WARNING - ***Not Suitable For Office Viewing***
Ha! So do I have your attention now? My dear friend and amazing "booze" writer in Japan - Bryan Harrell - sent me an email with the following disclaimer: "Make sure you haven't just finished eating, and that you are not in the middle of a sip of your coffee..." and he then provided a link to something. Oh god! I thought to myself, what could this be? Some wacky Japanese TV show? A clip of Paris Hilton making kimoto-style sake in Hyogo Prefecture? George Bush sneaking a sake bomb with Nancy Pelosi? No my friends, it's worse. Much worse. So bad in fact it made me write this small piece about the future - or one road towards the future of sake in this country and the West in general.
The link is to a new liquor using sake as its base. And this "new" beverage joins ranks with a growing assembly of really "iffy" takes on sake. It appears that many are trying to capitalize on sake in a way that does not do justice to the purity of this supreme libation. We are now seeing the "bastardization" of the sake landscape and this bothers me. Is this the future of sake in the west and should we embrace it? Or is this just another road for consumers to explore on their ride to sake in its purest and simplest form?
Why should it bother the buffoon who published sake cocktails in his book? (EDITOR'S NOTE - they made him do it or the book wouldn't have been printed) Why should it bother the guy who says "Hey as long as the word 'sake' is being used and attracting consumers to real sake then whatever?" Why should it bother the guy who always says "I am a purist but not a snob"? I'll tell you why. It's making my job a helluva lot more difficult. And quite frankly it is running roughshod over my 5 years of trying to educate the good people of planet earth about the wonders of sake. In a word it has crossed "the line."
Several years back some gentlemen came to me looking for support for their new product - vodka infused with sake. Huh? I asked. Why would people want to put Sake in their vodka? And why in god's name would you name this concoction "Wasabe"? Again I must warn you - what you are about to see is extremely graphic - it is not for the feint of sake heart - You have been warned - ***** WARNING WILL ROBINSON WARNING*** (Please turn your volume up for the complete "package")
So when the guys came into speak about this I basically said that I was confused and was not really too keen on the idea. I was honest. I told them that this would make my job harder by far. What a mixed message it sends out to a world of drinkers who think that sake is a hard alcohol to begin with. Man, I thought to myself! People are just going to see sake as a hard booze - a distilled sauce like shochu or ummmmm vodka!
I basically wished them good luck with their endeavor and thought about a way that I could put this fire out in terms of perception. Then I got a call from Blake Gray the "SF Chronicle" wine writer who said that he was given a press kit for Wasabe with my name in bold saying that I endorsed the product. Aaaaaaaggghhhhhhh. I immediately called their press people and said please remove my name from your materials. They did and I haven't heard much about them since. Again, my complaint is the mixed signal this sends out to the uneducated market. It's not the guys themselves; it's their take on sake - my beloved sake.
Fast forward to lunch I had the other day with one of the unheralded stars of the sake importing world - Ed Lehrman from Vine Connections, who along with Partner Nick Ramkowsky have been doing the lion's share of sake education in the US since 2000. These guys import some seriously good brews from Sato No Homare to Mukune and have made serious inroads for getting sake into western style restaurants. And yes, they have spearheaded the entire education process for sake in America as they use John Gauntner as their sake info guru and consultant. These guys are on the sake A-Team, and that is why I was a bit taken aback when Ed spoke about a new endeavor that they are embarking upon called "Sake2Me." Again I "huh'ed?" "What did you say?" I asked.
Ed explained that "Sake2Me" is not a "sake cooler." It is an entirely new concept in the delivery of sake. Sparkling flavored sakes. Low in alcohol and refreshingly light they come in 4 flavors - Ginger Mango, Yuzu Citrus, Green Tea, Asian Pear. He gave me a mixed 4 pack - very nice packaging - and asked what I thought. And I am certain that he was not looking for my approval or disapproval. He is convinced that it is a new way to capture sake drinkers from the uninformed to the unimpressed with sake. And perhaps he is right. And I will state again that these guys have earned their stripes to do whatever they want with sake. They are very good for the sake world and I look forward to seeing how their efforts pan out and what this will say about the sake landscape down the line.
And now back to what got us here, the email from Bryan Harrell showing me a glimpse of hell on earth. Even on my worst bed of nightmares filled with apocalyptic images of hell boiling over I have never seen an image like this one. Is this the future? Is this life? What have we as Sake Samurais fought for all of these years? What have I dedicated myself to and is it for this? Is this sake's tomorrow and day after? Or is it just the "Day After"?
****** WARNING - WARNING - WARNING - ******
You have time to run! You have time to turn away! Do NOT look at this if you would like to stay pure of sake heart. Your future is now - GO BACK!
I am hoping that you said YES to the over 21 year-old link toenjoy the real "ride of Ty-Ku" sound experience. The music does come on after a minute or two.
Ironically, I was in New Orleans last week for a "booze event" and I met the owner/founder of Ty-Ku. This article was already written when I shook hands with Kirk and I told him that I would play the sake tough guy. Face to face I said that I must protect the "spirit of sake" - no pun intended - and that Ty-Ku did not capture this "spirit." As the conversation un-folded he informed me that he was actually thinking of using shochu instead of sake in Ty-Ku liquor going forward (because sake is "unstable" for making a liquor THANK GOD) and that he wanted to import sake only for his next project. I nodded in agreement - "Yes, shochu, good idea!" We spoke for quite a while and after using my sake Jedi mind magic on him, I believe that he will use the force for better and not worse in years to come.
EDITOR'S NOTE: At 9:47PM police were called to the house of Mr. Beau Timken who was found naked in his bathtub filled with a deadly mixture of Wasabe and Ty-Ku. The coroner's report stated that Mr. Timken died from ingesting a small quantity of this toxic coupling, but it was enough to stop his heart and burn his soul. R.I.P