Dear Sake Lover,
Welcome to the 116th Issue of America’s sake-centric Newsletter. In this action filled edition read about my trip to Akita to discover the theme of Akita sake and to learn the Akita way, pick a Top Ten sake from the IWC 2013, don’t get tricked, read about a new sake from a just visited brewery in the Beau-Zone Layer, pencil in May 22nd for Sake San Jose, and read the “Ask Beau” section where I answer a powerful question in the form of “What is the most important step in making sake?”
In this issue:
Sake Destinations – Akita Prefecture
I just returned from Akita Prefecture where I visited a bunch of breweries and consumed a lot of their sake. Tough life! Made all the more difficult because they make great sake way up their in northern Tohoku where it was still cold and snowing when I was there. I will write about some of the specific breweries in upcoming issues of the True Sake Newsletter, and check out the section within this issue called Sake Styles – The Theme of Akita Sake where I write about the actual flavor, style and theme of Akita sakes.
There are 39 actively producing sake breweries in Akita Prefecture, a prefecture that is #2 in the consumption of sake in all of Japan. I met with Shin Kodama, who is not only the owner of the brewery called Taiheizan, but also the President of the Akita Sake Brewers Association. He shared with me some of the history of Akita sake making and presented a prefecture that does not have a lot of sake brotherhood amongst the brewers. Shin-san did not say anything negative about the brewing community in Akita, but he alluded to the fact that the breweries didn’t do much together other than meeting up to three times per year. He was very proud of his fellow Akita sake makers as well he should be!
After visiting my first two breweries I could tell that there was a certain aura of non-brotherly love in Akita that I had not experienced in other prefectures. It appeared that the breweries kept to themselves and did not like to align themselves prefecturaly? I asked each owner of the breweries that I met what they thought about the Akita breweries as a group, a team, a support group, and they all mentioned the fragmentation within the industry. On the whole they said that there was no animosity within the group but several spoke about a group of breweries called the “Next 5” which is a group of 5 breweries who meet in secret and are attempting to brew sake for a new younger sake scene in Akita. They tend to be younger brewers, so perhaps there is a friction between the younger and the older more established breweries.
The vast majority of sake produced in Japan and all over the globe gets pasteurized in one form or another. Some breweries only pasteurize their sakes once, others use lower temperatures to heat their brews, and still others pasteurize at different times of storage all to achieve the flavor of the sake that they want to produce. Typically sake is pasteurized twice, and this does alter the flavor and feeling of a sake. We know why they do it, to preserve the sake and to keep it from altering or changing stability in the bottle, but it does change the brew.
I am not writing this to slam the sake industry in Akita. I am all about the betterment of sake everywhere. I don’t like negativity, but I could not help feeling a little tension in Akita so I asked a friend of mine in the sake industry in Japan who knows the entire Japanese sake scene very well to provide a little more insight. This person said the following:
Akita is a very interesting place. There are some breweries that get along well with each other, but I have to admit Akita breweries are some of the grouchier of the lot.
The Secret 5 breweries, I think they call themselves the “Next 5”, are a group of younger brewery owners (younger being somewhat relative, but I think they’re all under 40 who have banded together to create a new Akita sake scene.
Not every-one agrees with their style choices, especially some of the older breweries, and I think being the newer kids on the block they are often seen as up starts. I figure it will all work out in the end.
Again, and on the whole I did not hear one brewery owner say anything negative about another brewery, but there was just an air of something that was unfamiliar to me. That said, each person who I met with and each brewery that I toured was incredibly open and friendly and positive about their brewery and products. And it was a tremendous pleasure putting a face to the makers of the sakes that I have been selling and imbibing in for over a decade!
Well where did I go? Thank you so much for asking! I was fortunate enough to visit the following breweries (in no particular order):
- Chokaisan – I brought back two versions of the Junmai Daiginjo that we sell at the store – A nama version that is sold throughout Japan, and a Nama Genshu version that is only sold locally to the community around the kura! I am thinking of having a tasting for the True Sake peeps to try all three versions. Would you be interested?
- Yuki no Bosha – I met the most amazing toji ever at YNB and I look forward to writing more about a guy who was so fascinating that I now have a completely new outlook on making sake.
- Kariho – At long last I now know what the heck is going on with this brewery which also owns Dewatsuru and the brand Yamato Shizuku They have three different exporters for each of their three lines. Very interesting!
- Taiheizan – This truly amazing brewery got its fermenting start by first making miso and soy sauce, which they still do to this day! This is a fermentation meca.
- Aramasa – I was very excited to meet the young owner Sato-san, who showed me the splendors of Association Yeast #6 in a brewery that is placed like no other.
- Takashimizu – This was my flyer brewery, because I knew very little about it and did not think their sake was available in the US, but alas it is under a different exporting name. And guess what? The store now carries a sake from this the largest brewery in Akita prefecture. (See The Beau-Zone Layer)
I will go into more depth about what I discovered at each brewery and will say that it was an excellent time learning so many new aspects of making sake. The owners and tojis who I spoke with and in some cases broke rice with were extremely kind and giving and I want you sake drinkers to know that Akita is great prefecture to visit and imbibe in. They are blessed with big snow and big water, and as we all know they make great sake!
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Sake Styles – The Theme of Akita Sake
I just returned from Akita Prefecture where I visited almost a quarter of the 39 breweries that are currently producing sake in this northern Tohoku region. Why did I pick Akita? Well, we sell a lot of Akita sake at the store, and I just so happen to like Akita sake. But I knew nothing about it, and had never been, which made this sake destination a wonderful one.
I often get asked, “Is there terroir in the sake business?” Meaning, like wine, do different prefectures or areas make different flavored sakes because of the natural elements needed for making wine or sake? My answer is a big fat “Not really.” Most breweries buy their raw materials from some other prefectures and only use their local water. There is a movement to using local ingredients such as brewing rice and cultivating their own house yeasts etc, but on the whole the “concept’ of terroir does not really exist in the raw materials aspect. But there is a certain terroir-like element in the way that sake makers produce sakes in different regions.
There are some sake generalities when it comes to what each prefecture’s sakes taste like as a region. For example my last trip to Japan found me in the heart of Ishikawa prefecture where they make a style of sake that can be described as big and full-bodied with a lot of “yamahai-style” sakes that drink very large and very flavorful. And the trip before that saw me in Niigata Prefecture where they are notorious for making light and dry and super clean sakes that are almost the opposite of Ishikawa sakes. Nevertheless these are generalities of how the sakes are made and consequently taste. So what do Akita sakes taste like? That is what I went to find out.
One of the perks of being in the sake biz is that the owners typically escort me around their brewery. I am eternally grateful for this because I get to learn so much more about the each kura and I get to ask the millions and millions of question that burn within my enquiring mind. I usually ask the same questions at some point during the meetings before the actual tours. And one of the more difficult questions revolves around the “generalities” of the prefecture in terms of flavor and taste of their sake.
“What is the theme of Akita sake?” I would ask. And then an answer usually popped up in the next ten to fifteen minutes. In most cases they don’t quite get the gist of the question and I have to give some examples and then the light goes on. More often than not themes do come to the surface as they did in Akita.
Each brewery owner who I met with said basically the same thing about what Akita sake used to taste like over 10 years ago. They mentioned that on account of the fact that Akita cuisine tends to be salty the sake was made sweeter and with more viscosity. (Basically fatter and sweeter sake that was heavy and had a lot of body) Today they said almost to a person that Akita sake still has good body – good feeling – but does not have that heaviness. I heard the word body a lot. They like sake that covers the palate and is not super thin or water-like. I heard the word “structure” a lot as well and both of these words came before flavor, which was interesting.
Some of the owners then started to differ on their theme of Akita sake. Some said that Akita sake is still on the sweeter side, fruitier, and still has full flavor, while others said that Akita sake is now on the dryer side with a quick finish. One of the owners said that Akita sake had changed from fat and sweet to a “rich” taste with a clean body. And there was that word again, body! Several kuramotos made a point of highlighting the sweetness of the rice itself, and that the people of Akita like the flavor of sweet rich rice with a lot of umami.
To generalize I would say that most of the owners who I spoke with would say that Akita sake focuses on feeling as much as flavor. They would say that their sake is full in the palate and would edge toward a sweeter flavor. They would also add that their sake tastes like it has more body but drinks light. If I had to compare a prefecture’s sake to Akita’s it would probably be Yamagata. I think that Akita focuses a little bit more on how the sake feels on the pallet as in more body, but it has similarities to the flavor profiles of Yamagata sake.
Key Words To Describe Akita Sake:
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TOP TEN – 10 Sakes That Medaled At The International Wine Challenge 2013
Okay you sake geeks! It’s that time of year and when you read this newsletter I will be in London chairing the sake side of the International Wine Challenge, which is the largest sake tasting in the world. In honor of this wonderful tasting event I have selected 10 sakes currently at True Sake that won medals in last year’s tasting.
Do medal winning sakes mean that they are special or better than other sakes out there? Good question. I think medal-winning sakes mean that they were the sakes that separated themselves from the pack. So let’s call them special in the sense that they have special character – just like you! I will put them in order of importance to further your sake knowledge and exploration. The lower the number the higher the special-ness!
10) Ozeki Karatamba
9) Born “Dreams Come True” (Call for availability)
- A super serviceable Honjozo that is very dependable and on a lot of restaurant menus.
8) Yuki no Bosha Yamahai
- A super tasty Daiginjo from a brewery that only makes Daiginjo sake. True Sake carries 3, sometimes 4, Born sakes.
7) Gasanryu “Gokugetsu”
- A killer brewery that makes a super silky Yamahai that is very drinkable, unlike most big and fusty Yamahais.
6) Masumi “Yumedono”
- A very flavorful Junmai Daiginjo from a brewery that is known for only pasteurizing their sakes once.
5) Dassai 23 & 39
- The famous Nagano brewery makes this Daiginjo and it is the pride of their brewery. Next time at True Sake watch the video of sake being made. It’s this sake!
4) Ohyama “Tomizu” (Call for availability)
- Two more tremendous Junmai Daiginjos from the uber popular brewery called Dassai. These sakes are made with rice milled to 23% and 39% respectively. True Sake just took shipment of the 39 in 300ml – great to taste size!
3) Masumi “Nanago”
- Talk about a tasty sake. This Junmai is made in Yamagata prefecture and it is meant to highlight the flavor of water in sake. And the flavor is GOOD!
- Yet another Daiginjo from the popular Masumi brewery, the inventors of the special brewing yeast called Association #7 and this Yamahai celebrates that!
1) Hanahato “Gorgeous Bird”
- This is a very drinkable and food friendly Yamahai and it comes from a brewery that was founded in 1487 and that is like tasting history in the bottle.
- This trophy winning sake is a Kijoshu sake that has been aged for 8 years. Think sherry, think port, think after dinner sake that is sweet and rich! If you have never tried an aged sake or a kijoshu sake then add this to your list!
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Sake Tricks – No April Fool’s Joke This Year?
If you are new to this True Sake Newsletter then you will probably not know why a woman called the store a week ago asking where downtown the True Sake Spa was located. You would also not be aware of the countless people who called to congratulate us when they found out that Oprah Winfrey had bought True Sake and was going to expand the brand nationwide. And I am guessing that you wouldn’t have a clue about the year True Sake quit selling sake and became True Shochu.
Most every April 1st I would craft a joke newsletter that was meant to keep our glorious readers off balance. Like the time I brought two different sakes to McDonald’s to do a Sake Challenge food pairing with things like Filet O’Fish and chicken nuggets. It never happened! But we got emails for a week saying “seriously?”
Check out some back issues in our archive to see what fun it is to play a trick on you special readers. And watch your back, because next year it may be back on!
Sake is fun. True Sake is more funnerer.
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Sake Deliveries – True Sake Mobile
True Sake now delivers!
Did you hear that? We deliver! Why drive in traffic? Why risk road rage? Why get that dirty look from the guy on the bike in the bike lane? Why look for parking? Why get that parking ticket? Why get out of your pajamas? (You do drink in your pajamas right?)
Just think – the entire inventory of True Sake is at your fingertips! (Especially important while doing your taxes!) Did you hear that? You can buy that wonderful Akita brew from the luxury of your own home. And get it delivered the same day, too!
Call us at 415-355-9555 and we'll take your order and even provide some helpful recommendations. So if you've seen something in this newsletter you just have to have, JUST CALL!
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Beau-Zone Layer – Shimizu No Mai “Pure Dusk”
From Akita Prefecture. Daiginjo. SMV: +3 Acidity: 1.3
Ha! People assume that I know everything about sake, but “Hello!” I don’t. Not even close and this Pure Dusk is further proof of that! The first brewery that I visited on my recent trip to Akita was Takashimizu, which is the largest (volume) producing brewery in that prefecture. After the war in 1944 Takashimizu was created when 12 breweries (including Aramasa) joined forces. I found out a day before I left for Japan that Shimizu No Mai is actually the US name for Takashimizu and it’s available in the US. Doh! I really like the brewery and the current President Junichi Hirakawa gave me a very special tour that ended with me tasting this sake in a beautiful tasting room. So welcome to the taste of Akita sake.
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New Store Arrivals –
Denshin Haru "Spring" 2014 Junmai Ginjo Nama
720ml ($32) & 1.8L ($54)
Masumi Arabashiri "First Run" 2014 Junmai Ginjo Nama Genshu
Shimizu no Mai "Pure Dusk" Junmai Daiginjo
300ml ($18) & 720ml ($46)
Wakaebisu "Ninja" Tokubetsu Junmai
Isen Ryusui "Running Springs" Junmai Ginjo
Wakaebisu Kinpaku "Gold Flake" Junmai Ginjo
Dassai 39 Junmai Daiginjo
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Sake Events – Sake San Jose May 22nd
On May 22nd True Sake will be participating in Sake San Jose yet again. We love this event and have supported it since it’s inception. What I like is that it is a walking tasting where you walk from one store to another in San Jose’s Japan Town district. The weather is always great. The people are fun! There are great restaurants to hit after the tasting. And we pour awesome sake! So make a night of it and help True Sake support Sake San Jose.
Sake Tasting - Chokaisan 3 Ways + H2O
How would you like to try one of our top selling Junmai Daiginjos in the store released in 3 different ways? Same sake in 3 versions? Cool! I just returned from Akita Prefecture and hand carried two of the versions - one is only available in Japan and one is only made for family and friends of the Tenju Brewery. I also brought some of their brewing water so you can taste one of the major ingredients in this wonderful potion! This is a great opportunity to taste two Nama - unpasteurized - versions of one of our favorite sakes! Come taste the IWC Gold Medal winning sake! Come taste Akita sake!
When: Wednesday, 4/23, 5:00pm-7:00pm
Where: True Sake 560 Hayes St. SF
How much: FREE Bonus: Get 15% off of our version of Chokaisan Junmai Daiginjo in the store during the tasting.
Sake Tasting - Musashino Brewery
When: Saturday, 5/3, 3:00pm-6:00pm
Where: True Sake 560 Hayes St. SF
What: 3 kinds of sake from Musashino Brewery: "Ten to Chi" Junmai Daiginjo, "Nyukon" Tokubetsu Honjozo, & "Daku" Nigori + 1 special bottle from Japan (this is not available in the US)
How much: FREE Bonus: 10% off of your purchase of any of the sampled sake.
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Sake Images – Is Now truesake on Instagram
So there have been a lot of requests on how to follow me and my, let’s call it, unique eye for sake-centric photography. There are two ways. First you can follow me directly at truesake on Instagram, which is a really fun format to show off your creative side. Secondly, you SHOULD be following me at truesake on Facebook.
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ASK BEAU – What is the most important step in making sake?
This is a superb question from Blaine D. from Boston, and we get asked this a lot at the store because quite frankly it is a very important question.
I like to answer it the long way! And of course this answer keeps in mind that the sake making industry is referred to as the industry of “10,000 Methods” meaning there are many ways to brew sake.
Whenever I visit a brewery and there have been a lot of them, I always ask the toji – head brewer – and the owner – kuramoto – what they think is the most important step in making sake at their brewery. There are many packaged answers including a rhyme that goes along the lines “Koji, shubo, moromi” and you hold up fingers as you go along.
Koji production seems to be the answer most given by brewers. They say if you don’t get the koji right then you don’t get the sake right. Many feel that proper koji production is at the heart of the entire process and if you butcher the koji then you butcher the brew. I will say this that in the time that I have made sake to the multiple times that I have watched sake being made, the most attention and care is given to the koji making process for sure.
But not everybody says koji first! Some brewers say that the proper breeding of the shubo or yeast starter is the most poignant and important part of making sake. If the yeasty beasts aren’t performing well then you have unbalanced and under-performing brewing. Several tojis swear that they focus too much on the koji and actually should focus more on the yeast starter for better control.
There are exceptions and I love these because they stand out in the industry of “10,000 Methods.” One owner of a brewery swore to me that the steaming of the rice was by far the most important step in making sake. He stated that if the rice wasn’t steamed well then how could the koji and subsequently the shubo work effectively if the rice was not conducive to accepting the mold or yeast? Good point. And he was not alone in this belief. When I really press brewers who automatically say the “koji” they often say that proper steaming is incredibly important. They then follow that up with the usual, “Every step in making sake is the most important step.”
On my recent trip to Akita I met perhaps one of the most amazing and “freaky” tojis who I have ever happened across. He has been a head brewer for the past 30 years, and the twinkle in his eye told me that he has about 30 more years in the tank. He was quite simply the most fantastic toji that I have ever spoken to. And I would be honored to make sake with him some day. In this regard, I will write a little bit more about this particular brewery in upcoming issues of the True Sake Newsletter.
So when I asked Captain Fantastic which step was the most important step in the sake making process his eyes lit up and he beamed a huge smile. Then he waited. And waited. And then held up one finger and said the “Washing process.” What? I thought that he was joking me. You mean the process of washing off the outer bran that was left on the rice after milling? “Yes!” Come on? “But we don’t wash our rice once or twice, we wash the rice four times,” he held up 4 fingers as he took a step back to watch my amazement reflect across my face. Come on? Are you joking? No! He absolutely believed that the reason that he makes excellent sake is that they wash their rice four times, twice after milling and twice more after resting. This was a first and he swears by their method, their most important method!
Please send your sake specific questions to
askbeau2 @ truesake.com. (This
address is not for general questions and I only review the questions
once per month. All other correspondence should use
info @ truesake.com.)
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The SECRET WORD -
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 is Oze no Yukidoke Junmai Ginjo from Gunma Prefecture, and we will part with it for $18/720ml if you say the SECRET WORD: We only give out the SECRET WORD in the mailed Newsletter! So sign up for the Newsletter!
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Thank you for reading!
TRUE SAKE: America's First Sake Store.
Aramasa’s Association #6 kobo (yeast) is the oldest sake yeast in production and dates back to 1930. It is the only pure yeast strain that is available in the association.
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Frequent Buyers. Earn 20% Off!
How it works:
Earn one star per visit when you purchase at least one regular priced item. Limited to one star per day.
Five stars gets you 20% off towards your next visit! (Excluding sales items and the secret word sake)
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Sake - A Modern Guide