Chris Roams Niigata Day 1!
*All photos by me, Chris Cabrera, unless otherwise noted.
There are a few major milestones in life that I have achieved that I never thought would ever come into fruition. Getting married? Check. Buying a home? Check. However, having someone wait for you at the airport with your government name on a sign? Check! New milestone finally achieved!
After my long travel day from Narita to Tokyo Station to Niigata Station, I was ready to get some rest and prep for a busy week ahead of me.
Day 1 in Niigata started off in Niigata City at Sasaiwai Sake Brewery. I was greeted at the door by Sasaiwai President Ryosuke Sasaguchi and he gave me a tour of his brewery.
Sasaiwai President 6th Generation Ryosuke Sasaguchi. That machine in the back and to the right of him is where koji is cultivated. This is an open air koji room where visitors and guests can make their own koji.
Local Niigata rice varietal Koshitanrei milled to 40%. Hybrid rice created when combining Yamadanishiki and Gohyakumangoku, two of the most grown sake rice varietals in Japan.
Sasaguchi-san explaining to us what his kurabito are up to next.
Kurabito in action.
Sasaiwai Brewery makes a very session-able sake called Sasa Sunday that has gained a lot of popularity among the locals. A sake you can drink on Sundays and feel great the next day. But some of my personal favorites were the Kimotos, including the Gohyakumangoku version and the Koshihikari 80% version. Some say that Niigata is not known for the Kimoto style, but Sasaiwai is doing it, and doing it rather well.
L to R: Shiboritate, Gohyuakumangoku Kimoto Yeast 2019BY, Koshihikari 80% 2019BY, Koshitanrei Junmai Ginjo Koshu 2019BY, Sasa Sunday.
I was informed that 90% of his sake stays local. I was quickly enamored and intrigued with such a statistic. Sasaiwai has been imported to the US before, but this was before my time at True Sake. While tasting with Sasaguchi-san, I was wondering if we could ever bring back Sasaiwai to the United States. I most certainly want to, but this would require and importer/distributor to be involved that wants to play ball. I'm working on it. Stay tuned!
Tenjin Bayashi tasting!
Next up, we made the drive to Uonuma Shuzo (makers of the brand Tenjin Bayashi) located on the mountainside of Tokamachi City in Niigata. Again, 90 percent of their sake stays local to Niigata too.
Best apples I ever had.
Katsuyoshi Yamaguchi and his wife paired their sakes with a beautiful plate of tsukemono 漬物 and some honey-kissed apples. Uonuma Shuzo sakes are laced with umami, so the pickles paired beautifully. As this tasting was going on, the snow really started coming down. I later was told that this was the most snowfall Niigata has seen in the past ten years. I've had Tenjin Bayashi in the United States, as it was brought in for a restaurant in New York, and we somehow saw a case or two here in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Peeking out the window. What's the weather like?
Pictures do not do justice. There really was a lot of snow.
We moved on to Yoshikawa Tōji no Sato in Joetsu City, Niigata. The Yoshikawa ward of Joetsu was where most Echigo Tōji members learned to make sake. The Yoshikawa High School was an important part of the growth of the Echigo Tōji guild and the Niigata sake scene as a whole, as this was the only high school that taught sake brewing as part of the curriculum at the time.
Minokawa-san showing me why their sake tastes so good.
L to R: Daiginjo Yamadanishiki 40%, Junmai Ginjo Yamadanishiki 50%, and my personal favorite Arigatashi Yamadanishiki 90%. A real smooth minimally milled sake, which is a style that seems to be gaining a lot of traction recently. Masa-san from Jetro Niigata in the background.
Outside the brewery at Yoshikawa Tōji no Sato.
As you can see, the snow was still coming down pretty hard, and roads were starting to close. We actually had to leave this brewery early, and unfortunately had to cancel our last brewery visit of the day, which would have been at Ikeura Shuzo in Nagaoka, Niigata. I hope I get to visit President Ryutaro Ikeura san, some day.
At this point, we were just trying to make it back to the hotel safe and sound, which we did thanks to Abe-san's amazing driving skills. I was completely exhausted, and ready to hit the hay. But I had an amazing time running around Niigata trying new sakes. It was a great way to kick off my week in Japan. Niigata Day 2 recap coming soon, so stay tuned!
Chris CABS, because there are too many Chrises out there...