Sake & Mi - Sake Thoughts from a Sake Explorer
First, I would like to thank Beau for giving me the spot in the newsletter and the partnership. There is a lot of work ahead of us to make True Sake even better place for all the sake lovers and beyond. I thank each and every one of you for supporting the store for all these years, and I look forward to serving you better this coming year.
Every day I drink sake. Every day I think about sake. Most days I explain sake to people. I have been with the store for almost 6 years, and from time to time people ask me, "How did you get into sake?" My answer always has been "It was an accident." I thought that explaining this would be a good start in this first issue of Sake & Mi.
Well over 8 years ago, I started to buy sake cups and glasses every time I went home (Japan) even though I did not really drink. Simply put, they were beautiful and made me want to taste something good in them. The only time I drank sake was when I went to a sushi restaurant. And just like everyone else, I bought Momokawa Pearl and Silver a few times at a supermarket in J-Town. At this point in my life, I did not know anything about sake (Nihon-shu) except two things: my grandfather kept 1.8L bottle of not-so-pleasant smelling sake by his side every night, and my father used sake (again, Nihon- shu) for cooking his Shanghai-style dishes - yes, I am half Chinese by blood.
One night I was at this joint in North Beach and asked for a sake menu. I just wanted to treat myself to something good. The owner of the joint is from Yamagata, and he was one of first restaurateurs who put good sake on the menu. (Indeed, Beau got guidance from the chef around the time the store was opening.) I opened the menu and started to read. Some sake were around $7 per glass and others were more. Not knowing anything about sake, I decided to pick one based on a prefecture. I pick sake from Shizuoka, where I am from. This sake was $15 per glass, and I almost hesitated to order. But then, I thought why not.
The sake I ordered was Wakatake Onikoroshi Junmai Daiginjo, now a very popular, well enjoyed sake among many sake drinkers. Having no expectations, I took my first sip, then I thought, "How come sake taste so nice?" The aroma of this sake was a far cry from the smell of my grandpas sake and shattered my perception of Nihon-shu forever. The "taste" memory of that evening stayed with me for a long time.
During this time in my life, I left my former profession and decided to go back to my roots - food! (I grew up working in my parents coffee shop, and later their restaurant.) Not knowing where to start, I went to a culinary school, started to work in restaurants and food retail, and joined a culinary group. It was at one of these monthly meetings for the culinary group that I thought planning a sake tasting for the group would be really cool. The idea of doing a tasting came to me because I had been hearing the name "True Sake" here and there. One afternoon, I dragged my friend with me to visit True Sake. The purpose of the visit was to ask if they offered sake tasting.
Beau was not there, but Jeff (the first T.S. employee) was. My friend and Jeff discovered that they were both chefs and started to talk about food stuff and who's who. I stood quiet and gathered what I needed. I gave my friend a signal that I was ready to go. I turned around and headed toward the door. But, then, I remember two things: a brand new business card I made for my personal chef business was in my bag, and the lesson from a business planning class about "marketing yourself no matter what." It is not really my style to promote myself, but I paid for the business cards as well as the class. Quickly I convinced myself, "Nothing to lose." I pulled out my business card and accompanied it with my accidental words, "If you need a help at the store, please let me know." The answer was "Actually, we are looking for a third person."
A week or so later, I finally spoke to Beau over the phone, then the following weekend I came back the store to work on a trial basis to see if I liked it. At the end of that day, Beau asked me, "So, what do you think?" I think I just nodded to that question and that was it. I have been with the store ever since. Although it seemed like I ended up here totally by accident, there were signs I recognized that this was meant to be: my search for beautiful sake cups and glasses, Wakatake, and floating words about True Sake. Being at True Sake was something I never planned on, but it was a wonderful changing turn in my life: I found something I belong to and believe in - Nihonshu.
Through Sake & Mi, I hope to share my humble understanding and love for sake: describing sake flavors, cooking with sake, to experimenting with sake that has gone bad to make it better, etc. I also hope to share stories of people who make great sake. It is easy to say in the moment whether a sake is good or bad, but understanding and respecting why a particular sake tastes a certain way is an important element. My commitment to the betterment of sake industry and my respect to sake brewers are here to stay for a long time.
Sake Notes: So, while I wrote this piece I was sipping three different sake. They were: Shutendoji O-Oni "Big Devil" Junmai Ginjo Nama (seasonal and unpasteurized), Urakasumi Junmai (1.8L drinks good), and "Akira" Organic Junmai Ginjo (yet to be imported.) If you have any question, please let me know.