June 2007

High Praise For Tamanohikari Sake Brewery - A Kura That Gets It!

Posted by admin in 2007, June, Newsletter

Firstly, I love my job. Secondly, I love my job. And thirdly, did I mention that I love my job? Why the stuttering? Because day in and day out as I fight the good fight of promoting the betterment of sake, I sometimes lose focus on the little things. Taking note of customers who come back to the store and say, "Wow, thank you for that recommendation" or "Man, you were right!" is juice enough to put a smile on my face and makes those long sometimes boring hours worth it. But it is "acts" such as the one that I am about to describe that really float my boat and makes all of this sake warrior stuff really and truly worthwhile (in a big picture sense).

Often I will receive requests from customers of True Sake, who are traveling to Japan, for a brewery or two that they can "pop in" and visit. This request has and will always make me nervous. Why? Quite simply brewers hate when people "pop in" during brewing season, no mater who you are - the emperor, Ichiro, common Japanese guy, and most of all geijin tourists who do not speaky the language! And so, with great reluctance I recommend several kura - all of which I have visited and know quite well - knowing full well that I am putting them out, and may be burning some bridges in the process.

Let me explain their reluctance to visitors in a light that doesn't make the brewers look rotten. You see, we on the outside, represent bacteria or other dangerous ingredients that can and will spoil their efforts. In a word we are contaminants! Not in the real sense, but in the sense that they are working so hard, so furiously making tremendous sake that they do not have the time nor the inclination to use a body to walk some "visitor" around during a very crucial time period. When they are brewing they are focused, and as we are speaking about small breweries with as few as 4 employees they simply freak. They freak about losing time. They freak about not being able to speak English. They freak about a pen dropping out of your shirt pocket as they let you peer down into a vat of fermenting sake. They freak about your dirty shoes. They freak about doing "perfect" tour when they don't want to be doing a tour at all. They simply just freak.

Now I have had pretty good success with some really great kuras, who have opened their doors and hearts to my family, customers, and Newsletter readers, who show up - sometimes unannounced (they hate this)- and are presented with a wonderful tour and imprint of that specific brewery. More than not a tourist knocks on their door and hands them a True Sake business card and says, "We know Beau Timken." If it were I I'd pour hot oil on you from above, but they are not I and have generally made me look good!

Japan MapBut one brewery stands out as "THE" most tourist-friendly kura that just gets it right. And this fact was driven home by a resent visit to True Sake by Dan Cohen who had just returned from Japan and had pulled the "ol' unannounced and holding my business card" trick at the front gate of the kura called Tamanohikari in Fushimi, Kyoto. Dan basically said that he was given the royal treatment and was blown away by this great and history-rich sake making facility. He was so impressed that he shared with me his on-line photo slideshow of his tour. After massaging my stretched-from-my-over-smiling-cheeks I asked Dan if I could share this experience with you fellow readers. He agreed and what follows is a pictorial tour as good as it gets.

I recommend clicking on each picture as Dan has described in detail the visit and the wonderful things that he witnessed. Herewith are Dan's own words about the adventure:

With a wrinkled Japanese Google map in hand, I made my way by train to Fushimi, a small town 15 minutes south of Kyoto to find the Tamanohikari Sake Brewery. After a few wrong turns and "Doko-wa's" ("Where is?" in Japanese), I walked by a warehouse which was emitting the strong smell of sake.I walked into the brewery and after a brief conversation in broken English and pseudo-Japanese, a women by the name of Akiko took me into a small room. Once in the room, she gave me some reading material, served me green tea, and then left. After about 15 minutes, she came back in, handed me a hairnet and lab coat, and told me my tour was about to begin.Akiko took me around the brewery showing me every stage of the sake making process. Along the way she introduced me to the brewery employees, one of them being the brew master (his name escapes me). He asked me questions (with Akiko acting as a translator) about sake consumption in the US, and how I personally like to enjoy the Japanese drink. At one point, he opened up a hatch in the floor revealing fermenting sake 10 feet below. Using a cup attached to a 10 foot pole, he scooped up some of the fermenting sake and told me to sip it straight from the cup. It was delicious, but really strong! After spending about 40 minutes taking me around the brewery, Akiko lead me into a classroom and turned on a film which was all about Tamanohikari's usage of Omachi rice, the highest quality rice used for sake making. After the brief film, the president of Tamanohikari came into the classroom where we chatted for a while about drinking sake, San Francisco restaurants, the True Sake store, how I was enjoying my vacation in Japan.

The tour of Tamanohikari was amazing and unlike any other type of brewery tour I've experienced. Many thanks to Beau, Akiko, and everyone at Tamanohikari.

Now, to thank the Ujita family and the entire Tamanohikari family I would like to promote the heck out of the four products of theirs that we sell at True Sake. And I encourage you all to try their sakes, because A) they are delicious and B) they respect you the overseas sake drinker - you are valued!

Tamanohikari "Brilliant Jade" 
From Kyoto Prefecture
Junmai Dai Ginjo SMV: +3.5 Acidity: 1.7
This is a very important Dai Ginjo to explore as this brewery uses the famous Omachi rice strain, the father of the majority of today's brewing rices. The nose, like its name, is indeed brilliant, filled with all sorts of peach, apple and pear scents. Omachi rice yields deep and rich flavors and this does not disappoint; you'll taste nuts and bananas to pears and cooked coconut meat. The viscous mouth-feel is chewy and plump. Despite an unmistakable fruitiness, the fluid actually ends with dryness in the back of the throat.
WORD: Pear
WINE: Cabernets/White Burgundy
BEER: Pilsners/Mild stouts
FOODS: Roasted fowl, dim sum, cheese plates and patés.
$30/720ml and $15/300ml
Tamanohikari "Divine Light"
From Kyoto Prefecture. 1673.
Yamahai Junmai Ginjo. SMV: +1 Acidity: 1.7
This traditionally made Ginjo has a gorgeous nose of steamed rice, vanilla, cucumber and subtle cream. This Yamahai has a "bigness" to it that revels in a nutty and smoky flavor that almost boarders on malty. Perhaps this is a result of the Omachi "father of all brewing rices" rice that is used in production. A dry and tantalizing rice flavor with a large middle mouth and an equally big tail. Look for the middle vein of vanilla and earthly flavors.
WORD: Nutty
WINE: Tannin reds/oaky dry whites
BEER: Pilsners/stouts
FOOD: Smoked fish, miso-based dishes, noodles, game and some white meats.
Tamanohikari "Light From Heaven"
From Kyoto Prefecture.
Junmai Ginjo. SMV: +4 Acidity: 1.5
With a rich nose filled with grains, caramel, nougat, and minerals this well-balanced brew speaks the language of balance. Day in and day out this sake drinks with consistency, rich and clean, but with expansive flavors from caramel and burnt sugar to malty and salty like the ocean. It's not sweet, it's not dry, it's in the groove, and the velvety-soft texture makes this brew a food friendly sake pal.
WORD: Caramel
WINE: Deep reds/Fat whites
BEER: Belgian Ales
FOOD: Grilled anything, sushi, smoked fish, artichokes.
Tamanohikari Reishu - "Sake Slush" 
From Fushimi/Kyoto Prefecture 1673.
Junmai Ginjo. SMV: +3 Rice: Yamada Nishiki milled to 59%.
Yes, the packaging looks like juice boxes for adults! But amazingly this is a very good Junmai Ginjo with a ripe banana and vanilla nose. The overall texture and complexity is well balanced with the acidity and the sweetness working together for a dry appearance. This freezer-proof package is said by the brewers to be excellent for making a sake slush by placing both the package and a decanter in the freezer set at 10 degrees F. for 10 hours. Open package and pour into frozen decanter for a "magical transformation" into a sake slush. For the less inspired this packaging lends itself to smuggling into sporting events and concerts, but you didn't just read this!
WORD: Juice Box
WINE: Dry Whites/Merlots
BEER: Pilsners/Ambers
FOODS: Grilled eggplant, smoked fish, stir-friend shrimp, stadium hot-dogs.

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