Welcome to the 12th edition and 1st Anniversary of America's sake-
centric newsletter. And August 7th represents True Sake's second
anniversary. Time flies when you are having fun, and it's more fun to
tell all those who inquire, "you're still in business?" that indeed we
still have a pulse. Actually the store is doing well and we owe many
thanks to you and your fellow sake brethren. Lastly, a quick
congratulations to Miwa, who works at True Sake, for successfully
completing her Kikisake-shi (Sake Sommelier License) in Japan.
In this issue:
The US Sake Scenario – Getting Huge
The market is hot! Sake sales in the US have gone up dramatically in
the past few years, and many brewers and exporters have taken note. In
2003, there were roughly 400 imported sakes that were registered in
the US. (All sakes and other boozes and any food stuffs that come into
the US must get cleared and labeled with the appropriate wording --
e.g., "pregnant women should not drink, etc." -- by the certifying
governmental agency before being sold to the public.) In 2004 and 2005
this number increased by about 50. But what is in the pipeline will
blow you away.
Typically it takes about 5 months for a sake to get "legalized". And I
am not joking when I tell you that there are about 160 new names
waiting to come to the US market in the next 12 months. I know each
and every bottle that comes into the states now, and I am amazed at
the number that will soon be here. It is daunting. And I fear for a
small backlash of over stimulating the market. But let us go back
before we take this macro view of sake consumption in the US and
If you are a regular reader to this newsletter you will recall that it
was the food companies who first started importing sake into the US.
They carried sake as a side-note to their more profitable food sales.
This paved the way for the sake-only importers, who focused on
bringing in sake as their core business. And lastly the wine and
spirits importers who wanted to expand their portfolios represented
the last vehicle for sake to touch our shores.
In the past 10 years many labels came and went. A brewer would notice
that their sakes weren't selling well and would not want to continue
exporting thus the line was dropped. Or in another case breweries
would go bankrupt and their sakes would cease to exist. We currently
have three different sakes whose breweries have gone belly-up. When we
are done selling these sakes they are done forever, unless of course
the brewery gets saved and keeps producing under that name. During
this time the number of sakes available fluctuated slightly as some
would get dropped and importers would introduce some new sakes. This
current explosion was never felt in the past.
Today I personally know of six new importing efforts under way. And
all six are sake only endeavors. For example one company is made up of
the "unrepresented" breweries in Niigata who would like to see their
products in the "hot" US market. All in all, some of the most amazing
sakes will soon be available right here in your back yard. When I hear
the names of some of the breweries my jaw hits the floor! Really! We
will soon be importing sakes of incredible stature and note. Some of
the most sought after sakes in Japan will soon be on our shelves. Why?
Each of my established sake importers have expressed that "business is
good." So good in fact that the breweries are really pushing their
sakes overseas to meet the demand of the "hot market." As you all know
the sake industry in Japan is really hurting in a big way. Sales for
regular (non-premium) sake are sinking drastically. And premium sake
sales are sideways at best. Thus the "hot" US market makes these guys
feel good, because they see that there is a whole new group of people
enjoying their sake. And they love that, because they love making
sake. (There is also an unimaginable stress involved when you are the
13th or 18th generation owner of a brewery who may consider closing
your doors for business after hundreds of years)
The bottom line is that all of these importers are chasing the market
demand. But at what cost? There are 4,000 wine labels to choose from
in the US. That is overwhelming. And soon we will have close to 600
sakes to choose from. There will be consequences for certain. Will the
"hot" market stay hot? I have said all along that sake is not a fad,
and it will be here for the long haul, but will such rapid expansion
have a negative impact? Who knows?
I do know that both the consumers and the importers should think in
terms of longevity. We should not go crazy by bombarding a semi-
successful market, and likewise we should come to grips with what is
already available before wanting new sakes. In this light I will
wholeheartedly honor the new arrivals – as any sake is a good thing –
but I will also encourage my customers to explore what has already
past the test of time – the sakes that have been here before the "hot"
There is a sake for everybody. More importantly there is a style of
sake for everybody and therein lies the fun. If you have a comfort
zone already established I congratulate you, but I also say, "get
out!" Get out of that comfort zone of one or two sakes, and try
something completely different. Even if you think that you don't like
"sweeter" types of sake, try one. If you only like unfiltered sake
then take a chance on some filtered sakes. Explore the jungle now
while it is still manageable, because soon it will be overgrown!
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Sake Lore – Children's Stories
Sake is deeply imbedded into the history and culture of Japan; so much
so that it has even pervaded kid's stories past on from generation to
There are countless "stories" about sake from where it was discovered
and who discovered it to how sake changes people and the consequences
of sake. They are all curbed towards a general acceptance of sake
cloaked in generational yarns.
For example the following "story" touches on two pieces of sake facts
that are intertwined in a cute bedtime tale. The first is the premise
that monkeys and birds discovered sake for themselves and became drunk
on the enchanted beverage. And secondly is the fact that ancient
peoples stored sake in gourds.
I will address the second first. Sake was kept in gourds as a way of
making it portable. The gourd was gutted and dried and a rope was tied
around its neck. This rope bound gourd became the first "flask" that
the world ever knew, and to this day the gourd has a very special and
symbolic meaning in sake lore. Even the great samurai are depicted
with gourds dangling from their hips.
Secondly and most importantly, animals indeed were the first boozers
that this planet ever knew! Think of any ancient culture or any domain
in this vast world and there is a grain, nut or fruit that when
decomposed turns into an alcohol when natural yeasts ferment the
decaying material. It is quite simple and there are many stories
around the globe of animals that booze. Take for example the elephants
of South Africa who eat the Marula fruit that has fallen from the
Marula tree. Yes it is true, these glorious beasts get loaded on the
fruit that has decayed and fermented on the ground, just like the
monkeys in the Amazon who take a certain fruit and stuff it into a
hollow of a tree and wait for the mash to ferment. Same principal and
who really knows why they do it? Perhaps it is the feeling - the
feeling that makes you want to dance:
Monkey-Dance and Sparrow-Dance
Once there was an old woodcutter who went so far into the mountains
to find wood that he got lost. He walked for a long time, not
knowing where he was going, until he suddenly heard music in the
distance and smelled the odors of food and drink.
Climbing up to the top of a hill, he saw a great crowd of monkeys.
They were eating and dancing and singing, and drinking a kind of
wine that they had made from rice. It smelled so good that the old
man at once wanted some.
They sang and danced beautifully, much to the old man's surprise.
Then one monkey took up a bottle made from a gourd, filled it with
the sake, and said that it was time for him to be going home. The
other monkeys told him goodbye and he started home. When the old man
saw this, he decided to follow the monkey and see if he couldn't get
some of the sake for himself.
Before long the gourd-bottle grew very heavy. So the monkey stopped
and poured some of the sake into a jar. He hid the gourd with the
rest of the sake in the hollow of an old tree, put the jar on his
head, and went merrily on his way, balancing the jar carefully. The
old man had been peeping and had seen all this. When the monkey was
gone, the old man said: "Surely he won't mind if I just borrow some
of that wonderful sake." So he ran to the hollow tree, and filled a
jar with some sake. "This is wonderful," he thought. "If it tastes
as good as it smells, it must be very fine indeed. I'll take this
back to my wife – if I can find my way home."
In the meantime his wife was having an adventure too. She was
washing clothes under a tree and suddenly noticed that the sparrows
were having a kind of party. They too were drinking something that
smelled so good the old woman just had to have some.
So, when the sparrows had finished dancing and singing, the old
woman quickly tucked one of their gourd-bottles under her robe and
hurried home. "I'll take this to my husband," she thought, "for if
it tastes as good as it smells, it must be fine indeed."
No sooner had she arrived than her husband appeared, having finally
found his way home. "I have something to show you," they both said
at the same time. And then, one by one, they told each other their
stories. Then they exchanged their bottles and drank the sake.
It tasted delicious, but no sooner had they drunk it than they both
felt an uncontrollable desire to dance and sing. The old woman began
to chatter and jump around like a monkey, while the old man held his
hands out and chirped like a sparrow.
First the old man sang:
"One hundred sparrows dance in the spring!
Chirp-a chirp, chirp-a chirp, ching!"
Then the old lady sang:
"One hundred monkeys making a clatter.
Chatter-chat, chatter-chat, chatter."
They made so much noise that the man who owned the woods they lived
in heard them and came running. There he saw the old woman dancing
and acting like a monkey, and the old man dancing and acting like a
sparrow. "Here, here!" he said. "This will never do. If you're going
to dance, a woman's dance should be graceful and lady-like, like a
sparrow's dance, and a man's dance should be bold and manly, like a
monkey's dance. Not the other way around."
So the old couple stopped dancing and told their landlord the
stories of their adventures. "Well of course," he said, "you've each
been drinking the wrong sake. Why don't you change bottles again and
see what happens,"
After that the old man always drank the monkey sake, and danced in a
very manly way. And the old woman always drank the sparrow sake, and
danced in a very lady-like way. Everyone who saw them dance and
heard their songs thought them very lovely and started imitating
them. And that is why to this day a man leaps about nimbly and
boldly when he dances, while a woman is much more graceful and bird-
like when she dances.
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New Store Arrivals
As more and more sakes flood into the region – the US – I am always
tempted to stock as many of the new names as possible. But wait! Some
of my importers still have so many great sakes that have yet to be
explored by you and we will make a serious effort to cover all of our
old bases before looking to steal home!
In this regard, we recently added several unique sakes from the "The
Jizake" or formerly known as Sake Services Institute (SSI).
You can review many of our sakes on our web site:
Okayama Prefecture – Junmai Ginjo
SMV:+5 Acidity: 1.3
A nice dry and savory Ginjo that is quite fragrant and appealing
to those looking for a dryer Ginjo with full and deep flavor.
Ehime Prefecture – Junmai Dai Ginjo
SMV: +3 Acidity: 1.4
A bionic Dai Ginjo with tons of layers of attitude and story.
The bottle alone is worth the extremely high price, but when you
feel like splurging on a top'o-the-line Dai Ginjo give this
clean and dry wonder a try!
Ehime Prefecture – Junmai Ginjo
SMV: +3 Acidity: 1.5
This is the sister to "Tenmi" and also comes in the amazingly
shaped bottle with a cork as well. But the packaging doesn't
compare to the incredibly unique herbal quality to this sake.
Truly the most herbal sake that I have ever tasted. Beautiful
and clean and filled with fresh herbs!
Iwate Prefecture – Junmai Nigori
SMV: -10 Acidity: 1.4
$32/720ml & $16/$300ml
Hey Nigori fans here is another milky sake to add to your
collection. This really fluffy unfiltered sake has a soft and
mild taste filled with all sorts of fruits. It is unique in the
sense that it was cold-stored for 6 months before releasing,
which adds to the softness factor.
Iwate Prefecture – Plum Sake
Okay folks the market has spoken and we have listened. There has
been an increasing demand for sakes that are infused. The local
brewery in Napa that has been making these sorts of sakes closed
last year. Thus we have brought over for you an imported sake of
note. This is not plum wine! It is a filtered sake that has had
plum extracts added to it. Plum Sake. It is lower in alcohol
than a typical sake (12%) and has a rolling sweetness that is
well balanced and very flavorful. It is refreshing indeed and
worth a try on the unusual side.
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Sadly I am sorry to say that the August 17th Sake & Seafood tasting
has been postponed. We will get back to you with more info on this
event, but it will not take place in August.
September 15 – The Joy of Sake Event at the Nikko Hotel.
Please call the store at 415.355.9555 to order your tickets now.
The price is $65 per person and well worth every penny. It is your
best chance to try over 200 sakes in an amazing setting with some
really great restaurants providing the food. Up to 40 of the sakes
are not even available in the US. You'd have to travel to Japan to
taste then. DO NOT MISS THIS EVENT!
September 19 – Sake Dinner at
I will be speaking at this tremendous dinner and local sushi
celebrity "Sushi Sam" will be adding his special touches to Chef
Scott Giambastiani's stellar efforts. Please come sway this
brilliant "wine" restaurant to the wonders of sake, and let's
support their Director of Wine and Spirits Michael Ireland in his
continued fascination with sake. Please give Michael a call at
(650.685.3726) Tickets will go fast! So act now.
Information available here.
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This month's question comes from Sara B. from Buffalo, NY who asks,
"Why is winter the official sake brewing season?" Well the answers are
many so for you Sara I will do a David Letterman-style Top 10 "Reasons
Why Sake Was Made In The Winter" List:
Rice was planted in the spring and harvested in the fall.
Rice needs to sit for a month after harvesting to
After polishing rice the milled rice needs to "acclimate"
Sake brewers who are called Kuribito were really farmers who
nothing to do during the winter months. |
As fermentation creates a great deal of heat, outside air was
used to cool down the process naturally. |
Koji rooms also get very hot and the winter air provided a cool
and "local flavor" blast of air. |
Storage facilities were sometimes made of snow. |
Natural airborne yeasts are practically eliminated in cold
Some brewers prefer the flavor of winter water to summer water. |
Sake and snow just go together!|
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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Ah, at last we have reached the end of this Newsletter and that of
course means that we have come to the now-famous SECRET WORD. For
those that are new the SECRET WORD is a chance for you to try a sake
of note for half of that sake's original price. Just for reading this
Newsletter. It is our way of saying thank you for trying to understand
the wonders of sake. And in this regard we typically select a sake
with a story, and this month's story is from a brewery in Fushimi,
which is outside Kyoto called Tamanohikari. Yes the same brewery that
was featured as a previous "story" SECRET WORD sake. That sake was a
Junmai Dai Ginjo made with Omachi brewing rice – the most ancient
brewing strain and father to many of today's popular brewing rice
This brewery specializes in Omachi rice, that is their passion and
that has been their core. But they too listen to the market and have
created a sake that is lighter and more fragrant than any sake that
they could make with Omachi rice. And more importantly they make this
month's SW sake for you as it is for Export only. The Taminohikari
"Kaori Ginjo" is what they think that American's would like in a sake.
You be the judge. Typically the sake sells for $30, but it is yours
for $15. And remember just one bottle per reader please, and don't
forget to whisper the SECRET WORD, as others want to know why you get
your booze for cheap! This month's SECRET WORD is Gourd.
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Thank you for reading!