Saturday, August 1, 2009

Pure Realm

 Chemistry is a wonderful.  Not just because it draws lovers together but because it draws everything together.  Chemistry is wholy responsible for sake.  The incredible microbial exchanges happening create a most delicious elixir.  Each time my lips touch the glass, these days filled with Koshi no Kanbai "Muku."  Holy canoli.  Or should I say holy rice/water/koji/yeast-love.  Goodness.  Im always a big fan of sake and wine whose aromas tell you nothing about what it will taste like.  To me its very interesting that this one liquid could be so deceiving.  Kind of like a good version of when you think you are drinking water, but its really flat, room temp sprite.  Yuk.  
  Muku is this wonderful surprise.  Full aromas of rice, herbs, dirt.  I like dirt.  Once it hits the palate its almost like snow run off.  Clean, light, crisp yet this supple layer.  Mmm mm mm.  And this is when its chilled.  Warm the sucker and its like wrapping your favorite blanket around your soul.  Comforting, warm, amazing.  Just don't heat it too much.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Onna Joshu Tasting

On a cold winter morning, in the prime of sake brewing season, my family and I walked up quiet, cobble-stoned streets to find Onna Joshu brewery. Every year around the same time the brewery opens its doors to the locals, giving them a chance to taste the first of the season's brews.  
As we tuck our heads into the narrow, cramped hallway I could smell the undeniable aromas of fresh pressed sake.  Probably because, before I knew it, we would be in a small room filled with about 80 people all filling their small little cups with Onna Joshu's fresh pressed sake.  There were about 6 or so different sakes to taste.  Surprisingly, I remember almost half of them being nigorizake, or un-filtered sake.  
Being the only gaijin (foreigner) in the room, many took a liking to me, practicing their sake-related english.  Others didn't quite know what to do.  This is very rural Japan where not many foreign travelers visit.  But we had one (probably more) connection....the sake.  
Like most shiboritate brews, their sakes were bright and brash, you could smell the youth in them.  Lots of apples, pears, lime.  Very refreshing with undertones of rice and koji.  Yum, yum.  Perfect for a drive around the countryside on a Sunday afternoon.  Of course my mom-in-law didn't drink.  She doesn't really drink anyway.  So my dad-in-law and I wooped it up.  Had a grand 'ole time in fact.  He enjoys sake very much and I am looking forward to many more events like these in the future.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Kikuyoi Brewery in Shizuoka, Japan

A visit to Michizakura

Sake in the spring time.  There really is nothing more wonderful to enjoy than a glass of your favorite anything in the sunshine.  Although, at the very moment it is dreadfully windy and cold here in the City, but spring is here and its not going anywhere.  Thank goodness.
At a recent "picnic" in Novato, CA for the Sunset Party season opener, I took the opportunity to enjoy a bottle of Michizakura Nama Ginjo.  One of
 the few bottles I brought back with me from Japan.  Tucked away in a little town called Fukuoka-cho, Michizakura utilizes some of the oldest equipment I have ever seen.  History and tradition are the foundations of this small brewery of Gifu Prefecture.  One of the 
smallest productions, perhaps the smallest, Michizakura makes only about 200 koku a year.  One koku is about 180 liters.   The earthen walls were cracked and moldy, tools on the walls looked as if they had been there for ages.  Michizakura-san prides himself on the fact that his sake is completely hand made.  Seeing all the mold and wear on the building, it prompted me to ask about yamahai.  Asked if he made any he said that he doesn't believe in making yamahai unless he is using wild yeasts in the process (rather than adding your own.)  This picture here is the door to his koji room.  He wouldn't show us in there for obvious reasons, it would have been cool to see though.  Today most koji rooms are temperature and humidity controlled environments.  Speaking of koji, Michizakura san's koji grows for about 51 hours.  Using a lot of koji at the beginning is called so-haze.  This allows the koji to grow completely into each rice grain producing a whole lot of enzymes which basically means more amino acids.  More amino acids means more umami and more depth to the sake.  
Michizakura san treated us, my father and mother in law, to a tasting of his sakes after the tour.  He gingerly selected 4 different brews for us to taste.  And like all great sake producers, I could feel the commonality between each sake.  His sakes were bright and fresh with supple fruits and an underlying weighty character that wrapped itself 
around the palate, finishing with a touch of nigami or bitterness to balance it all out.
I think what struck me about the whole experience at Michizakura was the balance of old-fashion and modern.  An avid blogger, Michizakura san regularly updates his workings, in fact the only reason I knew about the brewery was because of my husband, a true lover of anything local, encouraged me to visit and more specifically bring sake home to him!  These beautiful dainty blue bottles are made especially for Japan Airlines First Class flight to Taiwan.  The bottle and label design hint of a high production from a young, new brewery, but its just the opposite.  Just some of the nostalgia that keeps me enjoying sake.  How two or three men can take rice and water together with local koji and yeasts and create this divine elixir with sophistication and beauty.  Wonderful.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Thank goodness for Namazake

   Now, I know there are many who believe that namazake is not what sake should be.  I am not one of those people.  But, I can understand what they are saying....that perhaps the vibrant textures, brilliant juiciness overwhelm the subtle beauty of premium sake.  For me, I guess, its like having kids (which I do not, unless you include my bonsai collection), how can you love one more than the other?  Aren't they perfect in their own perfect little way?  So, lately, I just cant get enough of Harushika "Shiboribana".  Like it's pasteurized cousin, Harushika Junmai Daiginjo, this sake pairs gentle sweetness with bright acidity.  Add in a dash of depth and velvety lines, and POW! you got one yummy drink.  I recommend as aperitif mainly; with richer foods the loveliness of this fresh pressed flower would just get lost.  Happy sipping....

Monday, March 2, 2009

Long time no see!

Ok, ok, I know Im a bad blogger.  I admit it.  Honto ni sumimasen!!  Well here is a little up date!
A month ago, I was a Level 1 Sakemama and now I am a Level 2 Sakemama!!  Big thanks to Mr. John Gauntner for his incredible teaching abilities and efforts to share the love of sake with others.  10 beautiful days in Japan have furthered my passion of it's food, traditions and of course it's sake.
In this trip I visited Sawanoi brewery in Tokyo, Tensei in Kanagawa, Kikuyoi in Shizuoka and also Michizakura in Gifu.  With my mother and father in law, I went to the annual tasting at Onna Joshu,  small brewery deep in the countryside of Gifu.  We tucked our heads into this small hallway that lead us down past a tiny indoor garden, then opening to a large room filled with middle aged Japanese men and few women.  We sipped on 4 sakes served from taru.  What fun!  Most everyone was surprised to see me there and were very curious.  
As for now, this will be a quick overview of the trip.  My photos are are not loading for some reason...and since I am a sake nerd and not a computer nerd, I dont know how to fix it.  
Japan is cold in the winter.  Really cold.  Ice cold wind seems to blow right through you.  Having gone there 3 times before all in the autumn, it was interesting to see just how different the landscape is in the winter.  The sinowy branches of maple and elm contrasting with the impervious depth of cypress trees; and every now and again, you'll see a lone red pine raising high above the others.  Luckily, it was close to the end of winter and was able to catch a few, yet sweet glimpses of some flowering plum trees.  
A wonderful coincidence, or shall I say "synchronicity," just last week, two very cool, very important sake figures came to San Francisco for a tasting event.  I had the honor of hosting both Haruo Mastuzaki, famed taster/extraodinaire and also Kohiyama-san, head of the export division of the Japan Sake Brewers Association at Ozumo for a little after party, then onto Yoshi's for the after-after party.  What an incredible opportunity to hang out with these guys.  Good thing, when we're talking sake, I can understand (70% I guess) in Japanese.  So I learned quite a bit.  We were accompanied by Kozaemon-san, a brewer from Gifu prefecture.  Kozaemon-san's brewery is located very close to the town where I will be living and he has invited me to come learn to brew sake!!!!!  Ahhhh haaaaa!!  Hoping that I can leave for a month this next winter with my hubby, we will go and do a little sakezukuri....
OK, baby steps here.  I'll post this now and get back on with my weekly posting.  Thanks for reading...


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Yuho sake and the beauty of Noto Toji style brews

    I recently sat down with good friend Tamiko Ishidate of Joto Sake to taste the newest addition to their already well constructed, well thought out sake portfolio.  Yuho sake is made by Omio Shuzo in Niigata, Japan.  Located in the heart of tanrei karakuchi (light, dry, refined) country, these brews are melting with umami.  Revived by a young Ms. Miho Fujita, Omio Brewery went from almost shutting down to winning a gold medal at the most prestigious Noto Toji Sake Competition in April 2007 their first year of production.  Remember, the Noto Toji Guild is one of the most renowned sake guilds in Japan.  Many brewers and connosieurs alike regard this competition just as important as the National Sake Competition.  
    At the helm was Yokomichi-san as toji and under the watchful eye of Kyoto izakaya owner Takada-san, they realized that their sake will have umami, it is kind of it's destiny.  The brewing water as Yokomichi-san says is  "soft, but a bit salty on the palate."  After careful consideration, they all agreed that this water would be great for sake that can mature well.  I'm a girl who likes a little girth on her sakes, so aspects like nigami (bitterness) and shibumi (astingency), and of course umami, are qualities that I enjoy in a sake...considering that it is a well balanced brew and neither of these two dimensions over power the sake itself.  These are perfected in the Yuho brews.  
Yuho Junmai Ginjo
              It's kaori was sublte, yet full of herbs and flowers.  My first sip was silky, Yuho enveloped my palate with a softness, but also an underlining depth.  Finishing with a perfect touch of nigami to balance out the rich umami factor, some tantilizing acidity and it was over.  Umai, indeed!  (But of course I am not supposed to say this as I am a lady!)  
        Yuho Junmai
Ripe aromas of raisin and plum give way to, again, beautiful, velvety lines of umami that linger on the palate as it makes you go back for the second sip.  What satisfaction!  

In America, especially San Francisco and other big cities, we are inundated with hundreds of dining options.  In one day, you could eat your way across the globe, all the while your taste buds screaming for more.  To flip this around a little, Takada-san says, "Japanese palate is becoming more and more westernized, and, therefore, the sake needs to have umami and acidity." 
 The sake industry has seen its share of trends.  The reign of light, dry style brews which therefore perfected the tanrei karakuchi style in the 80's and 90's gave sake freaks like me the chance to drink what we have today.  Sake with plump, juiciness and umami is all the rage right now.  Muroka Nama Genshu is very popular currently, as well as Yamahai and kimoto style brews.  I am really looking forward to how sake styles change and evolve over the years.  

Sakes pictured from left to right: Yuho Junmai Ginjo; Yuho Junmai; Wataribune Shiboritate Nama Genshu; Kasumi Tsuru Shiboritate Nama Genshu; Taiheikai Shiboritate Nigori Nama Genshu.  All selections from Joto Sake portfolio.  And yes, I tasted them all.  And yes, they are all really, really amazing :-)

Quotes are taken from an article in Dancyu magazine, April 2007, translated by Ms. Ishidate

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Long and Winding Road

One of the most beautiful things to see is the bright yellow leaves of the Ginkgo biloba set against the deep blue sky.  Its this time of year that I actually forget that the leaves of the Ginkgo tree are not always yellow and actually green.  For some strange reason the yellow looks right.  But as they hang on for dear life, subtle breezes pull them from their perch and they gracefully sway to the ground.  Out with the old, in with the new.  The Ginkgo tree, considered a living fossil, has been on the planet as far back as 5.3 million years ago.  Once thought to be extinct, I find myself delighted and lucky to be able to view these trees, even if it is the "lowly" street tree, somehow transporting myself back in time, captivated by its unique leaves and perfectly arranged little "pegs" on the branches.  
For many years, I searched out for the Denshu 'Migaki Yonwarigobu' Junmai Daiginjo from Nishda Brewing Company in Aomori Prefecture.  Once thought to be extinct except perhaps to the lucky few, I have finally come to the end of that road.  Having tasted the Denshu Tokubetsu Junmai, the Junmai Daiginjo was like an elusive snow leopard for the tired and cold photographer.  On the menu in many an izakaya, but never available.  Until yesterday!
As I sat in the window with the sun filtering through its bottle, the calligraphy of Denshu in its metallic green glory, I contemplated 4 years worth of waiting.  The anticipation was almost overwhelming.  I pondered over the kaori (aroma) for quite sometime.  Others must have seen the look on my face, as they asked what was so great.  What was so great?  Rich ripe green apples and butterscotch was so great.  As with most first tastings, I used a wine glass.  As I swirled this elixer, its legs clung close to the glass falling slowly towards the bottom.  Like all Denshu sake, the muroka (non-charcoal filtered) quality cast a soft amber tone, which only added to its depth.  Ahh, but I haven't yet tasted it...
Almost immediately, the velvety lines of "Migaki Yonwarigobu" enveloped the palate lusiously filling every crevice.  Just when I thought it could be too much, my good friend shibumi, astringency, kicked in, lightening the palate with a clean and refreshing touch.  This mid-palate experience was then followed by a most delightful tingling on the tip of the tongue as the sake's finish gracefully danced away.  
Beautifully exceeding my expectations, there's no wonder why California has been allocated just 60 of these glorious bottles.  When only 4,500 are produced each year, the good people of Aomori City are very lucky indeed.  Should you happen to be in San Francisco, I highly encourage you to seek out this brew.  You can definitely find it at Ozumo, but only until it lasts.  And if its gone, don't be put off if you are left with the Tokubestu Junmai, that in itself is quite a treat.  Itadakimasu!!

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Year of Happiness and Hard Work

One more time around the sun.  Life is great and quite a bit of fun.  So it didn't surprise that I found myself working over the New Year, which just so happens to be the Year of the Ox.  Hard working, strong, committed and enduring.  Waking up the next day with more of a hangover than I would have like to have, New Years dinner had to be made and I was the one.

Recently, the creative gourmet bug came through and provided it's inspiration.  My dinner menu is set!

Roasted Pork Loin stuffed with herbs and roquefort cheese, with crushed hazelnuts
Cranberry and Apple Sauce
Cornbread Stuffing with apple, dried cherries and walnuts
Roasted purple potatoes, sweet potatoes and butternut squash
Fresh salad with grapefruit and blue cheese.

Seasonal and yummy.  Each dish finished wonderfully (thank goodness).  The friends arrived and we toasted to the New Year.  A bit of sparkling rose to start off the night.  At this point the hangover subsided which made room for a little bit of Hakkaisan!

Hakkaisan is one of those wonderful creations from Niigata.  Known for tanrei karakuchi style sakes this brew is light, dry and refined.  It definitely lived up to the reputation.  Hakkaisan is continually listed in the top 10 sakes of Japan.  Why?  This style of brewing makes for an approachable sake with easy drinkability.  Being in the seasonal spirit, we decided to warm this sake, ever so gently.  It's tight, clean appearance relaxed tremendously.  Now, its silky and supple sweetness danced on my palate and surprisingly the finish was quick and light.  Wow!  It was delicious.