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All about Taka sake – the OTHER beauty from Yamaguchi (it is not just about Dassai!)

Posted by on August 11, 2015 in People of sake world, Uncategorized | Comments Off on All about Taka sake – the OTHER beauty from Yamaguchi (it is not just about Dassai!)

All about Taka sake – the OTHER beauty from Yamaguchi (it is not just about Dassai!)

Yamaguchi prefecture – not just about Dassai

 

Yamaguchi prefecture is tucked away in the south-western tip of Japan’s main island Honshu. Among the sake-uninitiated, is best known for the pleasant tourist town Iwakuni.

When it comes to sake, Yamaguchi prefecture is known as the home of Dassai. Gorgeously scented, delicate, delicious, super-premium Dassai.

What sake drinkers need to know – urgently! – is that Yamaguchi sake scene is not limited to Dassai. In the city of Ube, another brewer is making headily aromatic, but a touch more complex, and dare I say exciting, sake. The brewery is Nagayama Honke. It was established in 1888. The fourth generation owner/master brewer Takahiro Nagayama has taken over the brewery in the 2001. Under his direction, sake brewing at Nagayama Honke took a radical new turn. He committed to only brewing junmai sake, made with local rice. The result of the new approach  is Taka, a namesake brand of sake. (“Taka”, which means “noble”, is the first character of Takahiro’s name – 貴).

Taka sake review

 

Like many brewers in Sakenet portfolio, Nagayama Honke is also a rice farmer, growing Yamada Nishiki in the fields surrounding it.

Since 2001, Taka brand has become very well-known for its opulent tropical fruit fragrance, balanced by robust flavours and acidity. It is a sake for the modern palate, crafted using traditional techniques.

Not so long ago, Mr and Mrs Nagayama visited Sydney, and I was very fortunate to meet them and talk about their sake.

Mr and Mrs Nagayama

 

Nagayama-san told me that his careful, slow brewing ensures that sake has enough time to develop robust flavours that would last long after the bottle has been opened. “A lot of modern aromatic sakes are big on fragrance and low of flavour. Once opened, they very quickly lose their appeal. It is not a problem in Japan, where izakayas move sake fast. However, in Australia, an izakaya or bar might have to keep the open bottle for weeks, and high fragrance/low flavour sake would get a little worse each day. My sake keeps its flavour very well, so is very well suited to the Australian market”.

We also talked sake yeasts. Nagayama-san uses sake yeast #9 throughout the entire range, as he believes it is the best yeast to do justice to the high-quality Yamada Nishiki and Omachi sake rice he uses. He said that it is becoming fashionable to experiment with new mega-aromatic yeasts, like #16 and #18. He, however, sticks to the traditional #9, to avoid the unfortunate “all fragrance no flavour” scenario he mentioned earlier.

Taka sake – what to drink

In a nutshell, everything. I tasted five varieties, and I have to review all of them. Each offered something great.

 Taka Junmai Ginjō Omachi

  • Rice: Omachi
  • Alcohol: 16.5%
  • Seimai-buai 50%
  • SMV: +3
  • Acidity: 1.5
  • Sake yeast #9

In two words, opulent and complex. Fragrance and upfront flavour is a full-on fruity experience, dominated by melon and green apples, but fruitiness is supported by a strong umami backbone. Umami in this sake comes from the rice it is made with, Omachi. It has a short, smooth finish, and a quick hit of spiciness at the end.

This rich and delicious ginjō will go well with wagyu and other meat dishes. This was probably my favourite in the range.

Taka Junmai Ginjo Omachi

Taka Junmai Ginjō Yamadanishiki

  • Rice: Yamadanishiki grown in Yamaguchi
  • Seimai-buai 50%
  • SMV:
  • Sake yeast #9

This sake has settled, light, sweet, fruity flavour. Candy-like sweetness is tempered by a gentle dose of acidity, although at the end, the sake is resolved with dryness and spiciness. Yamadanishiki Ginjō has some fruity parallels with Omachi Ginjō, but it is much lighter-bodied.

It will go well with sashimi and other fish. Would do great as an aperitif.

Taka Junmai Ginjo Yamada Nishiki

Taka Junmai Yamahai Omachi (23 BY vintage)

  • Rice: Omachi
  • Alcohol:15.8%
  • Seimai-buai 60%
  • SMV: +2
  • Acidity: 2.1
  • Sake yeast #9

A very full nose combining leather, yogurt and honey. Acidity-laden, but sweet notes are there, too. Very heavy and full flavour with a proper yamahai gaminess and punch. This sake is ageing, too, and some of the fullness could be explained by age, rather than type.

Even though it is designated as “junmai”, the rice has been milled to ginjō level.

Taka yamahai junmai

Taka Tokubetsu Junmai

  • Rice: Yamada Nishiki/Hattan Nishiki
  • Alcohol:15.5%
  • Seimai-buai 60%
  • Sake yeast #9

This sake is Nagayama Honke’s bestseller. Gentle aroma with a barely-there presence of apples. Settled, clean, with a citrus-like acidity and a dry finish. Easy- drinking, well-executed, elegant sake. A sure bet if you are after sake that will compliment a variety of food.

 

taka tokubetsu junmai

Taka Junmai Nōjun Karakuchi 80%

  • Rice: Yamada Nishiki
  • Alcohol:15.5%
  • Seimai-buai 80
  • SMV: +8
  • Sake yeast #9

An elegant, but very dry, junmai. Overflowing with acidity, but also featuring fruity sweet notes. It is more herbaceous, than fruity, however. Coriander, liquorice and fennel notes dance together in this dry, food-friendly drop.

Taka nojun karakuchi junmai

 

Kampai!

Hanzo Umeshu

Posted by on August 3, 2015 in Sake Reviews | Comments Off on Hanzo Umeshu

Hanzo Umeshu

Hanzo Umeshu

Summary:

A harmony of ume fruit and sake. What more could you want?

Acohol: 12.5%

Prefecture Mie

Price: $43.95 from Chef’s Armoury.

 

 

 

Review

 

2015-07-28 18.50.14

The amber goodness of umeshu

Those who know me well, know I am partial to umeshu. Umeshu is a Japanese liqueur made by steeping ume fruit in alcohol (“shu” is a suffix signifying alcoholic drink). Here’s a detailed guide to Umeshu I wrote a while ago.

Umeshu flavour is like nothing else. I am certain there are ume receptors in our brain, just like there are for chocolate and other not so legal feel-good substances.

Despite the universal appeal of ume flavour, all umeshu is not made equal. Makers can be heavy-handed with sugar additions, and the resulting syrupy concoction is only palatable when greatly diluted with ice. Then, there is a breed that stands apart – umeshu made with good sake.

Hanzo Umeshu is made by Ota sake brewery, a small kura in Iga-Ueno, also known as the ninja town. It is in every guidebook – look it up on your next trip to Kyoto. Ota brewery uses famous Minabe ume plums, grown in the picturesque Wakayama prefecture. Hanzo sake is named after Hattori Hanzo, the head of an important ninja family, who came into prominence during the Tokugawa shogun rule (not Hattori Hanzo the master swordsmith, from Kill Bill). Either way, Hanzo sake has a lot of cultural icons weaved into its mythology.

Memorable references aside, Hanzo Umeshu is delicious. You don’t have to reach for ice – it is pefectly fine on its own. There is a delicate balance between sweet lusciousness of ume and sharpness of sake.  It is viscous and velvety, but the finish is refreshingly dry. I had it as an aperitif, straight, and you would do well to drink it as a dessert wine, too. Highly recommended.

 

Hanzo umeshu sake review

Sake begins with rice – Izumibashi sake

Posted by on July 19, 2015 in Uncategorized | 2 comments

Sake begins with rice – Izumibashi sake

Sake begins with rice

 

Sake begins with rice – this is the mantra that many sake educators begin their lessons with. I am no exception. Rice is not just the starch that ferments and turns into sake. Rice is the heart of sake flavour.

That is why many brewers go to great lengths to secure each year’s supply of best rice. For example, Asahi Shuzō, the brewer of super-popular Dassai sake, has turned to computer technology  to make sure it gets its annual order of Yamada Nishiki rice fulfilled. It has partnered with Fujitsu to provide cloud-based crop management technology to rice farmers in its home prefecture Yamaguchi, so that the farmers can increase the production of Yamada Nishiki. The mighty Dewazakura shuzō of Yamagata prefecture spent 11 years developing a new sake rice strain Dewa 33. Dewa 33 rice (pronounced “dewa san san”) raised the profile of not just Dewazakura, but Yamagata sake in general.  Dewazakura makes a highly regarded “Dewa San San junmai ginjō” sake with it.

Another facet of the rice/sake relationship is that traditionally, breweries have been the employer of rice farmers through winter. It was a logical symbiosis. Sake brewing, of course, couldn’t start until rice was harvested around October. Not only rice became available, the temperatures dropped, too. Sake fermentation performs best at cold temperatures. Breweries all over the country arose from their summer-long slumber and began production. They needed hands, and rice farmers, who had finished their summer work, came to breweries to work through a winter brewing season. Grow rice in summer, brew sake in winter.  (This pattern of employing seasonal workers is changing now. Fewer and fewer people are willing to work non-stop for months, away from their families. Breweries have had to find local workers or convince their families to step into the brewing shoes.)

And yet, some breweries have an even tighter relationship with rice farming. They grow rice themselves. Izumibashi is one such brewery. In their words, “sake begins with rice making”.

 

About Izumibashi Sake Brewery

 

Izumibashi brewery building in rice fields

The view of Izumibashi brewery from its rice fields. Source: Izumibashi.

Izumibashi brewery is in Ebina city in Kanagawa prefecture. It was founded in 1857. Kanagawa is adjacent to Tokyo, and gets a lot of tourist traffic owning to its landmarks – Yokohama and Hakone.

Surrounding the brewery are rice fields. Many of those fields are cultivated by Izumibashi itself. In 1996, the brewery  began growing its own rice. Now, they cultivate over 40 hectares of rice fields – a mixture of own and rented land. 

Izumibashi brewery puts an emphasis on natural farming methods. While not going 100% organic, Izumibashi grows rice with minimal use of agrichemicals. Using natural methods to increase vitality and strength of plants, it grows rice that is naturally pest-resistant. Izumibashi has been able to reduce the use of agrichemicals by 96-100% of the existing prefecture standard.

The brewery also works with the local Sake Rice Association to re-cultivate unused land and promote natural farming methods. As a result, all farmers they work with have reduced the use of agrichemicals to 60% of allowable level.

Izumibashi dragonfly in the rice field

Red dragonfly, Izumibashi symbol, is never too far from the brewery.

The red dragonfly, the symbol of Izumibashi, favours rice fields. Izumibashi believes that it has seen the increase in dragonfly numbers – a result of using less chemicals. A nice sort of symmetry in that, don’t you think?

Izumibashi brewers also mill the rice they use in their sake. While a few brewers do that, the majority outsource this task. Izumibashi’s staff assess the quality of rice that comes to the brewery, which can differ by strain, origin and even the weather of each summer, and polish the rice according to their findings. From growing to polishing, rice gets a lot of attention at Izumibashi!

Izumibashi only brews junmai sake, which means the brewers do not add any distilled alcohol to sake at any stage. While addition of a small amount of alcohol at the end of the brewing process is a valid technical step in sake brewing (it helps draw out alcohol-soluble flavours), a small number of breweries believe that it can be avoided with enough effort and skill.

 

Izumibashi sake

 

Izumibashi sake lineupSo, what sake does Izumibashi brew? Sakenet Australia bring a huge selection of Izumibashi sake. A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to meet Hashiba san, the president of the brewery and the 6th generation owner. He visited Australia on a whirlwind promotional tour, spending a few days in Sydney. Sakenet organised an industry workshop, where I had the luxury of tasting through the 10-strong sake selection.  My palate was sharpened the same night as I returned to the Kubrics bar for the public sake tasting dinner with a few Sake Club members.

To me, the strength of Izumibashi was in its junmai sake, as well as traditionally fermented kimoto and yamahai sake. Sturdy, dry sake, edging on the rich side. Here, I review the sakes which I liked the most.

Izumibashi “Tonbo 7gō Shinriki” Nama Genshu Junmai Kimoto

I began the tasting with a special treat indeed. Fresh nama genshu, bottled in March 2015. For non-nerds, the long name means it is non-pasteurised, non-diluted, traditionally fermented without the addition of lactic acid to the starter.

Oh, to drink nama in good condition in Australia! It was delicious, creamy, sweet, with lychees dominating. Light astringency was playing on the tongue. Lovely nama brashness, which can quickly grow dull, unless stored correctly. It was also served at the dinner, heated, and the heat brought forward tons of umami savouriness. Highly recommended, get it while it is available. (No brewery picture for this beauty, just my own from the tasting. )

Izumibashi nama genshu

Izumibashi  “Megumi Blue Label” Junmai Ginjō

  • Rice: Yamadanishiki grown in Ebina
  • Seimai-buai 58%
  • SMV: +14
  • Sake yeast #9

Izumibashi Ginjo Megumi Ao label

 

With the SMV of +14, this sake is dry indeed. Overall, light and dry sake, overlaid with some fruity impressions, and a touch of bitterness. It had quite a low impact on the nose, mostly rice. Very calm, settled sake, and very dry. There, I said “dry” three times, so you know it is dry!

 

Izumibashi “Hajime” Yamahai Ginjō

  • Yamadanishiki grown in Ebina
  • Seimai-buai 58%
  • SVM: +6
  • Vintage: 21 BY

For me, this sake was a showstopper. The label said that it was brewed in 2009. That is old! Hashiba san told me that it was the first time he tried his “Hajime” that old. Hajime means “the beginning, the first”, so our conversation seemed rather fateful.

Still, the sake was in great condition. It was still clean, still elegant. Straight on the nose, you could sense aged richness. On the palate, it was honey mixed with gaminess, earthiness. Think of mushrooms in a dark forest.  Such gaminess is the trademark of yamahai style. The ageing also brought forward an intense combination of straw, rice and a little cheesiness. It was rich and complex yet elegant. Dry finish. In Hashiba san’s words, it was just right to drink. So find it and drink it, before the ageing works against it. (Although it might get even better, you never know!)

Izumibashi Hajime sake

Izumibashi “Megumi Red Lable” Junmai

  • Yamadanishiki grown in Ebina
  • Seimai-buai: 65%
  • SMV: +8
  • BY 25 – brewed in 2013, shipped in 2014.

Megumi Red Label was clean on the nose, but sweet and rich on the palate. Some sweet apple notes. It was ageing very well (about 2 years old). Drink it now as it is just right. “Megumi” means “blessing” in Japanese. A lazy pun is rolling off my fingertips, but I will restrain myself…or will I? Go on, be blessed!

 

Izumibashi megumi red label sake

Izumibashi “Akane Izumibashi” Junmai Yamahai

  • Rice: Kame-no-O, grown on Izumibashi’s own rice fields
  • Seimai-buai 70%
  • Rice grown on Izumibashi own rice fields.
  • SMV: +5
  • Vintage: 24BY (just over 2 years old).

Rich, sweet, delicious yamahai with a full-on dry tail. Rich flavour of rice, dried fruits and umami layered over each other, in a delicious layer cake.

Izumibashi Akane Junmai Yamahai

I think that’s enough to get you started! Go to sakenet website and get it now!

Kampai!

Sakenet – the sake, the people, the philosophy.

Posted by on June 15, 2015 in People of sake world, Uncategorized | 2 comments

Sakenet – the sake, the people, the philosophy.

Sakenet – the introduction

Selling saké is not our main purpose, our true purpose is introducing these saké, saké makers and their philosophy. So we have no choice, because we love to do this – Masahiro Takahashi.

I feel bad. I’ve had the Sake Guide website for almost two years now, and still haven’t covered Sakenet. Sakenet is a Sydney-based importer (with a Melbourne outpost). Their sake portfolio is vast – 26 breweries, several products from each. Sakenet guys bring important brands – think Taketsuru, Tamagawa, Izumibashi. Those brands are not easy. It takes a certain level of sake experience to understand and appreciate them.

In saying that, I have a confession to make.  I first went to Sakenet tasting in 2014. Tasting through the lineup, I wondered.  “Could this be right? The sake tastes, well, old! ”

I asked Rey Takahashi, the Sakenet representative on the day, when the sake was opened.

“About a week ago”, he said. “Here, try this daiginjō warm”.

Coming from John Gauntner’s school of sake, I was baffled. Sake opened a week before tasting? Daiginjōs sitting in hot water baths? I had been enjoying fresh, chilled, clear-as-morning-dew sakes from Nagano and Shizuoka. What was going on?

I asked my sake sensei John Gaunter if I was missing something. As it turns out, I was.

There are sake brands that are tough against oxidation, brands that are meant to taste mature, even “old”. There are daiginjōs that will taste better warmed up. There is just a handful of those brands, and Sakenet found them. Shinkame, Taketsuru (toji at Taketsuru used to work at Shinkame, by the way). Fusotsuru, Bentenmusume, Tamagawa – all exceptions to the contemporary trend of fragrant, delicate daiginjos that come to your table chilled, in a glass.

So our first encounter was a sake lesson for me. You learn nothing until you are proven wrong!

Since then, I attended a few more Sakenet tastings, and got to know the family behind the company.

The patriarch, Sakae Takahashi, lives the life of abundance He has a big sake portfolio and a big family. He runs the company with his son Rey and son-in-law Masahiro (who goes by the name Taka). Taka is also part of the successful creative duo Dear Plastic.  The other half of Dear Plastic is Sakae’s daughter Yumi Takahashi, Taka’s wife. Another daughter, Miwa Takahashi, is also an artist and designer. Too much talent in one family, if you ask me.

Sakae Takahashi opened Sydney’s first yakitori bar, Toriciya. He has sold it since, but Toriciya was the start of the family’s sake journey. 20 years ago, the only sake he could find in Australia was machine-made sake from large sake makers. Sakae realised that if he wanted to serve good sake, he had to import it himself. Sakae travelled to Japan and went from kura to kura, attending local tastings and talking to brewers. Whenever he liked a sake, he asked the brewer to sell it to him. The first two kura that agreed to sell sake to him were Asahikiku and Morinokura.

 

Asahikiku Junmai Kimoto 24 BY

Asahikiku Junmai Kimoto 24 BY. Unmistakable edge of gaminess, umami that is so often present in kimoto sake. Still very clear, light-bodied, fruity, sweet, with dry finish. Enjoyable, easy-drinking sake.

Asahikiku Junmai Daichi

Asahikiku Junmai Daichi. Some dried fruit sweetness on the first sip, very dry but well-rounded, with soft edges.

Morinokura Komagura 20 years 6 BY

Morinokura “Komagura 20 years” 6 BY. Bottled in 1994. That is OLD! Delicious, too, with a herbal nose and a velvety palate of liquorice and wood.

 

Slowly, more kura came onboard, and Sakae built up the portfolio to 26 brands. Now, what to drink? This variety is dizzying. The Asahikiku sake (pictures with tasting notes above this paragraph) is quite easy to drink and great for beginners. Another brand to try is Taka – starkly modern, fruity sake. Both Asahikiku and Taka brands are Sakenet bestsellers.
Taka Junmai Ginjo Yamadanishiki

Taka Junmai Ginjo Yamadanishiki – intensely melony with some green apple.

Taka Junmai Ginjo Omachi

Taka Junmai Ginjo Omachi – broader, heavier palate, as befits sake made from Omachi rice.

Feeling more adventurous? Time to step onto another level and explore sake not so straightforward. You can’t miss Tamagawa. Tamagawa is brewed by Philip Harper, the only non-Japanese tōji working in Japan. A graduate of Nanbu tōji guild, Harper is a maniacal brewer, dedicated to tradition and willing to experiment with ageing and using wild yeasts. A lot of yamahais and kimotos are coming out of that brewery. If you ever wanted to try a ginjō that is suited to be warmed up, Tamagawa Junmai Ginjō Omachi is for you.
I believe sakés like Tamagawa, Fusōzuru, Takesturu and Shinkamé are not the sort of sakés that can be understood in one sitting. Like a Beethoven string quartet, they are filled with subtle complexities that aren’t immediately obvious. It takes time to get to know them – Rey Takahashi.
Tamagawa Ginjo Junmai Omachi

Tamagawa Junmai Ginjo Omachi. Bold, full-flavoured sake, with an earthy aroma of nut and herbs and some fruits, too. A thinking man’s sake.

Another favourite of mine is Fusotsuru (alternative spelling is Fusozuru). I was very impressed by the Junmai Ginjo Yamadanishiki, brewed in 2013/14 season. Do warm it up this winter, too.
Fusotsuru Junmai Ginjo Yamadanishiki 25 BY

Fusotsuru Junmai Ginjo Yamadanishiki 25 BY. Wonderful warmed up, settled, rich flavour with notes of rice and honey.

 

Ready for something even more interesting? Sakenet also import Izumibashi, a well-respected brand from Kanagawa. Brewers are fastidious about creating a truly local, ecologically clean sake, and grow their own rice.

 

Izumibashi Junmai Ebinagouchi

Izumibashi Junmai Ebinagouchi. Made from Yamadanishiki grown in Ebina Plains, where the brewery stands. Yeasty, earthy aroma. A note of bitterness and heavy on umami. Dry and heavy.

 

So far, only six brands covered! I will leave the remaining 20 for another day. I hope your interest in Sakenet sake is piqued by now.

Another thing that Sakenet do differently is the way they treat their sake. In my classes, and my website, I often speak about how important it is to store sake properly. Keep it chilled. Drink it fresh, drink it quickly. Sakenet take a different approach. They maintain that all their brands, once opened, will last 6-7 months, even out of the fridge. I know that many in the sake industry will contest this point. My favourite deadline for drinking freshly opened sake is 2 weeks. Several distributors and brewers told me sake should keep well for a month after opening.

So, why so different? I have already mentioned that several brands in the Sakenet portfolio are indeed brewed to be tough against oxidation. So the brand selection is one reason. Another side of the equation is personal preference. As Taka told me, he would sometimes open a bottle and find it “tasting too fresh”. He then would leave it for a day or two, until it tasted suitably settled.

My advice – experiment yourself. Buy a bottle and drink it over time. See how the taste changes. See what you prefer. There are no hard and fast rules.

 To me it is important that saké has been made with loving care and attention—the workers who make good saké are on duty 24 hours a day! I don’t focus on ageing or the need to keep saké for a long time, but if the saké has been properly made, it will age well – Sakae Takahashi.

 

Sakenet – the interview

 

Now, to the interesting stuff. I asked Sakae, Rey and Taka about how they choose their sake, how they drink it – and how often they drink it!

Sake Guide: How do you choose which sake to import? Is there an underpinning philosophy? 

SAKAE:

Around the time of the Sydney Olympics I came across a book about saké, written by Hiroshi Uehara, who worked in the Japanese Department of Taxation in Hiroshimae. He was in charge of the section that deals with the saké industry. This section is not only concerned with collecting taxes from the various sectors of the saké industry, but also with the quality of the saké produced. Hiroshi Uehara’s book sets out in detail the steps necessary to produce good saké—it is equivalent to the saké-makers’ bible. On visits to Japan I tried many of these top sakés and found that my taste in saké is very similar to his. To me it is important that saké has been made with loving care and attention—the workers who make good saké are on duty 24 hours a day! I don’t focus on ageing or the need to keep saké for a long time, but if the saké has been properly made, it will age well.

 

REY:

My requirements for choosing saké are: 1. The saké can be enjoyed at a range of temperatures. 2. Saké that develops with age. 3. Saké that cooperates with food, a wide variety of food.
As for the saké makers, I like saké makers that are just as interested in ‘how’ they make something as ‘what’ they make. I like the makers who take the time and effort to make something good and take pride in what they make and what they do. I especially like the saké makers who love and drink the saké that they make.
I like saké makers who are interested in the welfare and development of saké makers (the workers who make the saké.)
Finally I like saké makers who I like to hang out with, saké makers who I like to drink saké with! I believe that the personality and the energy of the makers comes out in the saké.

 

TAKA:

We only import saké that we want to drink. With new saké, we will taste it before we decide to import it. For this reason, each of us travel to Japan at least once a year. However with some seasonal or limited saké, due to timing, we have to import without tasting. In this case, our strong connection with saké drinkers, izakaya restaurants, local bottle shops and saké makers in Japan help with collecting information about these saké.

More than the taste, we have a clear philosophy when selecting saké. The last 100 years, the technologies of saké making has changed drastically. Some of them are not purely for creating quality saké, and the importing of western technologies has accelerated these changes too.

These changes now have a long history and have become a part of Japanese tradition.

However, our saké makers are passionate about the saké history before those changes came about. This is what they believe saké should be.

Sakenet Australia also believes and supports these saké makers and their philosophy.

The ageing is part of this philosophy. Similar to wine, it has been thought that saké gains complexity with ageing.

This isn’t only about the taste. If saké had to be consumed very quickly, saké would be only available in Spring to early Summer. But Japanese people have consumed saké in all seasons.

Additionally we believe that the ability of ageing and long life is a key factor for worldwide distribution. And this is why saké could be transported from locals to the big city (like Edo) a long time ago.

 

Sake Guide: Why do you choose sake with more challenging flavour profile? Do you think you make your job harder because of your preferences? 

 

SAKAE:

Choosing saké with a more challenging flavour profile provides more complexity and interest in the drinking experience. I don’t know whether doing this makes my job harder or not. Maybe it demands more educating of the consumer’s palate.

 

REY:

Our sakés are not the fashionable modern sakés, primarily because they are not to our taste. We enjoy ‘traditional’ saké culture; for us traditional saké culture is pre WW2 saké culture, Japanese saké culture that has developed over hundreds of years, as a part of Japanese food culture. Traditional Japanese saké culture is a very unique saké culture, unlike any other fermented beverage culture in the world. As mentioned above saké(traditionally made saké) is designed to be enjoyed heated, i.e. It’s optimal temperature is 40~60˚C. With one bottle of saké(traditional saké) you can do so much, enjoy so many different flavor profiles just by changing the temperature, I find this aspect of saké a lot of fun.

I should mention that Taketsuru and Shinkamé don’t taste “old” from the start, these sakés are aged for a few years before shipping. I believe the complex flavours of matured saké are very good for matching with food (a wide variety of food, not just Japanese food).

When we have done tastings with food, I have noticed, that people really love the matchings with matured sakés.

I believe sakés like Tamagawa, Fusōzuru, Takesturu and Shinkamé are not the sort of sakés that can be understood in one sitting. Like a Beethoven string quartet, they are filled with subtle complexities that aren’t immediately obvious. It takes time to get to know them.

One of the great things about these sakés, and Beethoven, is that you can drink them over and over again and you will not get bored with them. They are sakés for everyday use, to develop a relationship with, not just for a toast.

Maybe marketing this kind of saké is harder, (I’m not sure as I have not tried any other.) but I think working with something you are passionate about makes things easier, and I believe anything that is worth doing comes with a few challenges.

 

TAKA:

Sakenet started introducing saké makers who has the philosophy in my answer to the previous question.

We know that it is a challenging to sell this type of saké in the current market. However, selling saké is not our main purpose, our true purpose is introducing these saké, saké makers and their philosophy. So we have no choice, because we love to do this.

 

One of our criteria for choosing saké is, it should taste better when it is heated. This is not only for Junmai, but Junmai-ginjo and Junmai-daiginjo. This is also an indicator if the saké is good for ageing.

 

Many of saké from Taketsuru or Shinkame are released after a few years ageing in Kura (saké makers site). So these saké are not new from the beginning. These saké makers would like saké to have maturity (calmness), not freshness (fashionable). Shinkame saké maker’s owner, Mr. Ogawahara, says his saké is for adults (over 35 years old), not for kids.

I understand this means saké is similar to people. As it ages, it matures with time.

 

Sake Guide: What are the top selling brands in your portfolio direct to consumers? And, what are the brands that sell best in restaurants? Is there a difference?

 

SAKAE:

Top selling brands direct to the consumers are: Taka and Koikawa. Tamagawa, Koikawa, Morinokura, Izumibashi and Umetsu sell best in restaurants. This difference probably depends on the price at the restaurants and the food that is served.

 

REY:

I think the top selling brands are: Koikawa, Komagura, Asahikiku, Tamagawa, Taka and Suiryu.

 

TAKA:

In Melbourne, at this moment, no particular brand has more popularity compared with other brands. However, some consumers and restaurants start showing their interest to some saké with unique or interesting background. We believe this is a result of our work over the last several years. But we know it is not enough and we should work harder to introduce these saké’s true value.

 

Sake Guide:  Do you feel it is harder to market your sake when you have so many brands, or is it easier?

 

SAKAE:

In total we carry saké from 26 different saké-makers. Again I can’t say whether having so many different brands makes it easier or harder to market our saké. I want to provide a wide range of saké types and flavours to our customers and to do this it is necessary to offer saké from a range of saké-makers.

 

REY:

We have 26 saké makers and 9 shōchū/awamori makers. As far as marketing goes I don’t think it makes it much more difficult as they fit our style of saké culture.

 

TAKA:

We have more than 200 different saké from 26 brands. We are very small family company of only 3 staff members, so at a moment these 26 brands is the maximum for us. But we would like to have more in the future.

Each saké has a different background. The differences are not only about the methods or ingredients.

We have a lot of information and also our own thoughts about each saké. However, this information is sometimes too much for the current market.

So we always try to see our customers’ preferred style /taste or situations. Then we will suggest some saké and show the detail information.

 

Sake Guide: What do you think sake industry needs to do in order to make sake more popular?

 

SAKAE:

For saké to become more popular, ie more widely consumed, I believe education is required at all levels of the industry, from importers to distributers, restaurant, bar and bottle shop owners, as well as the wait staff in restaurants. At Sakenet we run tastings and workshops for professionals working in restaurants and bars, as well as for interested consumers.

For the last two Japanese winters one of our staff members has spent some months working in a few of our saké-makers, gaining first-hand experience of the saké-making process. I believe everyone connected with the industry needs ongoing education.

 

REY:

I believe the Saké industry should stop trying to be like wine. I believe for too long the saké industry has tried too hard to compete with wine, on wine’s turf, (which to me, is like a Judoka fighting a boxer in a boxing ring, under boxing rules) under these conditions saké won’t be judged and respected on it’s own terms.

I believe language is very important, so I would like to get rid of words like “rice wine” and “brewery” (and all other “brew” related words) when talking about saké. Saké is saké and it’s ‘made’ in a “Kura”, just like wine is made in a winery and beer is brewed in a brewery.

The other point is, I believe saké should be served in tokkuri and choko. Choko and tokkuri were designed as a part of saké culture to bring out the best in saké, so I think it should be promoted thus. No one would think of having a traditional tea ceremony with wedgewood china, so I don’t understand saké in wine glasses.

I love wine and beer as much as I love saké and shōchū. Saké is neither better than nor inferior to wine and beer. It is very different from other fermenting traditions. It has its own unique method of production, its own culture and method of consumption, its own aroma and flavor profiles and it has its own vocabulary so let’s use it. Saké is saké and needs to be treated and promoted as saké. I think if people experience saké this way they will have better tools to appreciate and respect saké for what it is.

Yes I think events promoting saké and saké culture are a great way to promote saké.

 

TAKA:

We think that the advertising in magazines or some media is only for a short term.

The face to face communication makes longer and stronger connection between us (or saké, saké makers) to consumers. By our experience, small events are better than large events for this reason, and it works for us too.

We also think, for long term popularity (being a part of the culture), saké industry needs to collaborate with other cultural industries like food, ceramics and arts.

Sakenet Australia has invited saké makers to Australia over the past few years. Last year, we organised a saké and ceramic collaborative exhibition.

This year, we will invite 1 to 2 saké makers every month from June to September.

And we will weave Japanese slow food culture into these events.

 

Sake Guide: And finally – how much sake do you drink yourself? Is there sake with every dinner in Takahashi family? And is there a favourite sake/food pairing?

 

SAKAE:

We do drink saké with dinner most nights. My favourites are Taketsuru, Shinkame, Hiokizakura, Bentenmusume and Asahigiku—warmed, even in summer. It’s hard to say which one is the best. These go with most of our meals and will also go with most Australian meals.

 

REY:

The Takahashi family loves saké and we do get through a fair bit, we have saké with our dinner almost every night of the week. We do try to keep one “alcohol free night”.

For me, my favourite saké pairing is saké and cheese (specifically Suwaizumi Tokubetsu Junmai 20BY and Cremeux D’argental.)

 

TAKA:

My wife and I have “2 go” (360ml) to “3 go” (540ml) of saké together at the dinner everyday, or sometimes we have wine. So I drink 180ml to 270ml everyday (?).

I don’t have a particular favourite pairing of saké with food, I have lots! I have 2 different pairing methods.

  1. Choosing food first, then choosing saké.
  2. Choosing saké first, then choosing food.

For example, for pasta with tomato sauce, I may choose Koikawa Junmai-ginjo “Kameji-kojitsu” at warm temperature.

 Kampai!

Nøgne Ø – Sparkling Sake

Posted by on May 28, 2015 in Sake Reviews, Uncategorized | Comments Off on Nøgne Ø – Sparkling Sake

Nøgne Ø  –  Sparkling Sake

Nøgne Ø  –  Sparkling Sake

Summary:

Delicious, refreshing sake from Norway.

Seimaibuai: 68%,  SMV n/a, Acidity n/a, Acohol: 12.5%

Rice: Ginpu

Prefecture Brewed in Norway!

Price:  n/a

Score – 9/10 grains

 

 

Review

 

2015-03-29 13.23.15

Bubbles dance in the glass

 

Nøgne Ø sparkling sake has a subtle nose of yogurt and pear, and well-pronounced, but smooth acidity. It is laced with impressions of fresh steamed rice, which creates silky and creamy texture underneath the prickly bubbles.

There is an interesting confusion happening as you drink it. It looks like sparkling wine in a champagne glass. It feels, at first, like sparkling wine. But on the palate, it is unmistakably sake. Fun!

Today, Nøgne Ø sparkling sake is not for sale in Australia. Some determined people from Phoenix Beers do bring Nøgne Ø beer to Australia all the way from Norway. Sometimes they bring sake. Let’s just hope they read this blog and get a shipment in.

 

About Nøgne Ø

 

Nogne team

Nogne O team. Source: Nogne O.

 

Nøgne Ø is in Grimstad, on the rugged coast of Southern Norway. Nøgne Ø has a tag line of ”uncompromising brewery”. It started with a group of crazy people who, for several years, worked for free to brew something special. Now, Nøgne Ø  is the Norway’s largest maker of craft beer and exports beer all over the world.

So, how does the beer brewer become a sake brewer? The transition is not as implausible as it seems. Sake is a grain-based brewed product, just like beer. The process begins with starch and ends with alcohol. For a perfectionist brewer, the process of making sake could have familiar attraction. It demands astounding dedication and precision. And a lot of playing around with yeast. In other words, fun.

A testament to the parallels between beer and sake brewing is Nøgne Ø  Red Horizon beer. It is brewed with sake yeast. I was able to find the version brewed with yeast # 7 in Sydney. Rich and full of caramel and fruits – it was a surprising reincarnation of #7. In sake, it manifests in light fragrance and flavours.

Red Horizon beer from Nogne O

Red Horizon beer – version with yeast #7. Source: Nogne O.

 

Nøgne Ø sake journey began when a group of Westerners entered the apprenticeship program at Daimon Shuzō brewery in Osaka in 2009.  One of them was Nøgne Ø co-founder Kjetil Jikiun, another the Canadian Brock Bennett. Kjetil, upon his return to Norway, set about setting up sake production. Soon, Brock joined him as the sake brewer.

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Brock Bennett (far right) and Kjetil Jikiun (the tall guy in the middle) with Yasutaka Daimon san, in front of Daimon shuzo. Source: Tyler LeBrunn (second from the right). It is clear that the blue uniform of Daimon Shuzō didn’t come in Kjetil’s size.

 

Nøgne Ø’s approached brewing sake with the same spirit of being uncompromising. They chose to brew sake yamahai-style. Yamahai is a traditional fermentation method, in which the yeast starter is made with wild lactic acid bacteria. (Most brewers now add lactic acid to speed up fermentation and ensure consistency). At first, they shunned pasteurisation, too, but eventually relented. Unpasteurised sake is incredibly fragile and Western distribution networks are not equipped to deal with it. So the uncompromising brewery “compromised” by pasteurising sake (most sake in Japan is pasteurised). Nøgne Ø sake is sold across the globe, including Japan. It has a bold profile with strong aciditiy, and stands up well to European cuisines. Australia’s top sake publican and sake samurai Andre Bishop, lists it as his favourite.

Currently, Brock Bennett is the sole brewer of all the Nøgne Ø sake, but Kjetil still provides input as the toji.

Sparkling Sake is their latest offering. It is made from the same moromi as Yamahai Motoshibori. After fermenting and maturing, though, it undergoes different processing. It is diluted a touch more, and then carbonated. The sake is the collaborative effort between Kjetil and Brock – from the concept to the final blending. The result is fresh, festive, momentously drinkable sake.

 

What Nøgne Ø has to say about it

Sake Guide chatted to the men behind the Sparkling Sake, to understand what inspired the new release.

 

Sake Guide:  How did the idea come about?

Kjetil: We think that a sparkling sake would be easier to understand than regular sake for ignorant Norwegians.

Brock: We felt that Yamahai Motoshibori was so full of rich acidity and umami, that it would be brilliant diluted down to 12.5 % and carbonated.

 

Sake Guide:   Was there an inspiration for the sake? Perhaps, a sparkling sake you really enjoyed once?

Kjetil:  No, there is no inspiration.  Rather the contrary.  Most sparkling sakes are sweet and cloying.  Quite horrible.  We thought that we could do it better.

 

Sake Guide:   What kind of food would you pair your Sparkling Sake with?

Brock: I would suggest oysters or lightly salted crackers with creamy goat’s cheese.

 

2015-03-21 14.06.12

Vital stats

 

Katsuyama “En” Tokubetsu Junmai – It is all about the rice

Posted by on May 17, 2015 in Sake Reviews | 4 comments

Katsuyama “En” Tokubetsu Junmai – It is all about the rice

Katsuyama – “En” – Tokubetsu Junmai

It is all about the rice!

 

Summary:

Rich and glorious.

Seimaibuai: 55%,  SMV +2, Acidity 1.8, Acohol: 15%

Rice: Hitomebore (table rice)

Prefecture Miyagi

Price:  $65 on the menu at Osaka Bar. Great value.

Score – 9/10 grains

Details:

This month, my Sake Appreciation Club ventured to the just-opened Osaka bar.  The food menu was packed with all the Osaka street food favourites – kushiage, takoyaki and okonimiyaki. It was well matched by the sake list, where junmai dominated. I think there were only two daiginjos, Dassai 50 and Ippin.  Indeed, soul food should be served with soul sake – which is what junmai really is. Junmai, full-bodied and rich, is often the brewer’s vehicle to reveal the character of rice. Daiginjos tell the story of yeast, which works the grain milled down to pure starches into floral and fruity expressions. Such fruitiness and florality can leave daiginjos a little at odds with heartier Japanese fare. Osaka Bar’s sake selection showed a good grasp on sake and food matching principals. Sake prices, in turn, showed willingness to get Sydney people to drink it.  Good work!

Among the long list of affordable, quality junmais – Ippin, Yukinobosha, Urakasumi – something special was hiding. At $65 for a 720 ml bottle, Katsuyama “En” Tokubetsu Junmai was the most expensive bottle on the menu.

Katsuyama sake is made by Katsuyama Shuzo. The brewery stands at the foothills of Mt Izumigatake near Sendai city. Sendai is the top rice-growing region in Miyage prefecture. In the Edo period, Sendai produced two thirds of Japan’s rice.  Miyagi prefecture is also famous for its junmai sake – coincidence, or logical consequence of all that great rice?

Katsuyama Shuzo has brewed sake since the middle of the Edo period. Then, Sendai daimyo clan appointed it to supply sake to the local lords’ table.

Centuries later, Katsuyama brewers remain skilled craftsmen and brew competitions-smashing sake. At the same time, Katsuyama has morphed into a cutting-edge producer that makes sake for the global consumer. The brewery’s motto is “Modern Shudo”, or “Modern Path of Sake”. In the words of Mr. Jihei Isawa, the brewery’s president, it is a way to revive the Edo character of sake for modern times. Katsuyama Shuzo brews expensive, rich sake of exceptional quality, made to match modern European and Japanese cuisine. Fit for an Edo lord, accessible to us all. I’ll take that.

The etched glass bottles themselves speak of luxury, and so do the price tags. Katsuyama “En” is Katsuyama’s entry-level sake. It is also the most expensive bottle at Osaka Bar. Katsuyama’s top offering, “Diamond Lei”, costs over $300 in Japan. Other daiginjōs hover around $100, also in Japan. (Double that to estimate what sake would cost in Australia).  “En” at the Osaka bar is a great way to sample Katsuyama without breaking the bank.

“En” has a rich flavour of concentrated sweetness and rice-driven umami, well balanced with a short crisp finish. It is made with local Hitomebore table rice – that fact vouches for the incredible skill of Katsuyama brewers. Ordinarily, table rice is reserved for futsuu-shu, or lower grade of sake, but in the hands of an expert tōji, it can yield a product with character and refinement. “En” won the “best junmai” prize in the 2012 Sendai sake competition. According to the makers, this sake is the expression of purity and sweetness of Sendai rice.

 

Kampai!

 

Note: quotes from Mr Isawa are from the interview published on Urban Sake website.

 

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Etched bottle of Katsuyama in all its glory

 

 

Kamoshibito Kuheiji – “Kudan no Yamada” – Junmai Ginjō 2013

Posted by on May 3, 2015 in Sake Reviews | Comments Off on Kamoshibito Kuheiji – “Kudan no Yamada” – Junmai Ginjō 2013

Kamoshibito Kuheiji – “Kudan no Yamada” – Junmai Ginjō 2013

Kamoshibito Kuheiji – “Kudan no Yamada” – Junmai Ginjō 2013

 

 

Summary:

You are drinking one of the best.

Seimaibuai: 55%,  SMV n/a, Acidity n/a, Acohol: 15%

Rice: Yamada Nishiki

Prefecture Aichi

Price:  $70

Score – 10/10 grains

Details:

Last month, my Sake Appreciation Club got to drink a very special sake.  Firmly entrenched on the top 5 or top 10 sake lists in Japan, Kamoshibito Kuheiji (known simply as Kuheiji) is very hard to find in Australia. I had to pull a few strings to share this bottle with my Sake Club members.

Kuheiji sake is special. It is one of the few sakes that have the vintage year displayed on the bottle, in this case 2013 (it was bottled at the end of 2014, so was allowed to mature for about 1.5 years).

The maker of Kuheiji, Banjo Jozo. was established in 1647.  It didn’t reach today’s fame, however, until a decade ago. The owner Kuheiji Kuno began travelling to Europe to market his sake to upscale restaurants in France, Switzerland and Germany. The strategy paid off, and Kuheiji sake is routinely stocked by luxury hotels and restaurants in Europe and Japan.  For what it’s worth, I spied it on the menu at Crown Casino in Melbourne, at the eye-watering price of $450. That’s pure speculation, however, and it was only $70 at Masuya.

It is still hard to come by in Australia, and I recommend asking the importer Jun Pacific about the stockists.

The fragrance is intensely fruity, candy-like, with strawberries and cream and watermelon. That intense overripe flavour continues on the palate. Superemely smooth, and tempered by acidity that carries to the flavour to a satisfying end. Quite a bit of age-squired umami in this rich, aroma-driven sake. Drink it out of a Bordeaux glass, pair with French cuisine or drink on its own. Wonderful as an aperitif.

Kamoshibito Kuheiji Kudan no Yamada Junmai Ginjo 2013

An Interview with a Sake Samurai

Posted by on March 22, 2015 in People of sake world, Uncategorized | 1 comment

An Interview with a Sake Samurai

At the recent Art of Sake event at the Consulate of Japan in Sydney, I finally got to meet Andre Bishop, Australia’s own Sake Samurai. The title of Sake Samurai is awarded to those who make a significant contribution to the advancement of sake culture.

Andre holds the Advanced Sake Professional from the respected Sake Education Council. Most, however, know him as the prolific and successful publican. He has owned a succession of sake pubs, izakayas and restaurants in Melbourne, and currently has three in his portfolio. Read more about Andre and his restaurant empire here.

Andre travelled to Sydney to give a sake presentation at the Art of Sake event. Afterwards, we caught up to talk all things food and sake.

Andre Biship at the Sake Samurai ceremony (centre).

Andre Biship at the Sake Samurai ceremony (centre).

Sake Guide: So, what is Sake Samurai’s favourite sake style?

AB: At the moment, my favourite style  – and it does change – is rich, full-bodied sake. Big, bold style. Lately, I have been drawn to sake from Okayama-Kurashiki area. (editor’s note – Okayama prefecture is in the south-west of Japan’s main island, Honshu). I feel that bolder styles are better suited to the Australian palate, and the delicateness of tanrei karakuchi style, the dry, soft sake from the North of Japan, could be lost on the Australian drinkers.

Sake Guide: What do you think is the best value sake in Australia?

AB:  Kizakura Yamahai. It is great value, goes with a lot of things, and is a very well brewed sake. It is very popular at my restaurants.

Sake Guide: On that topic, what are the three top-selling sakes at your establishments?

AB:  As I already mentioned, Kizakura sells really well. The other one is Otokoyama, which goes with a lot of food, particularly sashimi. Finally, for warm sake, Shirayuki junmai is one of the most popular choices.

Sake Guide: Andre, you have owned bars and restaurants for the last 15 years. What do you think is the biggest trend on the dining and drinking scene at the moment?

AB:  Until not so long ago, the revitalisation of the Japanese cuisine has been the biggest trend. However, lots of other things came into fashion recently – we’ve just had the Mexican wave, and now Melbourne is going through the BBQ craze, American BBQ, in particular. Jamaican BBQ is becoming hot, too. South East Asian cuisine is also going through a revival. But diners are fickle. I think what will happen, eventually, is the second wave of Japanese revival. People will return to the Japanese food.

Sake Guide: What is your favourite sake that is brewed outside of Japan?

AB:  Oh, that’s a difficult one. So many of my friends are brewing. I really enjoy Nogne O’s Yamahai Motoshibori. Also, Moto-i brewery in Minneapolis, does a great junmai nama genshu.

Sake Guide: Do you have a favourite izakaya or sake pub in Tokyo?

AB:  I actually always try something new, there is so much choice. One that comes to mind is Koju in Shinbashi.

Sake Guide: Finally, an industry question. There are quite a few sake importers in Australia now. Do you think this sake trend has much upside? Is there room for everyone, room for new importers?

AB:  There is definitely a challenge that importers are facing. They need to manage the expectations of their brewers. Brewers need to change their way of thinking about the new markets. Sake is a lot more popular now, but to reach wider acceptance, the brewing industry needs to invest into sake promotion. They should invest into ads in industry magazines, more ads aimed at consumers. So it is a challenge for the importers, too, to get brewers excited about the Australian market, but also understand the need to invest into growing sake awareness.

Cooperation will help, too, group cohesion is what will get sake over its hurdles. The industry needs to work together.

Thank you, Andre!

Sake at the Japanese Consulate

Posted by on March 22, 2015 in Uncategorized | 2 comments

Sake at the Japanese Consulate

This month, I was honoured to be invited to the “The Art of Sake” event at the official residence of the Consul-General of Japan in Sydney, Mr Masato Takaoka.

The Consul-General organised this event as part of the Japanese Government’s initiative to raise the profile of the national drink, sake. The sake brewing industry has seen some challenges lately, with domestic consumption gradually declining since the 1970s (although the consumption of premium sake brands is rising).

One happy sake story, though, is the rise and rise of sake popularity overseas. In Australia, for example, sake consumption grows 10% year on year. So, Japan increasingly looks to overseas markets as the saviour of the sake industry. The popularity of sake overseas has another silver lining. The Japanese, despite their strong cultural identity, are enthusiastic followers of international trends. What’s cool in London and Paris (and sake certainly is), is cool in Tokyo, too. Parisians drink sake? Tokyoites will do, too.

Sake’s international success so far, however, isn’t the reason to rest on the laurels. It is still a niche drink, and both the hospitality industry and drinking public need education and targeted promotion to accept sake as an everyday drink, much like wine. Hence “The Art of Sake”!

The highlight of the evening (after the sake itself) was the educational lecture by Andre Bishop, who, along with Tetsuya Wakuda, is one of the two Australian Sake Samurais. Andre is also a bit of a sake pub magnate, and owns 3 izakayas in Melbourne. He is also a graduate of John Gauntner school of sake thought, just like this writer (although I am yet to attend the advanced level, like Mr Bishop. All in good time!).

Mr Takaoka greeted guests with a short introduction, betraying the inherent glamour of the diplomatic life when he spoke of his happiness in sharing good food and drink with a wider audience.

Sake marketing at the consulate

Mr Takaoka, the Consul-General of Japan in Sydney

 

Andre Biship, Sake Samurai (centre).

Andre Bish0p, Sake Samurai (centre).

 Soon it was Mr Bishop’s turn to command attention. He presented a stunning visual overview of sake making process, and spoke briefly of main sake grades and types. In his presentation, Andre Bishop reflected on the state of sake market in Australia. “Sake has come a long way in Australia, we now have in excess of 400 products on the market. This kind of choice is a dream come true for me, and keeps me going on my quest to spread the sake love.  I really enjoy helping people discover the savoury complexity of sake.” 

 He also acknowledged other sake pioneers that are all striving to make sake widely popular:  the celebrated chefs Hideo Dekura and Tetsuya Wakuda,  the head chef of the Sake Restaurant Shaun Presland, Australia’s favourite masterchef Adam Liaw, and the people behind Australia’s own sake brewery “Sun Masamune”, Toko Ambo and Alan Noble. With such a team behind it, sake is destined to grow only ever more popular in Australia.

Andre Bishop saw some obstacles, too.  “The marketing of sake is a challenge that falls on both brewers and their distribution partners. Australian market is growing but still in its infancy, so both producers and distributors need to invest into sake exposure. Consumers need to see sake in the media”

“The Art of Sake” event was indeed a marketing opportunity for the distributors and brewers who attended it. It was unusual to see all main players in the same room. The (often unspoken) truth of the sake world, is that to grow the sake category,  suppliers need to put competition concerns aside and come together in a cohesive effort to promote sake and grow the market.
Sake marketing at Sydney Consulate

The spirit of cooperation in action – Deja Vu Sake and JFC

 The 5 distributors present were Daiwa Food, JFC, Jun Pacific, Deja Vu Sake Company and Sakenet.

Also present were the sales manager for the Dassai brand (from Jun Pacific portfolio) and the sales manager for the Ippin brand (from JFC portfolio).

IMG_2034

Sakenet display

 

I started my tasting rounds with the Sakenet portfolio. These guys bring very interesting sake. Much deeper in flavour, with a dense, challenging palate. A few wine people in the room stalled at their display, excited to find the familiar complexity in the kōshu (aged sake) flavours. The Sakenet portfolio represents the true complexity of sake – that to every rule, there are exceptions. Think daiginjōs that benefit from warming and sakes that withstand oxidation, and in fact are made to taste “old”. I will soon write in-depth profile of these guys. Sakes that left deep impression on me were:

Hiokizakura Junmai Nigori “Tanzo Nigori”. (Nigori is a “cloudy” sake, pressed through a coarse sieve). It had a strong taste of kasu, the sake lees that are used in cooking, a taste that I find very morish and comforting. It took me Japan, to little shops selling kasu sweets outside breweries.

Tamagawa Junmai Ginjō Omachi. A ginjō served warm (and made to be served warm). Tamagawa brand is brewed by the only non-Japanese tōji working in Japan, Philip Harper. It was a bold, full-flavoured sake, with an earthy aroma of nuts and herbs and some fruits, too. A thinking man’s sake.

Morinukura Junmai Kōshu “Komagura 20 years” was the sake that had wine sommeliers enraptured.  It was bottled in 1994. That is OLD! It was delicious, too, with a herbal nose and a velvety palate of liquorice and wood.

IMG_2035

On the right – Morinokura Junmai Koshu 1994 and Shinkame Junmai Koshu “Dai Koshu” 1983.

 

Kizakura sake

Daiwa Food display – all Kizakura

Next, I stopped at the Daiwa Food display. At the event, Daiwa focussed on the Kizakura brand. Kizakura is a popular brand from Kyoto, brewed according to the yamahai jikomi method. Yamahai style of sake is made using older, traditional techniques of preparing yeast starter. Instead of adding lactic acid to the fermenting mash to create an acidic environment for sake yeasts to thrive in, the brewery allows lactic acid bacteria naturally accumulate in the tank. This way of fermenting takes longer, and usually results in stronger flavours, and more prominent acidity. Sakes I particularly enjoyed were:

Yamadanishiki Premium Junmai. It had a solid yamahai fragrance with some fruits in it, but a refined and complex palate. I love the solidity of yamahai when dining on food with strong flavours, like fish roe, spices and grilled meat.

Yamahai Jikomi Fustsushu. This sake was a quality table (futsushu) sake suited to a wide variety of food. Yamahai method of brewing added richness to the everyday futsushu.

Kyo no Tokuri Gold. Ok, this was a bit of a gimmick, a sake with gold flakes in it. Apparently, drinking gold brings good health and luck. That one I didn’ spit! Who would say no to more luck? It was quite smooth and mellow, and the main point of interest was floating gold sparkles in your glass. A clear example of the brewer diversifying, and creating some excitement around sake drinking.  Well done.

Kizakura range has a few well-priced, well-brewed quality products, and is worth seeking out. Especially if you like value for money!

Toshi Maeda, well known sake expert, serves Kizakura

Toshi Maeda, well-known sake expert, serves Kizakura

As a bonus, I got to catch up with Toshi Maeda, Daiwa Food’s resident sake master. I’ve known Mr Maeda for a while, and if you get a chance to catch him present his sake, go – you will be treated to a fun and humorous sake commentary.

Other Daiwa Food brands, although not presented on the night, include Eikun and Michisakari, and quite a few others. Check Daiwa Food lineup online.

Dassai display

Dassai display

 Jun Pacific, the Japanese groceries and drinks importing behemoth, presented the crowning glory of their portfolio, Dassai. Dassai is one of the most popular brands in Japan, and famous for its “Niwari Sanbu” sake, also known as Dassai 23. It is a junmai daiginjō brewed with rice milled down to 23% seimaibuai. I had long been a fan of their range, enjoying the three main offerings – Dassai 23, Dassai 39 and Dassai 50. However, at the Consulate, I got to try Dassai sparkling sake for the first time. Oh my! It was also namazake, or unpasteurised sake, and the sparkling freshness was just too gorgeous. It still had that distinct green apple and melon Dassai palate, but overlaid with joyous zing and effervescence. One for celebrating. A must try!

Dassai sparkling

Dassai sparkling

Next stop on my sake tour was Déjà Vu Sake Company. Having loved their sakes for a long time, and used them in my classes, I felt I was catching up with old friends. Not that drinking Deja Vu sakes ever gets old!

Deja Vu sake lineup

Deja Vu sake lineup

 Déjà Vu presented all five of their brands: Amanato, Dewazakura, Houraisen, Tengumai and Yoshinogawa. I have written about their amazing sake many times, but if I had to pick favourites from the night, they would be:
Dewazakura Dewasansan Junmai Ginjō – this sake is brewed with rice strain that Dewazakura itself helped develop, and features nice acidity reminiscent of white wine. Highly drinkable sake that would appeal to many wine fans.
Amanato Junkara Junmai. I have reviewed this sake as dry and complex last year, but recently, it has been tasting richer. I think it has begun to age beautifully, acquiring notes of honey and  chewy savouriness. Sake is a living product, with flavours continuing to develop in the bottle, and last year’s release seems to be hitting its stride right this moment. Honestly, I could go on for quite some time about this fascinating sake, but do yourself a favour and seek it out.
Ippin sake

Ippin sake

 The last, but not least, was JFC stand, representing Ippin sake. I have already written about both Ippin Junmai and Ippin Daiginjō. The latter is the best-kept secret of the Australian sake world. A very-well brewed, delicious daiginjō, and very well-priced. I think Ippin has a very wide appeal and suits Australian palate very well, and is gaining popularity. JFC has quite a portfolio, including Nanbu Bijin, Otokoyama and Urakasumi, Hakkaisan and Daishichi, and its sake is widely available in leading Japanese and fine-dining restaurants.
Check out Ippin sumo series sake cups!

Check out Ippin sumo series sake cups!

Apart from sake, the night featured some delicious food, that showcased the versatility of sake and food matching.

Food at the Consulate

Food at the Consulate

Shrimp in Kadaif pastry

Shrimp in Kadaif pastry

It was a wonderful night and a rare opportunity to compare sake from different suppliers side-by-side. I think it was a fine and innovative example of sake marketing that generated a lot of excitement among the crowd. I hope this is the sign of things to come.

Kampai!

P.S. Read the very insightful interview with Andre Bishop here.

Sake Cocktails – Worth it?

Posted by on March 15, 2015 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Sake Cocktails – Worth it?

Sake Cocktails – Worth it?

Last month, I attended a cocktail workshop at the quirky Darlinghurst bar Hinky Dinks.

Déjà Vu Sake Company organised this industry event to show off the possibilities of sake to hospitality professionals. I have to say that Yukino, the woman at the helm of the Déjà Vu Sake, has been putting in an enormous effort to educate both consumers and trade, taking part in many popular foodie events – like March into Merivale and the Taste of Sydney. Get in touch with her to ask about any upcoming events.

The Hinky Dinks workshop was a venture into a new territory for me. In truth, I had avoided drinking sake in cocktails, preferring to enjoy sake on its own. It seemed almost sacrilegious, to disguise the exquisite flavour and aroma nuances of sake with strong-tasting spirits and liqueurs. But I went with an open mind. After all, umeshu and uzushu are a kind of flavoured sake, and can exhibit the refinement of their base liquor. Umeshu made with a daiginjō will taste a whole lot better than the one made with double-distilled shochu.

At first, Yukino introduced the sakes that the mixologists of Hinky Dinks would work with. Among them, there were Houraisen Beshi Tokubetsu Junmai, Tengumai Yamagai Junmai Daiginjō, Amanato Junkara Junmai, Yoshinogawa Yuzushu (sweet, cloudy with yuzu pulp, a cocktail on its own) and Yoshinogawa Gensen Umeshu. Yoshinogawa Umeshu was just insanely delicious. Around the room, there were collective noises of appreciation, as sommeliers and restaurant owners imbibed the sweet, syrupy umeshu, tasting of intensely ripe and tangy ume fruit and almonds. To paraphrase Bill Murray in Lost in Translation, for relaxing times, make it Yoshinogawa Umeshu time.

So, to cocktails. Here’s the most memorable.

Mr Miyagi Meets the Margarita (Yoshinogawa Umeshu)

Yoshinogawa Umeshu cocktail

Sake Mojito (Amanato Junkara Junmai)

 

Who doesn’t love a Margarita? I do. Yuzu fruit, with its heavenly flavour hybrid of limes and mandarins, dare I say beats lemons. The wasabi pea and salt rim added that unexpected and morish flavour twist. To make this cocktail it at home:

45ml Espolon blanco tequila

15ml Yoshinogawa Gensen Umeshu

20ml agave syrup

30ml fresh lime juice

Shake all ingredients & strain into glass. Fill with ice.

Garnish: 1⁄2 wasabi pea salt rim

 

Sake Mojito (Amanato Junkara Junmai) 

Amanato Junkara Junmai Cocktail

Sake Mojito (Amanato Junkara Junmai)

 

Another universal favourite, mojito, was re-invented with a delicious Amanato Junmai. This junmai is very special, with notes of honey in the nose and a great balance of sweetness and acidity.  It did something very interesting to the mojito – the cocktail tasted very smooth and barely alcoholic. Very delicious but definitely “light” as remember, sake is just a touch stronger than wine. Personally, I would be asking for a double shot! To make this cocktail at home:

60ml Amanoto Junkara Junmai

Handful fresh mint

30ml fresh lime juice

30ml sugar syrup

Soda

1 thin long cucumber sticks (as garnish)

Shake all ingredients except soda and strain into glass.

Fill glass with ice, add garnishes, top with

Garnish: cucumber slice & plump mint sprig.

 

Sumo in a Sidecar (Tengumai Junmai Daiginjō)

Tengumai Daiginjō sake Cocktail

Sumo in a Sidecar (Tengumai Junmai Daiginjō)

 

I must admit, at this point I held my breath. A daiginjō going into a cocktail! That’s certainly decadent. Very, very decadent, not unlike using fine champagne in a cocktail. Which does happen! As a side note, Yukino recommended mixing champagne with umeshu for a quick, delicious drink. I have to try that.

So, Sumo in a Sidecar was delicious, the use of sake taking away any spirity harshness that could be present. What I understood at the workshop, is that sake doesn’t overwhelm the cocktail, and lets the drinker taste the additional flavours better. Cocktails didn’t taste alcoholic at all. Whether it is a good or a bad thing, it is up to the individual taste.

45ml Tengumai Junmai Daiginjo

10ml apricot brandy

30ml fresh lemon juice

10ml sugar syrup

2-3 dashes peach bitters

Shake and double strain into glass.

Garnish: citrus rim

So, should you try sake cocktails? Yes, especially if they are as delicious as Hinky Dinks ones. Those guys do know how to mix and shake! Personally, I think they should explore the use of futsushu in cocktails, for more distinct sake flavour and lower cost. Do look out for cocktails using umeshu and yuzushu, as those flavours are heavenly and unusual.

2015-02-24 14.02.50

Magic in progress

 

The entire cocktail lineup

The entire cocktail lineup