Sake Day - A Summary of An Excellent Party
It was a record year for participants - over 320. A record year for number of sakes poured - over 120. And a record year for smiles - countless. In a word this year's Sake Day rocked. Along with great food and the powerhouse Okinowa band, we had some very special sakes throughout the evening. Gifu Prefecture represented very well by sending over a delegation of brewers who poured tons of Gifu sake most of which is not available in the US.
But the strength of the evening always comes down to my toasts. That was a joke. Seriously, I was joking. The actual "other" strength of the evening came down to our awesome Edu-Drinking Sake Challenge stations. This is where the drinking meets the thinking. Sure it is easy to and walk down table after of table of vendors pouring superb sakes tasting to your heart's delight. That is fun indeed. But what is much more interesting is to delve into the who, what, why, and how come's of tasting sake to expand your understanding of the greatest libation to ever grace the earth.
The Edu-Drinking Sake Challenge stations are the most fun for us to create and monitor throughout the evening. I greatly enjoy people "getting it!" From sake newbies to those who really consider themselves sake aficionados the stations test one and all. This year we had four stations each serving four sakes, but which sakes and for what reason? Herewith were the four blind tasting stations as per our 2012 Sake Day Guide: (And keep in mind every bottle was in a black sock that hid its identity.)
STATION 1. The Raw and The Cooked
This station was created to get you to think about a sake in two ways: pasteurized and unpasteurized "nama." Typically sake is heated twice to act as a preservative. So what does pasteurizing do to the taste and feeling of sake?
The Challenge - Taste 4 "different" sakes and match the two versions of the same sake. There are two pairs of the same pasteurized and unpasteurized "nama" sakes.
|I loved this station and so too did most tasters. Pasteurization is so important in this game and it's fun to taste the same sake in two states. We used the Ohyama Junmai (nama and pasteurized) and the Tsukasabotan Senchu Hasaku (nama and pasteurized). From what I was told most people could identify the nama sakes first and foremost. They nailed that part. And then a majority of tasters matched them to their counterparts. A very fun and successful station.|
STATION 2. Now & Yen
This station was created to get you to think about the value of sake. Factors such as the quality of rice, the milling and brewing technique, the storage, and the shipping all have a bearing on the price of sake. But the ultimate determinant rests with the consumer.
The Challenge - Taste 4 different sakes in the same milling (polishing) category that are priced at four different retail price points: $10s - $20s - $30s - $40s and determine your own "value" for each sake.
|This station fooled most people, but that is the essence of my old mantra "You are the champion of your own palate, and it doesn't matter what sake is the best, what maters is what sake is best for you." Obviously this was the most subjective station, and there were a wide variety of responses. On the whole most folks didn't hit the price zones and this really surprised them. I won't tell you the price, but all of the sakes were "Junmai" even though one had a higher rice polishing rate than the others. (Yukikage, Koshino Kanbai, Shirakabe Gura, and Gokyo Tenuki) The stations work better when I place the order more effectively, and this station was a perfect example.|
STATION 3. Genshu You
This station was created to get you to think about the alcohol in sake. Typically sake ferments up to 18%-19%, but brewers add water to bring the alcohol content down to an industry average of about 15%-16%. Do sakes that are left undiluted "genshu" taste bigger than diluted sakes?
The Challenge - Taste four different sakes and try to determine which of the four sakes is non-genshu.
|This station was very popular and the tasters did very well at picking out the "non-genshu." Not that it was easy per se, but I do like mixing in a station that is a little more obvious, so everybody gets it. I could have picked sakes where nobody would have succeeded, but where is the fun in that. So I selected some brews that do taste big and bright. (Boozy? Not really, just more zing!) And the non-genshu was a really light sake with a far lower alcohol percentage. (Umenishiki JG, Cowboy Yamahai, Miyasaka Junmai, Narutotai Yamahai JG)|
STATION 4. Pining For Pine
This station was created to get you to think about "taru" or cedar sakes. Cedar played a large role in the sake world. Historically brewers used to ferment and store sake in cedar tanks, which gave sakes a pretty strong cedar aroma, feeling and flavor.
The Challenge - Taste four different sakes and try to determine which one of the four is non-taru.
|Okay! So this station was my trick station. This was supposed to take folks to the next level on an interesting aspect of sake that has roots in the old and is now having a modern revival of sorts. And most folks didn't get it! The trick was that the non-taru sake was actually a kioke sake, which means it was fermented in wood, but not aged. I like cedar sake at times and this station reminded tasters that it is a good segment to explore. The cedar brews were from Ichinokura, Ozeki, and Kikumasamune. And the kioke was from Sawanoi.|
DO NOT MISS SAKE DAY 2013!