Monday, August 18, 2008

8/14/08: Chizuko-san's Last Day at Sakagura

After learning from Kadoi-san that Thursday 8/14/08 would be Saké Sommelier Chizuko-san’s last day at Sakagura, it was time to pay my respects for her outstanding service and friendship. Her reason for departure is to run her own company that focuses on networking and education. Her main client base will be the Japanese brewers.

Here's what transpired over the evening:

Chizuko-san's impact is felt throughout Sakagura...

Chizuko-san and Yamaguchi-san took care of me for the evening

Isojiman Junmai Ginjo. Tonight,I noticed its outstanding depth and acidity.

Chizuko-san let us try Sato No Homaré Yamawatari Nama which had gone bad. This bottle lacked any character and vibrancy, and was truly flat. She cited sotrage issue prior to arriving at Sakagura as causing this type of damage.

MY next selection was Eiko Fuji Nama, as I fondly remembered tasting it in April. Comparing to Isojiman, I noticed its fruitier and focused style.

Next, Kadoi-san opened up two bottles he recently found in Japan. Both were by Tatsuriki from Hyogo Prefecture. The Junmai Ginjo was soft and balanced, and I was surprised that it didn't have the dominant character usually associated with Ginjo made from Yamadanishiki.

The Junmai Daiginjo was initially very soft, and felt like gentle water; however, it gained structure after chilling. The brochure indicate that Tatsuriki makes their saké using five of my favorite rice: Yamadanishiki, Omachi, Yamadaho, Shinriki, and Gohyakumangoku. I'm very intrigued by these selections, and hope I can find them in the States soon...

To wrap up the evening, I ordered Ginga Kougen *gasp* beer from Iwate Prefecture. This was fantastic: crisp, vibrant with taste of barley, followed by complex hops on the finish. I highly recommend this for beer lovers.

Just when I was getting ready to leave around midnight, Kadoi-san asked me to stay. Sakagura was going to hold a staff farewell party for Chizuko-san. Here is Chizuko-san with Yamaguchi-san and sommelier Momose-san.

For a special lady, a very special saké: The Daishichi Myouka Rangyoku.

Myouka Rangyoku with flowers and card for Chizuko-san.

Chizuko-san and her husband Jim.

Staff getting ready to toast. I felt very much honored and also a little odd to be a part of intimate staff farewell party; I kept telling myself that in a way, I am there to represent the customer base...

Kadoi-san enjoying the aroma. The thing that really struck me about this saké was the unbelievably long finish, singing its sweet song on my tongue. The pour easily lasted 30 minutes to finish.

After the party, Chizuko-san, Jim, and I went to Donburi Ya to wrap things up. I ordered "stone-bowl cooked udon" and Yebisu beer. After Myouka Rangyoku, there was no way I was having another saké!

By the time we were done, it was 3:00 am... it was really a good thing I had scheduled day off for Friday!

Chizuko-san - Thank you, and Good Luck!!!

Two events

Over the summer, I attended two events that are worthy of mention:

June 24, 2008: Sakagura welcomed two breweries by Joto Saké: Kasumi Tsuru from Hyogo Prefecture and Fuchu Homaré brewery (of "Wataribuné" label) from Ibaraki Prefecture.

As Timothy of Urban Sake does a fantastic job of narrating the evening, I'll focus on the unique sake and the aftermath. (After all, I have to fit two entries in one here!)

Fukumoto-san of Kasumi Tsuru with Midori-san of Joto Saké.

Yamauchi-san of Fucho Homaré. His Wataribune Nama was one of my favorites of the evening

Since I was conversing with quite a few friends, I couldn't quite keep up with the amount of sakés coming my way...

One of those friends Masa with Henry and Fukumoto-san

This was, as we may say in Japanese, "Maboroshi no saké" (the mirage): Kasumi Tsuru "Tenno No Toiki" (天女の吐息, "Breath of an Angel")

The gentle name is very misleading, as this saké comes in at 25% alcohol by volume. The high alcohol content is achieved by freezing genshu then removing ice. This technique is actually used in making some dessert wines, such as Bonny Doon's "Vin de Glacier" and Selak's Ice Wine. Unlike the those dessert wines, this saké had earthy elements with hints of chocolate and nuts with dry finish.

Afterwards, Timothy, Masa, Hideo and I went to Donburi-ya for some casual Japanese munchies. Donburi-ya features "don," or dish based on rice with various generous toppings such as Tonkatsu pork cutlet. A perfect remedy after a night of drinking...

Timothy noticed on the menu that they carried Ozeki One Cup. Hideo essentially told Timothy, "you've never had One Cup? You're wasting your life!" Here is Timothy's reaction on such life-changing event.


July 1, 2008: Saké Hana hosted Takasago Brewery for an evening of saké from Hokkaido. I was invited to be translator for Mr. Shunsuké Kohiyama from the brewery, but his charismatic presentation hardly required my assistance.

Again, Timothy provides a nice recap of the evening here.

As always, the ambiance at Saké Hana is rather intimate

The sashimi combination was paired with Taisetsu Junmai Ginjo...

...while the sea-urchin flavored rice and sushi was paired with their flagship Ginga Shizuku "Divine Droplets" Junmai Daiginjo, made in the free-run style.

Being at the northern-most point of Japan, Hokkaido offers creative means of handling saké. Here, Mr. Kohiyama shows illustration of the igloo where they store their saké.

These were the last two events I attended during summer.

With the baseball season being over and saké season ready to kick off, I look forward to an active autumn.

Let's Talk Baseball.

Yes, it’s a saké blog, but baseball is inexplicably linked to Nihonshudo.

The postings have been too few and far in between since April (my bad.)

I play in an organized baseball league ran by Japanese- American Association (JAA). Their season starts? You guessed it, in April.

I've been playing for team called Shinsengumi, named after roaming samurai (a.k.a., "Band of Assasins" or "Wolves of Miba"), for 3 years now.

In my first season, we advanced to the playoffs.

Last year, we missed out with 4-6 record.

This year, I felt a sense of urgency to do better, and help our team get back in to the playoffs.

To give you perspective, I batted around lowly .250 range (yeah, it's been a while since I last played...). Last year, I improved to .350 range, but I knew I still had lot more to give.

Realizing that merely going to the batting cage wasn’t enough, I had to do the unthinkable and severely cut down my alcohol intake, including saké.

This is a significant commitment (at least by my lowly standards), but one I felt I owed to my teammates.

Shortly thereafter, I also began a new sport to improve stamina and hand-eye coordination during the weekday as part of my training regimen: badminton.

I’m not sure if everyone views badminton as a “real sport,” so judge for your self:

I now do this twice a week.

The combination of limited saké intake + less free time = minimal blog entries.

This begs the question: was it worth it?

Our team had a rebound season in couple of ways. We finished 6-5 to advance to the Playoffs, but were defeated by the defending Champions by 5-2 score. (The game was much closer than the final score.) We finished 6-5 despite starting 1-4 and 2-5, showing a lot of reserve and determination.

With a clear head (as much as one can have after waking up at 4:30 am), I was able to improve my batting to .469. The good news is that I feel I am just getting started, and I expect to do even better next season. I believe we can win it all.

Stay tuned, as next year, I might have baseball updates as part of this blog!

(Photo credit of my batting: Yuka Teshima)