Thursday, December 28, 2006

12/13/06: To Boldly Go Where No Saké Has Gone Before...

Back in September, I mentioned a big missed opportunity at the Joy of Saké event. Fortunately, tonight proved to be a redemption for my mishaps, mere 6 weeks after the fact.

Before we get to that, Sakurai-san was leaving for Japan on the 18th, so we called up some of the regulars for an impromptu outing at Saké Hana, a relaxing evening among friends. Flocking to this establishment on 78th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues were Sakurai-san, his friend, Tim Sullivan, Lefty, Tomo-chan, Ai-san, Min from NY Saké Meetup Group, and of course, Toshi-san taking care of us.

We started the evening by ordering individual drinks while we waited for everyone to arrive (I had "Sato No Homare".) Prior to Mr. Sakurai's arrival, we ordered the Dassai 50 Junmai Ginjo.

The main event of the evening was the unvailing of a new saké just made available in the U.S. market. Since it was so new, Saké Hana did not have it yet (they received their shipment on 12/14!), Toshi gave me a special permission to bring this bottle from the store. The bottle was none other than Tsukasabotan "Tosa No Uchu-shu" Junmai Ginjo, a.k.a. "Space Saké." (SMV: +5, Acidity: 1.4, Rice: Kazé Naru Ko, Seimaibuai: 55%, Yeast: Tosa Space Yeast) from Kochi Prefecture (Tosa is an old name for Kochi.)

The story behind production of this saké is quite fascinating. Checking various sites, there are some varying accounts to the story, adding to the mystery. In short, back in October 2005, some brewers asked Soyuz rocket program to send up yeast for "research purposes" as it was cheaper than "commercial purposes." After the yeast returned, they started making sakés, but their efforts to sell them was thwarted by the Russians who claimed it was clearly not for research purposes, despite much protest from the brewers. As a result, 19 breweries from Kochi banded together, paid the enormous fees for "commercial" license, and had Soyuz send up the yeast in March 2006 for eight night's stay at the space station.

In the process, Space Saké became its own designation with the following guidelines in order to receive a seal of approval from the "Tosa Space Sake Board":
* Made of one of the six local yeasts sent to space;
* Made 100% from locally grown Gin No Yume or Kaze Naru Ko rice;
* Seimaibuai must be at least 55%;
* Must be made in Junmai style (no added brewer's alcohol) undergoing long cold fermentation;
* And must receive approval from the Tosa Space Saké Board.

So, what was this Space brew like? It was good! The saké was comparably lighter than the typical Tsukasabotan, and this medium-bodied brew had expressive flavors of tropical fruits, robust, with clean and dry finish. One thing I did notice was that I had a very pleasant "high" after drinking it, but that may have been aided by the glass of Blanton's Bourbon (SMV: N/A, Acidity: N/A, Rice: No, mostly corn, Seibaibuai: N/A, Yeast: N/A) I had with Warren for his birthday prior to coming here...

Just to test the difference, Toshi brought out Tsukasabotan Junmai (SMV: +5, Acidity: 1.5, Rice: N/A, Seimaibuai: N/A, Yeast, N/A) in the blue label and Tsukasabotan "Senchu Hassaku" Tokubetsu Junmai (SMV: +8, Acidity: 1.4, Rice: N/A, Seimaibuai: N/A, Yeast: N/A) for an interesting vertical tasting. Not surprisingly, Junmai was the earthiest of the three, with aromas of steamed rice and rich body we're all accustomed to. Senchu Hassaku was very well balanced, with good combination of the earthy grain notes to more accessible fruits with short and dry finish. However, the Space Saké did narrowly edge Senchu Hassaku as my preferred Tsukasabotan of the night.

All in all, considering all the saké dignitaries in the house, it was a star-studded night... in more ways than one!

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