I am always excited when I find an email from Sakagura in my inbox. This time it was a notice about a special tasting evening with Masumi Brewery. I find these evenings a great way to get to know a particular brewery. I invited my friend Aki to tag along and the reservation was made.
When we got there, the entire back room of the restaurant was sectioned off for the tasting. Under the watchful eye of a devilish looking
giant kite hanging from the ceiling, the staff from Masumi Brewery, including Master Brewer Kenji Nasu, handed out samples of 6 wonderful examples of Masumi Sake.
The tasting evening was kinda set up kind of like you’d imagine a 1950’s cocktail party: Makeshift bar with drinks flowing, side table with hors d’oeuvres flowing, great conversation flowing, friendly faces smiling and even a photo slideshow from the host.
Keith Norum was the english-speaking brewery representative on hand to provide all kinds of helpful information as well as to help with translation for Mr. Nasu. I got to talk to Kevin briefly and asked him how he got such an awesome job. Well, I learned that speaking Japanese and actually living in Japan are great first steps as well as going to barbecues. Sign me up!
The first sake out of the gate was a wonderful Nama I was already acquainted with: Arabashiri Nama Ginjo (SMV=-1, Seimaibui=55% ALC=17.5%). This is one of the sakes we tasted at our April ’06 NYC sake meetup. It was as fresh and floral as ever and a real standout. It was quite a kick to see a sake again and then meet the brewer that actually made the sake! quite a trip. Kevin explained to everyone assembled about how a nama is produced and why it’s so important to drink them when they are fresh and young. Also keep refrigerated as they totally skip the step of pasteurization to retain that vibrant “draft” taste. I really enjoyed this sake and went back for a second taste or two over the evening.
Next Master brewer Nasu introduced a junmai: Okuden Kantsukuri (SMV=+3, Seimaibui=60% ALC=15%). He explained how this sake would be a candidate for heating if you were in the mood. How different temperatures bring out different flavor profiles. Kevin warned never to bring sake up to a piping hot temperature but rather simply gently warm it. Piping hot sake loses all nuance and texture and is really just a waste. Mr. Nasu went on to explain that this is a great casual sake for informal sharing, hanging out with friends and just enjoying with food. I agree. this Junmai was a treat – and a real discovery. I would call this the perfect “table sake”. Something to have on hand in a larger quantity to sip and enjoy with a lot of guest over a homemade dinner.
At this point in the evening They started the slide show to explain about Masumi brewery and the brewing process.
This was a great presentation that explained where the brewery was located and all the steps in the brewing process: Water, Koji, rice, milling, yeast etc. Lefty and KC had several questions for Mr Nasu which he seemed happy to answer. As the very last slide, we also got to see a shot of the entire team at the brewery. Their outfits reminded me a little bit of the
Mike Teevee "wonka-vision" scene from the first Willy Wonka Film, but regardless, you could tell they were proud of their work… and they should be!
This is a good point to mention the hors d’oeuvres that Sakagura whipped up to compliment the Masumi sakes. Dishes included a shrimp salad, tofu with a yummy miso sauce, pan fried soft shell crab wrapped in cucumber slices (my favorite) and some type of pickled bean that Aki loved and knew from Japan, but I had never seen before. The food was just great! The only drawback was that I found it difficult to drink with one hand and eat the small delicious hors d’oeuvres with chopsticks. Well, I’m sure I’m not the first and won’t be the last cocktail party-goer to have this little problem. The good news was that if you did misplace your drink, nothing could be easier than getting a refill!
Now that we had our appetites whetted and we were all informed about brewing, Masumi unleashed the big guns and had us now sample the Yumedono Daiginjo (SMV=+5, Seimaibui=40% ALC=17%). This was a really great daiginjo.
The final two sakes were Daiginjo Nanago (SMV=0, Seimaibui=45% ALC=16%) and Yamahai Ginjo (SMV=+2, Seimaibui=55% ALC=16%). Both of these sakes were clean and enjoyable. The Yamahai Ginjo is named for the Yamahai brewing method that is used to make it. It is also worth noting, as the Masumi folks explained, a special yeast was developed at Masumi brewery buy former master brewer Chisato Kubota. This yeast was called #7 yeast and this yeast has become a standard which is used by more than 60% of breweries across japan. This #7 yeast was used in both of these sakes.
I was a little sad when they announced the tasting was winding to a close, so I went in for one more taste. With a smile, Mr Nasu poured me a very full glass of my favorite Yumedono daiginjo.
As I savored the final sips of this daiginjo, someone on staff reminded me of the regular cost per glass for this particular sake ($25). Well then -Cheers! This made the price of admission a bargain in retrospect. At the very end Mr. Nasu handed out a keepsake for all guests at the tasting. It was a beautiful hiragata sake cup in blue and white porcelain. Beautiful – thank you!
In every way, Sakagura is a class act! Top Drawer! The hospitality, service and Love Of Sake always shines through. I think this is the secret ingredient that makes Sakagura such a great place for tastings. And Masumi makes some awesome sake. This is the combo that made this swinging “cocktail party” one that would make even Donna Reed jealous. Kanpai, Daddy-o.