Sake Exploration - A Sake 911 Emergency
I may be dating myself (I’m 29), but I was a huge fan of a TV show in the 70’s or early 80’s called “Emergency.” It was based on paramedics and it was awesome! The show followed two paramedics who went to emergency situation after emergency situation saving lives and kicking butts. The bigger the emergency the better! Sadly, I never pursued this line of work despite loving the show so much. So I really never knew what is was like to save people. That is until I became a professional sake jockey.
Now I am not saying that I risk my life saving lives in the sake world. But it’s pretty damn close. For the past 15 years I’ve been out there. I’ve smelled the disasters, I’ve seen the tears, and I’ve buried the broken bottles that make up the very dangerous world of the consumer sake market. I’ve been waist deep in the suck! I’ve been on the frontlines endlessly trying to save sake customers from personal ruin. In a word I have been a sake paramedic saving folks from 1,000’s of sake drinking disasters.
My main job as a purveyor of fine sake is to offer our customers the largest and freshest selection of sake available to consumers outside of Japan. But this is only one part of my extremely dangerous occupation. The other untold and quite often overlooked responsibility is to keep my customers safe from the darker side of the sake world. Old sake, damaged sake, freaky sake, sake bought at a “going out of business” sale, sake left on a dusty shelf in a large liquor store, sake that was gifted and forgotten, and worst of all the sakes that you bought and forgot about within the own confines of your own house. I’m always there. I’m on call. And when that call comes in I am the first of the first responders, and more than likely I am the only hope that you have in a terrible sake situation that always has the potential to end in sake misery.
Sometimes the calls come in via this True Sake Newsletter, which is currently on its 144th monthly issue. We provide a lifeline to the sake needy called “Ask Beau” where you can ask any question large or small about sake and your own sake sanity. It’s an amazing service and we have recorded some of the greatest emergency rescues ever in the sake industry. We cannot begin to tell you the countless number of sake lives that we have saved in the “Ask Beau” section, but it has been a lot. And that is a lot.
But sometimes, and it is hard for me to write this, even customers (who I call “friends” – quote unquote) are in dire need of sake help. And this is the shocker. These “custo-friends” know their stuff. They have been classically trained via True Sake and the True Sake Newsletter and could be considered some of the most enlightened customers in the sake industry. Quite frankly they are awesome, and that is why a recent Sake Emergency call left me speechless and alarmed. It was as if my own mother, brother, sister or father reached out in fear and in dire need of sake emergency assistance. And it is at times like these when I absolutely need to be at the top of my game to convey confidence, security and sake safety. But on the inside I am terrified and can only pray that my extensive sake training takes over and I guide everybody to the happy sake outcome that everyone deserves.
This cry for help didn’t come via “Ask Beau.” It didn’t come via the store hotline. It was worse. Much worse. It came by personal email. And I knew it was bad, really bad. And I wasn’t wrong. One of my longest standing customers and supporters of True Sake, and who is actually a real friend, sent me a terrifying email - the worst that I have seen in years. For many it was a hopeless cry into the darkest of nights, a pleading for assistance in the deepest of deserts, and a last gasp wail for help that not many trained professionals could answer. But then again this is me we are talking about. And despite the fact that my knees buckled in fear as I read the email (apparently standing up), I knew what I had to do. And there I was projected back to the late 70’s with the guys from “Emergency” and we had a job to do, we had a sake life to save. And what I tell you now is as true as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.
It was a normal Monday afternoon when the call – email – came in:
“Just discovered I've had this sake for at least 3 years - stored at room temp. All sorts of particles floating around in it. Is it drinkable or should I mourn it's death and move on??? –AshHath
Terrible wasn’t it? I tried to hold it together, but I was nervous, really nervous. I remember thinking to myself, “Come on Beau! Hold it together man. Don’t let this make you come unglued. You’ve seen worse!” But I knew that wasn’t true. This was bad, so bad, no matter how hard I tried to convince myself. What would Jonnie Gage or Roy Desoto do? And luckily I pulled it together, and quickly replied with the following professionally trained response:
“Hey 1) chill it! 2) taste it .... You won't die! (I think!) 3) if it's tasty keep doing it - as it is a Genshu I think it may still hold some fruitiness ... 4) if it is sort of wonky - try warming it! Basically the proteins have gone to blob form ... Not deadly - but just not ideal! Let me know the results ... If you write it up I may put the experiment in the newsletter. -B”
I know what you are thinking! How in the hell did I keep my composure enough to fire off that amazing response? Pretty amazing, heh? After re-reading this I am stunned that I managed such a helpful, confident, and encouraging reply in the face of all that! Wow! Good for me! Her life was basically ruined and just like that I offered a safety line for that wounded sake and it now stood a chance. I let out a deep breath and could only hope for the best. I had done my part. And despite being perhaps over-qualified, any of us in the biz know that we aren’t gods (pretty close), it was out of my incredibly capable hands. This sake’s fate was in it’s own hands if sake bottles had hands.
I waited and waited and waited. Despite being extremely confident I had this little twinge of something sort of like fear but more like worry. I waited more and then it came in:
“Put it in fridge last night. Will report back soon with a write-up! (love it) … if I do die drinking it, please speak about this experiment at my funeral so people will know I died doing something I love.” AshHath
Can you believe it? I told you! Didn’t I say that this was touch and go? My gosh! And for you the reader, when you saw that she actually wrote the word “die,” this must give you a little glimpse of the hell that I, as a professionally trained emergency sake rescue person, live with on a daily basis. And then the hang wringing began. Then the pacing, the questioning, the doubting of all things sake and mankind. Look, I am only human. I am just one man. Despite being called “miracle worker,” “savior,” “sake deity,” and “Sake Stud!” (Well nobody has actually said sake stud out loud, but I know that they are thinking it) I can’t do it all. I crossed my fingers and waited.
There is something about waiting that makes one feel human. And trust me when I say that despite my super human sake “persona” I am filled with fear and doubt just like you people. And so it came as a very warm relief when I received it – the reply that makes all of this thing called “life” worth it:
“Beau- Thank you for the expert advise on what to do with my unintentionally aged bottle of Genshu! As you may recall, I contacted you after I discovered this beautiful bottle I had purchased from True Sake at least 3 years ago. It had somehow been placed in a cabinet rather than in the refrigerator and completely forgotten about. When I found the neglected bottle, my first thought was “do I dare drink it, or do I just dump it?”. Then I thought, “ask Beau!” You instructed me to chill it, then taste it and if it tasted good, then enjoy it - if it tasted “wonky" try warming it. I enthusiastically followed your instructions and here’s what happened: When I took the paper wrapping off the bottle I noticed lots of floating particles swirling around inside and although this was a bit unappealing, but couldn’t see them at all in the cup once I poured it. I then smelled it, swirled it and smelled it again. It had a faint earthy musty smell that was a little funky, but not unpleasant. I took my first sip cautiously and noticed right away it was indeed a bit “wonky”. I took a few more sips and then realized I was getting an almost whisky essence in my mouth. The color of the sake actually had a brownish tone, similar to a watered-down whisky. At that point I decided it was time to warm it up. I filled half a sake carafe and gave it some gentle heat. This taste was completely different. A bit more mellow for sure, but also a bit flat. I went back to sipping the chilled version and ultimately realized I enjoyed that taste much more. I then tested both warm and cold versions on my husband and he too preferred it chilled and agreed that the whisky characteristics were interesting and enjoyable. To our surprise, we actually finished the bottle and felt no ill-effects. A fun and worthwhile experiment! Thank you Beau for continuing to teach me more and more about the wonderful world of sake through the eyes of True Sake.” –Ashley
Wait! Just give me a second. Let me catch my breath. Please allow me the courtesy of just taking this response in. It’s different for me. I’m far more vested. Obviously the outcome of this impacts me far more than you. So let me clear my thoughts. And tell the mayor and the TV audience that I will be out in a few minutes to receive the key to the city. You might be thinking, “Man, that guy is amazing!” Or “I’d love to be that guy in another life!” But don’t. I am just a guy. A guy who cares about sake – your sake. I am just simply a man doing his job, a job that he is far overly-qualified for, but just a man nonetheless. For me it’s just another save. Another rescue. Another chance to let a family enjoy a sake that many would have sent to an early grave. Today sake wins.