Dancyu magazine’s top sake of 2014

Dancyu magazine’s top sake of 2014

Dancyu is a cult foodie magazine in Japan. Each year, the editors put together a special Sake edition, where, among other things, they compile lists of top sake. 2014 edition has several lists of best of the best, around several themes: modern, traditional, local, food-friendly, neo-classic. I plan to go through all of them, but tonight I give you the top 7 modern sake – according to Dancyu!  (My sensei John Gauntner thinks they are spot-on).  Juyondai, Nabeshima, Dassai are all on this list – no surprises there! I wish the entire lineup was waiting for me in the fridge. Alas, in Australia, we only have Dassai 23.   1. Jūyondai tokubetsu honjōzō    2. Jikon Tokubetsu Junmai   3.  Kamoshibito Kuheiji Junmai Ginjō   4. Dassai 23 Junmai Daiginjō   5. Nabeshima Tokubetsu Junmai   6. Ippaku Suisei Tokubetsu Junmai   7. Hiroki Tokubetsu...

Read More

Top 10 sake brands in Australia

Top 10 sake brands in Australia

So, I have created a few sake lists…but those lists were not really Australia-specific. Here’s the top sake brands you can buy and drink in Australia right now. We might not have the incredible variety the sake drinkers enjoy in Japan, or even US, but we do have some real gems! In no particular order:             1. Dassai – a sleek marketing machine of brand, Dassai has established its presence at top restaurants all over the world. Aromatic, delicate and delicious.  Dassai 50 is my favourite.  I’ve seen it on the menu at Izakaya Masuya and  Toko in Sydney. Plenty of other places probably have it too. 2. Hakkaisan –slightly heavier than typical Niigata style but very clean and crisp. Very popular in both Japan and overseas. 3. Kozaemon – a popular brand in Gifu, exclusively imported by the Sake restaurant.  Drink it at their Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane branches. 4. Kubota – anther clean and smooth representative of Niigata prefecture style, very popular.  Masuya, Toko, Sokyo, Azuma all have it on their menus – I am sure it can be found elsewhere, too. 5. Nanbu Bijin (Southern Beauty) – elegant, aromatic, exquisite.  Toko, Sokyo. 6. Eikun – typical example of Kyoto elegance. “Ichigin” is their proudest  representative, expensive and splendid. Worth the price tag. I have seen it for sale online, just a quick Google away. 7. Nagaragawa – they play healing music to the sake while it’s brewing.  The result is beautiful indeed. Chef’s Armoury are the exclusive importers. Smart move! Get it online or in their Melbourne store.   8. Nabeshima – very popular and demand outstrips supply in Japan. We are quite fortunate to have it in Australia. Pop into Annandale cellars (or their online store), or dine in style at Mr Wong. This is the importer Black Market’s bestselling sake, so many a trendy restaurant in capital cities will feature it on their wine/sake lists. 9. Otokoyama – a well-brewed, inexpensive, hugely popular brand from Hokkaido. Order it at Mr Wong, the cheapest sake on the menu. Available online. 10. Tatsuriki – sake from the famous brewing area of Hyogo that has been winning plenty of critical acclaim during its 95 year history. Definitely one of the top brands in Japan but is currently flying under the radar in Australia.  Buy it online. Want to read more about sake? I am the official Australian reseller of Sake Today magazine, the first ever English-language publication dedicated solely to...

Read More

My top 5 sake

My top 5 sake

Top sake brands – how many? I have already written about (an arbitrary) list of current top 5 sake in Japan.  I say arbitrary because there are hundreds of stellar sake brands. Sake brewers pour so much effort, precision, and love into their craft, more often than not, they end up making something delicious. There are about 1250 active breweries in Japan, and John Gauntner, the father of modern-day sake appreciation, recommends about 400 sake brands. That means one in three breweries produce something worth seeking out. In the presence of so much great sake, how do particular brands become super-popular and end up in various “top 10” lists? There is, of course, marketing. More importantly, much sake is still brewed using very traditional and labour-intensive methods, and its production cannot be easily increased. Owners might simply be unwilling to move the brewery into a bigger building. They might not want to move away from the source of water, or might be worried that the change of ambience will effect the quality of sake. They might not want to invest millions into very expensive equipment. Limited supply creates cult following. Most of the time, though, their reputation is well deserved. Slava’s top 5 sake Last month, I tried over a hundred sake. Most of that epic effort happened while I was studying with John Gauntner. As you can imagine, attempting such a concentrated tasting over a short period of time has a potential to tire out one’s palate. The brands I am including below are the ones that cut through the noise instantly and powerfully. So, I give you: 1. Isojiman Junmai Ginjō.   I have already included it in my “Top 5 sake in Japan” list. The reputation is well deserved indeed. The brew had the clarity of cold mountain air. I am not making these descriptions up, these were my actual notes from the evening! I might or might not have imbibed enough of great sake to feel more lyrical than usual that night. It began with the delicate fragrance of white peaches.  On the palate, it was fragrant, sweet, elegant, and smoothly resolved with a somewhat dry finish. Brewed with precision. Superb.               2. Sugata Junmai Ginjō I wondered if I should include Sugata in my top 5. Most likely, this sake will never make it to Australia, or anywhere else. The sake we drank was also a shinshu (new sake, not yet matured for the obligatory 6 months) muroka nama genshu. Unfiltered, unpasteurised, undiluted. What are the chances of seeing it in Australia? Probably slim to none. Unless we ask the Black Market Sake guys nicely. That brew, however,  was pure joy...

Read More

Top 5 sake in Japan

Top 5 sake in Japan

There are around 1300 breweries in Japan, many making more than one brand of sake (and under each umbrella brand, several varieties). That’s quite a lot of bottles to get through to find a good drop.  Throw in the language barrier in the mix, and the resulting confusion is enough to make the less adventurous drinker give up the search. Fret not. There is a definitive list of most popular sake brands that you can use as you begin your exploration. Here’s the top 5 sake brands in Japan – three of them are even available in Australia! Print it and take with you on your next trip to Japan. Or keep it handy for your next online sake shop. Be mindful that I am just scratching a surface here. There are dozens of famous, standout brands, and hundreds of very good ones in Japan. But one has to start somewhere, and why not with the brands below? Each of them is very famous.     #1 Juyondai Juyondai enjoys a cult status both in Japan and around the world. It is hard to find. Juyondai is produced by Takagi Shuzo brewery, which was established in the 17th century. Hence, the name that translates as “Fourteenth Generation.”  I heard  that strictly speaking, it is the 15th generation that is at the helm currently, but oh well – the name is too, too famous to change! Where possible, they use centuries-old methods but also experiment a lot, making the brewery both traditional and ground-breaking. A lot of their sake is not pasteurised.  Such labour of love, of course, means that production quantities are limited. If you see Juyondai on the drinks menu, consider yourself lucky and order it immediately! Expect it to be fragrant, fruity, delicate and very drinkable.           #2 Nabeshima  Nabeshima, from Fukuchiyo Shuzō brewery in Saga prefecture, is another artisanal, unpasteurised, hard-to find sake. We, Australians, are quite lucky that a local company, Black Market Sake, imports it into Australia.  I have already written a review of Nabeshima, so won’t go too deeply into the flavour profile of  this stellar daiginjō. I will simply add that this sake has a top reputation in Japan and is the Black Market’s besteller in Australia. Quick, order it, before the stocks run dry.           # 3 Hakkaisan Hakkaisan is anything but a small-production sake. Instead,  Hakkaisan brewery exports all over the world and dominates in both domestic and international markets. Despite large-scale operations, Hakkaisan’s reputation as a top brand is well deserved. Hakkaisan is, fortunately, another sake available in Australia. I have seen it online as well as in many Japanese restaurants. You might consider its Junmai Ginjō, as its clean and crisp flavour is sure to...

Read More