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August 2013

True Sake
premier merchants of fine sake
Dear Sake Fan,

Welcome to the 108th Issue of America’s sake-centric Newsletter. In this issue read about the real scoop why True Sake opened its doors ten years ago, giggle at several sake selling retail nightmares, fixate on a Top Ten list of sakes you should try before you die, get stoked for the 8th Annual Sake Day on Sept. 28th, learn about a new nama and sparkling sake, get “Zoned” on a very traditional sake made the ol’ way, and try to guess what are the best selling sakes in the store.

Please note that the store will be closed on August 8th

In this issue:

True Truth – The Motivation For True Sake

My goal for opening the first dedicated sake store outside of Japan was to fulfill the simple notion that I didn’t want people to feel “that” way again when asking somebody about sake. It’s that simple. In my quest to understand sake I spent time in Japanese grocery stores trying to ask questions about their sakes. And nobody had any answers – not a single one. It was extremely frustrating and I swore that if I ever did open a store that sold sake we would be all about answering those questions that people have, and trust me people have tons of questions. Tons! True Sake I have been drinking “premium” sake and really trying to understand it for well over twenty years. Most of my learning came from sushi chefs, who would educate me about their hometown’s brews and why their rice and water were superior to all of the others in Japan. They told me what was good sake and what was “bad” sake. They would poor me “bad” sake and under my breath I would say, “this ain’t so bad” (personal note – I never say ain’t). Point being I was developing my own palate based on the palate of some of the best sake drinkers outside of Japan. (Or so I thought as I have come to learn and say time and time again, when it comes to sake we are all the champions of our own palate.)

Fast forward to twelve years ago when I found myself at a crossroads of sorts. Sake was a hobby. Sake was a passion. It was totally enjoyable. But what it was not was a reality. It didn’t fit my background. It didn’t fit my flesh tone. It was perfectly alien to me, but it was “me.” Imagine my confusion. I loved something that I had no real clue about, but I knew that it loved me back. The more I wanted to know the more there was to know. I love that! If only I had felt that way about all of my edumacation background. True Sake

The more I learned about sake the less that people could tell me. I was in a box of sorts, keep learning and keep insulating myself or do something about it. Then it happened (again). I was at my local Japanese food market standing in front of their dubious sake section and I had a – god forbid – question. “Excuse me sir, could you please tell me what this sake called Otokoyama tastes like?” I asked the Japanese employee in a blue store overcoat. He looked at me, lowered his head and shook it side to side. “WTH?” (Heck) that’s what my mind screamed, “That guy is totally blowing me off!” But as I would learn later, nothing could have been further from the truth. The guy knew nothing about the sake, but just didn’t want to say so.

Then that was it. That was the rice stalk that broke my back. I had a mission. I had a guiding light. And it was you! The customers of True Sake and all sake drinkers were my true inspiration to open True Sake. I wanted a store that did all of the things that my personal experiences did not. That is why whenever you enter True Sake the first thing a True Sake team member will say is, “Let us know if you have any questions!” (I should probably record one of us for the website so when you click on the home page a voice comes on and says, “Let us know if you have any questions.”)

In a sense we are not only a retail store, but we are an answering service. We answer your questions, and truthfully we have probably answered over a million of them over the past decade. And we do so gladly, because sake is so awesome. You need to know the answer.

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Sake Bloopers – Ten Years of Sake Selling Snafus

True Sake In ten years of selling sake we have had some pretty funny moments, like any retail store, but ours seem a little sillier. For example:

Christmas time always seems to bring out the total lunacy in retail, but imagine a first time new business heading into it’s first holiday season. I thought that I was prepared. I thought that I’d crack that baby, but noooooo! Four days before the 25th parts of Hayes Valley lost power. And I mean total power. No lights, no fridge, no credit card machine, no nothing. Are you kidding me? The power company could not solve the problem. So I had to close the first day thinking the power would come back on. I put blue painting tape across the fridge doors and didn’t want to open them to try to keep whatever chill that I could. This was good for the first night!

Day two and still no power. No way! So now it was critical to get the appropriate sakes out of the now warm refrigerators, which I did by storing a large portion in my home fridge and local store’s fridge. (Thanks Sam!) I decided to open during the daylight hours and sold sake that was already out. Day three and still no power. No way! Way. One of my lasting images at this time was of my first employee Jeff Inahara who by candlelight was gift-wrapping sake sets for a line of customers. It was powerfully pathetic. The holiday shopping season is the meat and potatoes for retail stores, and we had no light, no credit card machine and only room temperature sake. Great! We used the old credit card “Shhhick Shhhuck” hand crank machines and I brought our electronic machine home and ran each and every credit card by hand later in the evenings. Crazy! What an introduction to the holiday crush.

The next Christmas a far grosser thing happened. It was Christmas eve and I was an hour away from closing the store. I was by myself. No way! Yup. There was a lot of customers in the store, and there were several in line. “Will you wrap this please!” “Can I have that in a nice box?” “You only have three glasses on the shelf, do you have more in the back?” The barrage of questions and requests was starting to ware me down. I just wanted to go. While wrapping, ringing up, and bagging I suddenly had a whiff of the most overwhelming dog poop smell ever. I walked from around the counter and saw the grossest and longest set of poop covered footsteps going the length of the store and around the island table. No WAY!

How this person did not know that they had a dog sledding team’s worth of doo-doo on his feet is beyond me. He sort of said whoops and sorry and then moseyed out of the store. My holiday jaw was on the floor. No way! So I said excuse me to the customers and immediately started cleaning. “Can you do that later?” “We are in a bit of a hurry!” The grumblings started and that is when I fully comprehended the power of holiday shopping hutzpah. I continued to clean and I heard the door open and close as several of the customers basically quit! Perhaps it was the shockingly powerful smell of the poop. When I finished the clean up (I did a remarkable job considering the floor at True Sake is seagrass) I apologized to the remaining shopping sickos and got back to work.

With about 20 minutes left in our extended store’s holiday shopping hours I caught another whiff of poo-poo insanity. No way! I looked back over the counter and for the love of God another snow-show-like track of crap wound it’s way around my store. “GET OUT!” I totally lost it. There were perhaps ten people in the store and I literally snapped. I went totally Michael Douglass in “Falling Down.” “Excuse me?” a woman of perhaps 40 with two sake sets in her hand said. “GET OUT!” I had lost all control. “Can we just buy these please and we will be gone!” “GET OUT!” The look on her face to this day makes me chuckle, she simply had no clue of how gone that I was and that holiday hours were OVER!

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Sake Lists - Top Ten Sakes That You Have Yet To Try

True Sake You are not dead. Not exactly yet! But depending how close you are to Senior Grim Reaper’s scythe and as a devoted sake student here is a list of ten sakes that you should try before you die. (Please don’t die – that’s so selfish!)

10) Aramasa Rokugo “Famous #6”
  • This Junmai celebrates the famous number six brewing yeast and is a wonderfully different tasting sake that is quite unique in feeling and flavor.

09) Tengumai “Dance of the Demon”
  • This Yamahai Junmai is one of the only “monster” Yamahai sakes exported to the States today. Other Yamahais have calmed down, not this massive brew.

08) Fukucho “Moon on the Water”
  • The sake industry is still heavily swayed toward men, but not this brewery which is owned by a great female sake soul.

07) Urakasumi “Zen”
  • This Junmai Ginjo was made especially to travel to France with a monk who was teaching Buddhist ways to the French. The brewery made a sake to appeal to the grape masses.

06) Kamoizumi “Three Dots”
  • This Junmai Ginjo is a perfect reminder that the wine term “Forest Floor” exists in the sake world as this brew is loaded with flavors from mushrooms to dark honey.

05) Kouro “Famous #9”
  • This sake celebrates one of the most celebrated yeasts in the sake world, the famous #9 which you love in most of your Daiginjo sakes.

04) Tamagawa Kinsho “Gold Medal”
  • There is a lot of white rice in the sake making industry, but not a lot of white makers. This brew is made by Philip Harper (U.K.) in Kyoto – my hero!

03) Masumi Nanago “Famous #7”
  • This Yamahai Daiginjo from the famous Masumi brewery in Nagano puts the “Famous” in the celebration of the famous yeast #7.

02) Born Muroka Nama Genshu
  • This sake is so darn hard to describe and for very good reason. First it’s incredibly complex for a nama Daiginjo that has not been charcoal filtered. Secondly it is incredibly complex. Get it?

01) Hanahato Kijoshu “Gorgeous Bird”
  • This aged dessert sake is a must for those who want to see the boundaries of sake, as it is a wonderful expression of rice and water to the nth degree!

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Sake Tastings – 8th Annual Sake Day September 28th

Sake Day 2013
  • “Nihonshu no hi” – The Day Of Sake In Japan

Yes people it’s almost that glorious time of the year when sake owns the night! In the next week will go live and you may buy your tickets to this great event, where all proceeds go to the JCCCNC (Japanese Culturural Community Center of Northern California – which so happens to be celebrating its 40th Anniversary the week before Sake Day).

True Sake Of course there will be the live auction of killer sakes and sake stuff, the fabulous Okinawa band, tremendous food, fun and thoughtful sake tasting stations that will challenge and educate you, and lots of sake vendors pouring “tons” of sakes for you to drink until your heart is content, there will be several owners of breweries in Japan who will have their own pouring stations of sakes not available in the US, and there is always much more!

WHEN: Saturday September 28th 2013

So circle that calendar and by all means keep a look out for, Twitter @ sakedaysf and FB at sakedaysf

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New Store Arrivals – Denshin

Denshin Natsu "Summer" Daiginjo Nama

True Sake From Fukui Prefecture. Nama Daiginjo.
SMV: +2 Acidity: 1.4

The nose on this summer released "raw" seasonal Daiginjo sake is a mild collection of citrus, peach, grape and floral elements. This is a classic "feel good" sake that sits so well in the palate. Fat, fun, chewy and luscious - look for a juicy and fleshy brew that is smooth and very balanced. There are hints of pear, peach, yellow apple and melon floating on the plump fluid. It has an incredibly quick finish for so much upfront feeling. A mid-sized glass brings out more feeling and flavor and a larger glass thins the brew out. Fun in the sun! WORD: Velvety WINE: Fat reds/Chewy whites BEER: Plump Belgians FOODS: Bright summer fare from the grill and garden. $48/720ml

Ozeki Hana-Fuga Sparkling Junmai

True Sake From Hyogo Prefecture. Sparkling Sake.
SMV: -70 Acidity: N/A

This carbonated sparkling sake has a splendid nose filled with peach, peach and more peach tones. Why? Because it is a sparkling peach sake that is loaded with bright peach flavors on a very nice bubble ride. At 7% alcohol it is refreshing and has a gentle sweetness that pops with each bubble on the palate. Definitely try this sake out of a champagne flute to maximize the fun bubble explosion and always serve this peachy brew chilled. WORD: Peachy WINE: Sparkling wines BEER: Fruity Ale FOODS: Champagne cuisine. $7/250ml

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Sake Images - Photos From The Soul Of Sake

Instagram Shminstagram! Send us your fun and sake centric photo with a word or two so the sake universe can enjoy another log on the visual fire!

Please send your stellar photo to info @ with the subject line "Sake Images".

This month’s picture comes from Kellen R from NYC. True Sake
“I never knew how ‘hand-made’ sake was until I saw every step of the process including hand placing the labels on the bottles.”

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Beau-Zone Layer – Sawanoi Kioke Jikomi Iroha 'Fountain of Tokyo'

From Tokyo Prefecture. SMV: -1 Acidity: 2.2

True Sake Are you ready to taste your way through sake history? This sake is made like the way they used to make sake back in the ol’day! That’s right! Many breweries today – thanks to an American female owner of a brewery – are tying to make sake using a wooden vat for fermentation. Kioke is the word for an old wooden slated tank that really isn’t used that much any more. But there has been a resurgence in this extremely difficult brewing method. Brewing in wood is bloody difficult, because it is far harder to achieve a consistency and balance of fermentation than using an enamel or stainless steel tank, which does not have slats or crevices for munching yeast to hide in to take a break from doing their job of fermenting the glucose. Many brewries have tried and I think Sawanoi has done the best with their Yamahai Kioke attempt. Taste a very important part of sake history.

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Ask Beau - What is the most popular sake in the store and why?

Fernanando R from San Jose asked a pretty “popular” question!

True Sake The old “most popular” sake in the store question gets asked quite a lot, but I think people ask it as a safety step to buy a good sake under the premise if it is good for the others then it will be good for me!

Historically Kikusui Junmai Ginjo (JG13) was a powerhouse selling sake, which thankfully sold itself. Why? The packaging is great and it was very popular in Japanese restaurants at a good price point. People would walk in and say, “That’s it” “That’s the one!” “Oh my god it’s so cheap!” (In terms of restaurant pricing!) And it flew off the shelf. But once restaurants starting carrying better and better sakes, and after customers of True Sake tried other sakes in the store Kikusui lost its lucky charm, and became a pretty popular brew, but not the top seller.

For a pretty good period Divine Drops (Ginga Shizuku DG14)and Pride of the Village (Sato no Homare) were very strong sellers as they became very popular in more western restaurants. Again, people would come in and spot them immediately and would gobble them up. As a retailer we love answering questions, but it is a whole lot easier when folks walk in and pick-out a brew without saying a word. So nice!

Then came the nigori rush, and Rihaku’s Dreamy Clouds (NI01) and Kamoizumi’s “Summer Snow” (NI06 NamaAlert). This is when 6 out of 10 folks who walked through the door would ask for “Nigiri” “You mean nigori?” “Yes, nigori the unfiltered and cloudy sakes.” And nigori was it! So very popular! (A side shout out to Kamoizumi’s other brew called “Kome Kome” (SP06) which also did very well for quite some time because of restaurant exposure and a great name – Happy Bride.

How about now? Well it’s a toss up, but the three most popular sakes in the store I would say – remember we still mom&pop it without using the barcode machines so it is more of a guestimate – are Narutotai Nama Ginjo Genshu aka “Beau-shu” (NA??), Sayuri Nigori (NI07), and the little powerhouse cans from Kikusui called “funagushi” (NA??). So Kikusui is back in the top spot with a different product and people have an affinity for unpasteurized sake. On a side note the brewery, which we probably sell the most sake for is also a toss up between Wakatake from Shizuoka and Dewazakura from Yamagata prefecture.

Please send your sake specific questions to askbeau2 @ (This address is not for general questions and I only review the questions once per month. All other correspondence should use info @

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True Sake Ah, at last we have reached the end of this Newsletter and that of course means that we have come to the now-famous SECRET WORD. To those who are new the SECRET WORD is a chance for you to try a sake of note for half of that sake's original price. Just for reading this Newsletter. It is our way of saying thank you for trying to understand the wonders of sake.

Please remember the rules: only one bottle per reader, and don't tell your buddy at the moment if he/she isn't a Newsletter subscriber, always use a hushed or secret agent voice when saying the SECRET WORD, and lastly for those who have their sakes shipped we can only include the SECRET WORD sake in a four-pack purchase - meaning you must buy three other sakes. This month's Secret Word sake comes from Kyoto and is a super soft Junmai called Kaguyahime. Say the Secret Word, and get this sake for $10.

We only give out the SECRET WORD in the mailed Newsletter! So sign up for the Newsletter now!

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Thank you for reading!

TRUE SAKE: America's First Sake Store.

True Sake

Consider this...

On my first day of business I had 3 sales. One was to a fellow merchant from Hayes valley, and two went to family members. Things picked up day two and I sold 8 bottles of sake. I recorded each purchase by hand in a spiral binder. On each of the first 6 days of business I screwed up the tax. My earliest “wow!” record day was $300. Thankfully that would change in time!

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