Golden Masu Award!

Golden Masu Award!

The year 2011 is one I can assure you I will never forget. The March 11th Great East Japan Earthquake and it’s aftermath with stay with me forever. I was in Japan on that day and now that over 9 months have passed, I can see even more clearly how deeply it affected me.

I also spent several months of this year visiting Japan – more than ever before in my life. This allowed me to meet many wonderful people and learn more about sake and Japanese culture than I could have ever imagined.

For me, I’ve long known that sake is indeed ‘Japanese culture in a cup’. With that in mind, join me as I take a look back at 2011 and acknowledge those sakes that caught my fancy, tickled my taste buds or broadened my horizons.

Without further ado, I give you the 2011 UrbanSake.com Golden Masu Awards!


“Best Sake Under $25”

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Seikyo

And the Masu goes to:
Seikyo Takehara Junmai

With everyone from European Governments to sake sippers from Saskatchewan adopting austerity budgets in 2011, this seems to be the year for belt tightening as never before. This doesn’t mean however, that you need to give up really good sake, even if your balance sheet comes up a little short. I discovered there are wonderful premium imported sakes out there that can be had for under $25 a pop. My favorite this year was Seikyo Takehara Junmai. This Sake retails for just under $25.00 a bottle and is worth every penny. Hailing from Hiroshima, this soft and balanced brew is easy to drink and easier on the wallet. Versatile, food friendly and delicious, my advice is to stock up on this brew and ride out any further market gyrations with a glass of Seikyo Junmai in hand!


“Most Elegant Plum Sake”

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Daishichi

And the Masu goes to:
Daishichi Umeshu

Plum Sake don’t get no respect. Called “Umeshu” in Japanese, plum sake can unfortunately be a hard sell as people sometimes confuse plum sake with the unsophisticated and overly sweet plum wines on the market. Things are changing however and high quality Umeshu is taking it’s rightful place at the premium sake table. One remarkable standout in the plum sake category is Daishichi Umeshu. This sake is a masterful study of elegance and restraint in creating a sake with plum. Smooth as velvet and using only premium Nankou plums from Wakayama, you’ll be dazzled by how subtle and refined the plum taste is on the palate. By downplaying any overt sweetness, Daishichi lets the true plum flavor shine through. After one sip, you’ll know plum sake is not just for dessert anymore.


“Best Futsushu”

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Hakkaisan

And the Masu goes to:
Hakkaisan Futsushu

Most Americans don’t know that the vast majority of sake sold in Japan is the type classified as “futsushu“, which can be translated as “regular sake” or “table sake”. Yes, we’re talking about non-premium brews here. People just getting started with sake tasting often swoon and wax poetic at the complex floral aromas and smooth-as-silk body you can enjoy with a fine Junmai Daiginjo. But, as it’s such a huge part of the Japanese market, there is something to be said for the other end of the sake spectrum, too. One “regular sake” that rises above the rest is Hakkaisan Futsushu. The Brewery President Jiro Nagumo told me that one of his company’s goals is to make good quality sake available to everyone. To do that, they keep their most inexpensive futsushu quality high – for example, it has a milling rate of 60%! This combined with a slow and cold brewing period keep their Hakkaisan Futsushu sake tasting clean, dry and delicious. Whether you serve it chilled or warm, this is one “table sake” you’ll want to ensure you have at your table.


“Most Inspiring Junmai Ginjo”

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Hakurakusei

And the Masu goes to:
Hakurakusei Junmai Ginjo

2011 will always be tied in our memories to the devastating Great East Japan Earthquake. I had the distinct honor to volunteer for a week in September of this year at Niizawa Brewery in Miyagi (see blog post here). During that time, I gained such respect for Mr. Niizawa and his entire staff and family who carried on with sake making despite a brewery building damaged beyond repair, continuing aftershocks and an uncertain future. After a week of hard work at the Brewery, Mr. Niizawa took us out for dinner at a local Izakaya and poured us his magnificent Hakurakusei Junmai Ginjo. After one delicious sip, I had a flash of understanding in my mind. All the sake brewers, in Miyagi and beyond who are working so hard – sometimes quite against the odds – and laboring tirelessly for the recovery of the sake industry are honest-to-goodness heros. With that one sip, I came to a new understanding of just how inspiring a glass of sake could be. I hope you’ll join me in 2012 and beyond to continue to support Hakurakusei and, indeed all Tohoku sake breweries in their on-going recovery.


“Best New Junmai Import”

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Shichida

And the Masu goes to:
Shichida Junmai

New sake imports arrive on our shores regularly. This is a wonderful thing, as more variety selection can help grow the sake market year over year. But every once in a while, a new sake just jumps out at you and makes you say “Wow“! For me, one such sake this year was the standout Shichida Junmai from Tenzan Sake Brewery in Saga. This sake is so completely enjoyable with a nice play of self-assured boldness on the palate and a clean, easygoing finish, it’s hard not to fall in love. Whatever they’re doing down there in Saga, it’s working! If you try it, Shichida Junmai may become a new favorite for you, as it has for me. Welcome to Wow!


“Best in Show”

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Tatenokawa

And the Masu goes to:
Tatenokawa 18 Nakadori Junmai Daiginjo

Lots of people in the U.S. still think that fermented grape juice is the end-all be-all when it comes to elegant imbibing. Those among us who’ve tasted superior premium sake know differently. One sake I had this year that is easily going to win over hearts and minds to Team Sake is Tatenokawa 18 Nakadori Junmai Daiginjo. This gracious, exquisite and masterful sake is really a wonder that deserves our attention. The brewers at Tatenokawa in Yamagata start by milling their sake rice to an astounding 18% remaining. This tiny nugget of pure rice starch is then transformed, with loving attention to detail, into something so smooth, elegant, deep and complex – it will leave you speechless, as it did me. Available for sale soon in the U.S., you’ll want to invest in a bottle of Tatenokawa 18 Junmai Daiginjo to enjoy for a special occasion, celebratory toast or to pair with a fine meal. Sit back, relax and enjoy the new world of elegant imbibing. Score one for Team Sake.

So there you have it! Congratulations and Kanpai to all the winners! After all the struggle and uncertainty of 2011, I am looking forward to next year as a new era for sake at home and abroad. Let’s raise a masu to celebrate all we have accomplished and the wonderful sake days ahead. Kanpai and Happy New Year to everyone!

See Previous Golden Masu winners here: http://www.urbansake.com/category/golden-masu-awards/

Golden Masu Award!

Golden Masu Award!

Before we leave 2010 behind us forever, I wanted to take a look back at this year and highlight some master brews we encountered over the last 12 months.

It’s been an awesome year – so many sakes and so many adventures! I got to travel to Japan twice this year which is a dream come true. The Golden Masu Awards are my way of having a little fun at the end of the year and highlighting those sakes that made me smile, savor or simply sit up and take notice.

Without further ado, I give you the 2010 UrbanSake.com Golden Masu Awards!


“Best Junmai for Sushi”

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Sougen Junmai

And the Masu goes to:
Sougen Junmai

Sake meet sushi. Sushi meet sake. The pairing is so classic and time-honored that some folks still think sushi is the ONLY food that pairs with sake. Nothing could be further from the truth; with untold numbers of scrumptious food and sake pairings working wonderfully together. But what if you are in the mood from some good old fashioned sushi – what sake goes best? There are lots of sushi friendly brews out there, but one of my personal favorites is this Sougen Junmai from Ishikawa Prefecture. The taste is super clean and balanced and it just – in the most delicious way possible – wipes your palate clean between each morsel of fish. A good food and beverage pairing is a true case of 1+1=3. The two together are more then they are apart. If my calculations are correct, Sougen + Sushi = Yum.


“Most Tokubestu Tokubetsu Junmai”

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Hakkaisan Tokubetsu Junmai

And the Masu goes to: Hakkaisan Tokubetsu Junmai

Quick and simple Japanese vocabulary lesson: Tokubetsu means “special”. When applied to sake, what do they mean by “special” anyway? Well, in most cases they mean that the sake rice has been milled more than required for a given classification. In the case of this Hakkaisan junmai, they’ve milled down to 60% remaining which would legally classify it as a junmai ginjo, but Hakkaisan sells this beauty as their Special Junmai. The taste is lightly dry, incredibly balanced and immensely food friendly. What else is special? Well, for one, this sake is not for sale in Japan! Hakkaisan makes this sake for export and it’s available only to us here in the good old USA. A sake just for us? That makes me feel pretty darn tokubetsu right now!


“Most Ginormous Ginjo”

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Narutotai

And the Masu goes to:
Narutotai Ginjo Nama Genshu

Let’s see now – first you’ve got your hearty ginjos… then next you’ve got your big ginjos… and then, well, then you’ve got Narutotai Ginjo Nama Genshu, the ginormous ginjo. And please believe me when I say, I mean ginormous in the most flattering light. This sake is rich and rewarding with some real meat on it’s bones and a finish that just goes on and on. Sometimes a light and airy brew just won’t cut it. There is a lot going on in this sake so let’s break it down: this sake is a ginjo (slightly fortified) Nama (unpasteurized) Genshu (undiluted cask strength). Lush and full, this sake says with every sip: “go ginormous or go home!”


“Best Sake Sipping Value”

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Dassai 50

And the Masu goes to:
Dassai 50 Junmai Daiginjo

Longtime fans of the Golden Masu Awards will remember that Dassai 50 won the coveted “Best Sake Bang for Your Buck” award in 2007. Well, Dassai 50 is back this year with “Best Sake Sipping Value” award. When it comes to cost-conscious sake consumption, dang it, Dassai 50 is hard to beat. It’s an affordable, balanced, easy-drinking and delicious. You can bring Dassai 50 to any party, event or soiree and watch the sake lovers and sake newbies alike devour this brew. It’s a winner all around but especially in the much scrutinized cost-per-sip-enjoyment ratio. Given the low cost and high enjoyment – sip away!


“Coolest Label”

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Denshin Rin

And the Masu goes to:

Denshin Rin

There are a lot of cool sake labels out there, but this one pushed to the top of the list when I talked this year in New York with Mr. Kubo, VP of Fukui’s Ippongi Brewery – the makers of Denshin. I learned that that they collect the trimmings from their labels (the negative space on the Denshin Rin labels) and meticulously place them on the bottles for their namazake, or unpasteurized sake. You can see a picture of this “reverse engineering” magic here.

Not only is this good for the environment, but it looks, and above all tastes amazing, too. For this reason, Denshin wins out as the coolest label of the year. A delicious packaging for a delicious brew!


“Best in Show”

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Tenju Chokaisan

And the Masu goes to:
Tenju Chokaisan Junmai Daiginjo

Chokaisan is a dreamy sake that pleases all the senses. I had the honor of visiting the brewery this year and saw for myself the care, detail, attention …and flower yeast, that goes into making this winner a true artisanal gem. To seal the deal, this Junmai Daiginjo also benefits from the pristine brewing water that trickles down from nearby Mount Chokai.

Chokaisan comes at you with an enchanting aroma and smooth body that will shamelessly charm you. Sake Beginners and Sake Connoisseurs can both agree on the appeal of this brew – and that is one of it’s distinct strengths. It’s a crowd pleaser, but a crowd pleaser with a touch of star quality. If you want a sake with charisma, this is it.

Well, there you have it. Congratulations to all the winners, and as we say goodbye to the last ten years that were “the Aughts” or “the Naughts” or “the Naughties”, let’s raise a glass of sake to the coming decade! That would be the 21st Century’s “Tween & Teen” years… I think it will be a rambunctious time of growth for sake! Personally, I can’t wait. Kanpai and Happy New Year to everyone!

Dassai 39 Sparkling Nigori

Dassai 39 Sparkling Nigori

New Year’s Eve is about as loaded a holiday as you can get. All the pressure to be at the perfect party with that special someone at the stroke of midnight toasting with a glistening flute of the best champagne. And the New Year’s Resolutions – Don’t get me started on that subject.

One good thing about us hard core sake drinkers is that we definitely march to the beat of our own drummer. What better way to express our independence and kick off 2010 than to drink a sparkling sake for New Year’s Eve.

Last year, I posted some great suggestions for sparkling sake. Since then, there has been a new player to enter the sparkling sake arena. None other than Dassai 39 Junmai Daiginjo Sparkling Nigori!

Dassai is a well known and beloved brand that makes a “number” of top notch sakes including Dassai 50, Dassai 23, and regular Dassai 39. The number of course refers to the milling rate or “seimaibuai” — the amount to which the rice grain has been milled prior to brewing. Dassai is now the worlds first “Junmai Daiginjogura” meaning they are a brewery that only produces Junmai Daiginjo sake.

Dassai 39 Junmai Daiginjo Sparkling Nigori is a delicious sake and the perfect brew for those of us who want something unique for our New Years Eve bubbly. The taste is crisp and smooth with an over-the-top party on the palate for everyone who loves unique sake flavors! It’s refreshing, elegant and delicious.

Just be careful opening this sake as you would with any champagne. This sake has a lot of natural carbonation and the stopper can really snap crackle POP if you’re not careful. Trust me, you don’t want to miss a drop of this new year’s elixir!

So whether you’re at that perfect party with somebody special or home alone with Dick Clark, forge your own path and try some Dassai Sparkling Sake this New year’s Eve. Being a maverick has never tasted so good.

Golden Masu Award!

Golden Masu Award!

For me personally, I’ll look back on 2009 as a year with some struggles, some fun and some really great sake! …And, at least for me, sake helps with both struggles and with fun.

It’s the time of year again when we salute some of the best sakes of the year… Just like the Oscars with lots more sake and a lot less movie stars. This year’s list of winners runs the gamut from honjozo to cup sake to the finest junmai daiginjo. All of it delicious in it’s own special and unique way.

Without Further ado, I give you the 2009 UrbanSake.com Golden Masu Awards!


“Best Honjozo”

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Ban Ryu

Ban Ryu

And the Masu goes to:
Ban Ryu “10,000 Ways” Honjozo

In the U.S., honjozo style sake (fortified with added distilled alcohol) are relatively hard to find. People hear “alcohol added” and think “jet fuel”! I’m here to tell you nothing could be further from the truth. Honjozo style sake can be expressive, rich, fragrant and enchanting. To prove this to yourself, look no further than Ban Ryu Honjozo. Look for that signature velvety finish and a great flavor profile and several temperatures. chilled, warm or hot, this sake will please you in 10,000 ways. This versatile sake is not to be missed.


“Best Cup in the U.S.”

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Oyaji Gokuraku

Oyaji Gokuraku

And the Masu goes to: Chiyomusubi Oyaji Gokuraku

“Here’s looking at you!” I have a special place in my heart for sake sold in the “one cup” size. No one cup stole my heart this year as did the Chiyomusubi Oyaji Gokuraku sake cup. The design of this label is based on the the anime “Ge-Ge-Ge no Kitaro“. Created by the famous Japanese artist Shigeru Mizuki (水木 しげる), Kitaro has had a wide impact on Japanese popular culture. The Oyaji character is the father of the lead character and he’s bascially a walking, talking eyeball who loves sake. Only in Japan, folks! In any case, the brewers at Chiyomusubi chose Goriki sake rice for the Oyaji flavor. This is a stroke of genius in my book. Goriki has a great nostaligic flavor that is not too pretty or quaint and a perfect match to the sake-loving Oyaji character. Cup sake is a treat… and this one is a treasure!


“Most Delicious 500ML”

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Manotsuru

Manotsuru

And the Masu goes to:
Manotsuru Four Daimonds Junmai Ginjo

Sometimes, 300ml isn’t enough, but 720ml is just too much. Enter the 500ml bottle. They are few and far between, but well worth a look-see. One of my very favorite of these sakes is the Manotsuru Four Daimonds Junmai Ginjo. Produced by Obata sake brewery in beautiful Niigata prefecture, this sake is something special. It’s a full on genshu sake bordering on 18% alcohol. This doesn’t diminish in any way the quality or well crafted feeling of this brew. I enjoy it slightly chilled and find it quite versatile as far as food pairing goes. Another win for Niigata sakes – and another win for 500ML! Thank you Obata-san!


“Best New Junmai Import”

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Wakatake

Wakatake

And the Masu goes to:
Wakatake Junmai

New sakes are imported into the USA every year without fail. I’m always on the lookout for something new. What surprises me most is when something new comes from someone so familiar! We all know and love Wakatake Junmai Dainginjo sake, but the folks at Wakatake brought in their Junmai sake this year. It’s got a slight creaminess that I just find irresistible and yet, it maintains that wonderful feeling of shizuoka simplicity that makes the junmai daiginjo such a hit. This is a great expression of what a Junmai can be and a welcome addition to the Junmai lexicon in the US. Kanpai!


“Best Extra Dry Sake”

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Kasumi Tsuru

Kasumi Tsuru

And the Masu goes to:

Kasumi Tsuru Extra Dry Junmai

“What do you have that’s DRY?” Oi, If I had a first class ticket to Japan for every time I’ve heard that question! Many folks State-side have gotten this notion into their head that the best sake is Dry sake. Super dry sake is super yummy in my book, so I love to have a primo example of what dry really is at the ready when people ask for it. My textbook example is the delicious Kasumi Tsuru Extra Dry Junmai. It’s dry without being over-exaggerated and unbalanced. Imported by Joto Sake importers and a product of Hyogo Prefecture, this sake has a delightful depth and distinct dry edge that make it in my book the great exemplar of what a well rounded dry sake can be! Enjoy this gem at all temperatures!


“Best in Show”

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Kirinzan

Kirinzan

And the Masu goes to:
Kirinzan Junmai Daiginjo

I first tasted this sake at Sakagura Restaurant on New Year’s Eve a few years back. Our server left the stunning bottle on the table for me to admire as I sipped on the sake. This left all my senses pleased! Kirinzan makes a balanced, clean and pure Niigata Junmai Daiginjo that is a treasure in and of itself, but the beautiful bottle just adds to the enjoyment of this sake all the more. This “total package” is a feast for the senses and a true testament to everything a sake can be. For me, this is one of the very best. Enjoy it yourself for a special occasion, with friends or simply on it’s own. Without a doubt you’ll taste the quality that is it’s own reward.

Well, there you have it. Congratulations to all the winners and I’ll be on the look out in 2010 for any new sake stars on the horizon… Kanpai and Happy New Year!

golden_masu_1With 2008 coming to a close it’s only natural to want to look back and ponder the best sakes of the year. In other words, it’s time to announce the 2008 UrbanSake.com Golden Masu Awards! Let’s honor those sakes that stood out from the pack and made 2008 the best year for sake yet.


“Best Nama”

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Born Muroka

Born

And the Masu goes to: Born Muroka Nama Genshu Junmai Daiginjo

This year, pure decadence won out over the usual delights that most sweet and fruit-driven namas have to offer. Born Nama is a rich and compelling sake. It is aged for a year, giving it a greater complexity that speaks volumes on your palate. Being unpasteurized, this brew gives that fresh wake up call to your taste buds that only a nama can deliver, however, this sake sings a sultry ballad and not a sugar sweet pop song. Enjoy with someone you love, in a place you love, with some food that you love and you’ll love it – I promise.


“Best One Cup in the U.S.”

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Funaguchi

Funaguchi

And the Masu goes to: Kikusui Funaguchi Shibori Honzojo Nama Genshu

I have a special place in my heart for sake sold in the “one cup” size. These tiny servings are wonders of engineering, not to mention portion control! The supply of sake sold in the one cup size is limited in the U.S., but of what you can get, Kikusui Funaguchi is far and away my favorite! The taste is full and strong and fruit-forward. Also, being a genshu, this sake is undiluted and can have a lot of impact, but in a good way. It’s a delicious tidbit to drink at a picnic or just on the go. I always try to have a few in the fridge ready to jet off on adventures when I am.


“Best Sake under $20”

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Kurosawa

Kurosawa

And the Masu goes to: Kurosawa Junmai Kimoto

It’s just great the the papers are finally telling us we’ve “technically” been in an economic recession for the past year. While everyone loves to turn to booze when times are tough, expensive sakes can sometimes be just out of reach. What’s a sake lover,who has been socked in the wallet, to do? I recommend Kurosawa Kimoto Junmai as a very affordable drinking sake that happens to taste spectacular, too. You’ll get all the flavor and quality of higher priced brews, in a delicious package that retails for under $20. If that makes it a little more affordable to choose a sake to drown your sorrows, my work here is done.


“Coolest Label”

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KuroObi

KuroObi

And the Masu goes to: Kuro Obi Do Do Yamahai Junmai

Fukumitsuya Brewery has style, no doubt about it. If you’re in Ginza or Kanazawa, a trip to their retail shop is all the proof you need that these folks understand design. This extends to the stunning packaging for their latest import, the delicious Kuro Obi Do Do or “black belt” in english. The gorgeous abstracted Kanji on the label stand out in silver relief against the black background. The best news of all is that the yamahai sake inside the bottle is as snazzy as the label. The depth of flavor will pair well with many foods, but I match this brew with cheese in particular. Black Belt is the new black.


“Most Deserving of a 99 Rating from the Wine World”

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masuizumi

Masuizumi

And the Masu goes to: Masuizumi Junmai Daiginjo

Oh, all those vaunted wine experts are just crazy for their numeric wine ratings! That little number can make or break the fortunes of any wine. Luckily, we’re not so bound by this system in the world of sake. However, I can’t help feeling that every now and again, this rating system could be used as a bridge to convert some wine enthusiasts into fervent disciples of sake. Enter scrumptious Masumizumi Junmai Daiginjo. This sake strikes me as tailor-made to get a magical rating of 99 from the biggest names in the wine biz and also as the perfect brew to ease wine lovers into sipping on some sake. As I know all too well, it only takes that one magical taste to get hooked on nihon-shu permanently.


“Most Umami”

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Iroha

Iroha

And the Masu goes to:
Sawanoi “Kioke Jikomi Iroha Kimoto Junmai

All the foodies I know really connect with those sakes that may strike some as, well… funky. Sawanoi Iroha is the perfect example of a sake that can stand up to a foodie’s favorite flavors. In a word, “Umami”. This is considered the mysterious “fifth taste” that is often translated as ‘savoriness’. In a world of sake filled with those light and fruity Junmai Daiginjos, a little savory can go a long way to perk up your palate. My “a-ha” moment with this sake came the instant I paired it with shitake mushroom. The two together created pure foodie magic and made me a believer in Umami ever more.


“Best in Show”

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Dassai

Dassai

And the Masu goes to: Dassai 23 Junmai Daiginjo

Oh Dassai 23… How do I love thee? Let me count the ways… um, 23 ways? Well, 23 of course stands for the ultra low milling rate of the rice used to make this dreamy sake. 77% of each grain is ground away prior to brewing, an astounding feat in and of itself, but what does that do to the taste? Dassai 23 has a smoothness on the palate that is hard to match, yet with the unmistakable characteristics and consistency of a sake that has been lovingly hand-crafted in small batches. This brew can be a real splurge but it’s worth every penny and it will restore your faith in the power of pure, delicious flavor to elevate the soul.

Well, there you have it. Congratulations to all the winners and I’ll be on the look out in ‘09 for any new sake stars on the horizon… Kanpai and Happy New Year!

Okunomatsu Sparking Formula Nippon

Okunomatsu Sparking Formula Nippon

Are you a little tired of the same old shoddy champagne? Well, kick that brut to the curb and this year, try something new to tickle your nose as you ring in the New Year. Sake seems to be the eternal up and coming underdog, but to be honest, the selection of sparkling sake available in the USA has never been better. Referred to in Japanese as “happo-shu”, sparkling sake undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle, just as champagne does, so you won’t miss a single bubble with the switch from grapes to sake.

Sparkling Sake is usually low in alcohol, so expect a light and breezy alcohol content of 5-8%. Also, note that most sparkling sake is sold in small bottles (180ml – 300ml) to facilitate a quick consumption, for as with other sparkling tipples, the fizz will fade relatively quickly after opening. So, to keep the sparkle alive, drink early and drink often! Let’s take a look at my top 5 picks for the best in New Year’s Eve Sparkling Sake!

Okunomatsu Formula Nippon Junmai Daiginjo Sparkling. Let’s start at the top! This sparkling sake is amazing! Interestingly, it was originally brewed specifically to allow the Formula Nippon race car drivers to spray Junmai Daiginjo Sparkling sake instead of champagne at the winners circle. However, if you don’t even own a car, you can still enjoy all the luxury this sake has to offer. I had a chance to taste it at a 2008 Japan Society event and it was smooth and bubbly on the palate with enchanting fruit notes in the aroma. A masterpiece well worth the price, this sake can be enjoyed for any important celebration. If there is any equivalent to the very finest champagne in the sake world, this is it!

Hou Hou Shu

Hou Hou Shu

Chikurin Hou Hou Shu Sparkling Junmai. The quintessential sparkling sake, this delight can go toe to toe with champagne any day. There is a wisp of nigori in this low alcohol brew with a delightful sparkle on the palate. I find it has a great balance of sweetness and acidity! Enjoy Hou Hou Shu as a perfect way to start a meal or as a way to celebrate!

This sake comes from the celebrated Chikurin Brewery in Okayama Prefecture in Japan. Their attention to every detail makes this a sure fire winner.

Hana Hou Hou Shu

Hana Hou Hou Shu

Chikurin Hana Hou Hou Shu Sparking Junmai. This sake is a sister brew to the Hou Hou Shu above. It’s a low alcohol nihon-shu infused with rose petal and hibiscus! Light and refreshing on the palate, this is an immensely popular sake in the USA.

Once people try the Hana Hou Hou Shu, they seem to come back to it again and again. It certainly stands out on a vast sake list you may find on a restaurant menu. Given the low alcohol and unique taste, this is a great sake for toasting that special event.

Dewazakura Tobiroku

Dewazakura Tobiroku

Dewazakura Tobiroku Sparkling Ginjo. Do you enjoy your New Year’s Eve drink a touch on the dry side? Thinking all these sakes may be too sweet? Check out Dewazakura Tobiroku! It’s a somewhat rare dry sparkling sake. This delightful brew is for those who like their sparkling sake on the crisp side. A touch of nigori adds a bit of texture, but this is foremost a light, brisk bubbly that is easy to enjoy.

The English name for this brew is “Festival of Stars”. If you’ve ever seen the firework festivals in Japan, it will give you a good idea of what they are after.

Harushika Tokeimeki

Harushika Tokeimeki

Harushika Tokimeki Sparkling Junmai. Quite full in sweetness, this sparkling sake balances that with a higher acidity. This sake is very, very refreshing and is a textbook example of a perfect aperitif for your evening meal. I have also paired this sake with fresh fruit in the past to great effect. Pairings with crisp apples seem to work best in bringing out the delicious fruity sweetness in this sake. It’s light and will tickle your nose for sure. Again, I can’t overstate the sweet fruit profile that comes across on the palate for this sake. This is a wonderful sake to demonstrate how unique and delicious sake can be.

So, there you have it. Take a walk on the wild side and give sparkling sake a try this Dec 31st at midnight. They say whatever you do on New Year’s Eve, you will do for the rest of the year… and if that happens to be drinking sparkling Nihon-shu, I can’t think of any better way to spend the year. Kanpai and happy 2009 to everyone!

Here is my first video in a series of short videos that profile individual sakes. I hope this video gives you a quick overview of Dassai 50 and why I like it. Kanpai!

kaga_tobi.jpgWhere’s the Fire? Well, for the coolest dudes in Edo-period Japan it was where ever you would find the Kaga-tobi, or the Kaga Clan Firemen. These firefighters were viewed by the general public as masculine and tough but above all they were greatly admired for their bravery at fighting fires in a time when Edo buildings were constructed mainly of wood, bamboo and rice paper, making them susceptible to devastating fires.

The mythos of the dashing firefighter survives to this day, and Fukumitsuya Sake Brewery located in Japan’s beautiful Ishikawa Prefecture, used this idea as an inspiration for their flagship product being imported into the US: “Kagatobi Sake

Kagatobi_junmai_daiginjo.jpgKabatobi brand sake is one of several brands produced by the Fukumitsuya Brewery. The Brand’s leader is the scrumptious Kagatobi Ai Junmai Daiginjo. Kagatobi Ai is a study in what puts the “dai” in “daiginjo”. I find this brew to really be a textbook example of what makes daiginjo near and dear to my heart. It’s smooth on the palate and the finish lingers, evocative of the soft essence of mild fruit. The taste is a testament to how well crafted this sake is. Light. Lovely. Luscious. Trust me.

Kagatobi_junmai_ginjo.jpgNext is Kagatobi Junmai Ginjo. The Junmai Ginjo grade in Kagatobi’s lineup is another study in capturing the essence of it’s class. It’s full frontal Junmai Ginjo. What I especially like about this one is that the brewers surfaced lovely hints of rice through in the nose and palate, balanced with a medium body and soft texture. Being neither too dry, nor too sweet Kagatobi is a good match for folks who like their sakes easy drinking and smooth. A bit more body than the lighter Diaginjo, this Junami Ginjo is a fan favorite!

kagatobi_junmai.JPGThe market for very dry sake is vast and I think many people gravitate to extra dry sake to push the envelope of their sake tastes. Kagatobi rises to the challenge with their entry into the “super dry” category: Kagatobi Cho Karakuchi Junmai Yamahai. This karakuchi wear’s it’s +12 SMV rating as a badge of honor. Also made using the traditional Yamahai method, the Cho Karakuchi is by far the most full bodied, broad and robust of the kagatobi sakes currently available in the US. Again, no punches get pulled with this sake – you wanted Super Dry Yamahai – you got it. An excellent example of the classification without being rough or insensitive. If you don’t think you like dry sake, or if you think dry is your only choice, give this selection a try and you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise. I think this sake would also take kindly to a gentle warming in the cold months.

I get the sense that the Kagatobi Brewers are exacting practitioners of their art. They seem to be aiming for purebred examples of each sake classification they produce, and by my estimation they succeed. For American consumers, this makes the Kagatobi portfolio an excellent line to study. And just as the people of Edo stood in admiration of the Kaga Firefighters of yore, you gotta give this brand it’s props! Oh, and a final fire safety tip for everyone: Always we aware of your nearest emergency exit… and be sure to grab your Kagatobi on the way out.