Welcome to the fifteenth installment of America's sake-centric
newsletter. Are you ready? Are you prepared for the holidays? Catch
your breath and dig in, as this holiday season takes a rice and water
twist. Chuck that Zin, toss that Cab, and fling that Chard this is the
year that you take your sake pairing and gift giving to new heights.
Let the holiday season begin and let sake do the celebrating!
In this issue:
Gobble This – Why Sake Should Be On Your Thanksgiving Menu
One year ago I wrote the following heading for the Newsletter:
Welcome to the third installment of America's sake-centric
newsletter. I dare you all to incorporate sake into this year's
Thanksgiving Dinner. Sake definitely goes with fowl that is prepared
well, and lots of sake goes well with that over-done turkey that
granny makes each November. Think about the other elements, ala
cranberry sauce and butter, and instead of your full-bodied white or
dry red try a full- bodied kimoto style junmai or a plump junmai
ginjo to make that perfect mouth pairing. Sake works wonders!
Well did you? I did get a lot of feedback from folks who wanted to
"shake up" Thanksgiving, but they were more impressed with how the
sake performed. Some were skeptical that a full-bodied Junmai Ginjo or
old style Kimoto or Yamahai sake could stand up like a glass of some
huge Cab or a dry white. But the overall reactions were quite
positive. I recall one reader who emailed that she didn't know that a
starch beverage could go well with her "mom's famous mash potatoes,"
but as she put it "the pairing made me look like a rock star."
The funny thing is that I have been working so hard to get people to
grasp the concept that sake need not be that rubbing alcohol jet fuel
hot plonk that they are so used to in a hot sake, and if fact it is
quite soft, light and filled with nuance. That was the easy sell, and
now I have to wheel the big ship back the other way to show that not
all sakes are soft, clean and easily overwhelmed by flavors such as
cranberry, gravy, or garlic. Sake has balls when it needs to, and
there are a ton of really unique and flavorful brews that go so
perfectly with the "T-bird." (Hell, we even have a fantastic nihonshu
(sake) to go with a Tofuty-bird)
I look for a robust acidity when I pair with meat, game or fowl. Add
to that butter and other mouth filling flavors I like sakes that have
some staying power in terms of flavor. I select fatter sakes that fill
the mouth, rather than the light clean ones that fire right through
the palate. Think meaty sakes for meaty flavors, and also use a larger
glass than usual to mix up that acidity. Go with your big reds
glasses, and don't worry about the next day big reds hangovers.
Sake is really a slam dunk this Thanksgiving, and to make it even more
easy I will hang little turkeys around the necks of the sakes that
excel with the bird in the True Sake store. By all means phone in –
415.355.9555 – and we will shout these out. Give the rice drink a shot
at your mom's potatoes or you Aunt's version of "deep fried Turkey."
You will not be disappointed. Here are "Five To Try" and they are in
Hiraizumi Yamahai Junmai
Kikuhime Yamahai Junmai
Masumi Yamahai Junmai Ginjo
Taiheizan Kimoto Junmai
Tenzan Junmai Genshu
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The Nice "N" Word – Nigoris Past and Present
Nigori or unfiltered sake is that really unique brew that has the
fog/clouds/fluff at the bottom of each bottle. What the heck is that
stuff? As unappealing as it sounds it's really the unfermented rice
particles that were not removed. You mean it's like cold Uncle Ben's
rice juice? Not a chance. Remember the process of brewing sake is to
convert a starch (rice) into a sugar (glucose). Then the brewers add
yeasts that eat up all the sugar and cough out alcohol and carbon
dioxide. So what rice doesn't get munched by the killer yeasts usually
is sweet, and as such most nigoris tend to be on the fruitier and
sweet side with SMV's (Sake Meter Value) ranging from –20 to +3.
Arguably if you have tasted a Nigori here in the US it was more than
likely made here in the US. The Takara Sake Brewery in Berkeley,
California and the Ozeki Brewery in Southern California make very
affordable and "drinkable" nigoris that are fluffy and sweet. They are
relatively inexpensive as compared to imported nigoris, and that is
why restaurants and bars carry these products to make more money on
increased margins. The result in my humble opinion is that we here in
the West have embraced a liking for the sweeter nigoris. Heck when
compared to some of the really bad "hot sake" flavors that we have
tasted the cold and creamy nigoris scream drink me!
At one point in time all sake was nigori sake. In fact if you go way
back sake resembled more of an oatmeal that one ate with chopsticks of
sorts. I mean why bother to filter out all of the unfermented rice
polishings? Well as tastes and flavors changed consumers soon
preferred sakes that had the "lees" removed. How did they remove the
lees? Think of a bottle of nigori. When standing straight up,
eventually the lees settle on the bottom. Same thing happens in a
fermentation tank. The heavier rice particles rest on the bottom, and
brewers discovered that they could drain off the top of the tanks to
achieve a particle free brew! In fact and ironically the top of a
batch of fermented sake or the cream that rises to the top, was
anything but! It was however the more desirable sake and as such the
But like all things soon the government was looking for ways to tax
the popular sake industry and they concluded that they would tax all
sake that was filtered or had the lees removed. Thus, whenever a
government official saw sake that was cloudy this immediately
indicated that it was untaxed or "bootlegger" sake, that was probably
made in somebody's basement. In word nigori sake was illegal. Imagine
going to jail for the crime of Nigori-ing! I guess "moonshiners" can
This all changed 41 years ago when a brewery in Fushimi outside of
Kyoto said "Wait a second, we like nigori sake and we want to brew it
again." Well maybe they didn't say it exactly like that, but they did
invite the dreaded Tax Department down to their brewery to watch the
process of making nigori sake using a large filter that didn't remove
all of the lees. In a sense, it was still filtered sake they argued,
and the Tax guys agreed! So this brewery (Tsukinokatsura – True Sake
sells two of their amazing nigoris) re-engineered the modern nigori
movement. Thanks to them you can enjoy sake with clouds!
True Sake has the largest selection of Nigoris outside of Japan. We do
not carry locally made unfiltered sakes, but we do offer 13 imported
Nigoris and 5 more are on the way. Many have heard me bemoan the fact
that there isn't enough complexity and nuance for me in unfiltered
sakes. This is changing. Today some of these beasts truly capture a
complexity that is quite different than that of their filtered
brothers. And they come in all forms of consistency from super thick
and creamy to quite thin and extremely dry.
If you are a filtered snob like me, I say give Nigoris a second look.
There are some really unique flavors jumping around, and they pair
really well with certain dishes that filtered sakes cannot touch like
Thai or spicy cuisine or cheesy foods with lots of cream and fat. And
if you love your "foggy" sakes then branch out and try some of our
unpasteurized Nigoris or some of the new dry examples. It is a white
wonderland waiting for your exploration!
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New Store Arrivals
Over the summer I went to a food trade show put on by a local
distributor of Japanese food and sake. This second annual event had
many more sake "stands" than the year before, and they actually had a
flyer which stated "make money sell sake" that promoted the event.
Typically what you will find are representatives of the breweries who
travel over from Japan to speak about their brews that this company
distributes. In many cases the big man of each brewery will come to
speak to the American customers. I like this a lot as it reminds me
that they value our "overseas" market. The owners of Dassai and Sudo
Honke (makers of Sato No Homare and Kakunko) have been to the event
This year I had a great time meeting and tasting the product from a
brewery called Take no Tsuyu out of Yamagata Prefecture. The owner
Masao Aisawa immediately became a sake blood brother as he came to the
show with sake bottles filled with the brewery's water. I love that!
In fact when I do tasting at breweries I always ask to taste their
brewing water when I try their line-up of sakes. I feel that it is
important to taste, what ends up being 80% of the final product in raw
form. And in this case the water was brilliant.
Masao-san has three products – soon to be four – that are on our
shores in the US, and they are tremendous. Never before have I added
three sakes from the same brewery at the same time in a "New Store
Arrival" fashion. But behold, three really impressive sakes from
Yamagata that drink super smooth, but better yet, have loads of
flavor! They are all made with lower acidity levels and this may
account for their really soft textures and complexions.
Takenotsuyu "Bamboo Tears"
Yamagata Prefecture – Junmai
SMV: +2 Acidity: 1.4
The nose on this superb Junmai is filled with cherry, plums, dried
fruit and saw dust aromas. Talk about a soft sake. This brilliant
brew is both clean and light and incredibly silky with layers of
plump flavors. Yet flavorful is an understatement as hints of
richness conceal a mild sweetness that ends in a semi-dry finish.
An elegant sake that drinks way too easy, and represents another
great example of a Yamagata-style sake that screams "Drink me!"
WINE: Pinot Noir/Chewy whites
BEER: Light ales
FOODS: Salty and savory fare, grilled everything, and sushi
Takenotsuyu Hakuro Suishu "Winter Water"
Yamagata Prefecture – Junmai Ginjo
SMV: +1 Acidity: 1.2
Bingo! One of the best noses in the sake world filled with grape,
sweet rice, ash, mineral, balsa wood, and cotton candy aromas.
Welcome to liquid style! This tremendous Ginjo is silky, plump and
luscious. How can something be so watery-clean and luscious? Who
knows, and who cares because you will be amazed at how soft and
elegant this semi-sweet brew drinks. There are mild fruit tones
including pear and apple and these are enhanced in a larger glass.
So clean and no aftertaste, must be the awesome water!
WINE: Plump Pinot Noir/Chardonnay
BEER: Honey Ales
FOODS: Think cuisines that have natural sweetness, shellfish,
avocados, and pastas that are clean and savory.
Takenotsuyu Yuki Honoka "Pure Snow"
SMV: +1 Acidity: 1.3
Yamagata Prefecture – Junmai Ginjo Hatsushibori
A whisper soft nose filled with skating ice, grape skins, and
hints of cedar tones. A very gentle draft sake with a gracious
amount of subtlety that results in a treasure hunt of flavors
that are deeply layered and hidden waiting to be unearthed.
Simple flavor, simple feeling, but a serious sake that extols
the virtues found in rice and water. Look for hidden flavors
such as toffee and marshmallow, and enjoy this fresh sake that
is silky and semi-sweet. One of the best valued sakes in the
WINE: Cabernet/ Rieslings
BEER: Light beers
FOODS: Lightly flavored dishes, sushi, and mellow pastas.
And lastly, and this is sort of a hush because I only have two cases
available for now. True Sake has added the Junmai Dai Ginjo from one
of our favorite breweries – Urakasumi – makers of a great Junmai,
brilliant Junmai Ginjo called Zen, and a Fall Draft Junmai. This is
one of "those" kind of sakes that just yells class! $79/720ml.
You can review many of our sakes on our web site:
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In last month's Sake Spotlight we spoke with Kazuo Matsuura owner of
Matsuura Shuzo Brewery in Tokushima Prefecture. He is the maker of the
Narutotai Yamahai Junmai Ginjo Genshu. Because of time constraints I
had to post the October Newsletter without getting his final thoughts
about his sake, and subsequently he would email me more on his
favorite product that they produce. Herewith are Kazuo's final
thoughts on this wonderful sake. Sorry for the double exposure, but I
feel that it is amazing insight on an amazing sake.
I had to prod him with specific questions, but I must say that his
answers are purely professional. It may be a bit much, but for those
who want to know sake, this guy is a clearinghouse of information:
BT: Will you speak a little bit more about the Yamahai.... why do
you make it a genshu?
KM: Yamahai is a kind of starter on sake making. In Japanese sake
mashing, starter is called "Moto" which is one of the most important
process of making. As same as wine brewing, "Moto" or starter will
decide the quality of product. "Moto" gives the properties of taste
of sake. If we would like to make the sake, which has full body
taste, we should choose the specific type of "Moto", that is the
Yamahai Moto. In general, recent Japanese sake making use the
"Sokujyo Moto" that is a kind of simplified starter. There is the
deference between "Sokujyo" and "Yamahai" in the number of species
of microorganisms. We can identify just one kind of yeast in
"Sokujyo Moto", which is Saccharomyces Cerevisie as same type as
wine yeast. However, there are many types of microorganisms in
"Yamahai Moto". These are Yeast, lactic bacteria and other type of
bacteria. The microorganisms make a flora in "Moto", at first
period, a bacteria that assimilates Nitrate will grow in Yamahai
moto. They eat the Nitrate in water added to starter. Then, the
Nitrate is de-oxided by the bacteria. In the condition containing
de-oxided nitrate, the other microorganisms will be killed by de-
The specific aim of this period is that the wild type yeast is
killed. In second step in Yamahai Moto, Lactic bacteria will grow.
This type of lactic bacteria have a tolerance to the de-oxided
nitrate. The lactic bacteria make lactic acid, so the taste of
Yamahai moto will be sourer. Under the condition, wild type yeast
never alive. Through this long period, suitable type yeast that
makes good taste and flavor of sake will grow. Now this is Yamahai
Moto. It takes twice periods of normal Sokujyo Moto. Since Yamahai
Moto is made by many kinds of microorganisms, the produced sake has
complex flavor and taste, which is smoky aroma like a specific type
of honey. We would like to give Yamahai Genshu of Narutotai the
BT: When you taste this Ginjo what flavors do you find... what do
you enjoy about it as a drinker and not a maker?
KM: As describing above, we can taste the complex smoky flavor which
similar to cinnamon or roasted wood, Yamahai sake matches food or
cuisine that has little strong taste, smoked salmon with olive oil,
meat with tomato sauce you can fine the dish at Chanterelle in NY.
Especially, Michael Wise said that Yamahai Genshu matches the
cuisine with green leaves. Green leaves are containing bitter taste
component, which may be called Sinaline. It is a popular component
of green leaves according to Prof. Wise who is the professor of
Culinary Institute of America.
BT: Why do you like the sake, and what foods do you pair with it?
KM: I like Yamahai Genshu the best, because Yamahai Genshu has
original flavor we can't detect in other type sake. The property of
Yamahai Genshu is the specific flavor. The flavor will musk the
fish's raw flavor, match the taste of roasted soy sauce flavor. You
will be able to predict easily the roasted flavor of soy sauce.
There is a bridge between Yamahai flavor and roasted soy sauce
flavor. It is a result of Japanese food culture by excellent yeasts
and natural microorganisms.
Just a great guy, who so happens to make one hell of a great sake. I
will include my review again:
Narutotai Genshu "Red Snapper" From Tokushima prefecture.
Yamahai Junmai Ginjo Genshu.
SMV: +4 Acidity: 1.5
This genshu (undiluted sake with 17% alcohol) has a subtle aroma
profile that hints of damp wood, whipping cream and a tingle of
licorice. It is a deep and rich sake that drinks thin even though it
feels robust. With a layered acidity, it's a perfect genshu for
pairing with largely flavored Western-style cuisines. Look for the
red snapper on the label as this sake was constructed to pair
perfectly with this fish marinated in soy sauce.
WINE: Merlots/Soft Reds
BEER: Pale Ales
FOODS: Cooked fish, juicy game dishes, vegetable tempura, holiday
turkey and ham.
And don't forget to try Kazuo's Junmai Ginjo Fall Draft "Hiyaoroshi"
that is only available for a limited time. This sake was brewed in
February, pasteurized once and then stored for 8 months. They release
it without pasteurizing it again when they feel the flavor has
achieved its peak. It is dry and really yummy, and quite frankly I
love warming it (Nuru-kan). This and the other two Fall Drafts will be
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FREE SAKE - Medicine Restaurant In SF (Offer expires Nov. 14th. They
have extended this offer for customers of True Sake and readers of the
Well, sort of free! If you have not yet been to Medicine (why not?)
this offer should surely make you want to visit this killer "Monk-
Food" inspired restaurant that specializes in clean, vegetarian,
vegan cuisine that the monks munch in Japan (Shojin Ryori). They
have a superb sake menu, that yours truly designed, and they have
made a special offer to readers of this Newsletter and visitors of
True Sake. Stop by the store and get a postcard or go directly to
Medicine and mention the True Sake Newsletter and they will offer
you a "complimentary tasting of three premium sakes at dinner, Mon-
Fri from 5:30-8:30pm." This is a great deal for sake fans and
foodies looking for a brilliant meal. Medicine 161 Sutter Street @
The Crocker Galleria San Francisco. 415.677.4405
Nov 16th – The Crab Sake Tasting (ONE SEAT Remaining!)
Crab Sake? Yes you heard us right! This dinner will pair crab
(November is peak crab season) with sake on all levels. From crab
sashimi to crab balls to crab soup and drinking hot sake out of crab
shells (Kani-sake), this event will pair at least 6 sakes with all
things crab! Because this is such an exotic tasting the chef of a
local Japanese restaurant (in Japan Town) has asked me to keep the
event to a maximum of 10 guests. Tickets are $150 per person and for
this price you get to take the crab shell home! No parties larger
than two people please! Please call True Sake to order your tickets.
December 7th – Sake For Singles Tasting Event
Singles! Join us on the evening of Tuesday, December 7th to share
the union of sake and Japanese shojin cuisine and experience the
love the two bring.
This event is coordinated by Miwa, who describes the evening as
such: "He seems nice but not quite accessible. She is looking
beautiful but hard to understand. Every so often we venture out to
the world in search of Miss. and Mr. Right. Many encounters but
making real connection is harder than it appears. Here we are, still
around empty hearted. Yes, we are talking about you and sake. Let's
all get together to find one another. Perhaps a magical moment is
just around the corner."
When: Wednesday, December 7th 6:00-8:30
Where: Medicine New-Shojin Eatstation 161 Sutter Street at the
Crocker Galleria (Few public parking garage near by)
What: Blind tasting, family-style sit-down, and mingling, all
designed for you to meet every sake and everyone!
Cost: $40 ($10 to reserve and $30 when you show up please)
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Ken P from Cyberland writes:
"Hello, I was wondering if you sake experts would be so kind as to
recommend an entire dinner from appetizers to dessert that could be
accompanied by good enough sake that would make my friends and I
believe that sake wasn't just for Japanese food, thanks!"
Ken this is a great question and for you I will do this one better. I
will include a great sake pairing that I did with Jeff Inahara at "Sur
La Table" last year that I called my "Comfort/Take-Out Food Pairing"
where we matched sake to foods that you can have delivered to your
door or that you can make in ten minutes. The point is to show the
flexibility of sake, and to show yet again that sake need not only go
with Japanese food. Here was the evening pairing of sakes to the
specific foods, with a brief review about each sake:
Wakatake Onikoroshi – "Demon Slayer" From Shizuoka
Prefecture. Junmai Ginjo. SMV: +3 Acidity: 1.5
This ginjo has a sprightly filled nose of veggies and watermelon
hints wrapped in an enduring scent. The first sip feels strong, but
is greeted with a gentle and smooth follow up of subtle green apple
and mineral flavors. The thickness is quite noticeable and makes for
a nice chewy experience ending in long dry legs down the back of the
throat. The mouth speed is quite slow and this is made all the more
enjoyable by an abundance of fruit tones and sincere dryness. A
very solid starter ginjo for beginners and a friend to the well
Wine: Pinot Noirs/Dry Chardonnay
Beer: Honey Ales/Ambers
Foods: Miso-based dishes, dark veggies, chawanmushi, shrimp
dumplings, spaghetti with basil. (The subtle layers of
watermelon in the sake worked very well with the tomato sauce
to give a nice smoky feel to the pairing.)
POSOLE (Vegan Mexican Soup):
Kira – "Devil" From Fukushima Prefecture 1850. Honjozo. SMV: +15
Acidity: 1.4 Rice: Gohakumangoku milled to 60%.
Kira is a honjozo – added distilled alcohol – that has a fruity nose
filled with peach tones. This sake is very dry and this is evident
From the first chewy sip that evens out into a thin and almost
watery departure from the mouth. Flavors such as mineral water,
walnuts, and pine nuts glide throughout the mouth in a nice and
slippery movement, and the finish is a dry sake drinker's wet dream.
Kira has the backbone to stand up to stronger flavored foods.
Wine: Large Reds/Dry Whites
Foods: Saut»ed fish in butter, spicy tuna rolls, cuisine with a
chili or pepper zing. (The big dryness of Kira brought out
the natural sweetness found in the vegetables of the soup.)
SWEET & SOUR PORK:
Umenishiki "Sakehitosuji" – "Gorgeous Plum" From Ihime Prefecture
1821 SMV: +1.5 Acidity: 1.9 Junmai Ginjo Genshu
This undiluted ginjo has a subtle fruity nose mixed with koji rice
and vanilla. The flavor in this thick genshu is all forward with a
nice round middle and a complete and confident finish. There is no
denying the fruit-filled flavors but the clean and crisp acidity
blends perfectly with the over-all mouth to make a harmonized sake
full of potency and subtlety. A great example of a ginjo that goes
both ways – well with food and well on its own.
Wine: Confident Reds/Strong Whites
Foods: Crab and white fish dishes, will stand up to spice and
compliments meats, game and oily fish. (The chewy sweet tones
and big acidity of the sake jumped all over the pork and
perfectly balanced the sweetness into a romantic sweet and
MAC & CHEESE:
Kamoizumi "Nigori Genshu" – "Summer Snow" From Hiroshima
Prefecture. Junmai Ginjo Nigori Genshu. SMV: -3 Acidity: 1.6
Rice: Hattan milled to 60%.
This unfiltered sake is a nigori fan's dream come true. It is
bottled, undiluted and without pasteurization for a true "fresh-
From-the vat" taste experience. With a nose of fresh cut hay and
grapes the first sip tells you that this sake is a luscious carnival
of goodness. A gentle viscosity meets a full melon and cotton candy
flavor rush that settles into a dry and subtle ending. This nigori
looks like egg-drop soup or a snow-globe and the taste is equally as
dramatic with a rich and creamy walk from start to finish. One
tends to forget the 18% alcohol content as such a sublime and dreamy
flavor is guided by a sure-footed feel that some call the "velvet
Wine: Sweet dessert wines
Beer: Sweet Ales
Foods: Creamy dishes, duck-filled summer rolls, coconut rice
dishes. (A killer pairing as the hugely flavored nigori
turned to cream in the mouth when meeting the cheesiness of
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 Yamahai Old-style sake. We
have selected a very popular Yamahai Junmai Ginjo from Kyoto. This is
a rich tasting sake using Omachi brewing rice that provides a firm
acidity play. Please remember the rules: only one bottle per reader,
and don't tell your buddy at the moment if he/she isn't a Newsletter
subscriber, always use a hushed or secret agent voice when saying the
SECRET WORD, and lastly for those who have their sakes shipped I can
only include the SECRET WORD sake in a four-pack purchase – meaning
you must buy three other sakes. Tamanohikari Yamahai usually sells for
$20 but for you glorious sake-jockeys your cost is $10. And the SECRET
WORD is "Lost In Translation."
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Thank you for reading!