February 2008

Sake Spotlight - Larry Mechanic Goes For Three!

Posted by admin in 2008, February, Newsletter, Sake Spotlight

"Sake Spotlight" is a unique section within the Newsletter that takes a closer look at specific sakes that may be purchased at True Sake. I approach different professionals within the industry to give their perspectives and insights to the how, what and why's for very special sakes. These insiders are importers, brewers, authors, sake sommeliers, or just enthusiasts who will take your knowledge base a little further. What I like about this segment is that often my review is quite different than that of the guest professional's adding to the point that there is no right or wrong when discussing your opinion about sake.

This month the winds are blowing hard from the Midwest as the man known as "Windy" graciously pours three different brews at various temperature points. I charged Larry Mechanic with the same request that I do for all of my "Spotlighters" to pick a brew and rip it apart. Well Senior Mechanic would have nothing to do with that and decided to focus on three brews that do different things at different temperatures. So who is this sake scientist from the wind swept shores of Chicago?

LarryLarry Mechanic is a Certified Saké Professional and is founding consultant of Windy City Saké, a consulting service in Chicago that provides educational seminars for corporations and culinary schools; consulting services for restaurateurs and wine/liquor retailers; marketing support and promotional guidance for importers, distributors & retailers, and private saké tastings.

His writings have appeared in numerous local and national publications, including Food and Wine, Encyclopedia Britannia Magazine and Crain's Chicago Business. Larry serves as advisor for saké and shochu tastings at the Beverage Tasting Institute of Chicago and teaches an Introduction to Saké class within the Beverage Management curriculum at acclaimed culinary school Kendall College.

Larry is also organizer of the Chicago Saké Meetup Group, a fun and casual way to learn about saké while sharing in nihonshu fellowship . Larry also just formed the World Saké Meetup group with the intent of creating a virtual, global network of saké enthusiasts around the world.

I will be honest and say that I had to cut at least two pages of Larry's efforts in order to keep this Newsletter down in size, but what I cut is so very well worth reading. So if you would like to read some history and lore about warming sake please by all means email Larry yourself and ask for the edits that are scattered on the True Sake floor - his email address isWindyCitySake @ gmail.com.

You go Larry:

The following are the results of a tasting of several types of saké that were tasted here in Chicago by a panel of esteemed and exquisite palates.The tasting format:

Three saké tasted in three different blind tasting flights.
First: 3 Chilled
Then: 3 Warmed
Then: 3 chilled and warmed

The saké were selected for very specific flavor profile, rice varietal or other Key Characteristics that might provide some hint of direction if one were to be lookin to try the good stuff, warmed.

The temperatures that the 3 were tasted at were:

Jo-kan, 115F, gives off a bit of steam when poured and Suzubie, about 57F, a good temp for slightly chilled saké.

The saké that were tasted were:

  1. Koshi no Omachi, Honjozo Dai-ginjo from Niigata prefecture
  2. Kasumi Tsura, Yamahai Ginjo and
  3. Kamoizumi, Autumnal Elixir, Junmai Dai-ginjo


Here are the results and the key flavor characteristic of the selected saké:

Koshi no Omachi, is a delicate dai-ginjo from Niigata where some of the lightest and most refined saké from Japan is produced. No one would think to warm this guy, but we did.The Koshi no Omachi was selected to see if the key characteristic: Omachi rice, would stand up to the delicate dai-ginjoness of this saké when temped. It did.

Omachi rice is varietal that's a bit more "earthy" and robust than #1 rice for premium saké Yamada Nishiki. Think Syrah instead of Pinot Noir. The Omachi won out and this one was the favorites of the tasting panel for a saké that shines well, both chilled and warm on a cold Chicago night.

The second selection was Kasumi Tsura, Yamahai Ginjo. The key characteristic here was... yamahai. Yamahai refers to an old and labor intensive method of integrating the yeast into the rice mash. Now brewers just dump in lactic acid and be done with it. But before Louis Pasteur figured out how the magic in the bottle happened, yamahai was a method that produced saké with a lot of extra wild bacteria and yeast from the air that got into the fermenting vat. As a result, yamahai's have a fuller, bit more "gamey" taste profile and made the Kasumi Tsura a good target to temp.

The Kasumi Tsura speaks with the Voice of the Crane when chilled, but did not stand up well to Jo-kan. The 115F temp brought out more of the acidity and underlying sweetness, more than it made the already pronounced yamahai-ness of it emerge when temped. While the warm temp enhanced the nut and pepper flavor of the Kasumi Tsura, the temp killed the tail (finish) and while not making the alcohol more pronounced, it did sharpen the acidity to a level that would suggest... best served chilled.

The third selection was the Kamoizumi, Autumnal Elixir, Junmai Dai- ginjo. If you've been around the warm/chill block a few times, you know the Kamoizumi JDG is always hangin around.

I like bi-tempuals, but this one really irks me. Could ya just make up your mind, Kamo?

The key flavor characteristic on this one was... umami.

The Kamo is called Autumnal Elixir for a good reason. It is the forest floor. Rich wood, mushrooms and dank forest flavors. Very uncharacteristic for a dai-ginjo, which is why the Kamo was selected.

Umami is that, not yet legalized, 6th sense that is found in many soy and saké products. Think Big Mouth Feel.

While I've enjoyed the Kamoizumi JDG for many years served both chilled and warmed, as many times as I've tried it, is how many times it can't make up its mind about temp.

The tasting panel found this to be the most disappointing selection of the three when tasted warmed. Not only did it lose its tail, but it lost many other of its fine taste dimensions and the alcohol definitely showed up as the big bully it is, when temping saké.

However, I'd encourage readers to try this one both ways. It does swing and maybe you hit a batch that does what it does so well when chilled, but you find that the glow in the belly is as good as the taste in the mouth, when warmed.

A couple of side notes...

Daimon-san's, Mukune, Root of Innocence Junmai Ginjo is one of my favorite saké . One key characteristic of the bottles that are on the market now is... Muroka.Muroka refers to a saké production process in which the usual step of adding finely powdered charcoal to make the saké clearer... is not used. The use of charcoal "fining" makes for a clearer, cleaner saké it also strips away some of the more rustic flavor elements in the saké.

Find a saké that is made in the muroka method and you've got a good candidate to temp.

While the Kasumi Tsura, Yamahai Ginjo didn't fair that well, another selection from Joto Saké might do the work the temp scale well, the Watari Bune 55, The Ferry Boat.

While it says Unfiltered on the label, this is not a nigori saké but it does use the muroka method and I've enjoyed this guy warmed, many times on cold, chi-town nights.

Another interesting observation that came from the tasting panel was that the type of drinking vessel had quite an effect on the warmed saké.

If you use your favorite wine glass for warmed saké, be prepared for rapidly changing temps and flavor profiles. For warm, you want to get out your heavier ceramic drinking vessel and that's all that's going to mentioned here about that, cause that's a whole nother subject and article.

Bottom line... from the taster's: Warmth emphasizes all characteristics, but metamorph's underlying less favorable tastes, that were more subdued or submerged when chilled.

So, the path...

Much like the paths in Japanese gardens, the path of chilled vs. warmed is not straight. But take a walk. And if you find one you like, tell the person at the counter about it and why you liked it. If your searching for a brew to temp, then ask Beau or your local saké dude or dudette and maybe they'll point you in the direction of some flavors or types that warms your belly as well as the soul.Over time, we'll get this old, new and big saké ship steered in a less zigzag direction. Or not. While no definitive answers here, there is great delight in exploring what you enjoy when it comes to this ancient and unique beverage, that's ever-changing.

Enjoy the journey.


The tasting was conducted at Tanoshii Japanese restaurant and the kind participants of the panel were:

Jerald O'Kennard, director of the Beverage Tasting Institute and a guy with a palate from somewhere not on this planet.Jill Mott, Sommelier and Wine Person Extraordinaire, although being gently turned to the light side with saké.

Patiwat Panurach, Assistant Organizer of the Chicago Saké Meetup group, and a dude that while hangin round M.I.T. for grad school, thought it would be a cool thing to make a saké making machine.

That was awesome. Larry is one of the new breed sake freakers like myself who cannot take sake for sake's sake - we must push the boundaries because we are not bound to sake morays and customs. Well done on this. And as I mentioned to Larry before his experiment I usually recommend for folks to drink the Kasumi Tsuru at room temperature and told him that on several "warming" experiences I have always been let down by the Kamoizumi Dai Ginjo - which by flavor and feeling one would swear would warm well! Herewith are my chilled reviews for each of the three sakes mentioned above:

Koshi no Omachi "Ancient Rice"
From Niigata Prefecture.
Dai Ginjo.
SMV: +3.5 Acidity: 1.2
A vast array of fruit aromas such as strawberry, plum, grape, and blueberry blended with rose water and minerals makes up the nose on this Dai Ginjo that is milled to 40%. There are not a lot of "Omachi" rice Dai Ginjos out there so this guy is not only rare it is also delicious. Deep and rich it has a plump and chunky personality loaded with flavors that float on a clean creamy soft fluid. A great example of a wide mouth sake that drinks dry and zesty.
WINE: Chewy Reds/ Fat Whites
BEER: Stouts
FOODS: Grilled fish, shellfish, sushi, clean pasta.
Kasumi Tsuru " The Crane"
From Hyogo Prefecture.
Yamahai Ginjo.
SMV: +3 Acidity: 1.4
The nose on this traditionally-made Yamahai sake is a mix of berries, minerals, citrus, and damp wood. Behold a velvety-soft Ginjo that is loaded with flavors that run deep and clean. Extremely round and smooth for a Yamahai. There is an elegance that just radiates from this semi-dry silky ride, and take note of a layer of marshmallow amongst smoky elements. Try this one at room temp.
WORD: Silky
WINE: Pinot Noir/ French Chardonnay
BEERS: Ales with color
FOODS: Lobster with butter, shellfish, pickles, grilled chicken, creamy cheeses.
Kamoizumi Junmai Dai Ginjo "Autumnal Elixir" 
From Hiroshima Prefecture.
Junmai Dai Ginjo.
SMV: +1.5 Acidity: 1.2
This Dai Ginjo has a subtle nose of caramel and koji rice. It is a big-flavored Dai Ginjo that starts very clean and smooth and has a nice chewy viscosity. Look for flavors such as persimmon, mild caramel, ripe rich fruits and a hidden layer of mushroom. The finish tends to be more fruit-filled than the start. Deep and rich this Dai Ginjo is gloriously different than most.
WORD: Caramel
WINE: Earthy Burgundy's
BEER: Honey Ales/Ambers
FOODS: Meats and Game, especially venison and duck.

Thank you once again Larry and if you would like more info then here it is from the man himself:

For more info about the embryonic World Saké Meetup group, please visit:http://sake.meetup.com/16/

"The Japanese way of life embodies a sense of the ancient, where the culture is expressed with compelling lyrical and poetic imagery. Pick up a bottle of saké and you might not recall its Japanese name ,but you'll remember you were drinking something called Snow Shadow, Wishing Well or Into Your Soul".

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