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Richard Kilgore

Sake recommendations?

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Sake can be harsh to ho hum, but I was totally spoiled for sake by a bottle friends bought for dinner at the Dallas gem Tei An. So I am not looking for ho hum or harsh, but welcome experiences and recommendations for any sake from pleasant to spectacular at any price point. (And yes, I know it's not a wine.) Price is an object, but let's pretend it's not.

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For a straight up, simple drinking bottle, I've always had success with Hakkaisan. They come in five grades, and I'll have to ask an expert to weigh in here, but we always bought the second cheapest grade for drinking and the cheapest for cooking. Hakkaisan has the advantage of being widely available in Japan, and in some places outside of Japan.

If you have the chance to try namazake, or "fresh" sake, it's a nice change from regular sake.

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I'd also recommend nigori for something funkier.

I was in Houston last week at Spec's and was pleased at the range of sake available - both Japanese and domestic (Takara, primarily). Along with the industrial there was a good selection of jyunmai and nigori. And this wasn't even the big downtown store, just one of the outlets.

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As we're talking about sake recommendations here, let me add this one in, rather than opening a new thread.

Coming Attractions

A (World) Cup of Sake

5892_1177092318409_1561151182_452119_1243892_n.jpg

(Photo courtesy of the Kitagawas)

With 2010 almost upon us, the world is going to be talking about football, particularly about the FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

With that in mind, Koichi Hasegawa, one of the leading proponents for sake, would like for those young (and young at heart) to have some sake to enjoy while they’re talking about football.

Good sake.

I’d just heard about this a little while ago from the Kitagawa family in Kyoto (who were kind enough to show me about their brewery in Fushimi). Hasegawasaketen has chosen 17 premium items to represent Japan in a world wide marketing push.

Hasegawa has a good background for this. His father started their business back in 1960, with Koichi working in the family firm. But, , in the 1970’s, when Hasegawa was in his mid-20’s, he had an epiphany. He was in an izakaya, and someone suggested that he try some of the ginjo-shu they had. “It was a real eye-opener. I never thought sake could taste so good!” It reads a lot like one of several episodes from Oishinbo.

Since then, Hasegawa-san having taken over from his father, his business has worked to bring more attention to the small brewers, and get their products into the hands of the public. His three shops (Omotesando-Hills, Azuba-Juban, and Kameido) all have tasting bars, and he’s also opened two restaurants to showcase designer sakes (Sakatomo in Roppongi and Nakanaka near the Oshima station).

He also spends a fair amount of his time on the road, traveling from Asia to North America, to Europe to talk about sake and its allure.

And now there’s to be a concerted effort to get some of these products out there for us to enjoy.

As I’d said, he’s chosen 17 sakes to represent Japan. Well, really, it’s 13 sakes, 2 shochu, an umeshu, and an orange infusion (the ponkan), but it’s the proper spirit. Miho Kitagawa (daughter of Yukihiro and Chisako Kitagawa of the Kitagawahonke in Fushimi) was good enough to send me the list.

"Nanbubijin" (Southern Beauty) from Iwate

"Hakurakusei" (Legend of the Stars) from Miyagi

"Jokigen" (Euphoria) from Yamagata

"Yonetsuru Kappa" (Rice Demon) from Yamagata

(it’s a great name, with the watery kappa, a bowl of fluid on its head.)

"Tengumai" (Dancing Demon) from Ishikawa

(Again, another great name. In this case the long nosed mountain demons, the Tengu.)

"Mikotsuru" (Drifting Crane) from Nagano

(this sounds interesting, with the advertising being “fresh sour taste”, balanced with an element of sweetness, to produce something considered like “white wine”. This is one of Japan Airlines’ offerings.)

"Zaku" (The Craft) from Mie

"Anaze" (Kyoto Mistral) from Kyoto

(I’m biased here, as the Kitagawa’s of Kitagawa-Honke have been very kind to me in the past. But, putting aside bias, they make a beautiful Fushimi sake.)

"Ugonotsuki" (Mystic Moon) from Hiroshima

"Toyobijin" (Asian Beauty) from Yamaguchi

"Bijofu" (The Gentleman) from Kochi

"Miinokotobuki" (Brillliant Green) from Fukuoka

"Matsunotuskasa" (Pine's Edge) from Shiga

Shochu

"Kakutama/Seikoudoku" (Heaven on Earth) from Kagoshima (it's Shochu)

(Kagoshima may (depending upon whom you read) be the wellspring of shochu. This, and the Hozan, below, should be good representatives of the product.

"Hozan" (Temptation) from Kagoshima

Umeshu

"Saika Umeshu" (Celebration Plum Sake) from Wakayama

"Bijofu Ponkan" (The Gentleman Ponkan Orange) from Kochi (Ponkan is a Japanese orange)

(This will be a spirit infused with the small Ponkan oranges of China that have made their way to Japan.)

Marketing is going to be targeting a limited number of locations(at least for now):

The United States

The United Kingdom

Netherland

Germany

Italy

Hong Kong

Taiwan

Singapore

Australia

Dubai

Given the declining sales of sake, I’m happy to see a push like this.

If anyone can make comments or recommendations on these, please weigh in.

Note: for the information on Hasugawa-san, I’ve relied upon a copy of Nipponia that a friend brought me – issue number 44, March 15, 2008

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If you're in the Vancouver, BC (not the one down south) area, Masa Shiroki, the Artisan Sake Maker at Granville Island, has just announced the release of a batch of his Osake junmai sparkling sake.

This isn't something he has in regular stock, so try it while it's available.

I had a bottle of this at Chow last year, and with winter salads (such as beet salads) it was really, really good.

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Ooh, sparkling sake is always a treat. One of my husband's most frequent complaints is how hard it is to find nice sake outside of Japan, so it's nice to see some makers are making a push towards international sales. Any idea where in Hong Kong they're going to make their product available?

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Sorry, Erin.

When I talked to Masa last year, the question of export had come up (even export outside of the province) and he didn't want to stretch himself that far, and he felt that he'd be hurting his product in the transport, as he's very much about the freshness of his product.

The best bet would be if a friend was coming over from Vancouver, to have them pick up a bottle and bring it.

Only in Canada, eh? :smile:

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The key is in the "good" part. Sourcing quality rice is tough, as the sake rice is a heavier grain with a different starch distribution. And then you need koji (Yoonhi refuses to indulge me in an experiment with different molds from the bathroom).

A lot of this I covered at Dipsophilia in my interview with Masa Shiroki last year.

For junmai in North America, right now it looks like Masa Shiroki on Granville Island in Vancouver, and there's Takara Sake in California (I believe). If there are more, jump in folks!

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Momokawa (linky) is local (Oregon) brewery that makes a wide variety of styles in several price ranges. They claim to have distribution in the continental US.

Momokawa Silver or Diamond are very nice for sipping chilled and are about $10 - 15 per bottle.

They also make a nama that's very interesting; it's hardly distributed at all, even locally. I've never decided if I like it or not, but it's completely unique.

(Edit: Can't type while busy doing other things too)


Edited by Human Bean (log)

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My absolute favorite Sake is Watari Bune. It is very expensive but it is absolutely amazingly smooth and complex. I would strongly recommend it.

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One quick blurb:

Although it may get a certain dismissal as part of the Hy's empire, Ki (Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary) had a great selection for Calgary, with 10 sakes by the glass (including Masa's from Granville Island Artisan Sake) and 26 in the bottle.

Of greater importance to me, their manager, Adam has been on the sake certification course (level 1) that Gautner is running, and so had their maitre d', Apostol. Both were enthusiastic, and well able to hold up a strong discussion of the bottles they had on offer.

I'll talk more about this in the Calgary threads somewhere, but it's worth noting that I took time away from packing and checking out to have another couple of sakes at their place by the Westin.

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