Welcome to the tenth installment of America's sake-centric newsletter.
I would like to thank those readers who have sent messages extolling
their newfound appreciation for sake. Many of you have come from the
dark side – the world of grape wine, and many have never had a booze
home before, but to all I say welcome. Thanks to folks like John
Gauntner and Phillip Harper the world of sake has become a little
clearer, and it is my goal to make sake a little closer. By that I
mean I take great efforts to bring you sakes that are on par with the
freshness and abundance found in Japan. And it is safe to say that if
you read this newsletter regularly then you will know more about sake
than over half of the Japanese population. The sake truth is out
there, and together we will find it!
Please note that True Sake can now ship to the entire USA.
Give us a call today 415.355.9555
In this issue:
Women In Sake – The Myths and the Magic!
Recently I received an email from one of my readers who happens to be
a kuramoto - brewery owner. The brewery is on Soda Island off of the
Niigata coast. This owner also happens to be female. And as I only
know two other female owners of breweries I felt compelled to speak
with her more about the role of women in the sake industry to reaffirm
what I already generally knew.
Like all industries in time the role of women in the sake world is
clouded with myth and speculation as to when females entered the
workforce. Some brewery owners told me that women worked in the kuras
(breweries) hundreds of years ago, and yet others say that women only
started working in the past half century. Nevertheless they all agree
upon the simple fact that women were family members of the male
brewers and that is how they gained "admission."
Typically, most sake workers (kurabito) were farmers by trade and made
sake in the off- season (winter). They were and still are a hardy
group of people who do not know the meaning of shortcuts, and always
pursued the goal of a set routine whilst producing. Kurabito do not
like to improvise nor do they like deviating from established ways and
methods. And that is why the introduction of women in the workforce
became a "distraction."
Many owners of breweries developed myths about women to keep them out,
and to not provide that "distraction." For example it was said that a
woman's sweat was too alkaline and would ruin batches of rice. Or
better yet, a women's menstrual cycle would play havoc with the
"conditions," and as such they could not be near the process. The
bottom line was that male owners would make up these stories to keep
women away as they just didn't want their men being exposed to a
female in close quarters at all hours of the night during the brewing
process. (Think of the movie Rocky and the old coach telling Rocky to
stay away from women because, "They weaken the knees.")
Nevertheless, these women had brothers and fathers who were also
kurabito and were natural deterrents to any shenanigans. Thus women
stood side by side with the men and became natural parts of the
process. From my limited time watching the interaction of kurabito I
must say the women that I saw on the job didn't stand out at all, they
were just another worker doing an extremely difficult job with crazy
hours. And that is where the respect factor comes into play. Men
respect the women, because the job is so damn difficult.
As per ownership of breweries the perception of women kuramotos is
that they were in position because a guy was either dead or
unavailable. Historically, like most professions in Japan, the first
son would take over the ownership of a brewery from generation to
generation. If number one son died or could not perform for some
reason then the job went to the number two son. Ah but what if there
were no sons, only daughters? Well the brewery would go to the
daughter to keep the family name alive. And here we have yet another
myth in the world of women and sake. It was said that if a women who
was the owner of a brewery wanted to get married, the husband would
have to assume her last name, which was the name of the brewery. When
I asked Rumiko Obata if this was true she laughed and said that it was
It was speculated by a brewery owner and friend of mine that of the
roughly 1400 sake breweries in Japan 15% are operated by females, and
this number fluctuated and was heavily skewed towards females whose
husbands had died. He said that women brewery owners are never "hazed"
or given the "old boy" treatment out of honor for the difficult nature
of the business. Later Mrs. Obata would confirm this by saying that
she has never seen any sexist ill will towards her or other female
owners. Thus the perception of sake being a male dominated domain is
on the consumption front and not so on the production front. Women are
as much a part of sake as men, thankfully!
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Building A Sake Collection – You need not be a millionaire!
I am often asked what would be the best way to start a sake cellar or
collection. Firstly and most importantly sell all of your wine today –
right now! And if you don't have any wine or a wine cellar clean out a
closet. In any case prepare the location for storage first. This may
determine if you even want to start holding some sake for a period of
The best way to keep sake is by refrigeration. But that is not the
only way! The two main points are even temperature and limited light.
If you can keep your sake at a constant temperature that is half of
the battle. For example I keep sake in my basement/garage in a really
cold fridge, but the bottles that don't fit sit out where it is cooler
than the house. BUT the garage door going up and down is not the best
to maintain a constant temperature. Likewise light is important too,
as you do not want natural light hitting your product. And it is wise
to limit the florescent light. Thus those of you without a wine cellar
I say pick a closet that doesn't have a heat vent, and put in a small
How would I go about stocking my collection? Firstly I would store my
sakes by bottling date and not milling rates i.e. Junmai, Ginjo, and
Dai Ginjo. If you stored by category then you would forget the
"perishability" factor. Sake is perishable. Technically it is not
meant to be stored for a long period of time. Many brewers recommend
that you consume their sakes 6-18 months after the bottling date.
Therefore create "Zones" within your rack – Zone 1 – Zone 2 – Zone 3 –
in terms of bottling dates. In this case, Zone 1 would be your oldest
sakes and should be the ones consumed first. (Just think in terms of
those horribly cheap airlines that board you like cattle in Zones) For
example you have sakes in Zone 2 that are getting to be over 12 months
old. You would want to move them to Zone 1 to remind you to drink them
sooner rather than later. There is the whole issue of Koshu or aged
sakes, but I will not touch on that here in respect to drinking sake
as the Tojis (master brewers) would want you to drink them.
I would then visit or call True Sake and order the following to start
my collection. I would buy four bottles each of three different sakes
within each of the three major categories. In other words I would buy
4 bottles of three different Junmai sakes, four bottles of three
different Ginjo sakes, and four bottles of three different Dai Ginjos.
Why four? The first would be for personal tasting. The next two would
be for a potential party or dinner pairing, and the fourth bottle
would be for a gift. The result would be a 36-bottle cellar/closet
that unlike True Sake is always open for business.
And besides how cool is to say, "Wanna come over and check out my sake
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New Store Arrivals – Those Hidden Honjozos
Technically these sakes are not new to True Sake, but they may be new
to you. And if you have not yet tried a Honjozo (a sake that has been
milled/polished 30% with 70% of the grain remaining and has added
brewer's alcohol) then say hello to our little friends. We carry some
of the highest regarded Honjozos in Japan. And for the price they
carry a great bang for the buck, and are really great food pairing
Hakkaisan Honjozo - $25/720ml.
Top rated honjozo in the Izakaya Pubs Poll in Japan. Expansive flavor
and typical Niigata-style smoothness.
SMV: +5 Acidity: 1.4 From Niigata Prefecture
Kubota Senjyu Honjozo - $25/720ml.
Second highest rated sake in the Japanese Izakaya Pubs Poll. This is a
Ginjo-grade sake that is classic Kubota – super clean and super crisp.
A slightly spicy honjozo with big dryness.
SMV: +6 Acidity: 1.4 From Niigata Prefecture
Kira Honjozo - $22/720ml.
A powerfully dry honjozo that dances perfectly with big spicy cuisine.
This sake is as dry as they come and there is a pleasant Honjozo
sharpness that is not found in Junmai sakes.
SMV: +15 Acidity: 1.4 From Fukushima Prefecture.
Daishichi Honjozo - $52/1.8L.
An amazingly soft sake with loads of flavor and equal amounts of
feeling. It has a low SMV but does not drink sweet. A full-bodied sake
in velvety softness.
SMV: +1 Acidity: 1.3
Akitabare Shunsetsu Honjozo - $22/720ml.
Another honjozo polished to Ginjo levels and has only been pasteurized
once. A very light and dry sake that is both soft and shimmering with
a hidden sweetness that presents itself with saltier fare.
SMV: +2 Acidity: 1.5 From Akita Prefecture.
Kyoto Fushimizu Shitate Honjozo - $8/300ml.
A super light honjozo that borders on dry but tastes more clean than
anything else. Soft watery easiness is matched with a light flavor
which makes this a very
SMV: +4 Acidity: 1.3
You can review many of our sakes on our web site:
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Sake Vibes – Obata Sake Brewery
As a sake savant I spend lots of time checking out sake related
websites just to see what is available in Japan but not here! Call me
a masochist! That said I do enjoy looking at websites of breweries
that I know or would like to get to know and the Obata Sake Brewery on
Sado Island off of the Niigata coast is one of them. I briefly
mentioned the owner of Obata Brewery – Mrs. Rumiko Obata in the "Women
In Sake" paragraph, and have exchanged several emails with her. I have
not yet tasted her Manotsuru sakes, but she has informed me that two
of her brews are currently available in the US and two more are
coming. By all means
use this link to check out their website,
and hopefully you will
become as addicted to looking at Japanese Brewery websites as I have.
Lastly, if you know of any sake-centric websites or sake drinkers of
note who have unique websites by all means please pass me the link and
I will share them with the Newsletter readers. Send me an email at:
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Tuesday, June 28th – True Sake Presents "The Izakaya Sake Tasting" from 6:30-8:30PM at OYAJI Restaurant at 3123 Clement Street
(415.379.3604) So what in the heck is an Izakaya anyway? In a word an
Izakaya is a sake-centric restaurant/bar that specializes in the
celebration of sake and sake friendly cuisine. And Oyaji is the
nearest thing to a classic Izakaya in San Francisco. The evening will
feature 6 sakes paired with six dishes that scream "ahhh sake food!"
Oyaji's talented and crazy owner Hideki-san knows how to make
customers feel transported to Japan, as if you are drinking sake in
one of the thousand Izakayas that dot the island. Seating is limited
to 40 persons at $40/head (not including gratuity) and you MUST
reserve seats by visiting or calling True Sake – 415.355.9555. We will
not take walk-ins! And of course like all True Sake events this will
sellout in a heartbeat, so if you are looking for a fun time with some
sake thrown in phone True Sake immediately.
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This months question came by cell phone rather than email and was sent
by a local San Francisco very well known sommelier who asked, "Should
you ever decant sake?" My first inclination is to say no, and I base
this reply upon my many discussions with brewery owners who all
generally say that sake is meant to be consumed at the first-opened
time period. This particular sommelier decanted a genshu (undiluted)
sake with a higher than normal acidity level, and he said it was
"drinking better than ever" two days after opening. I suspect that the
sake "rounded out," which they do when oxidation sets in.
There are some sakes that drink better the next day! There I have said
it. And by that I mean that it takes a wash of oxygen to bring a
balance that may be lacking to the sake as it was bottled. Does this
mean the sake was bad or unbalanced? No it means that the edges needed
a little rounding and the feeling needed a little softness. Sake that
is oxidized or has been opened for several days tends to get softer –
not flat – and some sweetness presents itself. Some say it gets
smoother. But honestly a brewer would have brewed it that way
initially if that is the feeling that he wanted you to have.
There are two particular sakes in my store that I tell customers up
front that if they don't like the sake when opened put the cap on and
try it the next day. And to a "T" they all have come back and agreed.
The sake went from aggressive and big to soft and round, or so they
At our True Sake Koshu Tasting on the last full moon, I surprised the
tasters with several sake experiments, one of which was serving two
bottles of three-year-old sake from the same batch. I opened one of
the sakes the day before and let air hit the fluid for roughly 5
hours. Most of the tasters preferred the sake that had been opened.
Breathing does different things to different sakes. It is up to you to
see which you prefer. By all means purchase two bottles of the same
sake and do your own "decanting" test. As stated above I would use
genshus or fuller-bodied sakes as your test subjects.
But alas what about my cool decanter with the ice pocket in it? Use it
proudly, but keep the opened bottle capped in the fridge when not in
use so that the sake does not change as much as it would sitting out
"decanting" in the open air. Sake is pasteurized so it does have some
length to it, unlike wine that uses sulfites and one must speak in
hours when asking how long an opened bottle will last.
Now be forewarned, sakes that have felt air or have breathed at times
lose their flavor in exchange for getting softer. The oxidation
process thus becomes more of a function of feeling than flavor, and it
is a shame to say goodbye prematurely to a great tasting sake. So go
forth and play with sake, see how rice and water that hasn't had a
whiff of air for months does when you proudly open the bottle. There
is no right or wrong when it comes to what you like.
Please send your sake specific questions to
askbeau2 @ truesake.com. (This
address is not for general questions and I only review the questions
once per month. All correspondence should use
info @ truesake.com.)
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The SECRET WORD
Yes folks, you have reached the end of the Newsletter! And of course
this means that you have come to the SECRET WORD, which for new
readers is a way to taste a unique sake of my choosing at half price
for just uttering the SECRET WORD at True Sake or by phone. But please
do so quietly or others may here, and sadly for those of you afar I
have a policy that you must order three other sakes to fill out an
order. And of course only one SECRET WORD sake per reader please.
This month's SECRET WORD sake is our first Junmai Dai Ginjo. And what
an important sake to try. The brewery is called Tamanohikari and they
are located in Fushimi, which is right outside Kyoto. This brewery is
quite important as they use the "granddaddy" of all brewing rice
called Omachi. This strain of rice is still unchanged after hundreds
of years, and is the father to many of today's popular brewing rice
including Yamadanishiki. The bottle typically sells for $30 but for
you glorious readers it is a mere $15.
And for those who inadvertently have divulged that sometimes you just
scroll down to read the SECRET WORD section I say humbug! This month's
SECRET WORD is the name of the Island off of the coast of Niigata and
is home to the Obata Brewery, which has been mentioned twice in this
Newsletter. Chew on that!
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Thank you for reading and enjoy both your sake and your life!
TRUE SAKE: America's First Sake Store.