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Sake Day 2005 – The Recap!

To all of those poor souls who didn't buy tickets quick enough, what follows is a brief review of the sold out first annual October 1st Sake Day Celebration known as Nihonshu no Hi that took place at Ft. Mason Hall in San Francisco last week. I billed the event as one part Octoberfest, one part Carnival, two parts food orgy, and three parts sake extravaganza. From sumo wrestling and traditional flute (shakuhachi) playing to martial arts displays and Okinawa musical outburst the evening featured a seven-course Kaizeki menu paired with six super sakes. There also were 6 sake stations of note, where the boundaries – past and present – of sake were pushed to the limit.


We received roughly 25 emails of those who could not attend, but were interested in reading about the sake to food pairings and the specifics about the sake stations themselves. As this was the first annual Sake Day I thought that it would be appropriate to relate to those who could not make it the specifics of the evening to make certain that next year you book in advance to make history the second time around.


Here are the details:


  • Welcoming Sake
    Ginban Banshu Junmai Dai Ginjo from Toyama.
  • 1st Course
    Gingered Shrimp & Kani no sunomono (crab in sweet vinegar) paired with __________ Junmai from Niigata. (In honoring my distributors wishes I cannot reveal this outstanding brewery's name.)
  • 2nd Course
    Tsukune – skewered chicken meatballs in Teriyaki sauce & Unatama – eel omelet with Sansho paired with Hakkaisan Honjozo from Niigata.
  • 3rd Course
    Curried Scallops with Masago Aioli paired with Shutendouji Junmai Ginjo from Kyoto.
  • 4th Course
    Assorted sushi paired with Mineno Hakubai Junmai Ginjo from Niigata.
  • 5th Course
    Grilled Salmon with Mango Salsa paired with Umenishiki Junmai Ginjo Genshu from Ihime.
  • 6th Course
    Beef Tataki paired with Kikuhime Yamahai Tokubetsu Junmai from Ishikawa.


Next came the real fun. The event was enhanced by six interactive sake stations with unique twists on sake appreciation. Each station was meant to explore the boundaries of sake, and we have received amazing feed back as per how enlightening these sake presentations proved to be.


STATION #1 – The Ohyama Guessing Game

This station featured three forms of Junmai Sake from the Yamagata brewery. Each participant was handed three glasses of different sake, and they had to distinguish the three. There was a Junmai, Nama Junmai (unpasteurized), and a Junmai Nigori (unfiltered) Oh and did I forget to mention that they had to wear a blindfold? Well they did and only roughly 30% of the tasters identified all three correctly. By the way the Nigori is so dry that it is very hard to distinguish without seeing it!

  • Ohyama Junmai – SMV: +6 Acidity: 1.3
  • Ohyama Nama Junmai – SMV: +3.5 Acidity: 1.5
  • Ohyama Junmai Nigori – SMV: +4 Acidity: 1.3

True Sake carries all three of these sakes, so if you missed the event try an "at home guessing game." But hurry because we only have about 12 bottles left of the Nama, which is seasonal and we won't have more until next summer.


STATION #2 – The Extinct Sake Tasting

This station is a sad one indeed! In the last year 3 different breweries that True Sake represents went Chapter 11. In most cases this was a result of the very difficult times that these ancient breweries are facing in Japan. As such the participants got to taste the last batches of sake from three dying breweries.

  • Koshino Hoden – Organic Junmai Ginjo from Niigata Prefecture.
  • Tamon – Junmai Ginjo Kinpaku (gold flake sake) from Hyogo Prefecture
  • Koten Shariku – Junmai Dai Ginjo from Fukushima Prefecture


STATION #3 – The "We Paid $9 for a 1.8L Bottle of Sake" Tasting

Yes. It is quite true; we paid $9 for a 1.8L bottle of sake. But why? Well it's imported of course! Imported from Australia. So by all means, you do the math. How and why would a Japanese brewery make a bottle of sake in Australia and sell it in the US for $9? Especially when the industry is so hurting in Japan? Bottom line is that Japanese breweries tried to open facilities in the US, Australia and South America to make a more cost effective sake to undercut the already cutthroat pricing wars in Japan. Hey it's "imported" so it's got to be good right? The participants were the judges and there were some mixed reviews.

  • Shirayuki Junmai Ginjo from Penrith NSW Australia SMV: +5 Acidity: 1.4


STATION #4 – The Damaged Sake Tasting

Participants came face to face with a fantastic sake that was mishandled and treated like a redheaded step-child. This station featured the same sake in four different stages of life. We purchased these sakes from a store (we don't name names) in Japan Town, SF two weeks ago. The sake is imported by a company called Sake Services Institute or SSI who place a sticker on each bottle that says "JIZAKE" and represents their promise that their sakes were stored cold, transported cold, and sold cold. We found these particular sakes out on the open-air shelf. Please note the age of these sakes. They were so old that the brewery has since changed their labels. The reason for this station is to show that sake is a strange beast in that it may keep very well when it gets old or it may go sideways. The participants truly enjoyed the life and life of Daishichi's Kimoto Honjozo from Miyagi Prefecture. Most preferred the 1999 version as well as the 2005. (I personally was amazed by the 1998 in that the flavor of the sake was thinned out in the fluid. You could actually taste the jet stream of flavor within the flow of the fluid where flavor used to be. A ghost of a flavor!)

  • Daishichi Kimoto Honjozo 1998
  • Daishichi Kimoto Honjozo 1999
  • Daishichi Kimoto Honjozo 2000
  • Daishichi Kimoto Honjozo 2005


STATION #5 – The Blind Tasting

Each participant was able to taste 6 sakes with the bottles covered so as to not reveal their identities. They were also given two stickers representing their 1st and 2nd choices of the six. They then placed their picks on a chart on the wall. And here were the results of the blind tasting:

  1. Nihonjyo – Junmai Ginjo (1st Choice = 8 2nd Choice = 6)
  2. Kaori – Junmai Ginjo (1st Choice = 9 2nd Choice = 9)
  3. Hoyo – Junmai (1st Choice = 15 2nd Choice = 10)
  4. Oni Karakuchi – Tokubetsu Junmai (1st Choice = 2 2nd Choice = 4)
  5. Shirataki Jozen – Junmai Ginjo (1st Choice = 9 2nd Choice =10)
  6. Kubota Manju – Junmai Dai Ginjo (1st Choice = 8 2nd Choice = 10)

I think that the order has a lot to do with the results as well. On the whole though I was pretty impressed with the results. And like one of our general elections roughly 50% of the participants voted with their stickers.


STATION #6 – The Sake "Survivor" Tasting

Upon entering the Sake Day event each participant reached into a box and pulled out a necklace that was one of four random colors. This separated the participants into four equal groups. At the end of the event, we reached into another box and pulled out each of the four colors, and those guests wearing that colored necklace got to taste one of the four following sakes:

  1. Dassai – Junmai Dai Ginjo – Yamaguchi Prefecture Rice polished to 23% - Price per bottle $70
  2. Kakunko – Junmai Dai Ginjo – Ibaraki Prefecture Rice polished to 27% - Price per bottle $150
  3. Gekkeikan – Junmai – Folsom California Price per bottle $5
  4. Kamenokou 17 – Junmai Dai Ginjo – Hyogo Prefecture Rice polished to 17% - Price per bottle $850


This truly was the highlight of the evening as people were cheering as if they were at a racetrack. "Come on red necklace" "Come on Green!" The intensity was amazing!


Thus the moral of the story is to highlight your 2006 calendar now! Sake Day is October 1st!


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