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Sake Challenge - BT Takes On Wine and Beer Experts at Fifth Floor

sake challenge feb 2009This month's Sake Challenge was a little different than my typical approach of taking an assortment of sakes to various restaurants pairing brews with foods from burritos to foie gras. Typically my opponent is the "nationality" of the foreign cuisine - better said it is the "why in the world would you pair sake with hummus?" questions the keep sake firmly "trapped" in the perception that sake "can only go with Japanese food." A very formidable foe indeed!

But alas last month two new "Challengers" came from the dark and they took the dreaded form of wine and beer! I was invited to participate in the third round of "Beverage Battles" at Fifth Floor Restaurant in San Francisco. The devious fiend of a host - the mastermind of libation swashbuckling - and friend to all - Emily Wines (Master Sommelier) crafted this program in an attempt get folks to think outside the box. (My kind of woman).

Essentially the format was to pit three libations against each other paired with five courses - they call the program "Three on Five." Herewith is a link to an article written by booze sleuth Camper English.

Of course Emily represented the grape world, I brought the rice beverage, and Arne Johnson (Head Brewer of the Marin Brewing Company) was charged with the task of bringing beer to this liquid knife fight. Emily had won the previous "encounters" versus beer and mixed drinks, and was talking about designing a rather large ornamental victory belt fitted to her slim waist size! (We call this sukiyaki cocky!) Emily knew the food and Arne and I did a pre-tasting to get familiar to the flavors of each dish except the dessert.

Herewith is the menu and the scoring system was 1-5 for each beverage paired. (Please note that we were not instructed to vote or not vote so I gave each beverage the same score - both Arne and Amy did score from their own perspectives. I believe this may have cost me in the end!)


Aligot - fresh dug potato soup, truffled brie, celery and black truffle.
Sake - Urakasumi Hiyaoroshi "Autumn Draft" served room temperature.
Beer - Orval Trappist Ale - Belgium
Wine - Charles Lafite Orgueil de France Brut Champagne 1989

Beer and sake ran neck in neck during this pairing. Most folks expressed that they loved the sake and soup together, but in the end Beer won by a nose - Sake came in second. Personally I was incredibly pleased with the sake pairing - the smoothness of the brew went with the starchy quality of the soup. I would have given this pairing a 5.


Crevettes - Black tiger shrimp with chermoula vinaigrette crystal lettuce, spinach and pine nut pistou.
Sake - Bon Muroka Nama Genshu Junmai Dai Ginjo
Beer - Trumer Pils Berkeley, CA
Wine - Chateau St. Michelle & Dr. Loosen Eroica, Columbia Valley 2006

Bingo! The sake pairing rocked! Sake won this course followed by wine. The very unique large and crafty flavors and acidity play of the nama genshu tossed a blanket of sweetness over the spicey shrimp - sweet heat!


Loup de Mer - Pan seared wild striped sea bass with scallops, kalamata olives baby artichokes and caper berries, lemon mousseline.
Sake - Sawanoi Kioke Jikomi Iroha Yamahai Junmai
Beer - Temptation Ale Russian River Brewing Co. Santa Rosa, CA
Wine - Schloss Gobelsburg Gobelsburger Gruner Veltliner, Kamptal 2007

This was my favorite course to pair with because look at the huge flavors hidden with the fish and shellfish qualities. I chose a very unique brew that has some sweetness and acidity and stands up to olives and artichokes etc. The tasters all really commented favorably on the sake pairing but like the first round beer won and sake finished second. What is interesting is Arne switched the first and third beers at the beginning of the evening. This switch proved very prophetic!


Sanglier - Wild Boar pot pie, wild mushrooms and celeriac remoulade
Sake - A-Zen "Ai" Koshu Junmai (aged five years)
Beer - Pt. Reyes Porter Marin Brewing Co. Larkspur, CA
Wine - York Creek Meritage, Napa 1994

What a great round of drinks and chow! Just like the first round all three brews had many similar qualities - as professionals we were very in tune on the 1st and 3rd rounds as each selection went very well with the other libations. Lots of symmetry! But alas the superb sake pairing if I do say so myself succumbed to beer again. I think Arne had a great beer and it paired well, but when he MADE that beer then the tasters were swayed towards his story!


Poire et Citron - Sable Breton, carmalized pears, citrus gelee poire William caramel sauce, huckleberry sorbet.
Sake - Murai Family Nigori Genshu
Beer - Harvest Ale JW Lees & Co Manchester UK
Wine - Doisy Vedrines Sauternes 2003

We did not taste this dish in advance and I thought that there would be more cream involved. So the citrusy rich and creamy elements called for a Nigori or unfiltered sake - so I thought. But the dish actually tasted more rich and I would have gone a different direction had I known. That said sake took bronze in this course, and wine shined!


Beer took first place and wine and sake tied for second. But I would like to see a recount! I believe that there were some hanging chads that had sake pushed through! All in all it was a blast of an evening! And more to the point sake belonged! The menu was incredibly robust and yet the concept of sake embraced all of the huge flavors and paired remarkably well! I was very pleased and sake raised some serious eyebrows! My dear hosts - and thank you to Scott and Team 5th Floor - were very surprised to see my "competitiveness" come out! The good news is that I have been asked back to compete again! Next time I will vote! And will cry foul when a brewer brings his own efforts, and swears that two of his favorite employees died in the brewing process of that exact beer, which can tug at the heart and voting strings of the tasters. (LOL Arne)


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