Saka Hana Sake Tasting

Sake Hana Bar and Lounge SignWhen Toshi over at wonderful Sake Hana (265 E. 78th St. Bet. 2nd & 3rd Ave.) emailed me an invitation to an “all-you-can-drink” sake tasting event featuring 11 sakes from 4 brewers I knew I just could not pass it up… but it would be a challange. When you think about it, the “all-you-can-drink” sake tasting is similar to running a marathon:

    * Proper training is essential. If you haven’t worked up to it, you’ll poop out before the end.
    * Eat a solid, carb-rich meal beforehand for the energy to get you through.
    * Be sure you have lot of friends around to help cheer you on.
    * It’s really important to pace yourself for the entire event. Slow and steady wins the race.
    * When you finish, you have a sense of accomplishment to last a lifetime.

Sake Hana CrowdOK, well maybe not that last one, but almost. When I arrived, the tasting was already in full swing. Toshi was greeting folks at the door selling tickets for the event. Once inside, the space had been transformed into “tasting mode”. Only a few tables in the main space set up for delicious appetizers and the brewers, introducing and pouring their sake, were stationed behind the bar.

Pouring Sake at Sake HanaThe 78th st. location brought in a healthy mix of native Japanese expats, Upper East Side locals, American professional types and a few guys obviously trying to impress their dates with some super premium Nihonshu.

The sakes were set up down the length of the bar in order from 1-10. I saw some people doggedly tasting each sake in numerical order. I decided to try a more “chaos theory” oriented approach to tasting. This amounted to: Squeezing up to the bar where ever I found an opening, getting my glass filled with a few sips, chatting with the particular brewer, then stepping back for some appetizers. Rinse and Repeat.

I’ll report briefly on each sake I tried in the order I sampled them.

Dassai 23% junmai daiginjo3) Dassai 23% Junmai Daiginjo. Ok, I tried this one first – everyone was swarming to try the Dassai 23% from the Asahi sake brewery– and with good reason. the 23 means this sake was made with rice that had 77% of it’s outer hull ground away and only 23% of the original rice grain remained. This is the finest milling that is done in Japan. This sake tasted very very smooth and clean. Check out this picture to see the original rice grains on the left and the same amount of rice after milling on the right. Amazing. The subtle quality of this refined sake is what you notice first. Please try this sake if you can find it in your area. you won’t regret it. The Brewery rep even had a mini model of the Dassai 23%, which is very cute and tiny and Japanese.

Miho Imada and ColleagueNext I tried the three sakes from Imada Sake Brewery in Hiroshima. An interesting note about the Imada brewery is that they have a female Toji or Brew master, Miho Imada. She’s pictured on the left, holding a bottle of her great Moon on the Water Junmai Ginjo with a Imada Brewery colleague to the right.
8) Moon on the Water Junmai Ginjo. This Ginjo was nice and solid. not too soft and not too dry.
Then I tried:
7) Biho Junmai Ginjo. This Sake was sharp and dry.
The most interesting from Imada Brewery was sake number 8… Fukucho Hattansou 30% Junmai Daiginjo.

Kasuhiro from Dassai BreweryThis very refined and unusual sake is made using Hattansou sake rice which was uncultivated for 100 years. No other brewery in Japan uses this rice and this sake is not for sale in NYC. I found the taste of this sake to be immediately unique, even before I knew about the special rice. The literature describes the texter to be that of cotton candy. I don’t know about that, but there was a carnival going on in my taste buds while sipping this one.

After a little appetizer break I made my way to the Gassan Brewery area. Gassan means “moon mountain” in English. I enjoyed tasting both number 5… Gassan Junmai Ginjo and number 6… Gassan houjun-karakuchi. Gassan makes a note of how it’s made with a super soft water with low mineral content. This does give Gassan sakes a unique flavor.

Gassan SakesGassan was serving a secret Daiginjo sake not on the list which we dubbed sake number “5.5” — You can see these Gassan Sakes in the photo on the left.

Then I worked my way over to the Tenzan Brewery and tasted number 10…Tenzan Hotarugawa and number 11… Jizake Tenzan. The Jizake Tenzan is a well known sake here in the states. The bottle is wrapped in a bamboo leaf, so it’s not easy to miss on the shelf. The gentleman standing next to me told me he always had Jizake Tenzan on hand at home. This is a genshu sake which is undiluted with water after the brewing process. This makes for one strong sake!

Dassai NigoriI finished by circling back to Dassai to sample number 1… Dassai 50 Junmai Ginjo, number 2 Dassai Nigori and number 4 Dassai Funebakumi Gensu. All delicious with that fine elegant thread that runs through all the Dassai products.

All in all, this was just a great evening! So many nice folks and a very friendly atmosphere. It’s Obvious Toshi and everyone at Sake Hana worked very hard to make the night a success. If you get the chance to go to a Sake Hana tasting – you should go! but that’s just between you and me, ok?

Just when things where winding down, Toshi suprised everyone when the sake infused ice cream came out of the kitchen for all the guests. my two favorite things in one glass! sake and ice cream! I couldn’t think of a nicer way to ease across the finish line! Kanpai!