Dear Sake Drinker,
Welcome to the July Issue of America's sake-centric Newsletter. In
this issue remember to think rice and water when you break out the
summer grill, take a gander at the "organic" movement in the sake
world, read Liloa Papa's Sake Spotlight on a bunch of brews, feast
your eyes on a sake vs. Turkish food Sake Challenge, taste a Miyagi
brew three ways, and much more.
In this issue:
Sake Reminder - Grill Master Where's Your Brew?
She said it. And like a cloud it floated right out between and above
us. Those fluffy and dreamy words - "I forgot"!
The conversation was about a killer party she had at her house the
other day - one of those great sunny afternoon backyard grill fests.
"My husband's friends are fishermen and meat lovers, so we fired up
the Weber and ate grilled everything all day and night." I said that
it sounded awesome and followed that with the dagger, "What sakes did
I watched her face contort in both regret and shame, which was
followed by the trailing "Noooooooo!" "We blew it. We forgot the sake!
Oh, I am so embarrassed! I just forgot." Basically I would never type
"shame" but she is a super sake slut and that's what I saw on her
expression - almost hurt!
Alas she is not alone. There is such a disconnect - still - of those
who love sake and have a fondness for grilling. Why? I dunno. Maybe
it's the grill and beer relationship - Maybe it is the grill and wine
image. Nevertheless, often after I am told of great summer afternoon
grilling gigs I get the same "Oh we forgot the sake!"
Herewith are my Top Ten Reminders why sake and grills go together like
Hollywood and rehab:
- Junmai and Honjozo brews were born to dance with fowl and meat
juices in your pallet - they act both as a wash and a flavor
enhancer and as they are less pricey you can focus your budget on
better quality grillin' fare.
- Yamahai and many Kimoto efforts embrace grilled vegetables as
higher acidity levels work with the veggies to create herbaceous
and "vegginess" pairing that most wine and beer cannot hit!
- Nigori or unfiltered cloudy sakes have a sweetness and
"smothering effect" that go right at the heart of spicy grilled
fare and of course grilled peppers!
- Ginjo and Daiginjo sakes are clean and pristine enough to pair
wonderfully with that super clean white fish that is right off the
- Kimoto Ginjo and Daiginjo brews have a creaminess balanced
with a gentle fruitiness that excel with grilled oysters if you
want to pull that briny flavor or enhance that sweetness.
- Full-bodied Ginjo and Daiginjo (with a touch of sweetness and
perhaps genshu) sakes and grilled lobsters are one of those
amazing moments in life.
- All sakes play the temperature game - if you want them to be
refreshing with your cuisine then keep it chilled - if you want to
meet the heated temperature of the food then pair at room temp -
and when the sun goes down and the slight chill comes out in the
night air then warm you sakes - right on the grill and enjoy
heated flavors with bigger cuts of meats, beans, and your favorite
- Sparkling sakes have a place around the grill too - their
sweetness and brightness bounce very well with grilled shrimp and
scallops and don't forget grilled fruit such as pineapple.
- Koshu (aged sakes) are the perfect pairing friend for game and
wild meats. The deep richness of these brews stand up to all of
the wonderfully strange gamey characteristics of the meats from
wild boar to deer.
- Dry Junmai brews work well with all of the grilling
accompaniments like buns, chips and potatoes.
Back to top
Sake Trend - The Race To Organic Sake - Worth It?
For years now I have been telling you folks about the whole "organic"
deal in the sake industry and how it relates to us. I've mentioned
countless times that the Japanese standard for the "Organic" seal is
not recognized by our very own USDA. Meaning - it's considered organic
in Japan but it cannot be "sold" as organic in the US. Why? Go ask
And for years now we have been selling certain sakes by telling our
customers that several brews are organic or use organic rice etc.
(Daishichi Kimoto Junmai for example) We also know our brewers very
well and when they relate to us the fact that they produce all of the
raw materials from start to finish under pure organic methods then we
also say that these brews are "organic" (Chikurin Brewery for
example). In other words, the Japanese organic standard is good enough
for us as retailers of premium sake. Or is it?
Of late this discrepancy between the US and Japanese organic standards
has opened a small niche in the industry and there are several
breweries running like mad to gain market share within this fledgling
segment. And they are doing it in the most laughable manner possible.
Two breweries in Japan - Kikuyu in Niigata and Hakutsuru in Kobe - are
actually growing special brewing rice in the US and shipping it back
to Japan to be brewed and bottled. These sakes then get shipped back
to the US and the result is that they get to have the USDA Certified
Organic sticker on the label. Seems crazy right?
That's a lot of effort to get a simple sticker no? Well yes it is and
now there are several breweries that are petitioning the US to send
inspectors over to Japan to monitor their organic methods to prove
that they are in accordance with USDA standards and should be rewarded
with the all-sacred USDA Cert sticker. In other words there is a rush
to get into a segment where they see value. But is this really a
viable segment? Do people buy sake just to get organic sake? Is the
organic premium really worth it? Hmmmmm? Several of our local brewers
in the US think so and have been doing USDA organic products for
Is this the tipping point? We do get asked quite often by breweries in
Japan if people want organic sake. And some folks come to us saying
that they are going to export to the US a fully organic sake, and
would we carry it. (Miwa wrote about one such brewery that actually
flew her to Japan to see the operation). Their business plan is to
export one organic sake. Hmmmmm! Me thinks this is not the best
business model - a one brew portfolio based on an assumption that
Organic sake would sell more than non-organic sake.
Let me be clear here. I cannot speak for you, but I get the sense that
there is not a large desire to buy USDA organic sake, especially from
an industry - sake making - that is not known for using all of the BS
chemicals and enhancers that bring fear to the very soul of most
consumers. The sake producing world is pretty clean and the rice is so
special that it cannot possibly be too tricked out or over-
The final factor comes down to price. Would you pay more for an
organic product? Would you pay a premium for a brew that has the USDA
Organic sticker on it? I guess some would. But in my experience and
watching the buying patterns of sake purchasers most people buy like
frogs hopping from one brew to another - rarely do they settle down
for one sake only. Thus, a single organic brew as your staple sake
seems unlikely. Even if that sake was supposedly "better for you."
If the proof is in the pudding then I thought it would be wise to
taste the damn pudding. So I collected all of the "officially"
recognized USDA certified sakes available to you in the US and did an
"O-tasting" not to be confused with an "Oh!-Tasting." Herewith are
some simple notes and thoughts about the brews: The first two are
sakes that have traveled a great distance - rice grown in the US but
sake is produced in Japan - the second three are brews made in the US
using locally grown rice - and lastly is a quick review of the
Japanese crafted sake that is trying to become the first officially
certified sake meeting USDA standards but produced entirely in Japan.
Hakutsuru "Organic Junmai"
From Kobe Japan. (I bought this 300ml for $6.16 in Japan Town)
"Using only premium California organic rice, Hakutsuru Organic
sake is carefully brewed with sophisticated skills and
techniques." The label has the USDA Organic seal. And on the back
label there is QAI seal, which stands for Quality Assurance
International. The nose on this Junmai is ricey with hints of
caramel, grains, banana, and dusty elements. Smooth, round and
compact look for layers of rice tones from beginning to end. There
is a toasty quality to this brew that presents itself more when
the fluid warms. There are hints of richness with flavors such as
bamboo, cocoa, and nougat working with the abundant rice flow.
SUMMARY: Not a very tasty sake that drinks thin and watery - dare
I say "rice-watery." Would I buy it because it is organic? No.
Kikusui "Organic Junmai Ginjo"
From Niigata, Japan. (It would be around $18 for 300ml)
"The world's first import organic sake brewed in Japan. Certified
Organic by OCIA International." The front label has the USDA
Organic seal on it. And the back label has the OCIA "Certified
Organic" seal. The nose on this Junmai Ginjo is floral and fruity
with hints of mango, banana and white flower blossoms. Basically
this brew drinks like other Kikusui products - crisp, compact,
clean and quick. There are dried fruit elements like Asian Apple
Pear, apricot, and a young melon hidden amongst the crispness of
the fluid. There is a lot of acidity play at work that keeps the
brew frisky and sharp. SUMMARY: A zesty Ginjo that drinks cutting
like a sharp edged knife in a crisp delivery. Would I buy it
because it is organic? No.
Momokawa "Organic Junmai Ginjo"
From Oregon, USA. (I bought this 375ml brew at Whole Foods, but forget the price.)
"This classic Junmai Ginjo is certified at every step, from the
rice, yeast, and koji-kin to our kura (brewery) where it is made."
"Fully organic certifiably so." The front label has the USDA
Organic seal and the back label has an OTCO seal that stands for
Certified Organic by Oregon Tilth. Sadly I did not notice that the
brew was bottled in November 2009, and this may account for some
of the "Ginjo" characteristics not showing face. The mild nose on
this brew is made up of melon, rice, and wheat aromas. A smooth
and round Ginjo with mild flavors and a quick departure. There is
an overall ricey personality to this brew that drinks very thin
with a gentle tingle of acidity. Look for hints of cinnamon
amongst the base rice core. SUMMARY: This is pretty much a
beginners brew that drinks very very mild - basically a gentle
sake without much "stuff." Would I buy it because it is organic?
Momokawa "Organic Junmai Ginjo Nigori"
From Oregon, USA. (I bought this 375ml brew at Whole Foods, but forgot the price.)
"This is the first of its kind, the first nigori to be certified
organic. We think the amazing flavors will speak for themselves
and the fact that it's organic will put a smile on your face." The
front label has the USDA Organic seal and the back label has an
OTCO seal that stands for "Certified Organic by Oregon Tilth." The
nose on this unfiltered brew is a collection of aromas from grape
popsicle to cream with fruit layers all over the place. Smooth,
round and fruity - What else could you ask for in a nigori? This
brew drinks slick and has a shopping basket full of fruit tones
from blueberry and grape to strawberries in cream with a dash of
honey. There is a gentle acidity play that keeps the sake bright,
but the smoothness rules the day. Soft and smooth. SUMMARY: A
smooth nigori that has good balance and lots of flavors. Would I
buy it because it is organic? Yes.
Sho Chiku Bai "Organic Nama Junmai"
From California, USA. (I bought this 300ml brew in Japan Town for $7.18 - a dollar more than the Hakutsuru that went from the US to Japan and back to the US again.)
"Sho Chiku Bai Nama Sake is the first sake in the US produced from
organic rice." There is no USDA seal on the front label but there
is an OCIA "Certified Organic" seal on the back label. The nose on
this unpasteurized sake is very "nama" with fresh green tones and
a hint of banana and grapes. A semi-rich brew that has fruit
elements but drinks on the dry side. There are fruit and wheat
tones that almost tastes like a breakfast cereal sake - like rice
and grapes. This nama is a full-bodied sake that is chewy and fat
but not immense. More sweetness comes out closer to room temp but
I drinks better chilled. SUMMARY: A viscous nama that has a good
fruit to dryness ratio. Would I buy it because it is organic? No.
Akira "Organic Junmai"
From Ishikawa, Japan. (Given to me as a sample.)
"Pure rice sake made from U.S. NOP certified organic rice." This
sake is best described as a pioneering effort of a brewery in
Japan trying to get USDA standards in Japan - to avoid all of the
hoopla of shipping rice back and forth. The nose is pure Ishikawa-
ken and by that I mean a unique collections of aromas ranging from
rice, chestnuts, and earth tones to grainy, meaty, vanilla(y) and
wine barrel scents. The fluid drinks just as "Ishi" as the nose! A
large and frisky Junmai that is fat and chewy and it loaded with
very base flavors that dance from rich and full-bodied to tart,
sour and smoky. Imagine eating steamed rice off of a wood paddle
that has been aged in wine barrel oak with veggie like hues!
Grainy, nutty, veggie, earthy and woody - a true menagerie of
wacky flavors that work on a firm acidity personality. A classic
meal in a glass sake. SUMMARY: A vast sake with tons of looks -
base and bold. Would I but it because it is organic? Yes.
"Organics" have come to us in every realm of life - so why not
sake? I still do not think that the organic seal of approval is so
very needed in an "industry" that is pretty damn pure and clean to
begin with. But it's there and people are counting on consumers to
produce a demand for these products based on that selling point
alone (no matter the quality). And yet, quality does matter and
some of the efforts out there are not really the end all be all -
are they? So it is a line that we will watch more closely - the
line of whether or not people will pay for a product that may not
be excellent sake just to achieve the "organic-ness." Personally
speaking I feel the answer is a "no way" for now, because as I
mentioned before most consumers jump from product to product and
rare is the customer who just drinks one or two sakes only.
Back to top
Sake Spotlight - The "Big Guy" Reviews Some SakeOne Brews
"Sake Spotlight" is a unique section within the Newsletter that takes
a closer look at specific sakes that may be purchased at True Sake. I
approach different professionals within the industry to give their
perspectives and insights to the how, what and why for very special
sakes. These insiders are importers, brewers, authors, sake
sommeliers, or just enthusiasts who will take your knowledge base a
little further. What I like about this segment is that often my review
is quite different than that of the guest professional's adding to the
point that there is no right or wrong when discussing your opinion
This month I asked a "large presence" in the sake world to write about
a couple of brews that are close to his enormous heart. Liloa Papa is
a big dude! And more importantly he is a big cuddly dude who loves all
things sake - so much so he works for a sake brewery and importing
company in Oregon called SakeOne. (SakeOne) I asked
Liloa, the Western Regional Manager, to write about a couple of the
brews that we stock at True Sake and to introduce their newest
addition to their company's portfolio (a very famous Niigata brewery)
- killing two birds with one big dude. All joking aside, Mr. Papa has
a great pallet and feel for the American sake scene, and herewith are
his comments for the Sake Spotlight:
What's Old Is New Again
The newest sake to hit the States landed nicely on the shelves of
True Sake. Beau, first of all was kind enough to put them on his
shelves, offered me to write an article and talk about Yoshinogawa
and a quick review of two popular Murai Family sake. How could I
resist?! It's like Obi-One asking Luke Skywalker(dare I compare
myself to Luke?) to "feel the force" and go for it...well, here goes
and I hope I don't miss!
We've (SakeOne) imported the Murai Family sake for really about 16
years, but a few years back the name morphed into Murai Family
from Momokawa Brewing Japan. It was a switch to honor our partners
and recognize a passionate brewing family. At the time, two of
their most popular sake were, and still are, Tokubetsu Honjozo and
Tokubetsu simply means that something is special about the sake.
Generally, this implies unique handling of the rice, extra polish
or special varieties. Honjozo implies the addition of spirits,
added alcohol. Oh my! It's not a Junmai....call the sake police
quick! Yeah, some people get worked up over the idea that Honjozo
is not "pure," that it's tainted. What they forget is that about 9
of 10 bottles of sake in Japan are Honjozo...no kidding. Most sake
has added alcohol. I say...get over it. It's sake and frankly it's
AMAZING juice. Murai Family's Tokubetsu Honjozo is no exception;
it's a mind blower. Crisp anise aroma complimented with a bit of
earthiness and pear/apple notes. I used to sip this one on the
shores of the Big Island at sunset with fresh caught Mahi Mahi on
the grill and lobster on the coals ( in season of course) but, I
truly enjoy this one with Chinese roasted duck.
The Murai Family Nigori Genshu is a standard bearer for the big
and bold - yet silky smooth Nigoris. It remains uncut, roughly
filtered and full of ricey goodness. At 19.9%, this big boy packs
a punch but you won't notice the heat. It's a creamy elixir that
smoothly washes down spicy flavors and matches up perfectly with a
dark chocolate flourless torte.
The Oldest Brewer In Niigata Is The Newest In The U.S.
Yoshinogawa is the oldest sake brewer in the now famous Niigata
Prefecture - sake Mecca to some. Founded in 1548, they are kind of
the great, great, great, great... (you get the picture)
grandfather of sake in the region and therefore have a duty to
protect their ages-old craft. Surrounded by prime agricultural
land that is fueled by unbelievable winter snows, Yoshinogawa has
all it needs to brew true local sake. Rice from local fields,
water from a historic well, careful yeast and koji management all
combine in a Kura that is both ages-old and futuristic. If you
ever get to visit them, please just don't ask to see the super
high-tech Koji room. They don't show it to anyone...it's top secret
and if you sneak a peak, you may never leave (hmm, not a bad
True Sake offers up four Yoshinogawa sake, each reflecting the
character of Niigata and the brewery but each distinctly
different. The more classic Niigata style can be found in the
Gensen Karakuchi or Echigo Junmai while deep, lush tones grow with
the Ginjo and Gokujo Ginjo.
Yoshinogawa Gensen Karakuchi is super dry (thus the "Karakuchi"),
clean and crisp with hints of citrus, earth and integrated notes
drawn directly from the Niigata climate - lush mountain water,
earth and mossy tones with subtle fruit notes. Brewed with
Gohyakumangoku rice that is polished to 65%, Gensen Karakuchi
tastes drier than its +7 SMV indicates. Wash your sushi down with
this one, or maybe pair it up with brie and see what planet your
taste buds land on. Easily paired with classic Japanese cuisine.
Echigo Junmai is named in honor of the old Japanese Province of
Echigo, the local region area that is home to Yoshinogawa. It is
like a deep breath of high mountain forests full of evergreens and
crisp running streams. An easy sake to pair with diverse foods,
it's also a great one to sip on its own. Echigo Junmai recently
received the highest rating for a Junmai - 92 Pts. from the
Beverage Testing Institute. Pour this one to go with winter fruit
chutney with roasted pork, cider glazed turkey or baked Virginia
Yoshinogawa Ginjo moves your palate toward the increasingly big
Niigata brews. It is rich and buttery with toasted mixed nuts,
cream and anise tones blending with subtle notes of fresh
cantaloupe and fresh apple & pear. I'd pair this up with some
toro, salmon, chicken karaage or miso marinated Halibut. I am
getting hungry as I write.
I'll round this out with the Yoshinogawa Gokujo Ginjo, a distinct
sake crafted to fully reflect the terroir of the brewery. The term
"Gokujo" signifies a line of brews that are crafted utilizing the
brewers favored practices and the finest local ingredients. This
is the only one of the brews that we currently import but it's the
crème of the bunch. The personal favorite of the 19th generation
brewery president, Koji Kawakami, Gokujo is a true brew of desire.
Crisp fennel aroma infuses your senses as a flight of fresh herbs
dances across your tongue. It's a spa for your senses. The full-
bodied, tongue-wrapping smoothness carries through each sip and
you can expect the fresh herbs to linger on the finish. Pair this
one up with ginger and carrot bisque, fig and prosciutto and bacon
I was fortunate enough to hang with Beau recently and "study" some
Nihonshu on a very "serious" level. I am still feeling it.
Hopefully, by the time you read this I will have recovered
Liloa Papa, SakeOne Western Regional Sales Manager / Sake Geek
Thank you Liloa for your kind assessment of several sakes that we
carry, intend to carry and may carry in the future. (Note to readers -
we can special order any of the sakes that Liloa spoke about, but for
shelf spacing issues we cannot carry all of these brews at the
moment.) I will add my two reviews of the brews that we do carry below
and will say that I have been "drinking" Yoshinogawa from afar! I
usually pick up a bottle of their brew at the airport when leaving
Japan - after cramming more room in my over-stuffed carry-on luggage.
They have a very nice Junmai Ginjo in a gold gourd-shaped bottle that
makes a perfect gift - and yet I rarely give it away! Secondly, on my
last trip to Tokyo I found a great bottle of Yoshinogawa's Hiyaoroshi
sake, which drank great and had a terrific accompanying neck-booklet
that described what foods go well with that brew. The over-info-load
spoke volumes about the brewer!
Again thank you Liloa and by all means don't forget to see the above
article on Organic Sake as two of the brews mentioned were made by
SakeOne and their Momokawa label.
Murai Family "Tokubetsu Honjozo"
From Aomori Prefecture. Tokubetsu Honjozo. SMV: +2 Acidity: 1.4
"Tokubetsu" means special and in this case the sake is made
from rice milled to 60%. "Honjozo" means that there is a little
brewers alcohol added to bring out texture and aroma qualities
and does not fortify this sake. In fact with a nose filled with
white grape, blueberry, and mineral water elements this brew
drinks incredibly easy and user-friendly. Soft lychee and grape
tones pair with a hint of berry and melon flavors in a super-
soft like-water flow. Thin and slick this sake is pure easy
drinking! Look for more fruit flavors when chilled and more
grains at room temperature.
WINE: Soft reds/Creamy whites
BEER: Creamy ales
FOODS: Grilled and savory fare, sashimi, crustacean, tofu.
Murai Family "Nigori Genshu"
From Aomori Prefecture. Nigori Genshu SMV: -18 Acidity: 2
This unfiltered or "Nigori" sake has a plump nose filled with
sweet cream, grape, honey and yogurt elements. At 19.9% alcohol
one would expect a massive punch of a sake, but this creamy and
fruity brew is smooth a round for such a robust dance partner.
Look for hints of berry, grape, and vanilla tones that are
carried on a velvety and expansive fluid. Not overtly sweet and
a tremendous finish for a 20% milky madman! Think milky and
WINE: Fruity reds/Chewy whites
FOODS: Big flavored and spicy dishes, creamy and cheesy pasta, desserts.
You can review many of our sakes on our web site.
Our inventory list is here.
Back to top
Sake Challenge - Sake vs. Turkish Food
I am on a spiritual sake quest that will finally put a nail in the
coffin of "sake can only be consumed at a sushi restaurant" mantra.
Wake up people! Food and sake go together - always have and always
will. If it has a tail, roots, feathers, leaves, or a damn beak sake
will go with it - anytime and any place. And that is my quest - the
place or origin of the cuisine does not matter. It can be Spanish,
Italian, Brazilian or ughhhh British chow and sake will walk the walk.
Japan has chickens! Japan has salad! Japan has beef! Japan has spicy
and savory dishes! Japan has sweet and salty fare, so why not think
about having sake with these "tones" from other countries?
The Sake Challenge is my way for you great consumers to see outside of
the sushi paradigm, and to achieve this "new view on brew" I will
usually select two different sake styles and price-points and bring
them to a non-Japanese restaurant with a celebrity, sake-sleuth or
hell even a friend in tow.
Read about past challenges:
When reviewing restaurants and their specific cuisines paired with
sake I use the following criteria:
This criterion is more true to the mission of bringing a beverage to a
restaurant not knowing what you will pair with. The point is to make
the general pairings "work." Rare is the day that you bring a specific
wine or sake to pair with a specific dish - We look for generalities
and the entire eating/drinking experience. Think of fishing with a net
as opposed to a hook and line - a pairing is supposed to reach out and
catch more flavors as opposed to just hitting one match.
- Works World Class (WWC)
- Works Well (WW)
- Works (W)
- Does Not Work (DNW)
Once again I was fortunate enough to coax Kazu Yamazaki from Japan
Prestige Sake International, Inc (the number one importer of Japanese
sake into the states) for yet another mystical sake pairing meal. This
month's adventure was truly that - an adventure of the culinary senses
as we paired Japanese "rice wine" with Turkish cuisine (which as I
learned has a ton of Mediterranean influences/overlaps). There aren't
that many purely Turkish restaurants to choose from, but luckily for
us a new one called Tuba (on Guerrero) opened several months back.
I was so taken with this pairing that I actually went back to Tuba
with two more sakes and this time brought with me a sake fan in the
form of Nancy Summersgil. Of all my fellow Sake Challenge participants
Nancy by far represented the most "skeptical" critic with the
Herewith is the review broken down together with all four sakes at
once rather than separate accounts:
1st Course: Pathean Salatis - Grilled eggplant puree with bell pepper, tomato, and garlic
- Jokigen Junmai Ginjo
- Miyasaka Yamahai Junmai Ginjo Nama
- Narutotai Yamahai Junmai Ginjo
- Tsukasabotan "Hana" Junmai (Limited Release)
Jokigen - This dish was far less flavorful than one would imagine
- it was light and creamy in character and the Jokigen acted like
a good wash of the mild flavors. It mellowed the acidity of the
peppers, stayed very balanced, and pulls a smoky veggie quality
out of the dish. NOTE - Jokigen with just the roasted red pepper
was an incredible flavor.
BT - WW
NS - W
Miyasaka - The nama acted like a blanket for the flavors and the
feelings of this dish, and remarkably the sake drinks drier. There
was a good balance in this pairing as well and the overall
combination worked well. Nancy stated that the nama brought out
more acidity in the dish.
BT - WW
NS - DNW
2nd Course: Ezme - Crushed walnuts, pepper paste, tomato paste, garlic and cumin
Jokigen - This dish is hot - as in spicy - from the get-go. It is
also an extremely complex group of flavors all wound up in a ball.
The Jokigen brightens the pairing immediately and brings out a zesty
finish. I was trying to imagine what wine would work with all of the
layers here and feel that the Jokigen did a good job holding
everything together. Nancy stated that the sake made the dish
BT - W
NS - DNW
Miyasaka - The acidity and spice of the dish runs face first into
the nama creating a zing of flavors that are brisk and hot, "but
it's okay as there is more of a cover or blanket feel" which reduced
the conflict. A true sweet heat play. Nancy stated again that this
brew made for more spice in the pairing.
BT - W
NS - W
Narutotai - The Yamahai Ginjo starts as a cover for the dish and
then gets spicy as the spice in the dish catches up. A rich heat
flavor is created, but the overall result is too tingly. Kazu said
that there was a bit of creamy flavor created by the pairing and the
sake brought out more flavors.
BT - DNW
KY - W
Tsukasabotan - Unbelievable - the lightest of the sakes did
absolutely the best. I do not know how, but the Junmai "kills the
spice" and brought out the flavor of the nuts. A very solid pairing.
Kazu agreed and stated that the sake stripped down the elements of
the food and added a sweetness to the dish. Really amazing!
BT - WW
KY - WW
3rd Course: Beyti Adana - Adana (beef and lamb mix) wrapped in lavash bread served with tomato sauce and yogurt
Jokigen - This is a good dish for sake believe it or not, and it has
a lot going on. The Ginjo stood up to the test of the tomatoes and
the yogurt. It made the flavors smokier. The brew itself drank a
touch sweeter. The Jokigen matches the complexities of the dish and
Nancy said there was some harmony in the pairing.
BT - W
NS - W
Miyasaka - The girth of the nama goes right at the heart of the deep
flavors of this dish and makes for a more bold and acidic flavor.
The sweetness jumps on the meat and bread elements and the tomato
pops more with the nama. A good collection of new flavors emerge.
BT - W
NS - W
4th Course: Feta Prawns - Sauteed in a Pepperocino sauce
Narutotai - This dish proved to be incredibly spicy and the
Narutotai held some of the heat. That said it did go very well with
the shrimp and really went creamy with the butter elements. A
sweetness came forth and the brew acted as a good cleaner of all the
flavors. There was a tingle of heat in the finish. Kazu pulled the
same "milky" flavors of the sake as well.
BT - W
KY - W
Tsukasabotan - Again this modest brew became a smother monster on
the heat. Fascinating how a mild and somewhat thin Junmai could
pounce on all of the spicy elements to create and even flavored
dish. I wrote that it "works the heat"! Kazu stated that the brew
mellowed out the spice.
BT - W
KY - WW
In one of the on-line reviews for Tuba a poster wrote: "corkage is
only $10 so bring along a big red (wine)" I am trying to figure out
how one big red could cover all the angles of flavors that reside in
Turkish cuisine. Perhaps it's impossible, but that said the sakes -
all 4 - had their ups and downs. Although there were no WWC pairings
the sakes did a good job of dancing with the complexities of the
dishes without getting overwhelmed. In many cases the sakes made the
dishes more balanced and tastier. I was generally pleased how the
brews stood up to the tomato elements and found strength in the
additional flavors such as cheese and yogurt. The owner of the
restaurant was sold and wants to put a sake or two on his menu, so I
guess in the end sake does go well with Turkish food.
Back to top
July 15th - Summer Nama Sake Tasting (on Bastille Day)
Before you head downtown to celebrate this day with your French friends,
stop at our place for tasty summer namazake (unpasteurized sake)!
If you wish, take a bottle or two to your next destination.
When: Thursday, July 15th
Where: True Sake
What: Umenishiki Junmai Daiginjo Nama, Tsukinokatsura Junmai Ginjo Nama, Ohyama Jumai Nama, and Yonetsuru Junmai Nama
RSVP: Just bring $1
Bonus: 10% off for purchasing any of these namas!
Back to top
Sake Dealio - Urakasumi "Three Ways" - The "Urak Tri-Pak"
Yes Siree! We are always on the look out for great sake deals! And if
we cannot find them we create some. When I looked around the store the
other day I started counting - on BOTH hands - the amount of offerings
that we carry or have carried from one of my favorite breweries -
Urakasumi from Miyagi Prefecture. Basically we are sitting on two
different "Exclusive" sakes from this stellar kura, and the other
brews are considered stalwarts in the industry. So to entice you to
try some new brews or to re-visit some old friends we have decided to
create the "Urak Tri-Pak!"
So what's in the "Urak Tri-Pak?" Three killer sakes, two of which you
may only obtain from True Sake.
That is $95 worth of Miyagi's best but for you great people we are
wacking off $15. So try three amazing sakes for $80 and remember we
only have a limited quantity.
- Urakasumi Junmai: Ye'ol standard of the Junmai world. $26/720ml
- Urakasumi Honjozo Genshu: The brew Beau begged for! $34/720ml
- Urakasumi Tokubetsu Junmai: The "Trial" brew not available in US $35/720ml
And for the super Urak-initiated you may add on the other two brews in
the store - the Spring-released Nama "Shiboritate" $35/720ml and the
ultra popular Urakasumi "Zen" Junmai Ginjo $54/720ml - and if you are
absolutely crazed for "Urak" we could special order you their Junmai
Back to top
True Sake Selects - Team True Sake Select Monthly Brews of Note
Ura Gassanryu "Fuuga" Junmai
From Yamagata Prefecture. SMV: 0 / Acidity: 1.4 / Rice: Miyamanishiki / Yeast: Yamagata
Layers of rice, fruitiness and umami (savory-ness) are well
balance in this muroka (non-charcoal filtered) namazume (single
pasteurized) Junmai. Great texture and flavors.
From Niigata Prefecture. SMV: +1 / Acidity: 1.3
Denemon is a very smooth, easy drinking Junmai. Although
overall it drinks fairly clean, it has subtle earthy hints and
soft caramel tones. It does very well cold, still smooth and
refreshing with hints of rice sweetness but drinks drier that
you would expect. Some may pick up mild floral tones amongst
the savoriness of the sake. Like many Junmais, this one also
drinks great at room temperature and warm.
We take $ off. You take time off. Brighten your summer with these
sake! (The offer is limited, so hurry!)
Otokoyama "Yukishibare" Junmai Nama
$8 off. Light and semi-dry seasonal nama. Now $22 (from $30)
Chikurin Junmai Ginjo
$4 off. Complex and elegant. Now $35 (from $39)
Hagurosuishu Junmai (Dai)ginjo
$7 off. All things Yamagata. The label says "ginjo", but it is "daiginjo" indeed. Now $30 (from $37)
Daishichi Minowamon Kimoto Junmai Daiginjo
$20 off. King of elegant Kimoto. Now $62 (from $82)
Kotsuzumi Junmai Daiginjo
$20 off. Beautiful and delightful. Now $130 (from $150)
Back to top
Sake & Miwa - Trade-only Sake Events
This month I'd like to share snapshots of sake events that were held
by three local Japanese sake/food importers. All the events were for
their clients, mainly restaurateurs. I attended the two as a visitor
and one as an exhibitor's helper. From each event I learned a few new
things and hope to share some best practices as well as lessons-
JFC SAKE EXPO & FOOD SHOW (Monday, May 17th. 12-5pm.)
Last year JFC held their first San Francisco Sake Expo at Kabuki
Hotel in Japan Town. It drew about five hundred guests. This year,
the event was held at The Cypress Hotel in Cupertino.
Based on the brochure, roughly 110 sakes (nihon-shu) were
represented by 27 breweries at the event. (Plus seven shochu
companies.) Among the newest were: Kotsuzumi Junmai, Hakutsuru
Organic Junmai Ginjo, and Mizubasho Junmia Ginjo Sparkling.
Along the perimeter of a room were sake tables, and in the
center were food exhibitors' tables. This layout allowed the
guests to snack on food as they sampled sake. In contrast, food
was set on the side of the room at the event last year, which
gave more focus on sake. The event had a very vibrant feel.
I would have had more highlights if I was able to stay longer,
but during my two-hour stay, these things stuck with me.
- Ozeki Brewery's exhibit of damaged sake: when I saw the
table with a big sign said "damaged sake", I thought "wow,
this is 'so' Beau Timken." In other words, for a brewer to
show and allow people to taste purposely-damaged sake was
bold, honest and educational. They put sake in direct sunlight
at an hour interval. The result was several bottles of sake
with different shades of color and taste.
- Gassanryu side-by-side: simply because I enjoyed their line
of sake, I took the liberty to taste all four side by
side-again. When I was first introduced to the same set of
sake a year ago, I liked their honjozo the best. This time I
was able to detect more of a full and complex nature of their
Junmai. There was an air-like lightness to their Daiginjo
compared to their Junmai Daiginjo. It was fun.
- Their booklet is compact in size, so it is easy to use. It
includes sake prices.
- This year the room was slightly smaller and more guests
attended compared to last year. This made the event feel a little
- Since it was being held in Cupertino, some restaurateurs from
San Francisco decided not to go. (Meanwhile, restaurants in that
area benefited the most.)
- Lack of spit buckets and water pitchers. Wished every table
had each item.
NA SALES RESTAURANT SHOW (Saturday, June 5th. 9am -3pm)
Every year I go to this trade show and ended up spending easily five
hours. This year I attended the event as a helper at Kamotsuru
Brewery's booth. The very important lesson-learned from this day: it
takes patience, understanding, respect, and love to promote sake.
According to the company, 64 sake (nihon-shu) were represented by
15 breweries at the event this year. (Plus, there were two beer
breweries, four shochu companies, and one plum wine company.)
Among the newest were: Amabuki Daiginjo, Amabuki Gin no Kurenai
(rose), Amabuki Yamahai Junmai Omachi, Dassai 39 Sparkling Nigori,
Yuuga Junmai Daiginjo, and Hojun Junmai.
The event is always held at their warehouse space in South San
Francisco. The space is nicely decorated with banner and panels,
so it does not feel industrial. I like this everyday nature of the
space. As the name of event suggest, this event showcases food,
cooking ware, and dinner ware as well. Everyone who attended
seemed busy trying to find a deal or something new.
This year I worked behind a table, pouring samples for the
visitors. All the helpers, dressed in black and white, arrived at
8 am and received an orientation talk. When I arrived, most of the
exhibitors' tables were set. That meant the brewers, who had just
arrived in SF the day before, were up and busy before I got to the
venue. I am reminded over and over again how hard they work, and
how dedicated they are.
- Suigei: I stood next to Mr. Yamazaki from Suigei Brewery.
Since we've met at past events, we casually chatted about all
things sake while giving out samples to our visitors. Each sake
table had a price sheet and an order form, yet I noticed an
extra piece of paper Yamazaki-san had. When the event was
winding down, I had to ask him what that piece of paper was for.
With his warm smile, he showed me his home-made chart. It turned
out he was keeping tracks of tasters' names/restaurant names,
what sake they tasted, and their likes. He recorded this
information effortlessly while pouring sample and answering
questions. I thought, "He is a pro." Big bow to Suigei.
- Nametag for each guest indicated who had an alcohol license
(also who was under-age.)
- 10% off of order taken at the day of event, even for a single-
- A bottle of water in each welcome bag.
- While the price list showed the discounted price, there was no
regular price listed. Some folks could not quite commit to order
but wanted to know the regular price for future ordering.
- Because of the layout, you cannot see the entire event at a
single glance. There is a corridor, separated by partitions, that
snakes around the warehouse. While the first corridor was heavy on
food, the second corridor was all sake. From a sake point of view,
if they mixed the food and sake stations, the guests may have
spent more time at sake stations while snacking on food.
- While each sake station had many brochures and informational
pieces on sake, one booklet with a list of all sake and breweries
would have been useful.
- Lack of spit buckets--although trash cans were at every sake
NISHOMOTO TRADING "VIVA LA SAKE!" (Monday, June 21. 12-4pm)
This year was their first. When I received the invitation form, I
noticed two things: the venue being Yoshi's San Francisco and a line
to write a liquor license number. I thought, "That's fancy and also
smart." (Nishimoto Trading)
Based on the handout, roughly 70 sake (nihon-shu) were represented
by 19 breweries. 15 sake were either brand new/yet to be imported.
(Plus, two beer breweries, eight shochu/awamori companies-two of
which also make nihonshu, one awamori company, and one makkori
An open and beautiful interior with Jazz music in the background
made this event very relaxing, and it helped me focus. Many guests
seemed to be enjoying eating, drinking and chatting in lounge
Two things at the events stirred a nostalgic feeling in me. I just
feel happy to connect and reconnect with something from the past.
Naraman: I was happy to see Mr. Shoji from Yumegokoro Brewery
and taste his Naraman "Origarami" Junmai Nama. Over two years
ago, I met Shoji-san at a reggae bar called OPEN in Shinjuku
San-chome. The bar was only a five minute walk from my parents'
place. I was in Japan at the time because my father had been
hospitalized. Feeling obligated and somewhat guilty I could not
take a trip to visit a brewery, I managed to go to a few tasting
events in Tokyo. At one of the events I learned about this
tasting gathering at OPEN. The theme of the event: up-and-
coming, young brewers. There, I spoke to Shoji-san who was
seeking an importer at the time. I remember him talking
passionately about how wonderful his Naraman Junmai tastes warm.
A few years have passed, and here we are again. This time he had
a misty looking, unpasteurized Junmai he brought as a sample. He
calls it "origarami", which I would loosely translate as
"layered with ori (rice lee)". It is not cloudy as nigori or
light as usu- nigori; it is in between. This sake is a seasonal
product, and he is hoping that sake like this will be welcomed
in the U.S. market. I said "Of course!" I enjoyed this
refreshing, slightly fizzy and misty sake. It tasted like Japan.
Rokkasan: There used to be two kinds of sake available from
this brewery in Yamagata. But about a year ago, they were
discontinued by their vendor/importer. I particularly liked
their Junmai Ginjo "Yamahoushi", yet somehow the sake did not
get much attention. Thinking the only time I get to taste
Rokkasan is when I'm in Japan, I was thrilled when I saw the
brewery name on the handout. At the event Beau was quick to
notice their Junmai sparkling "Hitotoki" and "Rose." He asked me
to check them out. Although their sparkling sake were far
different from the Junmai Ginjo I knew of, it was nice to feel
the taste of Rokkasan, like reconnecting to an old friend.
- For each sake, there was a "Yes/No" card, which a taster would
circle and drop into a box. This would help the company see which
sakes were well received and decide which new sake to import.
- There was a map of Japan along with color-coded brewery list.
- Like the other two events, lack of spit buckets.
- If anything, they over prepared on the amount of sample bottles.
I saw case after case of sake. I guess it doesn't hurt to be over
While these companies import sake, they also act as distributors for
sake that are imported by other companies. Plus, there are sake
promotional and marketing entities. The world of sake importing and
distribution is a bit of maze. We hope to keep a tab on who's who,
so if you know of other trade-only events that are happening around
the country, please let us know and we can pass on the info.
P.S. Sometime a random online search leads you to a place you never
thought of before. I was just typing "Jizake Japan" and ended up at
this business website. I am not sure whether it is cool, good or
scary. Those who are in the importing business might want to check
Back to top
"Ask Beau" - "What is your biggest sake weakness?"
My fridge is too small! Ha!
This question really caught my eye. Why? Why does somebody want to
know one of my sake Achilles' heels? Are there such things as "sake
weaknesses"? It took me a few minutes to really nail something
tangible as I have a ton of weaknesses I guess. For example there are
so many brewing tricks that I have not fully comprehended - is
comprehension a weakness. There are so many nuances to the marketing
of sake in Japan and abroad that I do not understand - is
understanding a weakness? In a word I am a sake weakling! I am weak on
so many levels in all things sake - but I embrace this. I love not
knowing, comprehending, and understanding everything about sake,
because I love the discovery process. But, David R. from Sacramento I
will oblige your question in large part because I do have a serious
weakness! In fact it is a glaring "weakness," one that I have
mentioned before way back when.
Drum roll please! Taddla Taddla Taddla Taddla Taddla - My sake
weakness is "umami"!
I am and have always been "umami" challenged, especially when it comes
to speaking about specific sakes as a flavor point. I cannot detect
umami in a sake - even when there is a sticker on the bottle that
states "This sake has lots of umami in it" (Born Nama Daiginjo). I
often hear people - Japanese more often than not - utter words like
"Hmmm umami" or "Ah-so Umami des!" And I simply nod and repeat "Hmmmm
Yes, I say curses to Mr. Kikunae Ikeda the Columbus, Magellan, Ponce
Delleon discoverer of the infamous "fifth taste" in Japan over a
century ago. Curses to you sir - a man who invented a powder that has
a terrific name (monosodium glutamate) and an even catchier acronym
(MSG), which changed Asian cooking more than any ingredient since
salt. And curses to all of my friends who say that it is so simple -
it tastes like parmesan cheese, or tomato sauce, or soy sauce - and
then finish the sentence with this disclaimer always: "It's hard to
put it into words." YOU THINK? How many meals have I been
participating in eating dashi (seaweed stock and bonito flakes) with
my hosts purring "umami"? Tons. I get it! I really do. But - I don't.
Therefore that is my weakness - my sake weakness. I cannot verbally
extol the presence of umami in my sake vernacular. I cannot belt out a
"this brew is loaded with umami. "I know it is there. I can taste
right past sweet, sour, bitter, etc detecting this savory but not
salty quality. But I do not feel qualified to officially state that in
the sake that I am currently recording there is an abundance of a
flavor that is far more nuanced and complex than the other simple
tastes. I am well aware that glutamic acids do register in my palate -
I am human after all - but the brain will not allow my mouth to utter
Oddly enough I do not even fake it! I could sit back like the rest of
the umami gifted and say "It's so hard to put into words." There! It
would be done. And I would be sitting pretty with all the other
truffle, aged cheeses, tomato, soy sauce eating folks. But I can't and
I don't. I don't even try. I embrace my weakness! It is mine and
apparently mine alone.
The good news is that I may get a second chance on a new flavor that
is hitting the sake world - a fad word that is getting a lot of play
in the description of sakes. So I may just make a dramatic come back
in the realm of "egumi" which is most likened to a vegetable (Spring
veggie to be exact) sweetness that is almost, but not exactly, bitter
(think young spinach). Yes - "Egumi" can be mine because, "It is so
hard to put into words."
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 other correspondence should use
info @ truesake.com.)
Back to top
The SECRET WORD
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. To those
who 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.
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 we can only include
the SECRET WORD sake in a four-pack purchase - meaning you must buy
three other sakes.
We would normally sell this food-friendly Hakkaisan Seishu for $26,
but for you sake jockeys we will part with this 720ml for $14! Try
this sake chilled, room temp or warm.
And the SECRET WORD is...check your email inbox -
We only give out the
SECRET WORD in the mailed Newsletter! So
sign up for the Newsletter!
Back to top
Thank you for reading!
Sake has many different names - literally. Every brewery has a brewery
name, which is owned by a family that has a family name, and if that
is not enough that brewery may name their sakes by a brand name. For
example, there is a brewery in Yamagata called Kamenoi Shuzo, which is
owned by the Imai family, but you may know the sakes by their brand
name, Kudoki Jozu (which loosely translates into the "Pick-up Artist)
560 Hayes St., San Francisco, CA 94102
info @ truesake.com
Sake - A Modern Guide