May 2009

Sake Moment - The Power of Talking Kijoshu

Posted by Beau Timken in 2009, May, Newsletter

Is there anything better than when a recommendation takes flight? "Hey go see this movie" "We did and loved it so very much!!! It was so us!!" "Hey try this restaurant - I think that you will dig it." "Wow what an amazing restaurant - we loved it!" It's just such a good feeling when you shed light, expose, enlighten people with ideas that fit them. And voila welcome to the booze world, where we make recommendations each and every day.


Time and time again we get emails, letters, voice messages about killer recommendations that we shared with our customers. Trust me when I say that we truly appreciate and "get off" on this feedback - it validates that we are doing our jobs well. But more importantly it validates that sake is finding homes - lots of homes - at different levels. It's pretty easy to recommend Daiginjos as most folks enjoy these brews for their can't miss capabilities! And of course we get a ton of the food pairing questions, which are far more difficult than just selecting a sipping brew. "Tonight we are doing a spicy pork with kimchee - can you pick a sake that will go well with this?" Double Voila! We work wonders! And far more than not - we get it right! (Because they come back and say "well done.")


Now for me - the recommendations that "live" and "grow" are just so damn special. Case in point - had a couple who wanted to give a gift of sake to their friends. "What do your friends like?" "She's a foodie blogger and likes it all." So I picked out several brews to choose from, and then they added that she loves chocolate. RRRRrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! (Sound of breaks screeching) Chocolate lover heh? Well I so happen to have a brew that goes very well with chocolate. "Done!" So they took this special sake and presented it to their friends. What follows is the "follow-up" - the recommendation lifecycle that keeps evolving and growing. But first the brew!


The sake that I recommended is a Kijoshu or aged dessert sake made by a cool brewery in Hiroshima called Hanohato. The process for making Kijoshu is really pretty cool - well sweet and cool! As we all know when you make sake you do so in stages adding basically water and rice (amongst other magical ingredients) at very specific intervals and in extremely sensitive quantities. To make Kijoshu you lessen the water bit (We don't need no stinkin' water) and add sake. Yes. You are correct to imagine that this would make more of a "reduction" - and yes you are correct to assume that this would make for a far sweeter brew. Then age that guy and you have an 8-Year Old Kijoshu that has a nose that speaks to its age and a complex sweetness that speaks to its make-up!


Herewith is my review of Hanahato:

  • Hanahato Kijoshu "Gorgeous Bird" 

From Hiroshima Prefecture. Kijoshu or "aged type".
SMV: -44 Acidity: 3.5
This kijoshu has been aged for eight years and has a similar nose to a sherry or port with a honey/nutty /musky /mushroomy aroma. This very rich kijoshu is a balanced blend of dried fruits and earthy mushroom elements that has a malty aftertaste coupled with a full-bodied start and middle mouth. Deep fruit elements come out at different temperature points. The flavor perfectly compliments chocolates of all kinds, especially dark chocolate mousses and other thicker desserts. It does go well with nutty and earthy cigars as well. The red rose color is amazing for a sake, and this brew begs to be served instead of your normal dessert wine.
WORD: Chocolate
WINE: Sherry/Port
BEER: Thick dessert beers
FOODS: Chocolate and sweet desserts of all kinds.


Now back to the recommendation lifecycle. I received the initial good news from the couple who purchased the bottle as the gift. Peggy shot me this email describing their giving and tasting of said brew:


"We and our friends, D & K, did open that bottle you suggested would go with chocolate. Let me tell you ... quite a surprise! Of course we were all curious after your comment about its "interesting" nose. Dennis poured it into beautiful crystal glasses, we held it to the light and marveled at the amber color. Then, we put our noses into our glasses and ... whoooaaaa! I was immediately struck by porcini mushrooms. Karletta cried out "fungus!" Dennis said "wet dog", (my nose didn't go there). Ted said he couldn't quite figure it out and kept sipping so he could. 


Then the test. We all snapped off a square of 70% cacao Amano artisan chocolate, let it begin to melt in our mouths, then added the funky note of the sake and voilá! Cherries! Unmistakable flavor of cherries and chocolate-very sherry- or port-, almost liqueur- like. An unexpected, bizarre and sense-sational experience. We were delighted by the sheer unexpectedness of it all."


Awesome! I loved it! The fact that they gave the gift then she took the time to write about the experience! This "stuff" makes my day! Well - in the interim - one of the folks of the receiving couple wrote to the info account at True Sake and I did not get the message until later, but he wrote:


It worked. Had a nose that reminded me of automotive parts cleaner. My wife a food writer ( described the nose like mushrooms. BUT with a nice 70% chocolate it brought out a taste of cherries in the chocolate and really worked. We tasted at room temperature. It will probably interact with the chocolate even better chilled. We will be tasting again this weekend check with me on Monday.


So then the lifecycle kept turning and the wife added this unusual brew to her blog and then emailed me a head's up with a message that read " a shocking pairing:"


Hi Beau (and A),

Check out my posting about the amazing chocolate/sake pairing that you suggested to our friends T & P last Friday.


Culinary Muse: A Shocking Chocolate Pairing

I have used many words to describe the chocolate pairing experiences I have had over the years. Fruity. Smokey. Citrus. Divine. I have never used the words 'fungal' and 'shocking'. Until last Friday night, that is. Our friends, T & P presented us with a bottle of Hanahato Kijoshu Sake. This aged sake (eight years) has a beautiful amber color, the taste of a dry sherry and the nose of fungus gone amok. I have never sniffed and then tasted any liquid for which the nose had no relationship to the taste. I poured each of us a small portion. We all took a sniff and then started laughing. Could anything that smelled this bizarre have any redeeming culinary value? After a couple of sips it was clear that we had to try this with some really good chocolate, as suggested by Beau Timken at TRUE SAKE . I went into my chocolate stash and pulled out a bar of AMANO CHOCOLATE'S Jembrana 70% Dark Chocolate. We each took a small bite of chocolate, allowed it melt for a moment on the tongue and then took a sip of Kijoshu. That is when this, excuse the analogy, magical mystical mushroom trip began. The sake brought out the cherry in the Jembrana. What cherry, you Jembrana fans might ask? Exactly. Alchemy and magic at work.


No the brew is indeed unusual at best! The nose is a little like the Hunchback of Notre Dame - so damn ugly but you want to root for that guy! In fact it probably smells like the Hunchback himself! One customer likened it to "Lipton's French Onion Cup'O Soup." (That one always gets me!) As I mentioned to the gift buyers "The curtains do not match the carpet." Nevertheless it is an odyssey that should be traveled at least once in every sake drinker's road to sake enlightenment. I will not mention that this brewery also makes an excellent sparkling kijoshu, because it is not available in the US.


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