Sunday, October 07, 2007

10/2/07: Nanbu Bijin and Nishi Shuzo Tasting at Sakgura

Under Construction, will be updated soon!

10/2/07: Ama No To Tasting at Sakagura

Under Construction... Will be updated soon!

10/1/07: Saké Day Part II: Sakagura

As MTC Restaurant Show ended at 5:00 pm, far too early to call it the night, it was time to celebrate the National Saké Day in style by visiting Sakagura as they held the cask ceremony. Lefty and I made our way to the bar at 6:00 pm, and were promptly welcomed by friendly staff including Mr. Kadoi, Chizuko-san and Momose-san.

After starting my evening with clean, refreshing, and fruity Ugo No Tsuki Junmai Ginjo from Hiroshima, Mr. Kadoi introduced us to couple of Yamagata sakés including refreshing Hatsumago "Ajisai Monogatari" Junmai Ginjo and En red saké. (Mind you, my palate is pretty gone by this point, so I shall post picture instead...)

Now, at this stage, I was hungry. I ordered their Buta-No-Kakuni (Japanese style stewed Pork Belly), a must. I also remember trying something very special seasonal dish about a year ago, and while it was not technically on the menu, Mr. Kadoi had the kitchen produce the matsutake tempura for me:

(Ooooh, so goood... especially when you're toasted...)

Mr. Kadoi then surprised me by asking to be the MC for the evening (apparently, he wasn't sure how much I had to drink earlier today). Lefty, along with two lucky contestants, were selected for cask-breaking. Here are some photos from the rest of the evening:

10/1/07: Saké Day Part I: Mutual Trading Restaurant Show

This was the second time I am attending Mutual Trading's Restaurant Show. Last year's event was tremendous, and no, I did not get drunk and buy a Masamoto knife this year (although I was mightily tempted...)

MTC carries some of the top brands of selections, including Dassai, Sudo Honké ("Sato No Homaré"), Born, and Nanbu Bijin among others. Today, the first booth I saw featured familiar face, as Chizuko from Sakagura Restaurant was helping with Asamai Brewery, "Ama No To" label. (More on their saké and brewery on the 10/2 entry coming up...)

First order of business was to seek out Kuji-san, but he was out to lunch, so I started to whet my appetite by visiting Born booth. The highlight was the super premium "Yumé wa Masayumé" (Dream Come True.) Their special release, a 2 year-old koshu called "Hoshi" (SMV: +3, Acidity: 1.4, Rice: Yamadanishiki, Seimaibuai: 40%, Yeast: Kato #903), was very good with mild approach, smooth texture, and rich finish with umami. Interestingly, the kanji for hoshi "地球" denotes earth. I wasn't overly keen on their Genshu, which is made in the sweeter style with longer finish.

After trying fantastic saké selections from Bizen Muromachi, I met up with Kuji-san. Timothy stopped by, so there here's the picture of them. We reaquainted our palate with their fruity Daiginjo that we tried relatively recently, followed by their Tokubetsu Junmai. ALthough I've had their Tokubetsu Junmai on several occasions, most notably at this event, I noticed a difference in flavor of this vintage- it has lost some of the koji-like earthiness with more fruity notes. When pressed, Kuji-san admitted that they changed the production to cater to the changing trend of the consumers. Checking the website after the fact, there is one notable difference from 2006: SMV was lowered from +7 to +4.

The most educational part of the day came courtesy of Mr. Aisawa from Take No Tsuyu Brewery in Yamagata. Majority of their selections were from "Hakro Suishu" series, all made in the similar manner: Nama Genshu, Fukuro-tori, Muroka (unfiltered), and polished to 55%. This proved to be ideal lesson in "sakamai" (saké rice), covering anything from Dewasansan (subtle, mildly fruity) to Miyamanishiki (subtle, round, balanced), with rarer rice such as Kame No O (gentle, mild, celery), Dewa No Sato (subtle, refreshing), Kyo No Hana (subtle, ricey, long finish), Kairyo-Shinko (subtle, round, deep umami) in between. My favrorite happened to be a blend, the combination of Dewa-san-san and Miyamanishiki, memorable with its balance of softness, earthy umami, fruitiness, and roundness. Another treat was Mr. Aisawa using "仕込み水" or their low-alcali soft water to rinse the glass and cleanse palate in between. As if that were not enough, he finished the lecture with his dry style koshu. This Japanese site offers good catalogue of Take No Tsuyu selections.

After such comprehensive lesson, the time was right to visit food section, where I bumped into Lefty.

Upon coming back, I greeted Sakurai-san, and tried few other sakés. Admittedly, my palate wasn't functioning at 100%. I did notice that there were more recent increase in dry style saké, including Taruhei Brewery. Ambling along, I bumped into Rocky and Keiko Aoki, whom I haven't met in about a year. Later on, I saw my friend Chie-san who works for Chopsticks Magazine, and we proceeded to try some interesting cocktails including tomato- based shochu drink, and daikon radish-based shochu drink.

I also reconnected with Lefty, and decided to cap the day by visiting Sakagura for their Saké Day festivities... (continued in Part II)

Friday, October 05, 2007

9/27/07: The Joy of Saké

It's safe to say that all the recent saké activities are the result of Joy of Saké tasting. My role for this year’s JOS event was different from last year, as I was asked to assist in the event by Kitahara-san on behalf of Pacific International Liquor, Inc. In this job, I am to work two out of three hours, and I have free time during the first and last 1/2 hour of the event. This meant that there were significant changes to the game plan from the past.

First stage was to taste the items at the booth. PIL is a small organizations, but handles some very good sakés including Shichiken, Kubota, and Okunomatsu. Here is the list from our booth:
* Shichiken Junmai Ginjo, Yamanashi. Tasting notes available here, here, and here.
* Shichiken "Bigin Bigin" Junmai Koshu. Tasting notes are here and here.
* Hatsumago Junmai Kimoto, Yamagata. (SMV: +2). Full flavor of melon, yet very balanced.
* Kurosawa Yamahai Junmai, Nagano. (SMV: 0). Balance of yeast, cedar, minerals, rice. Complex, with very distinct signature flavor.
* Yaegaki Nigori. Rich, dense Nigori that is mildly sweet and very approachable.
* Yaegaki "Mu- Royal Blue" Junmai Daiginjo, Hyogo. Sharp, intensely fruity style that feels more like Daiginjo (sans Junmai).
* Okunomatsu Sparkling Nigori. Sharper flavor with nice depth and structure.
* Okunomatsu Tokubetsu. Fukushima. (SMV: 0) Interestingly, fruitier than Ginjo. Mild fruits, well-balanced.
* Okunomatsu Ginjo (+4). Dried fruits, earthier style with flavors of melon underneath and chocolate on the finish.
* Okunomatsu "Juhachidai Ihei" Daiginjo (SMV: +5, Acidity: 1.3, Rice: , Seimaibuai: 35%, Yeast: Okunomatsu). Very fruity, balanced, lush, with a lasting finish. Quintessential Daiginjo.

After tasting the booth, I went to the Japan-only floor, where they had a nice display of Yamagata selections featuring sakés based on their idigenous Dewa-san-san rice, which tends to have soft approach with understated core flavor of mild fruit and rice. The most interesting saké I tried was Imai-san's Kudoki Jouzu "Shiro" Ginjo, a saké made using wine yeast. The result was a full approach with richness and viscosity, but with a pronounced depth and mild fruitiness and hints of vanilla. "Shiro" means "white" as in white wine, and it is among the recent trend of creating dry and low alcohol sakés that appeal to wine drinkers (e.g., Miyasaka brand.)

The most interesting selection of the evening was the Negoshian ("寝越庵" pronouced like "Negocian"). Made for Kamei Saké Store in Shinbashi, the research reveal that Nanbu Bijin is predonminantly involved. This came to our booth with the rumor that one bottle sells for a hefty some of ¥200,000, making it the most expensive beverage I have ever tried. The tasting notes, I am sure, does not do justice: nose of burnt caramel, deep prune, soy sauce followed by full and lush flavors of prune, caramelized orange peel, leading to a long finish of dark chocolate and prunes. For more on this unique saké, check these Japanese websites here and here.

What I didn't really realize is that while the event lasts until 9:00 pm, most of the booth close early. Japan-only floor was closed by 8:30 pm. I spent most of the last 1/2 hour talking with friends in the industry: Tim Sullivan (Urban Saké, Kadoi-san, Toshi (Saké Hana), Okada-san (EN), Tomoko (Chopsticks Magazine), Lefty (Saké Collective), Chad Beverlin (Vine Connections), Mr. Hishinuma and Tejima (Oval One, shochu marketers), Keith Norum and Mr. Miyasaka (Miyasaka Brewery/Masumi), Mr. Aizawa (Take No Tsuyu), among others. All in all, very busy but a fun filled and enlightening evening, as always.

9/25/07: Sakagura Tasting featuring 6 Brewers

As Saké Week gains momentum, Sakagura makes a big splash by inviting 6 of the very best brewers supported by Japan Prestige Saké Association (listed in order they were arranged): Taiheizan, Shirataki, Urakasumi, Otokoyama, Narutotai, and Kaika. Each brewer presented limited and high-quality selections, so this was indeed a very rare treat.

I kicked off the evening by previewing the Fall- release namazaké selections. While complex Wakatake “Aki No Ki-ippon” (SMV: 0, Acidity: 1.4) and fruity Urakasumi “Hiyaoroshi” (SMV: +1.5, Acidity: 1.4, Rice: Sasanishiki, Seimaibuai: 60%, Yeast: Urakasumi) are standards that stayed true to their form, we were also able to try new selections in the forms of Aramasa Junmai Ginjo Nama (SMV: +4, Acidity: 1.6) from Akita and Tsuki No Katsura Junmai Nama (SMV: +3, Acidity: 1.6) from Kyoto. Aramasa showed slightly nutty undertones, vibrant fruit, with faint hints of chocolate towards the finish. By comparison, Tsuki No Katsura had creamier nose and fruitier body, though not as expressive as Urakasumi.

First up on the breweries was Taiheizan, a kura that focuses their production using Kimoto method that yields intense style of saké. I started with recently released (in the US)“Tenkō” Junmai Daiginjo (SMV: +2, Acidity: 1.5, Rice: Yamadanishiki, Seimaibuai: 40%, Yeast: Assoc. #9), which is something I have not come across since the dinner at Matsuri. Tenkō has mild fruit and gentle steamed rice on the nose, followed by full and deep flavors of rice leading to umami-laden finish. The next selection was the new selection, “Tsuzuki” Tobin Chu-dori Junmai Ginjo Kimoto Muroka (SMV: +1, Acidity: 1.4, Rice: Yamadanishiki, Seimaibuai: 55%, Yeast: Assoc. #9). Because this did not go through charcoal filtration, the flavor was intense but more along the lines of minerals and umami, and less so on the fruit.

Next to Taiheizan was Shirataki Brewery from Niigata. I am a big fan of Jōzen Mizu No Gotoshi" Junmai Ginjo, so it was good to reacquaint my palate. The new saké was "Minatoya Tosuke" Junmai Daiginjo (SMV: +2, Acidity: 1.6, Rice: Yamadanishiki, Seimaibuai: 50%), which exhibited Niigata-ness through its full, soft body, gentle flavor of nuts and cereal, with balanced fruits and umami, whcih I find very enjoyable.

Third on the line was Urakasumi from Miyagi. Because I am very familiar with their fantastic Junmai and their lighter Zen Junmai Ginjo, I skipped them and went straight to their Yamadanishiki Junmai Daiginjo (SMV: +1.5, Acidity: 1.5, Rice: Yamadanishiki, Seimaibuai: 45%, Yeast: Urakasumi), which had tremendous depth that highlighted fruity qualities of Yamadanishiki very well.

Moving on to Otokoyama, I focused mainly on their Junmai Daiginjo (SMV: +5, Acidity: 1.3, Rice: Yamadanishiki, Seimaibuai: 38%) which I haven't had since this event. Having this right after Urakasumi, I sensed more fullness and richness on the body, with nice dry finish. The next two were tasting comparison of the Tokubetsu Junmai in the forms of Momenya (SMV: +5) and Utamaro (SMV: +2, Seimaibuai: 55%). In short, Momenya showed more earthy, nutty characters with dry finish, while Utamaro was milder in flavors, balanced, and not as dry.

Rolling right along, I came across Narutotai. I have always enjoyed their Junmai Ginjo Genshu, and today, I had a chance to try their Ginjo Nama Genshu (SMV: +5, Acidity: 1.7 see the first pic), Junmai Daiginjo (SMV: +4, Aidity: 1.5) and very rare 1988 Vintage Junmai Ginjo Dry Koshu (SMV: +13, Acidity: 2.4). While I find their Junmai Ginjo to be balanced in every respect, the Nama version was vibrant with deep umami, Junmai Daiginjo was much deeper and intense with dominant fruit flavors, and Koshu was earthy with elements of nuts and dark chocolate. Incidentally, this was the driest Koshu I have tried to date.

Lastly, I came across Kaika from Tochigi Prefecture, which featured three sakés: Junmai, "Kazé No Ichirin" Junmai Ginjo, and the competition style "Tobindori" Shizuku Daiginjo Genshu. Since I am familiar with "Kazé No Ichirin" and "Tobindori", my focus was on their Junmai(SMV: +3, Acidity: 1.3, Rice: Gohyakumangoku, Seimaibuai: 65%, Yeast: Tochigi). Not surprisingly, the Junmai was soft in style displaying the balanced approach of Gohyakumangoku rice. The brewer's approach was to make saké that are "oishii, tanoshimu" (delicious, enjoyable), which effectively sums up the evening.