Friday, December 23, 2011

2011: Favorite Sake Items

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, 2011. I have already posted a list of my Favorite Restaurants, Favorite Food-Related Items, and Favorite Wine, Spirit & Drink Related Items. This is my final list, my Favorite Sake Items of the past year. 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 on my blog. My passion for Sake has only grown 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, and find joy in its flavors.

Sake Interview: Early this year, I was interviewed by the Boston Globe about Sake, a full page article which obviously pleased me very much. It provided exposure to myself, but also Sake in general, hopefully intriguing some people to give it a try. To any other newspaper, magazine or media, I am available for interviews or articles concerning Sake, so please just email me if you are interested in such.

Sake Tastings & Classes: I have presided over a number of Sake Tastings, Meals & Classes this past year, helping to promote this worthy beverage. This included a Sake brunch at AKA Bistro, a Sake & Italian Dinner at Prezza, Chilling with Sake classes at the Boston Wine School, Sake & Thai Dinner at Ronnarong, and tastings for New England Home Magazine & Quidley and Company Fine Art Gallery.  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. Sparkling Sake has been a huge hit at these events, even by those who claimed they generally disliked Sake.  You can look forward to more tastings, dinners and classes in 2012.

Sake Exports: After a rough year in 2009 for sake exports, they have roared back in 2010. Statistics showed that from January to November 2010, Japan exports hit a record high of 12,223 kiloliters of sake, more than the previous one-year record of 12,151 in 2008. In 2010, the U.S. claimed about 25% of all Japanese sake exports.Much of this success is due to "steady distribution and to a recovery in the U.S., the world's top importer." Kanpai!

Sad Sake News: On March 11, 2001, Japan was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami, which primarily affected the Tohoku region. This was a tragedy in many respects, with a terrible loss of life and my sympathies go out to all those affected. More than half of the Tohoku region’s 145 sake producers were adversely affected by the disaster, and a few of the sake breweries were completely destroyed. Fortunately, many of them are showing positive signs of a comeback so hopefully 2012 will be a far better year for them. So please give your support to the Tohoku breweries.

Favorite Japanese Sake: The stand out this year for me was the Kirin Daiginjo Hizoshu, which was aged for five years under very low temperatures. This is unlike any aged sake I have ever had before, and I would not have known that is was aged unless someone told me. It was an incredibly complex and intriguing Daiginjo, clean, smooth and mellow with plenty of subtle and captivating flavors. It was such a surprise, and a sake I would highly recommend to all sake lovers.

Runner-Up Sake: For Thanksgiving, I opened the Tedorigawa "Silver Mountain" Yamahai Junmai, and found it to pair nicely with my dinner, from the roast turkey to the wild boar roast. It had some of that earthiness that I like, and would probably have gone well with a variety of other foods too, especially due to its higher acidity and umami. Forget Pinot Noir next Thanksgiving and opt for Sake.

Favorite Domestic Sake: This year, I visited the SakeOne Brewery in Forest Grove, Oregon, and tasted through their portfolio. Their Nama Organic Junmai, on draft, most impressed me with its enticing nose of fresh fruit. On the palate, it was crisp and lively with plenty of delicious apple, pear and hints of tropical fruit. It is well worth stopping by the brewery and quaffing a glass of this unpasteurized Sake.

Most Unusual Sake: Sake is generally made with yellow koji-kin while black koji-kin is used for the production of awamori. Black koji-kin can develop strong citric acid which might destroy the delicate flavors of sake. But the Kuro Kabuto Junmai Daiginjo is a sake made from black koji-kin, and it is a success, a compelling and delicious sake. It possesses some lush orange flavor as well as tart apple and melon, and a bit of sweetness that is balanced by its acidity. Smooth and easy drinking, it will appeal to any Sake lover seeking something a bit different.

First Organic Japanese Sake: Though you might have seen organic Sake before, the rice for those Sakes was grown in the U.S. It is very difficult to grow organic rice in Japan, but it has been done and the first organic sake using such rice is now on the market, the Chikurin Karoyaka Junmai Ginjo. This is an amazing Sake, with plenty of complexity and a multitude of flavor layers. It is is an artisan Sake, and it is reflected in its high quality.

Consumer Friendly Sake: As Sake can be very intimidating to the average person, efforts to make Sake bottles more consumer friendly can help.  Green River Sake Company, a newcomer to Massachusetts, is a Japanese brewery which has created a line of Sakes for the U.S. market where the labels are simple, and almost completely in English except for the large kanji on the front label. The labels lack any technical details with the intent of just describing the flavor profile of the Sake. Plus, and most importantly, the Sakes tasted very good.

Favorite Domestic Sake Brewery: In September, I was able to tour the SakeOne Brewery in Oregon and I was impressed with the facility. I also tasted through their portfolio and found many excellent value Sakes, which would be a great way to introduce newcomers to Sake. Because of their low price, newcomers would be more likely to take a chance and pick up a bottle. Their infused Sakes would also be very versatile  for making cocktails. If you visit the Portland area, you should take the time to visit this brewery.

Favorite Portland Sake Spots: Portland, Oregon is a hot spot for sake lovers, with an abundance of izakayas and sake bars. While in Portland, I visited two, Miho Izakaya and Zilla Sake House, and both impressed. Miho had plenty of delicious food to accompany your sake, while Zilla had an incredible sake list and killer sushi. Both spots get my recommendation and I look forward to checking out more izakayas next summer in Portland.

Sake Charity Event: This past year, Wine Blogging Wednesday #72 was all about Helping Japan after the tragic earthquake and tsunami by trying to get wine bloggers to drink and review some sake. Though it did not get as much participation as hoped, those that did participate were eager and passionate about the endeavor. Hopefully, in 2012, more bloggers will taste and discuss Sake on their blogs.

Favorite Sake & Food Pairing: The Sake and Italian Dinner at Prezza was amazing, especially due to the killer food prepared by Chef Anthony Caturano. Rabbit Parmigiano, Mushroom Risotto, Wood Grilled Pork Chop, Fig Turnover. I paired these dishes with four different dishes, showing the attendees the versatility of Sake with Italian cuisine, and I convinced them that such a pairing could work. It is all about the umami.

Favorite Local Stores for Sake: In the Boston+ area, finding good Sake can be difficult, but the situation has improved since last year. More wine stores are stocking at least a little Sake, which pleases me immensely. Here are a few local wine stores which carry good Sakes and deserve your support: Urban Grape (with over 30 Sakes), Lower Falls Wine Co., Ball Square Fine Wines & Liquors, Wine Connextion (excellent discount prices), Reliable Market, and Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet.

New York City Stores For Sake: Besides Sakaya, an all-Sake store, and Astor Wine & Spirits, which has a very good Sake selection, you should also check out Ambassador Wine & Spirits. With about 100 different Sakes, kept in a temperature controlled room, Sake lovers should enjoy perusing all of the selections, from small 300ml bottles to large 1.8 liter bottles. In addition, they have a large selection of Shochu. It is well worth checking out this shop.

Favorite Sake News Article: Though the article is not long, Sake Pairings, in the Chicago Tribune, promotes pairing Sake with non-Japanese cuisine, something I too strongly advocate. Sake Evangelist John Gauntner is quoted: "People think that with sake, you have to eat Japanese, you have to be authentic but they need to get over that and think about just pairing sake with food in general." He also stated: "...the key to pairing sake is an open mind and a willingness to experiment." That is why I like exposing people to sake with what might be considered offbeat pairings, from mushroom risotto to pizza. I want them to see the myriad of possibilities of sake with food.

My Favorite Sake Post: In a similar vein, my favorite Sake post of all those I have written this year is Sake, Amino Acids & Food. The article goes into some of the science behind Sake, especially how it interacts with food. Umami, that fifth taste which is akin to savoriness, plays a very important role, helping to make Sake an excellent pairing for many different types of dishes. I am currently working on an expanded version of this article, going into more detail. Look forward to it in 2012.

Favorite Sake Legend: If you are a Sake lover, then I am sure you would very much like to meet some red-haired Shojo, water spirits whose supernatural powers often seem to revolve around Sake.  From a never ending Sake pot to a Sake that cures all disease and gives long life, what is there not to like? Tanuki just cannot compete with Shojo.

Sake Friends: I have met a number of other Sake lovers on Twitter, and this year got to meet three of them in person, all in Portland, Oregon. It was a great pleasure to meet them, chat and share some excellent chilled Sake. Gordon, Dewey and Marcus all made me feel very welcome and I look forward to seeing them again next August, when I return to Portland. They are all great guys and well worth following on Twitter.

Wine Blogger's Conference 2012: Finally, the WBC for 2012 will be held in Portland, Oregon. I really hope that they will hold a breakout session on Sake, to educate and entertain the attendees. It would be a great location with the SakeOne Brewery nearby, and so many izakayas and other sake destinations in Portland. And when I return to Portland, I hope to visit some more of the excellent sake bars, and hang out again with my sake friends there.  2012 is going to be a great year.

What were some of your favorite Sake items this year?

1 comment:

Jason said...

Favorite sake quarrel: you vs Blake Gray. Why? It compelled me to give US sake a try.

Nice list.