What were some of my favorite Sake items of the past year?
Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of the past year, 2012. I have already posted seven other lists of my Favorites of the past year and this is my final list, my Favorite Sake Items of 2012. This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year.
This is also a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" of anything. But all of the items here have earned my strong recommendations and I hope you will enjoy them as well. For more sake related items, you can just search my blog posts for the past year.
Sake continues to maintain a prominent role, a specialized niche, on my blog. My passion for Sake is ever growing and I continue to promote it to others, to spread the word about this fascinating beverage. I want to destroy the stereotypes about Sake and shine a light on the truth, to show its diversity and complexity. I want more and more people to taste it, finding joy in its flavors. I want more stores to carry and sell Sake, to make it something they recommend to their customers. Sake is as worthy as any other alcoholic beverage and deserves at least equal billing.
My New Sake Endeavor: This past year, my thoughts led me to a new and exciting project, the publishing of Sake-related fiction. I have always loved writing fiction and previously posted several short stories on my blog. However, now I wanted to go beyond that, to actually publish some new fiction. I created the Tipsy Sensei series, a collection of stories about a Sake expert in Boston who learns that the supernatural creatures from Japanese folklore actually exist. The intent of this series is to share my passion and knowledge of Sake, as well as to tell interesting and thrilling stories, delving into the rich legends and folklore of Japan. During 2012, I published three short stories, all as ebooks, including Yurine's Pot, The Ghost Of A Ninja, and The Fox & The Katana. As the fourth installment in the series, I also published a novel, Demons, Gods & Sake, as both a trade paperback and ebook. They have been well received so far and I am currently working on the next novel in the series.
Sake Tastings & Classes: I have presided over a number of Sake Tastings, Dinners & Classes this past year, helping to promote this worthy beverage. This included a Sake & French cuisine dinner at AKA Bistro, a number of Sake & Sushi classes at Haru, and a Sake Tasting for International Sake Day at Thelonious Monkfish. The response from the attendees at these events has been very positive, and many have been surprised by the diversity of Sake, often finding styles they enjoyed. You can look forward to more tastings, dinners and classes in 2013. I also was a guest host for a Sake Wine Chat on Twitter, which led to an intense Q&A where I spent much of the hour typing responses to everyone. The discussion was very well received, and numerous people voiced their pleasure at learning so much about Sake. The passion and excitement about Sake was contagious and some of the attendees were even drinking Sake at home while they participated in the discussion.
Sake Exports: There is good news to report on this front. Sake exports in 2011 set a new record of 14,013 kiloliters, a rise of 1.2%, and the first positive increase in 16 years. This rise in exports appears that it will continue through 2012. During the first eight months of 2012, exports were up 2.1% over the same period in 2011, so if that continues, we could see a new record made in 2012. Exports still constitute only a small portion of the Sake industry but it may be the best path for growth for breweries in Japan. Let us hope these figures continue to grow, and even faster.
Favorite Junmai Sake: The Nishiyama Kotsuzumi Tokubetsu Junmai is made with a local, rare rice called Hyogo Kita Nishiki and the rice was milled down to 65%. It also has a Sake Meter Value of +9, meaning it is more on the dry side. This Sake possessed a subdued aroma, an intriguing whiff of steamed rice combined with nutty elements. On the palate, it was very dry, crisp and full bodied with a pleasant blend of flavors, including marshmallow, almonds, and caramel, reminding me in some respects of an aged Sherry. The finish was pleasing and fairly long, and it earns a hearty recommendation.
Favorite Ginjo Sake: The Yuki No Bosha Junmai Ginjo Limited Release technically qualifies as a Daiginjo, as 50% of the rice has been polished away, but they chose to label it as a Ginjo. It is a light, dry and complex Sake, with some subtle fruit flavors, including peach and melon, with hints of herbs on the smooth finish. A very easy drinking Sake which would appeal to newcomers to Sake as well as experienced Sake lovers.
Favorite Daiginjo Sake: There was a tie in this category and interestingly both were produced using the rare shizuku ("drip") method, where bags of the sake and lees are tied off at the neck and hung up, so the sake will slowly drip out over time. This is also sometimes known as kubi-tsuri ("hung by the neck") and is supposed to produce a high quality Sake, though you also produce less Sake than through other pressing methods. The Okunomatsu Juhachidai Ihei Daiginjo was one of my favorite Sakes from a tasting of over 45 Sakes. It was elegant, restrained, complex, and absolutely compelling. Words don't do justice to the experience of this Sake. The Shichi Hon Yari Shizuku Junmai Daiginjo is another amazing sake, crisp and clean, complex and subtle, delicious and dry. It goes down so smoothly, as they say, "like drinking water," which is a high compliment for Sake. Both of these are expensive but well worth the price.
Favorite Kimoto Style Sake: Kimoto is an old and laborious method of production, though still used by a small number of breweries, and which often produces Sake with an earthy, gamey profile. It is one of my favorite Sake styles. The Dewatsuru Kimoto Junmai has a delicious, complex rich and earthy taste, an excellent example of the Kimoto style. It possesses a high level of umami, which makes it very food friendly, helping to increase the savoriness of many different dishes.
Favorite Sparkling Sake: The Dassai Junmai Daiginjo Sparkling Nigori was one of the best sparkling Sakes I have tasted. Most Sparkling Sake is fairly simple in nature, lightly sweet and effervescent. On the other hand, this Sake was not too sweet, with a light effervescence, mild tropical fruit flavors, and a savory backbone. It has much more complexity than the usual sparkling Sake and should appeal to all Sake lovers, as well as newcomers.
Favorite Aged Sake: Last year, the Kirin Daiginjo Hizoshu was my Favorite Sake and it deserves recognition once again this year. It has been aged for five years under very low temperatures and presents an incredibly complex and intriguing Daiginjo. It is clean, smooth and mellow with plenty of subtle and captivating flavors. I would highly recommend this to all Sake lovers.
Favorite Nigori Sake: The Dewatsuru Hiten No Yume Junmai Daiginjo Nigori is not yet sold in the U.S., but hopefully it will be in the near future. It is made with Akita-Komachi rice, a variety that grows only in Akita, and is more of a savory than sweet Nigori. It was elegant, with a mild hint of sweetness, flavors of tropical fruits but also a strong savory component. One of the best Nigoris I have ever tasted.
Runner-Up Favorite Nigori Sake: The Yuki No Bosha Junmai Ginjo Nigori is an usu-nigori, a "thin" nigori which has been pressed so only a minimal amount of the lees end up inside the Sake. This Sake would also qualify as a Daiginjo as 50% of the rice has been polished away, but they chose to label it as a Ginjo. Unlike many sweet Nigoris, this is more on the dry side, with a Sake Meter Value of +3. This was a smooth, bright and dry Sake, with nice fruity accents.
New Domestic Sake Brewery: There is a new kura, a Sake brewery, coming to Maine. I don't have much information about the Blue Current Brewery and their website and Facebook page also lack detail, but I am attempting to gather more information. It does not appear that they are yet legally in operation but when I learn more, I will be sure to share it with my readers. The cold winters in Maine should be excellent for Sake brewing, so there is some potential there.
Favorite Restaurant For Sake: Most restaurants significantly mark up Sake, as they do wine. However, Moksa in Central Square, Cambridge, is an exception. Though they carry only about six Sakes, the prices are quite compelling. For example, the Bunraku Yamahai Junmai (300ml) costs $18, when it usually retails for about $15. A mere $3 markup is excellent, making this Sake a great bargain. The best value though is the Manabito “True Blue” Kimoto Junmai Ginjo (300ml) which costs $19 and usually retails for over $20. It costs less at the restaurant than what you would spend a wine store! That is a rarity for any alcoholic beverage at a restaurant. The Manabito is also a killer Sake, one of my favorites, making it an even better value.
Favorite Sake Event: This past June, I attended a special Sake tasting held at the at the residence of Takeshi Hikihara, the Consul General of Japan, located in Chestnut Hill. John Gauntner, the famed Sake expert and "Sake Dendoushi" ("Sake Evangelist"), gave a fascinating and informative speech about current Sake trends as well as recommendations for stocking and serving Sake in restaurants. There was also a tasting of over 45 Sakes with a number of toji and other brewery representatives. Overall, a compelling event where a passion for Sake was more than evident.
Favorite Sake & Food Pairing: Last month, I presided over a Sake & French Cuisine dinner at AKA Bistro in Lincoln. It might not be a combination which immediately comes to mind but the pairing worked well. About 20 people attended the dinner and I received much praise for the pairings. Sake & Foie Gras? Yes, it was excellent. My friend Adam posted a detailed review of the dinner, raving about the savory pairings. Start experimenting and pair Sake with any and all cuisines.
Favorite Sake News Article: It only took them 2000 years, but Japan finally declared Sake (as well as Shochu) to be a National Alcoholic Beverage. It is hard to believe that they never did so before now. The idea behind their decision was to help local economies, increase the demand for rice, and boost export sales. It is still unsure how much support the Japanese government will put behind this new promotion but we can hope that they do something which succeeds in spreading the passion.
Favorite New Sake Book: Brewing Sake: Release The Toji Within, by William G. Auld, is one of the only books in English, and maybe the only one currently in print, that explains how to brew your own Sake. It is a more technical guide with the intent of providing detailed instructions and explanations for how to brew Sake at home. It begins with a list and description of the equipment you will need for brewing, and then moves to a detailed, step by step procedure for brewing. For anyone interested in brewing their own Sake, this will be an invaluable reference book.
Favorite Sake Books, Reissued: This year, John Gauntner has made two of his books available as ebooks, including The Sake Notebook and Sake's Hidden Stories. The Sake Notebook is a concise primer on Sake while Hidden Stories tells the compelling stories behind 13 breweries. Hidden Stories is one of the best books on Sake available and it is highly recommended. It is a fascinating and informative book, delving you deeper into the inner workings of thirteen breweries, each with its own unique differences.
My Favorite Sake Post: Last year, my favorite Sake post was Sake, Amino Acids & Food, exploring some of the science behind Sake and food pairings. I noted that I was working on an expanded article, which I posted this past year: The Science of Sake & Food Pairings. It was a very popular article, discussing the role of amino acids in Sake, the effects of umami, and much more. Sake is extremely food friendly, pairing well with basically any cuisine, and there are scientific reasons for its versatility. Check out my article and understand the foundations of Sake and food pairings.
My Favorite Sake Guest Post: In a similar vein of Sake and food pairings, I wrote a guest post, Slurping Oysters & Sipping Sake, for my good friend Jackie of the Leather District Gourmet. Jackie has been heavily involved in all matters oysters recently, including starting the Oyster Century Club. She asked me for a Sake/Oyster post and I was glad to do so. Rather than Champagne or Chablis, try some Sake the next time you slurp some raw oysters and learn that Sake is a killer pairing.
Favorite Sake Quote: In a comic play called Mochisake, which was written during the Muromachi period (1338-1573 AD), there is a list of The Ten Merits of Sake. This is a great list of the benefits of drinking Sake, from being excellent for your health to making you warm during the cold. It also shows the importance of Sake in Japanese culture for hundreds of years. All Sake lovers should check out this list, and maybe keep a copy handy to share with others.
New Sake Blog: My friend Gordon Heady, a Sake aficionado who has been spending time in Japan, has started a new Sake blog. Though he just started writing in September, you should put it on your radar to learn more about Sake. You can read articles like Ginjo vs Junmai: Don't Fall Prey To Polish Bigotry! or Eleven Fun Facts About Sake. Gordon will be working in a Sake brewery soon so his insights should be invaluable. There certainly are not enough Sake blogs out there so I am very pleased that Gordon seized the reins and chose to take that route.
What were some of your favorite Sake items this year?