September 2009

Sake Challenge - Sake vs. Veggie Burgers

Posted by Beau Timken in 2009, Newsletter, Sake Challenge, September
Veggie Burgers I am on a spiritual sake quest that will finally put a nail in the coffin of "sake can only be consumed at a sushi restaurant" mantra. Wake up people! Food and sake go together - always have and always will. If it has a tail, roots, feathers, leaves, or a damn beak sake will go with it - anytime and any place. And that is my quest - the place or origin of the cuisine does not matter. It can be Spanish, Italian, Brazilian or ughhhh British chow and sake will walk the walk. Japan has chickens! Japan has salad! Japan has beef! Japan has spicy and savory dishes! Japan has sweet and salty fare, so why not think about having sake with these "tones" from other countries?

The Sake Challenge is my way for you great consumers to see outside of the sushi paradigm, and to achieve this "new view on brew" I will usually select two different sake styles and price-points and bring them to a non-Japanese restaurant with a celebrity, sake-sleuth or hell even a friend in tow. Read about past challenges:

When reviewing restaurants and their specific cuisines paired with sake I use the following criteria:
  • Works World Class (WWC)
  • Works Well (WW)
  • Works (W)
  • Does Not Work (DNW)
This criterion is more true to the mission of bringing a beverage to a restaurant not knowing what you will pair with. The point is to make the general pairings "work." Rare is the day that you bring a specific wine or sake to pair with a specific dish - we look for generalities and the entire eating/drinking experience. Think of fishing with a net as opposed to a hook and line - a pairing is supposed to reach out and catch more flavors as opposed to just hitting one match.

Ahhhhh! And what was this month's crazy challenge? Unlike past challenges where we attacked certain specific cuisines - this month we went after one unlikely candidate - Veggie-burgers! Why Veggieburgers? Why not? The idea was hatched over dinner with two True Sake supporters (Ash and Tim), who gladly offered the use of their grill and their food posse. So a party was born! All in the name of science and sake betterment!

We decided to not only pair sake with Veggie-burgers, but all non- meat burgers that we could get our hands on from Boca Burgers to some weird as all get out spicy tofu/humus burgers (the worst was a falafel burger that tasted like gas on saw dust) . Five different burgers graced the grill with ten tasters! But what sakes to bring?

I decided to bring a wide offering of rich style sakes without a lot of fruity brews. Basically my thinking was that good "pub sakes" would probably go best with the burgers. Herewith is the list of brews and some thoughts from all as to how they performed:
  • Ban Ryu Honjozo: Was a pretty popular pairing. Folks liked the round and savory flavor match, which made for a smooth and drinkable experience. "Nice!" "Good balance" "Super smooth" were some of the comments that stood out. I liked the savory play, brought out a little saltiness and richness in the burgers.

  • Kamoizumi Junmai Ginjo: Was a fan favorite! One of the top pairing partners of the evening. The strength of the brew matched all of the different textures and flavors of all 5 burgers - a pretty impressive showing. It was big and rich and blanketed the charcoal flavors of the burgers hot off the grill. Full-bodied and deep this was a top 3 veggie burger sake.

  • Hakkaisan Junmai: This brew took a pounding as its thin and dry characteristics could not stand up to all of the action. Balance was lost - and the brew fell by the way side. Some liked the teriyaki burger with this Junmai, but on the whole it was voted down to the back of the pack. This was surprising as I thought that it would go savory and jump to the salty fare.

  • Gokyo Junmai: This Junmai did something odd for the brew itself, which is rich and round, as it became a solid wash of flavors. The sake went thin! I couldn't believe it. The Gokyo went best with the Garden Burger (which ended being the best tasting burger) but had some difficulty with the Sunshine Burger, which had some eggy and tofu flavors. All in all it did okay and made rice and water and veggie burger work together in an effective pairing.

  • Takenotsuyu Junmai: "Elongated the herb quality of the veggie burger and worked well," was one of the many quality comments about this very good pairing sake. This "Bamboo Tears" sake was in the top three for pairing with the hot off the grill veggie burgers. Smooth and solid and quite simply just worked - a very good feeling and flavor pairing. Rich, round, savory and elegant the sake took each mouthful and made it better. • Niwa No Iguisu Daruma Junmai: This brew was on the love it or hate it bandwagon - no tweeners! It worked well with the odd flavored burgers like the Boca Burger, but did not do so well with more gentle burger flavors. The sake itself is big and bad! The pairings had to be more robust and active to be effective, otherwise the largeness of the brew was too distracting.

  • Kiminoi Yamahai Junmai Ginjo: A round of applause arose for the Kiminoi and bun pairing - yes!- this brew rocked with the buns. It also did remarkably well with each and every burger. A very versatile sake that is truly flavorful and very drinkable. Rich and round, smooth and balanced this brew was in the top three favorite sake and veggie burger pairing sakes. I liked this sake a lot and feel very comfortable that it works for all.
In Summary:

I know sake goes well with "real" burgers! But what about those who eat things like veggie burgers? Is there a home for them? You bet! We tasted 7 sakes with 5 different meat-free burgers, and the results were a lot of raised eyebrows. Some brews did better than others (Takenotsuyu, Kiminoi, Kamoizumi), but all in all they did okay on most levels. Each brew had an action with the pairing - some washed better than others, some enhanced better than others, and some created better flavors than others. I do know that richer and more full-bodied sakes do better with grill-gracers like veggie burgers, and try to stay away from more fruity sakes. But the bottom line remains - when you think of veggie burgers think of sake. Yes!

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