy to remember the name just by looking at the bottle!

When things were winding down and sake supplies were getting low, Scott saved the day by bringing Choux Factory cream puffs! I ate mine while sipping on a little cup of Nurukan Three Dots – Heaven! We all had a lot of fun and I really enjoyed having a B.Y.O.S. However, word on the street is that I had a mild case of veisalgia on the following morning… Not True I tell you! I was framed!

founding_members.jpgFrom all the pictures I’ve seen, Akita Prefecture is a place of great natural beauty and they make some pretty darn good sake, too.

I was thrilled when I heard about a tasting that would focus specifically on the sakes from this Prefecture. I love these region specific tastings – it’s the closest you can get to doing a tour of a prefecture’s breweries without paying the $6,000 airfare.

daimond_dust.jpgThe Akita tasting was the first official event of the recently formed Akita Sake Connoisseurs’ Club (ASCC) held at World Sake Imports offices in Manhattan. Once inside, I was greeted and immediately handed a ‘welcome beverage’. very nice!

It was a tasting size of Amanoto Hyosho Usu-Nigori (“Diamond Dust”, Junmai Ginjo, SMV -2, ALC 15.3%, acidity 1.3, Seimaibuai 50%) served with a sliver of fresh strawberry. Obviously, that added an interesting fruity feeling to the taste that played up the sweetness, but I must make a note to try this yummy nigori just on it’s own sometime. The rice solids left in this nigori were very subtle and light, which I really enjoy.

Chizuko_san.jpgScanning the rest of the room, I saw there were two tasting tables set up with a total of 12 Akita prefecture sakes.

Before we were let loose on the real tasting, Natsuyo Lipschutz had some opening remarks and introduced the founding members of the ASCC as well as the mission of the Club. Akita Native and our dear Sake Sommelier friend Chizuko-san “translated” part of the speech into Akita Prefecture dialect. Even though I don’t speak much Japanese it was really funny!

Chizuko-san then gave some advice on how to approach the tasting, starting with the lighter daiginjos first and working your way to the hearty junmais. The only problem was that when the tasting began, all 80 attendees swamped the table with the daiginjos! Soon enough however, people started milling about and I got to taste some of the daiginjos myself!

Asami with akitabareHere are the sakes that were being served.

  • Suirakuten Junmai Daiginjo (“Heaven of Tipsy Delight”, Akitabare Brewery, Seimaibuai 45%, SMV +5, Acidity 1.3, ALC 15.3% ) Notes: Tipsy Delight, Indeed! Super smooth and leaning a touch on the dry side. Just a perfect little package of sake yumminess. wrap it up – I’ll take it.
  • Shimizu no Mai Junmai Daiginjo (“Crystal Cascade”, Akita Shurui Seizoh Brewery, Seimaibuai 45%, SMV +3, Acidity 1.3, ALC 15.5%)
  • Yuki No Bosha Junmai Daiginjo (Saiya Brewery, Seimaibuai 40%, SMV +1, Acidity 1.6) Notes: Light and graceful with a touch of crisp fruit on the palate. One of my new favorites!
  • Lots_of_people.jpgHyosho Usu-Nigori Junmai Ginjo (“Diamond Dust”, Amanoto Brewery, SMV -2, ALC 15.3%, Acidity 1.3, Seimaibuai 50% ) Notes: This was our Welcome Drink as described above.
  • Yuki No Bosha Junmai Ginjo (Saiya Brewery, Seimaibuai 50%, SMV +1, Acidity 1.9 )
  • Chokaisan Junmai Ginjo (“Celestial Joy”, Tenju Brewery, Seimaibuai 50%, SMV +1.0, Acidity 1.3-1.5, ALC 15.5%) Notes: To my taste, this was a Daiginjo in Ginjo drag. Complex and delightful, I went back for seconds – and thirds of this one.
  • Tenju_chokaisan.jpgBenimansaku Junmai Ginjo (“True Blue”, Hinomaru Brewery, Seimaibuai 56%, Acidity 1.6, ALC 16.2% )
  • Matsukura Junmai Ginjo (“Nature’s Serenade”, Dewatsuru Brewery, Seimaibuai 60%, SMV +1.0, Acidity 1.3-1.5, ALC 15.5% ) Notes: This was a rich but not terribly nuanced brew.
  • Akinota Junmai Ginjo (“Harvest of Joy”, Hideyoshi Brewery, Seimaibuai 55%, SMV +3.5, Acidity 1.4, ALC 15.5% )
  • Jizake Monogatari Junmai Ginjo (“Story Teller”, Naba Shoten Brewery, Seimaibuai 55%, SMV +2, Acidity 1.7, ALC 15.5% )
  • Namahage Junmai (Kariho Brewery, SMV +8, Acidity 1.7, ALC 15.5% ) Notes: this is our old friend, Mr. “Extremely Dry!”. yeah, if super dry is your thing – this is your sake!
  • Koshiki Junzukuri Junmai (Akitabare Brewery, Seimaibuai 60%, SMV +2, Acidity 1.8, ALC 14.5%)

All in all, the Akita Tasting was a smashing success! The most fun was trying to taste a common thread amongst all these sakes from the same part of Japan. Not really that easy to do, but tasting is fun. I sure am looking forward to the next event put on by the Akita Sake Connoisseurs’ Club. In the meantime, I can buy a lot of Akita sake with that $6000 I saved on airfare – OK, ok… the next round is on me.

from_left.jpgQuestion: What would you get if all the sake bloggers in the world had a tasting of the same sakes on the same night?

Answer: Why, you’d get the World’s First Cyber Sake Tasting, that’s what!

Working with my sake blogging friends Valerie of The Sake Diaries in Minneapolis, Melinda of Tokyo Through the Drinking glass and Etsuko of TokyoFoodcast we agreed to each host a tasting on the same night with the same 4 sakes plus one “wildcard” of our choosing. The sakes would get tasted and reviewed across time, space and international borders and then afterwards, everyone would post their results.

atsuko-and-timothy_1.jpgHere is how things shaped up at Urban Sake Headquarters:

  • Rihaku Junmai Ginjo (“Wandering Poet”, SMV +3, Acidity 1.6, ALC 15.2%)
    Average Rating: 6.3 out of 10. I paired this will some wasabi rice cracker mix. Comment: “Fragrant Nose” “Flavor expands as the sake warms”
  • Urakasumi Zen Junmai Ginjo (“Misty Bay”, SMV +1, Acidity 1.3, ALC 15.5%)
    Average Rating: 6.3 out of 10. This was paired with delicious Seaweed salad that Atsuko brought. Comment: “Nice & Drinkable” “Slightly citrus”
  • cream_puff.jpgShirakawago Sansannigori (“Bamboo Leaf”, SMV 0, Acidity 1.5, ALC 15.3%)
    Average Rating: 5 out of 10. Paired with fried japanese chicken wings.
    Comment: “Slightly Funky aftertaste.” “Tastes better at room temp” “My favorite pairing!”
  • Tamano Hikari Junmai Daiginjo (“Brilliant Jade”, SMV +3.5, Acidity 1.7, ALC 16.2) Average Rating 8.6 out of 10. Paired with Dried Squid. (don’t ask)
    Comment: “Clean & Complex” “Outstanding!”
  • the_whole_gang.jpgKubota Hekiju ( SMV +2, Acidity 1.5, ALC 15.5%)
    Paired with Choux Factory Cream Puffs.
    Comment: “Barely there” “Delicious” “smooooth”

The clear winner at the NYC tasting was the Tamano Hikari. It was fresh and clean and complex enough to inspire a lot of interest. It is also interesting that Zen and Wandering Poet averaged out to the exact same score among the New York City crowd.

Special thanks to Chao-I, Atsuko, Jesse, Stephen and Scott for being a part of sake history. I know I had a lot of fun and I hope you guys did too!
Check out these blogs for other views of the trans-pacific super cyber sake tasting:
Tokyo Through the Drinking Glass
The Sake Diaries
TokyoFoodCast

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mr_kosuke_kuji.jpgOne of the most interesting and truly educational sake tastings I’ve been to this season was the amazing Nanbu Bijin event at the wonderful Sake Hana (265 E. 78th St, 212-327-0582).

The Nanbu Bijin was a brewery little know to me thus far – but no more. I’m now a big fan! This evening was special in many ways.

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First, The Nanbu Bijin Brewery representative at the event, Company Vice President Mr. Kosuke Kuji, was perhaps one of the most passionate and enthusiastic speakers on sake I’ve ever seen! Kuji-san’s eagerness to preach the gospel of sake was not just talk either… He has a degree in Fermentation Science and is the fifth generation in his family at the brewery. He knows his stuff.

Secondly, our friend KC was the translator for the evening and did an amazing job of helping all the English speakers in the crowd to understand Kuji-san’s lecture. KC_Translates.jpgI was really, really impressed with (and a little jealous of) KC’s ability to so quickly and accurately translate.

Over the course of the evening we tasted 5 sakes and it was quite a ride. From delicious to sublime to curious, there was something there for everyone.

nanbu_bijin_ancient_pillars.jpgThe evening started with a healthy serving of the Nanbu Bijin Tokubetsu Junmai (ALC 15.5%, SMV +7, Acidity 1.5) Make with “ginotome” rice, this sake is the entry level brew of the evening. With a +7 SMV, this sake is quite dry indeed. Despite being the “low end of the high end”, the Tokubetsu junmai is not treated any differently at Nabu Bijin. Mr. Kuji unformed us that this sake is refrigerated the entire way on it’s journey from Japan to NYC.

The evening quickly picked up speed as we headed to sake number 2. This was the delicious Nanbu Bijin Junmai Daiginjo (ALC 17.5%, SMV +5, Acidity 1.3) The smart folks over at JAL Japan Airlines selected this very delicate yet fruity sake to be served in First Class. Needless to say, I felt like a first class passenger but, as Mr. Kuji pointed out, I saved myself the $8,000 ticket price to get into first class.

The third sake of the night was the Nanbu Bijin Competition Trickle Sake (ALC 17.78%, SMV +4, 1.2 Acidity). This sake is made strictly for competition and isn’t available for sale anywhere in the world. This amazing brew is made using the Shizuku “trickle” method that simply uses the force of gravity for 4 hours that allows the clear sake to drip from the mash. As you can imagine, this only produces a fraction of the volume you could get from a forceful pressing, but the quality is utterly amazing. “cream of the crop!”

Nanbubijin_reserve.jpgThe fourth sake of the evening was almost beyond words… The Nanbu Bijin 10-year-aged “Reserve” sake. Everyone got just a few sips of this magic elixir – it was amazing. the best way to describe it was it felt like drinking a cloud. Soft, supple and heavenly.

All the aged sake I had ever seen was dark amber – but this sake was crystal clear – how could this be? I thought aged turned sake dark. As it turns out, Kuji-san explained that keeping the sake constantly refrigerated for those 10 years kept the sake from darkening. It was just something very special.

Mr_Kosuke_kuji_and_me.jpgThe final sake of the night was a bit of a mystery. It was an all koji-rice sake that was very sweet (SMV -20). Served in a champagne flute with a strawberry slice, it wasn’t anything if not unique.

What a night! I’m so grateful to Toshi at Sake Hana for arranging such evenings as this. such fun! I read in the Nanbu Bihin Brewery literature that their aim “is to make cheerful sake that makes people smile when the taste it.” Now that is a genuine “Mission Accomplished”!

izakaya_ten_facade.jpgI recently had an opportunity to return to our only local Izakaya outpost here in Chelsea. Newly re-named “Izakaya Ten” (207 10th Ave, 212-627-7777, formerly “Anzu”), this place has undergone thoughtful updates both inside and out.

The first changes I noticed was the striking mural enveloping the facade. The giant Kanji character above the door is “ten” which means heaven. Much of the interior has remained unchanged, which is fine as the design was always great with cool concrete bar at the entrance and soft lighting throughout.

Funaguchi_Kisusui In addition to changes to the outside, Ten has a re-tooled sake list and an updated food menu. The changes in these areas really add to the Izakaya-style dining experience. A few items in particular caught my attention and are really worth mentioning.

As usual, I’ll start with the sake! The sake list at Izakaya Ten was a pleasant surprise: prices are a bit lower than before, servings are larger and the sake brands featured are really solid contenders: Wakatake, Harushika, Nanbu Bijin and others. However, the real standout for me was far and away the Funaguchi Kikusui in a can. yes… a can!

friendly_staff.jpgI’ve never had sake in a can before, but most agree that canned sake doesn’t exactly have an upscale image in japan. However, what may be a humdrum drink in Tokyo is NYC’s fun and quirky speciality import! To top it off Funaguchi Kikusui (Honjozo, ALC 19%, SMV -2, Seimaibuai 70%, Niigata Prefecture) tastes really good. This sake has a bold flavor profile and a strong impact along with a slightly lingering finish. It’s a honjozo and an excellent example of what brewers can achieve when they add a bit of distilled alcohol at the end of the brewing process to enhance and expand flavor profiles.

pot_au_feu.jpgThe can opens with a pull tab like you’d see on a can of Pringles. There is a plastic cap in case you want to re-seal the can and drink the rest later. (yeah – like that would happen!) Once inside, this flavorful and smooth drinking brew hits you quickly – note the 19% ALC content! My first foray into ‘sake in a can’ was a great one and I’ll be back to Izakaya Ten for another soon enough!

For me the highlight of the food menu was a delicious chicken meatball and veggie Pot-au-Feu stew made with bonito broth that was just amazing. This dish was also served in the cutest little serious_sake_display.jpgmini casserole pan you’ve ever seen. Presentation earns big points with me.

My evening at Ten was a lot of fun. The staff was delightful and I could tell they were serious about providing a good izakaya experience.

With all the yummy things I tasted, my standouts remain. The hearty Pot-au-Feu stew and the robust Honjozo went together so perfectly… you could say it was a match made in, well, Izakaya “Heaven”.

ohyama nigori and programThe Sake retailer closest to my house, Landmark Wine & Sake, was hosting another afternoon sake tasting seminar. The last one I attended in April ’06, was great, and I knew this one would be, too.

Mr. Kazu Yamazaki of the Japan Prestige Sake Association lead the seminar and gave his comments on each sake as they were passed around. Mariko Yamazaki, also from Prestige and Kane from Landmark were also on hand and helped with the serving. There was a fun food item to go with each sake course and they did the smart thing and kept the food simple. I think it’s best to work with pure flavors when pairing.

Kazu-san gave us a detailed overview of the sake production process along with a flow chart diagram that took us from Brown Rice to Shipping. He Also gave us a bit of background on each sake, some history of sake and also answered a lot of questions. Once the sake starts flowing so does the conversation.

here is a quick overview of the sakes served in the order they were presented:

mr_yamazaki.jpgSTAR.png Ohyama Nigori: “Big Mountain”, SMV +6, Acidity 1.3, Yamagata Prefecture.
STAR.png Tsukinokatsura Nigori: “Eternal Tree on the Moon”, SMV +3, Acidity: 1.7, Kyoto Prefecture.
STAR.png Mineno Hakubai Ginjo Namacho: “White Plum Blossom”, SMV +4, Acidity: 1.1, Niigata Prefecture.

STAR.png Umenishiki Daiginjo Nama: “Gorgeous Plum”, SMV +3.5, Acidity: 1.5, Ehime Prefecture.

STAR.png Kariho Namahage Junmai: “Devil’s Mask”, SMV +17, Acidity: 1.7, Akita Prefecture.

STAR.png Suishin Junmai: “Drunken Heart”, SMV +3 Acidity: 1.8, Hiroshima Prefecture.

STAR.png Wakatake Onikoroshi Ginjo: “Demon Slayer”, SMV +3, Acidity: 1.5, Shizuoka Prefecture.

harushika_daiginjo.jpgSTAR.png Shiratake Jozen Mizunogotoshi Ginjo: “Pure Flavor”, SMV +3, Acidity: 1.4, Niigata Prefecture.

STAR.png Harushika Daiginjo: “Spring Deer”, SMV +2.5, Acidity: 1.3, Nara Prefecture.

STAR.png Hitorimusume Shizuku Daiginjo: “Only One Daughter”, SMV +5, Acidity: 1.5, Ibaraki Prefecture.

STAR.png Ichinokura Himezen Junmai: “Ace Brewery Princess”, SMV -65, Acidity: 5, Miyagi Prefecture.

STAR.png Hanahato Kijoshu: “Gorgeous BIrd”, SMV -44, Acidity: 3.5, Hiroshima Prefecture.

hananato_kijoshu.jpgI’ve sampled many of these sakes before, but there were some real standouts I would love to explore further. First, I really enjoyed the Ohyama Nigori. This Nigori was surprisingly light and fluffy for a nigori. The palate was dry and clean. Nigoris are usually all about the texture and for me, this one was about the taste!

The next sake to really catch my attention is a favorite of mind that didn’t disappoint: Umenishiki Daiginjo Nama. This is a rare daiginjo Draft sake and the flavors are really spectacular. Fruity-tootie yet elegant.

umenishiki.jpgLastly, I really enjoyed the Hitorimusume Shizuku Daiginjo. This sake was aromatic, fragrant and flavorful. A very smooth and complex Daiginjo, this was one of the best.

A final surprise of the evening was dessert! Soon to open in Hell’s Kitchen, the folks from Kyotofu stopped by and presented some delicious snacks to end our tasting. Now, I’m not one to jump on the tofu bandwagon all too often, but these yummy tidbits really rocked. Can’t wait until they open! Word on the street is they will serve some sakes to go with the desserts – sounds like my kinda place!

Well, Landmark hit it out of the park again. I had a lot of fun and really enjoyed the selection and pairings that were put together. I’m pretty lucky to have such a quality sake resource just a few blocks away from me – right in my neighborhood! …Well, I do know there are three Key Factors to finding truly the best sake that is most suited to you: Location, Location, Location.

Japan Society bannerOk, we’re now entering the home stretch of NYC Sake Week ’06. Day 6 was centered around a wonderful event at the Japan Society called “For the Love of Sake”.

The evening started with a lecture by the restaurateur and star chef David Bouley. Mr. Bouley described in detail how he learned about Japanese cooking over the years and developed relationships with Japanese chefs and even attended the most famous japanese cooking school. He also talked about how japanese sake started his experimental uses of koji in his cooking.

John Gaunter introduces the sake export association membersNext, John Gaunter introduced the visiting members of the Sake Export Association. These were the Toji and Brewery reps on hand to introduce their Kura and their sake.

The Sake Export Association is a none-profit group of close to 24 breweries in Japan that have formed an organization to support the export of sake to countries outside of Japan.

Then came (well, for me at least) the main event: the Sake Tasting!

Each Brewer present had a table and poured their sake into little sample cups. These little cups totally remided me of those NyQuil cups. Sake is the best medicine I know of, so make mine a double!

Midori_nakazawa.jpgThe first table I stopped at was amazing Tentaka Brewery from Tochigi Prefecture. The Brewery was only founded in 1914, making them the relative ‘new kid on the block’. I met the very friendly brewery sales rep Midori Nakazawa who introduced me to this sake. The first thing that caught my attention was fact that Tentaka is producing organic sake. The three sakes the were serving are delicious.

tentaka_silent_stream.jpgThe first was Tentaka Kuni (“Hawk in the Heavens” Tokubetsu Junmai, ALC 15.6%, SMV +3, Acidity 2.1, Seimaibuai: 55%). This sake was dry with a strong kick of high acidity.

The second Tentaka brew was Tentaka Organic Junmai Ginjo (ALC 15.3%, SMV ±0, Acidity 1.7, Seimaibuai 50%) This sake was crisp wit a solid backbone. On the dry side but not overly so. Made with 100% certified organic rice.

The last one, and my personal favorite, was Tentaka Ginsho (“Silent Stream”, Junmai Daiginjo, ALC 16.3%, SMV +3, Acidity 1.4, Seimaibuai 35%) This sake is expensive and I understand why. It’s brewed with water from an underground stream that originates in the Yamizo adn Nasu Mountains. The palate is ultra smooth and enjoyable. I could drink this sake day and night.

brewmaster philip harperThe next big thrill of the evening was meeting Philip Harper. Philip is the Brewmaster (Toji) at Daimon Brewery in Osaka Prefecture. He’s world famous for being the first non-japanese person to achive this honor.

I was delighted to see Mr. Harper serving his wonderful Tozai Honjozo (“Well of Wisdom”, ALC 14.9%, SMV +5.5, Acidity 1.5) sake which I bought on my sake trip to Boston. Tozai is really one of my favorite Honjozo sakes available in the states. It’s got a full body and just enough fruity goodness to raise my interest.

Daimon was also was presenting Mukune Junmai Ginjo (“Root of Innocence”, ALC 16%, SMV +2, Acidity 1.8, Seimaibuai 55%) and Mukune Nigori (“Shadows of Katano” ALC 15.9%, SMV +5, Acidity 1.5, Seimaibuai 55%) Nell and Timothy enjoy DassaiBoth of these are just amazing. RUN don’t walk to your local sake retailer if you haven’t tried them yet. Philip Harper is doing great things at Daimon. Can’t wait to see what comes next.

Next, I met up with my new sake Friend Nell and we enjoyed a little Dassai. Asahi Brewery rep Sakurai-san was serving up all the Dassai “greatest hits” including the World famous Dassai 23 and the ever popular Dassai 50 and the yummy Dassai Nigori. I’ve posted on these sakes before and they are good! See my Dassai Post from NYC Sake Week Day 2 for more details on this great brand.

Moving on, I was happy to see a whole bunch of Brewery representatives I’d met before at various places and tasting this past year. This included:

miho imada* Miho Imada, the Toji at Imada Sake Brewing Co. in Hiroshima. Imada-san is always so gracious at explaining her sakes and they have such unique flavor – very worth exploring, especially her Junmai Daiginjo “Myokafuu“!

* Mr Yuichiro Tanaka representing Rihakau Brewery in Shimane Prefecture. Rihaku is near and dear to my heart. I really dig their stuff. If you get a chance, try the Rihaku Nigori “Dreamy Clouds“. pardon the pun, but, dear God, this stuff is Heavenly!

* Friendly Mr. Tomorori Yoshia of Yashida Brewery in Shimane Prefecture. Yoshida-san is of course presenting the Gassan brand. Gassan is a reliable, well known brand. You can’t go wrong here. I especially enjoyed the “Gassan Junmai Ginjo“.

* Kensuke Shichida of Tenzan Sake Brewery in Saga Prefecture. Shichida-san was presenting that well known “Jizake-Tenzan” with it’s distinctive packaging and strong alcohol content, it’s a favorite with many people I meet.

OK! well, at this point, the lights started to flicker on and off. I first thought I may have one too many NyQuils, but then I soon realized it was the polite Japan Society way of saying “time to go home”. Sad the evening was coming to a close, but I was feeling something special. Could it be? Dare I say? I do believe it was Love (of sake) at first sight.

the_sake_bottles.jpgFor the record, I wasn’t hungover from the Joy of Sake event last night… Maybe a touch dehydrated, but no worse for wear. Hmm… if i’m dehydrated I had better get some liquids in me right away.

Luckily, Landmark Wine and Sake had scheduled a sake tasting for that very afternoon! Instead of Hair of the Dog that Bit You – this was more Hair of the Dog that licked your face and brought you your slippers.

I was psyched about this tasting! something I’ve always wanted to do – to taste the same sake warmed and chilled side by side.

Serving at the tasting was Ms. Akiko Ito, representing Kariho Brewery from Akita Prefecture. Ms. Ito was very kind to chat with me for a bit about the sakes at hand and her experiences during sake week so far.

Ms_Akiko_Ito.jpgMr. Morita from Prestige Sake was also on hand. He kept an eye on the temperature of each warming sake.
The sakes slated for this tasting were set up most dry to least dry:

1) Kariho Namahage (“Devil’s Mask”, Akita Prefecture, SMV +8, Acidity 1.7) Namahage cannot be accused of false advertising. Their label says “EXTREMELY DRY” across the top in big gold letters …and that it was. Chilled this tasted very dry and quite bold on the palate. When warmed, this sake revealed it’s full alcohol flavor and nose.

2) Urakasumi (“Misty Bay”, Miyagi Prefecture, SMV +2 , Acidity 1.3) This sake was very much the middle of the road of the three. Chilled, it’s mild and easy drinking with a pretty good balance and light acidity.Warmed up, I tasted some spicy notes and that fuller taste of alcohol.

3) Nishinoseki (“Champ of the West”, Oita Prefecture, SMV -3, Acidity 1.5) Nishinoseki was the least dry and seemed to fit my palate the best. sake tasting set upWhen served chilled, I loved the flavor. It was smooth with just the smallest hint of floral notes – all the while never becoming too sweet. This sake warmed up faired the best but my favorite parts about it were diminished. The flavor was obviously less complex, but the warmth was comforting.

All in all, I enjoyed the chilled sakes more than the heated simply because there was more depth and complexity. However, there was just enough of a chill in the air today to hint at the coming winter and the pure joy of heated sake on an freezing cold day. So, check back with me in January and I may be humming a different tune.

joy_logo.pngI’ve been looking forward to the 2006 Joy of Saké event for a whole year! In a nutshell: I wasn’t disappointed. It was an awesome evening of great food, wonderful people and above all – a chance to taste scores of delicious and unique sakes!

The sheer number of sakes being offered (299) was a little overwhelming, but I decided to focus on what grabbed my attention.

I bumped into KC early on and we headed upstairs to the sakes that are not available in the US. Once, inside the door my first stop was at a table where we met Mr. Maegaki, President of Kamoizumi Shuzo. mr_maegaki.jpgI tasted their Nigori which was really quite good and their Daiginjo, too. All the folks from Kamoizumi were so nice, it was a pleasure to meet them.

Next I headed into the main room with table after table of beautiful sake bottles i’d never seen before.

This was very much a kid in a candy store feeling, but I proceeded at a steady pace and I found a few that drew my attention. First a word about how the tasting was presented. sake dropperEvery sake bottle was out on the table and the sake itself was poured into a small tasting cup with the traditional cobalt bullseye at the bottom. The tasting cup had a dropper that you could use to transfer the sake to your own cup for tasting. I wasn’t sure how this would work, but in the end I felt this worked very well indeed. You could taste a little or a lot.

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Of all the sakes I tasted that are not available in the US, there were 3 that I felt deserved a mention.

Hinoshitamusou_tobindori.jpg1) Hinoshitamusou “Junmai Daiginjo Tobindori” (Yamaguchi Prefecture, Murashige brewery). This sake is unique – something you don’t see every day – a sparkling nigori daiginjo! The appearance of the sake itself was lightly cloudy, but the taste I found to be clean with a light effervescence. My notes on this sake say “Delightful!” Well, there you go. This is going on my list of ”someday” sakes – when I make that long awaited trip to japan.

watarai_daiginjo.jpg2) Watari “Daiginjo” (ALC 15.5%, SMV +4, Acidity 1.4, Seimaibuai 55%, Yamagata Prefecture, Watarai Honten) I wanted to mention this sake simply because the taste caught my fancy. It was one of the smoothest I remember tasting during the whole evening. The overall palate was soft and pillowy with a tremendous balance. The finish lingered slightly and left me wanting more. This is another Yamagata brew – after my evening at EN this week – it got me thinking – there must be something in the water in Yamagata that they make such soft and luscious sakes.

Shungaku.jpg3) “Shungaku” Ginjo (Fukui Prefecture, Asahi Shuzo) Ok, this sake I mention not for it’s elegance but for it’s funkiness. Sometimes it helps to stretch our palate, and this was a palate stretcher if I’ve ever had one. Just so unusual, I thought it deserved a note. Shungaku is dusky and earthy. The nose immediately called to mind wet leaves in the Fall. The overall impression of this sake was “dank”. It’s not my style, but I know there’s an earthy sake lover out there somewhere.

After I had my share of the sakes upstairs, I headed down to the main floor for a look at the Sakes for sale here in the US and also to meet and mingle with the sake crowd.

yuno.jpgAt the Joto Sake table I saw Yuno-san as well as Henry-san. Those Joto sakes are as good as ever. I tasted the Kasumi Tsuru and the Shichi Hon Yari. I could tell the crowd liked these sakes as the table was constantly mobbed.

Then I wandered over to the “Sake Sensei” table and finally got to meet Paul Tanguay of Sushi Samba and “Of Rice and Zen” fame. The sake sensei table was a brilliant idea Paul set up to give people a place to come with to get some answers to their sake related questions as well as basic background information. I saw Paul had a real gift for making the production process understandable to everyone. It was really great to meet Mr Tanguay and he really was the man of the hour just having won the New York Regional Kikisaké-shi (saké sommelier) Competition AND being one of the judges for the US sake appraisal. Congratulations again and good luck in Japan!

lined_up.jpg As I was making my way thru the ground floor section, I turned the corner and saw Mr. John Gaunter! So, I went up and introduced myself and he was just a really nice guy. We spoke for a bit about the emergence of sake blogs on the scene and I told him how much I enjoy his newsletter that I read every month. It was really fun to meet John – this guy literally wrote the book!
Then as I made my way over to the Kimoto sakes I finally met my new Sake friend Nell! We chatted for quite a bit and talked about the sake scene in NYC and how amazing the evening was.

stowaway.jpgSoon enough, they started to clear the tables, and the evening was winding down. What a most amazing night. I said my goodbyes and was off into the night feeling great.

When I got home, in my bag I found the little plastic sake cup i’d been carrying around, sipping from – and guarding like a hawk – for the entire evening. All night I was thinking – “I better not loose my cup!” and, well, here it was. I’ve placed it on my monitor to remind me of just how fun the evening was… and to always, always remember – you’re up a creek without your cup. Here’s to Joy of Sake 2007!

welcome_to_en.pngNYC Sake Week ’06 continues… for day 3 we’re off to Yamagata. Stunning En Japanese Brasserie hosted a beautifully curated tasting of 60 sakes all from the well known production region of Yamagata prefecture.

The lounge of EN was set up with tables lining the walls and about 60 sakes out on display for the tasting. The format was, grab a glass and dig in. sanga.jpgThe first sake I tasted was #1 on the list and it was very special. It was called Yamagata Sanga (ALC 16.9% Seimaibuai 37.5%) as was quite delicious. The Story of Sanga is interesting. It is a sake brand that was set up in 1985 by the governor of Yamagata to represent their Prefecture to the world and Yamagata brewers submit their sakes for consideration each year to produce under this label. Sounds like a fascinating concept. I circled back later in the evening to try some more and it was all gone. It’s not available in the States, but I’ll mark it down for my next trip to Yamagata.

mr_Aisawa.jpgAfter Sanga, I moved on to the next table. Almost all of these sakes used the world famous Dewasansan (dewa33) rice. The Dewasansan rice was developed in the recent past and it’s been a big hit. it’s one of the top sake rices now produced in Japan. Then I met the very like-able Mr. Masao Aisawa from Takenotsuyu Brewery (of course in Yamagata). Mr. Aisawa was very enthusiastic about all the sakes he was presenting and they were delicious. He was an excellent ambassador for Yamagata. What intrigued me the most was his offer for us to try a sip of the pure Yamagata mountain spring water he brought with him. It was crisp, clean and better than any evian i’ve ever had. What an amazing experience to taste the Mountain water side by side with the sake made with it. Amazing! Thank you Aisawa-san!

Mr_Kato.jpg At the next able I met Mr. Ariyoshi Kato from Fuji Sake Brewing Company His brand is called Glorious Mount Fuji. Kato-san’s pick was his Junmai Ginjo “Sinobukawa” (ALC 15.9%, Seimaibuai 50%, SMV +1, Acidity 1.4). This sake was smooth and clean and ohhhh so drinkable. Above all it had that balance of flavor and dryness that I just love. bravo! Mr. Kato was also very enthusiastic about the Yamagata sakes. I learned that Yamagata is known for it’s cold climate which delivers a lot of mountain snow which in turn creates wonderful mountain spring water for make making. They have a devoted group of brewers in that prefecture.

Yuki_mukae.jpgAs I was moving along down the line, the next sake I zeroed in on was a Junmai Ginjo called “Yuki Mukae Yiyaoroshi” (ALC 15.5%, Seimaibuai 50%, SMV +6.0, acidity 1.4). I got a loose translation of the name of this sake and it means something like Cold snow coming down from the Mountains” Again with those mountains. here I learned that Yamagata has 33 Mountains over 1400 meters high. that’s another reason The rice is called Dewa33. This sake in particular was very, very dry. This was the driest I had all night. For all you Dry sake fans near Yamagata, this sake has your name on it! The consistency was very full and the sake had good “legs” when swirled in my wine glass.

Toshi.jpgOne of the last sakes I had was one of the very best! That sake was a ginjo from Kamenoi Brewery called “Kudoki Jozu” (ALC 16.8%, Seimaibuai 50%, SMV 0, acidity 1.2). This sake was also a silver medal winner at the 2006 US National Sake Appraisal. Toshi-san was the representative we spoke to about this sake the most. The meaning of Kudoki Jozu in English was a subject of discussion for quite a while. I think if I give you the translations suggested, you’ll get an idea: “Good at Getting Someone’s Heart” or “Loverboy” or “Good with Courting and Compliments” or “Gigolo” or “The Flirt”. ok, I think you get the general drift? Regardless of the name this sake was awesome. It’s not yet available in the US, but hopefully at some point in the future. This sake is soft and lovely and really caresses the palate. This is a Flirty sake!. It’s tremendously balanced with tiny hints of apple-blossom sweetness. yamagata_sakes.jpgI think above all the softness come through. Kamenoi Brewery is also very dedicated to stay in touch with the natural surroundings in Yamagata. It’s a great example of terroir for sake. I can’t wait for Kudoki Jozu to be available in the states. It is one of my new favorites!

This was such an enjoyable event. En owner Reika Yo is to be commended for getting this event up and running, providing such wonderful food and for ensuring there was such good documentation of each sake. Such attention to detail really enhances the experience! If you can’t get to Yamagata any time soon to try some of these great sakes, check out En for the next best thing.