Welcome to the eleventh installment of America's sake-centric
newsletter. In celebration of our recent 4th of July holiday I present
a newsletter that is filled with Independence and fireworks known as
"Sake Bombs". I also touch on the hot topic of cold sake at a Bar-B-Q.
There are three sake tasting events listed within including the
amazing Joy of Sake Tasting featuring over 150 sakes on September 15th
at the SF Nikko Hotel. Write that date down! So never fear your sake
servant is ready to pour you another issue of all things sake!
In this issue:
Sake Independence ? The Good Fight
It has been said that sake is the national beverage of Japan. You will
get no argument from me for this claim. Knowing as much about the
history of the rice culture and the great lengths that the government
has become intertwined with the sake industry I find it quite easy to
say that yes this beverage represents a people and a distinct way of
life. Sake is Japan and Japan is sake. Well as much as wine is France
and Beer is Germany.
I would argue however that this was much more the case before the war
when Japan was an isolated island nation. With the opening of commerce
into Japan wine and spirits became hugely popular, as many of the
younger generation wanted or longed to be like other people of the
world. Why drink your father's drink? Why drink sake when you could
sip a California Chardonnay or Irish whiskey? Booze became an
affordable means for "escapism." As such sake lost its stranglehold on
the "identity" of a nation via an alcohol. And to this day it has not
captured the enthusiasm of the younger generation to fuel its future
Now when sake hit our shores it was an amazing thing! A hot booze, how
novel. You will have to read my book (coming out in Spring 2006) to
get my take on this libation with no education that jumped into the
spotlight. Suffice it to say though we embraced this beverage with a
zest that has not been seen in Japan for decades. Sake was so darn
unique. Of course we were not drinking it in the best fashion ? super
heated butane, but we enjoyed the "newness" of it.
As more and more sake awareness takes hold in the US and abroad,
consumers are quite surprised and delighted to know that sake is quite
a different beast than the jet-fuel served at lava temperatures of
days past. Sake is more complex and dare I say more wine-like than the
perceived hard alcohol misconception. And herein lies a potential
problem. The brewers of sake today have embraced this "wine-like"
quality to a certain extent. They are making sake with more wine-like
qualities, they are marketing sake with more wine-like terminologies,
and they are encouraging the sale and consumption of sake in a wine-
like manner. In a word they are trying to align sake with wine in many
(Loud thunderous music, cymbals crashing, drums pounding, trumpets
blaring ? and the image of people throwing British tea over the side
of sailing vessels in Boston) To the brewers of sake that I have
consulted to, to my friends who are brewers, and to those in the sake
industry across the board I say REVOLT! I say strike up our
INDEPENDENCE. Sake is sake! It is not wine. It is not one of the 4,000
wine labels that Americans have a choice of buying. Sake is unique,
and we should keep it that way. The fact that sake is different is the
differentiator that is so beautiful. Thus think in terms of SAKE
INDEPENDENCE. Independent of all that wine out there, all that beer,
and of course all that booze. Keep wine over there, beer over there,
spirits over there and sake here away from them; keep sake on its own
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Sake and Bar-B-Q ? Grillin' & Chillin'
Yes, sake goes well with your Weber. Many of you know about Bob
Kantor's place called Memphis Minis on Haight Street in SF, where sake
comes face to face with the biggest badass rack of ribs in town. Bob
swears that sake and Bar-B-Q dance the forbidden dance and I most
certainly agree. But the trick is matching the sake to the type of
charred substance. Meaning it takes a certain kind of sake to pair
well with your holiday-grilled excellence. Here are some basic tips to
help you look like a rock-star when you show up to a BYOB Bar-B-Q
Do NOT be afraid to mix it up during this summer's cooking season.
Sake has a long history of pairing well with foods that are grilled.
And do not forget to use a bit of your sipping sake as a little at-
the-grill-marinade for both you and your food. When things heat up
cool down with chilled sake, it's the American way!
If you are grilling meats with lots of sauce stay with a sake
that has lots of fortitude. Think about acidity levels and try to
pair the meats to sakes that have higher acidity identities. For
example think about matching your Bar-B-Q'd meats with Nama
"unpasteurized" sakes that are genshu "undiluted." Or look for
Yamahai (old-style sakes using open-air yeasts) or Kimoto (old-style
sakes that arte pole-rammed). If all else fails I always like to use
very dry Junmai sakes with tons of grain and smoky characteristics.
Deep rich sakes with more earth tones such as soil, leaves,
mushroom, and wood elements tend to dance better than a fruity sake.
If you are grilling fish or light fowl on the coals then I say
look for bigger Ginjo sakes that have pronounced layers and are
balanced well. I prefer sakes with more mouth feel or gooeyness if
you will. Plump sakes with higher amino acidity that really fill the
recesses of your mouth with flavor. I think fruit-forward sakes work
great with grilled fish and chicken.
If you like your veggies tossed to hell's fires then I say get
goofy and try a nigori (unfiltered) sake. These sakes tend to be
very fruit forward and straight-talkers and as such they bring out
the sweetness in veggies on the grill. I prefer nigoris with a hint
of coconut to make the veggies feel more like a Thai grilled
Lastly, if the weenie is in the works I say pair that Hot Dog
with a creamy Junmai that is silky as all-get-out. A silky Junmai
along the lines of a Nishinoseki that has an almost buttery- popcorn
tonality that pulls well with a bun.
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Sake Bombs ? The True Story
The origins of the "Sake Bomb" are as confusing as who created the
Caesar Salad! Some say that American sailors practiced their "depth
charges" when stationed in Japan; while others say that it occurred
late one evening in Manhattan when some Japanese businessmen watched
several locals drinking "boiler makers" and tried it with sake. I will
say that I prefer the former scenario, because the Japanese love their
sake too much to muddy it with beer! Regardless, "Sake Bombs" have
become a cult beverage ritual unto themselves, and the future will not
see this ill-conceived practice ending anytime soon. I say ill
conceived on account of the singular fact that drinkers would never
entertain the idea of doing Chardonnay Bombs or Cabernet Bombs or
would they? And as I am a purist but not a snob, and despite the fact
that "Sake Bombs" confirm the misconception that sake is a hard
alcohol, I have decided to use my professional sake tasting skills to
guide you through this bomb field. (All pun intended)
But first a special memory that is fun story telling. Several years
back I was in Osaka, Japan having dinner with John Gauntner, Philip
Harper, and Yasutaka Daimon ? owner of Daimon Sake Brewery. We were
drinking the entire sake menu of a restaurant when I casually
mentioned the phenomenon known as "Sake Bombs." Yasutaka said "What?
Sake Bombs?" and I sheepishly told him about this dubious sake-related
concoction. The story is funnier when you can visualize a person of
some authority first lowering their eyebrows in disgust than opening
their eyes wide in fascination. "I want to try a Sake Bomb," were the
next words out of his mouth. The three of us persuaded this great
sake-soul to not enter the world of sake-sub-culture. Knowing Daimon-
san, I personally believe that he has tried it by himself.
So here are the bloody details and recommendations. I have "heard" of
about ten different methods and two stand out above the rest. The
first requires a pair of chopsticks and a firm forehead. In this
approach you take a pint of beer and place the chopsticks spread in a
mild "V" on top of the beer glass. Then you place a sake cup filled
with hot sake on the closed end of the chopsticks. At this point you
can either pound the table or bar with your hands until the sake plops
down into the beer ? cup and all ? or you can use your head! You make
the call. (I have seen the negative side of having to use your head
twice or three times to make the cup fall) The second method of doing
a Sake Bomb is to use a pint glass filled with beer with the hot cup
of sake sitting beside the glass. Without using your hands, you must
pick the hot sake cup up with your teeth so as to not burn your lips
and carry the vessel over to the awaiting cool bath of brew. More
often than not a splash of heated beer douses your face in this
process, which makes it a better dare!
Again, a Sake Bomb is purely a drinking novelty void of any rationale
other than to have fun. But to make it more fun I say why not taste
the sake, so use a big dry cheap honjozo that will be at the very
least slightly discernable amongst the beer flow. Bombs away!
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New Store Arrivals
The new "Summer Nama-sakes" are in, and worth a try. Just like last
summer we are carrying nama (unpasteurized) sake from Umenishiki (Dai
Ginjo) and Ohyama (Junmai) ? this was hands down the most popular nama
of all unpasteurized sakes that we sold last year. We also are
carrying a new nama from Tsukasabotan in 300ml for those wanting to
try a little bottle. We also still have Masumi's Arabashiri, which is
also incredibly popular, but will soon be sold out. Keep a look out
for a new nigori and sparkling sake from Gekkeikan. Lastly, we are
introducing a new Junmai Ginjo called "Kaori" from Tamanohikari the
brilliant brewery from Fushimi who usually make sake with the Omachi
rice strain, but switch things up for Kaori.
You can review many of our sakes on our web site:
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July 19 ? "Day of the Dai Ginjos"
This sake tasting will feature 6 amazing sakes that represent the best
of the best of what breweries have to offer. Dai Ginjos are the
pinnacle of a brewery's abilities and these sakes will remind all that
sake is indeed a godly beverage. This is a tasting event focusing on
the sake rather than a pairing event, but there will be some
substantial compatible appetizers. We recommend eating out after the
event. And on account of the fact that Dai Ginjo's are more expensive
this tasting will sell for $65/person with a maximum of 20 seats. This
event will take place at the corner of Haight and Ashbury. Order early
because these events sell out quickly. Call the store to reserve your
seat now ? 415.355.9555
August 17th (tentative) ? The "Seafood & Sake" pairing/tasting.
This is a great chance to pair some of the freshest seafood with the
freshest sakes available in the US. This tasting is based on a sake-
food pairing motif where the food is as good as the brew. A bargain at
$45/person with a 40-seat limit. Tickets will go on sale August 1st.
September 15th ? The Joy Of Sake tasting spectacular.
Circle your calendars, because September 15th will see history repeat
itself for the 3rd time in San Francisco, as this event is the
definitive sake tasting event outside of Japan. This is an amazing
occasion that should not be missed by anybody who reads this
Newsletter or visits True Sake. It is the only time and place where
you will have access to over 150 sakes, some of which are not even
available in the US. Add to that over 12 fantastic restaurants
preparing sake food, makes this THE SAKE EVENT OF 2005. True Sake is a
sponsor of this event and we highly recommend that you take your
appreciation to the next level. Tickets will soon be available at True
Sake or participating restaurants. You can also buy tickets at
The Joy of Sake staring early next month.
If you purchase
your tickets on-line or at a restaurant please tell them that True
Sake urged your participation. We want the organizers to know the
vastness of the True Sake community.
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I was approached by several readers of the Newsletter to share more
sake brewery websites so what follows is a list of some fun and crazy
sake websites. Some are in English, but I prefer the Japanese-side of
these bi-lingual sites. Enjoy!
For those looking just for crazy Japanese-only websites try these out
Hakutsuru Brewery in Kobe. They have a great museum for old style
production techniques and you can see a bit of it on their website.
Urakasumi Brewery is one of my soul-brother breweries. I like looking
around the Japanese side of the site as well:
Urakasumi - Japanese
Gekkeikan USA website
has good general info about sake made in
Another sake brewer in the US. This site for Sho Chiku Bai is worth a
look for style and crispness.
Fukumitsuya is the only "other" store in the world that I know of that
sells just sake. The difference is that they only sell their sake. A
Daishichi Sake Brewery.
Love this brewery for so many reasons, and it shows because we carry 5
of their sakes.
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I recently received an email from Tim G from Oakland, California who
asked "Why don't you sell American-made sakes in your store?" Firstly
Tim the "store rule" to not carry domestic sakes is purely a reaction
to the fact that you can buy most American-made sakes in large grocery
stores. Sake from Momokawa, Ozeki, Gekkeikan, Sho Chiku Bai to name a
few are available at various outlets, and I seen no reason to double
their exposure at the risk of not introducing imported sakes from
Japan. The more American sake the less Japanese sake, and it has
always been my goal to bring as many Japanese sakes to my customers as
possible. Both the heads of Gekkeikan Japan and Gekkeikan USA were in
my store and asked the same question. They pressed on as to my opinion
of American made sakes, and I was blunt ? I do not like them!
There are many reasons why I do not prefer foreign made sake ? USA,
Australia, South America etc. For one we do not have the greatest
brewing water, although many local breweries would beg to differ. And
secondly we do not have the greatest brewing rice. And of course these
two ingredients are the two most important. There is also something
also to be said for small batch sakes made by hand with old equipment.
This is not the case in the foreign sake example as most facilities
are large scale, automated, and are relatively new in scope ? most
opened in the early 80's.
All sake is good! But I happen to prefer sake made in Japan. It is up
to you the drinkers to try all types of sake, albeit domestic or
Japanese made. Sake is an individualistic sport and preferences should
always be unique. And of course even bad sake is better than Shochu
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
Man I am so pleased with myself! Last month I decided to imbed the
SECRET WORD within the text of the Newsletter to keep the "scrollers"
from scrolling down just to get the word without reading my glorious
durge! At least 20 people came to the counter laughing that they were
"caught" by surprise. We shall see if I do the same this month. For
those who are new to the SECRET WORD, this is a chance to receive a
50% discount off of a sake of my choosing to aid your "habit" and sake
knowledge-gathering path. Per usual only one bottle per reader and
those abroad must order three other sakes to fill out a 4-pack shipper
to get the SECRET WORD sake. Merely mutter/utter/whisper the SECRET
WORD and you shall receive the sacred sauce.
July's sake is one that I review in my soon-to-be-released book, and
represents the Ginjo category where the rice is polished at least 40%
with 60% remaining and has added brewer's alcohol. I enjoy the flavor
of this Ginjo has there are many hidden subtleties on all different
levels. In other words it is layered pleasantly and drinks like a
story! The sake is called Manyou No Koubai "10,000 Apricot Blossoms"
from Wakayama Prefecture. SMV: + 3.5 and Acidity: 1.2 This is a very
low acidity level and would appeal to those who like their sakes very
subtle void of booziness. The importers of this sake are a local SF
Imports and they carry about 10 sakes and one very famous plum
This month's SECRET WORD is "Sake Bombs."
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Thank you for reading!