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Sake


Ed Hamilton
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I spent last night in San Francisco and two people in the hotel industry but not in the food and beverage side of the hotel told me that sake was being touted as the next big segment of the alcoholic beverage scene.

I thought it might have something to do with the abundance of Japanese tourists and business people in San Francisco. Is this true in your region?

Edward Hamilton

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I can't remember specifically, but I was reading a recent article on cachaça and it being the third clear alcohol in sales -- behind vodka and sake. Or was it soju/shoju?

And if I remember a recent American Mixologist newsletter (BarMedia/Robert Plotkin) there was something about spirits that are being distilled here in the States (Cascadia Gin, Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Glacier Vodka, Vya California Vermouth, Conch Republic Rum, etc.). NapaSaki being mentioned:

NAPASAKI

   

    NapaSaki is an American made, super-premium saké that will likely change how many view this traditionally Japanese beverage and its creative possibilities.

   

    It is a handcrafted Junmai-Ginjo type of saké, meaning that it is an entirely natural product, containing only polished rice, water, yeast and koji, an enzyme that converts the rice’s starches into glucose. The ultra-premium Akitakomachi rice used to make NapaSaki is grown organically and polished to 58% of the original kernel size. While a costly and laborious process, it yields the finest, lightest and most aromatic saké.

   

    The all-important koji is traditionally cultivated and the mother yeast strain used to precipitate fermentation is a closely guarded secret. NapaSaki is filtered 8 times, pasteurized twice and aged for 6 months.

   

    NapaSaki is a luscious and captivating saké, one that will tempt aficionados and newcomers alike. It is crystal clear with a soft, delicate body. The bouquet is subtle, yet clean and fresh. The palate is as refreshing as white wine on a hot day.

Sorry, not much help here. Sake isn't making many Cleveland cocktail menus outside of places that also offer sushi. Shame though, as I really enjoy sake and it is often difficult to find and purchase at liquor stores.

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Tru in Chicago was pulling together a wide array of Sake-don't know if either of the Sommelier's are pulling for flights, but they have been inclined to move beyond the 'fish bowl'/sake pairing.

Be interesting to know.

Tfl

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The San Francisco Bay Area has always been a big sake market; I believe I heard that it's the largest outside Japan (although that was during a sake tasting, so I'm a little fuzzy on the details). Lately there's been a noticeable push to pair sake with non-Japanese food -- several months ago our store hosted a class pairing various sakes with pizza, Mexican and Chinese food. My favorite barbecue place sells more sake than any non-Japanese restaurant in the city.

I haven't heard anything about Napa Sake, but Takara Sake opened a brewery in Berkeley in '82, producing some fairly well-regarded sakes. They do tastings and tours, and even have a sake museum.

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Tru in Chicago was pulling together a wide array of Sake-don't know if either of the Sommelier's are pulling for flights, but they have been inclined to move beyond the 'fish bowl'/sake pairing.

Frustration - I just wrote a very extensive response and it was consumed by a browser error. So here's the abridged version.

The sake boom is real ... whether that means it is up to the hype is for the individual taster to decide. John Gauntner, doyen of sake, has a very nice site and a free informative newsletter, eSake, that gave some statistics on import increases over the past few years. His commentary on production and history is pretty eye openning. One observation - they still haven't got the marketing right for the American market. I'm thinking particularly about the bottle and the information it conveys. People need to get a handle on sake types in the same way that varietals gave people an entry point into wine. Of course, more generally, there are a lot of misconceptions - is it wine, is it liquor, people think it's much more alcohol laden than it is, etc.

To add to the comment about Tru, there are many other Chicago restaurants taking sake beyond traditional Japanese food. Shawn McClain's Spring (and Green Zebra, I believe), the linked trio of Japonais/Marai/Ohba, Charlie Trotter's, and Trotter's protege Homaro Cantu's new boite, Moto, are all offering a selection of sakes, often in flights or paired with out of the ordinary foods (i.e. not just sushi/sashimi). In fact, they're often upgrading the glassware to flutes or white wine glasses, giving a makeover to the aesthetics and staking a claim for legitimacy. It's only a matter of time before Reidel gets in on the game if they haven't already.

The best seller list of clear spirits was interesting. Vodka's popularity is a broad phenomenon, whereas most sake and cachaca are consumed in the country of production. It's no coincidence that they are the national beverages in populous countries. I suspect China is making and drinking something that could give these spirits a run for the numbers, if its production and consumption were tracked. I've heard of some fiery beverages - made from plum or rice ... maybe similar to soju/shochu - but I can't recall the name.

Sort of off topic, but to add a few beverages to the list of U.S. productions worth looking for, I'd add Clear Creek's brandies, grappa, and eau de vie. In fact, there are several distilleries in Oregon and Washington making decent to very good brandy, grappa, and eau de vie from local apples, pears, cherries, and grapes such as muscat. Ransom comes to mind as another. But Clear Creek is the one you're most likely to see outside of Washington and Oregon.

Best,

rien

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Charlie Trotter's, and Trotter's protege Homaro Cantu's new boite, Moto, are all offering a selection of sakes, often in flights or paired with out of the ordinary foods (i.e. not just sushi/sashimi). In fact, they're often upgrading the glassware to flutes or white wine glasses, giving a makeover to the aesthetics and staking a claim for legitimacy. It's only a matter of time before Reidel gets in on the game if they haven't already.

eG's own inventolux and his own labour of love, Moto. :cool:

The best seller list of clear spirits was interesting. Vodka's popularity is a broad phenomenon, whereas most sake and cachaca are consumed in the country of production.

Not entirely true. Cachaça is widely consumed all over Europe with solid numbers growing in the States.

Aside from the above, I need to revisit some of my literature regarding sake, but I seem to remember it is considered more like a beer than wine, contradicting that idea of it being a "rice wine" .... I'll take another look to cite the authority stating such.

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Not entirely true. Cachaça is widely consumed all over Europe with solid numbers growing in the States.

Yeah, I even bought a bottle this weekend inspired by the thread. I'm going to fall back on my qualifier "most" in my defense. They drink an awful lot of the stuff in Brazil and we (us non-Brazilians) have a lot of drinking to do if our livers are going to sop up an appreciable percentage of the stuff produces.

I think the "beer, wine, or liquor" debate is pretty much insoluble with regards to sake. It's really different than any of the three. The "it's a beer" advocates usually cite the fact that it starts with a grain. The "it's a wine" advocates usually cite the alcohol content and the flavor profile. "It's a spirit" advocates usually combine the fact that it starts with a grain and has a relatively high alcohol content.

A couple things make sake particularly interesting and different. First, a lot of the starch is polished off leaving the central kernel (called something like the "shinpakku") of fats and proteins. Second, the starch that's left is converted into a sugar that the yeasts can use for fermentation by the koji mold in parallel to fermentation. With wine, the sugar is already there. With beer, it is created prior to fermentation. Sake has a sort of feedback loop. I don't quite understand the connection between the polishing of the rice and the fermentation - for example, do the highly polished rices used in premium sake have lower potential alcohol content since so much of the starch is removed?

For more information on this wine/beer debate, check the source I'm summarizing: Multiple Parallel Fermentation.

Out_

Rien

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Being in the Bay Area sake is a natural to be popular. I think the increasing popularity of sushi establishments outside of the Bay Area is a leading reason for its increased popularity. I just dont see it mixing with other types of non asian foods. Its a perfect fit IMO for asian based cuisine but with pizza,etc I still think a beer is the way to go. Sake alone is not bad but I think its an acquired taste. Just my 2 cents.

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In Vancouver a handleful of restaurants have had sake lists for a few years but they report not alot of interest in vintage and expensive sake. It does make a change from wine but I've yet to see it as the next big thing.

"who needs a wine list when you can get pissed on dessert" Gordon Ramsey Kitchen Nightmares 2005

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It seems like I'm seeing sake hyped everywhere these days.

I'd like to join the fun and buy sakes. I'm in Japan often enough. But I can't read Japanese, and all the writings on the bottles are completely meaningless.

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According to my local boutique wine dealer, a lot of women are buying it to go with their take-out sushi orders, ignorant of the fact that Sake is a HORRIBLE match for Sushi. The Japanese never drink sake with Sushi, ever. They drink beer.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

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Many of the Japanese drinking beer with sushi think sake a bit stronger or sweeter, or for the oldies. But they will admit drier sake matches best with sushi -- or second best, maybe (Japanese tea is the real best option). Beer makes raw fish taste more fishy.

Good sake needs to be stored in the cooler place (like white wine). And many of sake tastes better when chilled (but not ice-cold). In that sense, sake resembles wine.

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Sake/Sushi

Sake a horrible match for sushi? I wouldn't go that far. Beer is colder, curdling, cleansing. Sake is sweet-and with it's balance, sushi/soy sauce/wasabi-it's a compliment. But horrible, Monsieur, non!

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  • 11 months later...
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