Sunday, December 27, 2009

2009 In Review: Part 4--The Saké Experience

Let me continue a review of my top recommendations and favorites of the past year, 2009. I have already provided a General Summary of 2009, my Favorite Restaurants of 2009, my Favorite Food-Related Items of 2009 and my Favorite Wine & Spirit Related Items of 2009. Now, this post, the final one in my 2009 Review series, will concentrate on Saké.

This is certainly not a complete list. It is more a sampling of memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year.

Saké Dominance: Saké continues to maintain a prominent role on my blog. I am very passionate about Saké and I hope to promote it to others, to spread the word about this fascinating beverage. I want to destroy the stereotypes about Saké and shine a light on the truth, to show its diversity and complexity. During this past year, Saké popularity has been increasing across much of the world, including the U.S. I am going to highlight some of the most interesting Saké events that I have discussed on my blog.

**Saké exports have been booming. Exports have grown from about 7,000 kiloliters in 2001 to 12,151 kiloliters in 2008. Exports to the U.S. have doubled since 2001 to 3,843 kiloliters. Exports to Asia are also increasing. There is more and more Saké around, and that is a great thing.

**Moto-i, the first Saké brewpub in the United States, opened in Minneapolis. Owner Blake Richardson runs the place like a Japanese izakaya, serving small plates of food with namazake, Saké on draft. I have not yet been there but certainly love the idea of this place.

**Philip Harper, an Englishman, is the only non-Japanese toji ("master brewer") and he works at the Tamagawa ("Jewel River") brewery. His Saké has just been released in the U.S. this year, and I am seeking it out, hoping to see what quality he can brew.

**A new Saké, Rissimo, has been specifically designed to pair with Italian food. Matsumoto Sake Brewing Co. and Il Ghiottone, an Italian restaurant in Kyoto, formed an alliance to create a Saké with a subtle sour flavor like white wine which would thus pair well with Italian food. It is called Rissimo, as "riso" is the Italian term for "rice." Just think of risotto.

**Saké was sold at the Opening Day of the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. In Japan, they sell Saké at major sporting events and now it is time for the U.S. to do the same. Hopefully other baseball parks will start selling Saké.

**New York City held its first Saké Week from June 1-5. Over 100 New York restaurants participated, all helping to promote Saké. There were special events, including food pairings, tastings, education, and more. Hopefully they will do it again in 2010, and maybe other cities can follow their example.

**Saké Day, October 1, passed once again with little occurring in the Boston area to commemorate this date. I hope to change that in 2010, by helping to organize some local events, and maybe even a large Saké tasting. Stay tuned for details, and any assistance is more than welcome.

**Who would have suspected that Portland, Maine was a significant Saké destination? Not I, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a significant number of their wine/liquor stores carried Saké, and not just the cheap, common brands. They certainly carried more Saké than many of our local wine stores.

**Even the Saké world is not devoid of scandal. A major Saké brewery, Bishonen Shuzoh Co., sent out expensive rice to be polished but received a much cheaper rice back, receiving money to make up for the difference in price. Customers thus unknowingly paid for a lower quality product. Fortunately, the brewery was caught.

Saké Reviews: Over the past year, I have reviewed over 30 Sakés on my blog. A excellent opportunity to taste Saké was at the annual ULVino Grand Wine Tasting in Las Vegas. They had about eight tables with dozens of different Sakés available to taste. You don't often see so many bottles available for tasting in one place.

Saké WBW: I was the host for Wine Blogging Wednesday #59, and chose to pay homage to Kushi no Kami, an ancient god of Saké. Participants had to conduct a kikishu (“Saké tasting”) by selecting any Saké and reviewing it. Over 30 Sakés were reviewed and discussed. Plus, we had two special guests, both well known Saké experts, who joined in on the Saké fun. John Gauntner, a famed Saké authority and educator, reviewed the Hakkaisan Tokubetsu Junmai-shu. Beau Timken, a Saké authority and the owner of True Sake, the first all-Saké store in the U.S, reviewed the Kikuhime Dai Ginjo.

Favorite Saké: Though I have tasted many excellent Sakés this past year, one stood out as my favorite, the Manabito Kimoto Junmai Ginjo. Made by the Hinomaru Jozo Brewery, which is owned by Jouji Sato, it was quite unique, very different from any other Kimoto I have had. Complex, well balanced, hints of earthiness and extremely delicious. This gets my highest recommendation.

Favorite Sparkling Saké: These are usually simple, slightly sweet and pleasant drinks but the Mizbasho "Pure" Sparkling Saké is a significant exception. The brewery actually uses some of the French Champagne methods to create this Saké, such as an in-bottle secondary fermentation. This is a serious sparkling beverage, on par with a good, dry Champagne. At $50, it is not cheap, but its high quality warrants such a cost.

Favorite Store for Saké: For the second year in a row, Sakaya in New York City remains my favorite place to buy Saké. The store only sells Saké, Shochu and Plum Wine and the owners, Rick and Hiroko, are personable and very knowledgeable about Saké. With about 100 choices available, I have not yet been disappointed in anything I have purchased. If you love Saké, and visit New York City, you must stop at Sakaya.

Local Stores for Saké: In the Boston+ area, finding good Saké can be difficult, but the situation is improving. Wine stores seem to be stocking more and more Saké, and this pleases me immensely. I hope that 2010 sees even more Saké promotion. Here are several local wine stores which carry some good Sakés and which deserve your support: Lower Falls Wine Co., Ball Square Fine Wines & Liquors, Wine Connextion, Golden Goose, and Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet. I hope to expand this list in 2010.

Most Expensive Saké: The Naniwa Isake 19 Junmai Daiginjo, at around $750, may be one of the most expensive Sakés available. What makes this brew so special is that it has a seimai buai of 19%, meaning that 81% of the rice kernels were polished away. This may be the lowest polishing rate available, possible only with modern technology. It is not currently available in the U.S., though at its high price, few of us could afford it anyways.

Favorite New Saké Book: Though there exist only a small number of books on Saké, the winner of this category definitely deserves the accolades. Saké's Hidden Stories: The Personalities, Philosophies, and Tricks-of-the-Trade Behind the Brew, a new E-book by John Gauntner, is a fascinating look at thirteen Japanese breweries. It even includes an informative, short primer on the basics of Saké. Gautner has a casual, easy writing style and he has filled the book with plenty of compelling stories. I highly recommend this book!

Runner-Up Favorite New Saké Book: If you want a fun and informative introduction to Saké, then check out Oishinbo: Saké. It is a manga, a Japanese comic, and worthy of your attention. It provides plenty of basic information and might also get you thinking about comparisons and contrasts between Saké and wine.

Important Saké Campaign: I recently won a t-shirt from SakéOne with the sentiment, Drink Saké Not Bombs. I was especially pleased as I am proud to support this position, to stand against the dreaded Saké Bomb. The Bomb, dropping a shot of Saké into a beer, essentially destroys the subtle flavors of the Saké. Would you pour a shot of a fine Burgundy into a glass of cola?

For more Saké related items, you can check my blog posts for the past year. Obviously I could not include everything in this review post. You can also look forward to many more Saké posts in 2010.

What were some of your favorite Sakés and Saké related items this year?


Unknown said...


Thanks for the review of 2009 sake oriented posts. I "read" your blog mostly for the sake related articles.

Thanks for the excellent work!


Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks very much Will for your kind comment.