Saturday, May 17, 2008

5/15/08: Saiya Shuzo Tasting at Sakagura

Sakagura hosted a cozy event featuring Saiya Brewery from Akita. By "cozy," the attendance was limited to only 15 people. Let's put that number in perspective - according to Wikipedia, the population of New York City in 2007 was estimated to be at 8,274,527, meaning I was one of the lucky 1.8 millionth (I think, as my calculator displays the figure as "1.8279... e-6" whatever that is") of a percent of a New Yorker who got to attend.

That sense of scale was also appreciated by Mr. Kotaro Saito from the brewery, as he opened the event by stating how feels strong sense of pride and privilige to see a small town saké from Akita be enjoyed in a metropolis like New York. The translation was handled by Joto Saké team of Henry and Midori-san.

The great thing about these type of events is that you can find some really interesting facts that you can't gather from merely reading label, for instance.

Introduction of Saiya Brewery, maker of the "Yuki No Bosha" and "Yuri Masamune" labels.

Saiya's main goal is two-fold: to create organic saké that is food friendly.

As a practitioner of organic brewing, they use in- house ingredients including the yeast. This yeast is genetically related to AK-1, but after several generations, is very different, just like how primitivo and zinfandel have gone separate ways in wine.

To make a food-friendly saké, Saiya identified that saké needs to have deep acidity and flavor to stand up to the local cuisine. Therefore, it is no surprise that they make all their saké in the undiluted genshu and unfiltered muroka styles.

Without further ado, here are the featured sakés of the evening:

Kaccho Gesseki (SMV: +4, Acidity: 1.3, Rice: Yamadanishiki, Seimaibuai: 35%, Alcohol: 17.4%). Made in the competition style, and confimed by the key data, the flavor is deep, intense, and fruity.

Yuki No Bosha Junmai Ginjo (Rice: Akita Saké Komachi, Seimaibuai: 50%) This was presented in three different forms: Nigori, Nama, and the regular. The biggest difference was the texture, with Nigori having rich body (duh), Nama being the most vibrant, and regular being smooth. Nigori had the most intense flavor, but Nama had depth from the vibrancy.

Yuri Masamune. Not officially classified as honjozo, but show incredible smoothness from using brewer's alcohol that has been aged for generally 3 years. Available for approximately $17 retail, it is one of the best values in saké.

Yuki No Bosha Daiginjo (SMV: +4, Acidity: 1.3, Rice: Yamadanishiki/ Akita Saké Komachi, Seimaibuai: 40, Alcohol: 16.7%). While Kaccho Gesseki was fresh, young, and fruity, this Daiginjo has been bottle aged for minimum of 2 years before release. Aging mellows the flavor, but saké maintains good depth. This combination makes this one of those rare Daiginjos that can taste very good slightly warm (nuru-kan), as increase in temperature releases more aroma.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

5/2/08: Fifth Akita Saké Connoisseur's Club Tasting

One of the fastest growing saké event in NYC is the Akita Saké Connoisseur's Club tasting event, already on its fifth event since its inception on 11/10/06. By fifth incarnation, Yamamoto-san and his colleagues managed to gather 27 selection (on paper... I believe the actual numer poured was 28) from 15 breweries, including several bottles that are even rare to find in Japan. Of course, there were some familiar faces attending, including Timothy, my partner in crime Janie and her friend Val, Japanese ceramic enthusiast Steve, Lefty, as well as Chizuko-san, Keiko-san, and Midori-san on the other side of the table. In addition, there was a shocking scene (scroll down below for photo evidence.)

Of those 28 selections, 8 were from Kimura Brewery, covering wide spectrum of styles from Junmai Nigori to Daiginjo Genshu. It was fun to try the earthier and chocolate-like "Munenouchi" Tokubetsu Junmai, followed by fragrant and fruitier style represented by "Kimura" Junmai Daiginjo. "Bisuikan" was the earlier reported Daiginjo Genshu (no wonder Jack Bauer got drunk), wih a full and soft approach with essence of rice and grain on the palate.

The first selections quickly pointed out the diversity of Akita style. Throughout the evening, I could categorize saké into three main categories: ripe & fruity, subtle and long (koji and umami), and hearty Junmai.

Some of the standouts included Saiya Shuzo's Kacho Gesseki Daiginjo Genshu and Tenju Shuzo's Chokaisan Junmai Ginjo (scroll down for details) in the ripe & fruity style that tasted far more like a Daiginjo class saké than Ginjo. The bottle of Chokaisan is pictured to the left, held by... Mr. Sakurai?! I believe this would require case study on saké polygamy, and pending the outcome, an exercise in blackmail.

The true standout came from the hearty Junmai style. Because many modern breing styles tend to be fruity in style, it is reassuring at times to have sakés that are brawny, earthy, and taste old-school. Hokushika's Secchu Chozo Junmai was one such saké, with incomparable flavors of cheese and cheese, with rich and long umami on the finish. (It tastes far better than it sounds, trust me!).

The tasting was accompanied by vrtuoso violin performance from Machiko Ozawa, who I might add, is from my hometown of Kamakura. Classically trained through Julliard School, her style is very diverse. For those that were fortunate to pay attention, you might have seen a budding starlet in action.