January 2014

Hot Sake – A Memory From Kobe

Posted by Beau Timken in 2014, Hot Sake, January, Newsletter
A long long time ago – in a universe far far away – I was taken to an izakaya in Kobe that specialized in sake, so much so that when I went for the first time there were four kuramotos (owners of breweries) also imbibing. This amazing house of sake has been mentioned before in numerous Newsletters, because quite frankly it’s the best sake-centric destination that I have ever had the fortune to visit.

Hot Sake 1 When I went I was placed right in front of the owner/chef/sake god who’s workstation was set below the tables so you could watch him perform. The tables were above and the counter was on level with his pit. My seat was at the counter right in front of the tiny, bald, and wonderfully wrinkly old sake soul with Jack O’ lantern teeth and a smile that could warm sake from across the room.

Okay – here’s the “scene” that had such a big impact on me. (And crap I wish that I had my camera or smart phone but they didn’t exist back then – yes the camera did – I am not that old). There was a large hot water bath that looked like a chaffing dish on steroids. It was very long and could hold a lot of sake tokkuris and open heating vessels that have handles on them to keep the heat off of your fingers. He looked at me – smiled – and showed me three different heating vessels that all looked different. He placed them in the water at the exact time and removed them at the same time. He then poured each sake into a cup and handed me a tray of three warmed sakes. I tasted all three. They were wonderful and different. Each sake was delicious, but they were each unique.

Mr. Smiles-a-lot said, “Which is your favorite?” Damn I thought to myself. This is a test. I know it. I’ll bet one sake is durge and he just mopped it up off the floor before he heated and poured it for me. I’ll bet the other sake was from North Korea, and the last sake was probably made down the road in Kobe and was the owner’s favorite. Crap. I really didn’t want to blow it. I liked them all, but I picked one and said this! He smiled and asked why? I said it tasted a little softer and I like the way it felt in my mouth. He smiled, but a smile that looked like I had missed something. Damn! I then asked, “Okay so what three sakes are these?” He smiled the biggest smile yet and said, “They are the same sake of course!” DOH!

That’s when the lesson began. “Why?” “I don’t get it!” “Tell me why?” Then it dawned on me. “Aha! I got it,” I said. You poured me the same sake, but each sake is from a different bottle one that was opened a long time ago, one that was recently opened and one that you just opened! He smiled and held up one bottle. “No!” “All three from this bottle.” Damn! So now I was really curious. “Did you shake them?” “Did you dilute them?” “Did you………. Arrrrggggghhhh!”

After a little while and after several more tastes he was ready to share. He picked up the three warming vessels and set them in front of me. “This one is tin” “This one is steel and this is pewter.” My mind said “So – and?” (I think my head tilted – and? My eyebrows raised – and?) He then explained that the three metals warmed the sake differently. If I recall the tin heated quickly, the steel less, and the pewter was the slowest to warm. So I had watched him pour the three and set them in at the same time. It was baffling. It was amazing and I was hooked!

Since that day I have purchased several of these warming vessels and have tried my own experiments. I don’t have the same Las Vegas panache that he displayed that dreary but splendid day in Kobe. But I have opened several eyes and I am fascinated to this day how there are so many expressions to explore in the heated sake arena.

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