Tokyo Table Trip

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Hello everyone, ChuToroZuke here! For Volume 1 of The Sake Chronicles, I would like to discuss sake from a high level, what it is about, and why we should drink more of it!

About Japanese sake

Japanese sake is the definitive national alcoholic beverage of Japan. It is deep rooted in history and integral to Japanese food culture, and also used in quite a number of recipes for cooking.
It deserves to be consumed, celebrated and enjoyed for any occassion. With the right sake, the experience of any meal can enhance greatly.
It is also one of the best beverages to have with all styles of food in Japan. Whatever that can go with wine or champagne, sake can do the same job just as well, and in some
cases, much better!

The consumption of sake has unfortunately gone down a lot over the last 10 years, as younger people lose interest and stick with beer or hi-balls (shochu or whiskey cut with ice, water, soda, fruit flavors)
and there is a growing push to have wine and champagne even with traditional Japanese cuisine, as people come into more spending power and have options.
Sake breweries as a result have to change the way they think, produce, and market sake, and thus have to compete with wine, champagne, and other alcoholic beverage to recapture the market, as well as grow market share overseas (e.g. Asia/SE Asia, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, USA, Europe/UK/France).

However with that said, you can find both modern and traditional profiles/styles of sake in Japan and outside.

As visitors to Japan, I feel we should try to help the sake industry by exploring sake at any opportunity.
In addition to being delicious, especially with food, bottles of sake are excellent souvenirs and gifts!

What is sake made of?

Sake from a high level, is made with the following components.

1) sake brewing water - water quality differs within each prefecture in Japan, as well as mineral content and softness. Purity and source is important.

2) sake brewing rice - There are a number of sake brewing rice varietals, including regional unique rice for sake in various prefectures across Japan. Each can produce unique flavors, and within that, numerous combinations of layers and textures. Generally rice grains have an exterior covering the center (shinpaku) containing all the vital starch. The more of the exterior that is polished, generally the smoother the sake texture, and more fruitier flavors will result (and generally, the more costly the bottle) When you see something that says 精米步合 on a sake bottle, that refers to "semibuai" which is the rice polish ratio as a percentage. If 80%, it means 20% of the rice grain is polished away (and that is in relation to the total weight of the grain). In the case of for example, Dassai 23, and if it is 23% it means 77% of the grain was polished away.

3) koji mold (in Latin scientific term would be Aspergillus), which is also used to make miso, vinegar, soy sauce and shochu, in addition to sake.

4) yeast - an integral part of the conversion process. Yeast consumes sugar to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. While rice does not contain sugar consumable by yeast,
it is the koji mold mentioned above, that converts the starch in rice to sugar that is consumed by yeast.

Sake is not a wine, but closer to a brew as a result of fermentation of sake rice.

About sake nomenclature and their definitions

Data

When you come across sake, you may see names like Junmai, Ginjo, Junmai Ginjo, Daiginjo, and Junmai Daiginjo.

Junmai grade sake - the kanji for this translates to "pure rice". Meaning this is brewed entirely with rice (as well as water, koji mold, yeast)

Ginjo grade sake - brewed with sake rice, koji, yeast, brewing water, and distilled alcohol is added to produce (and induce) particular aromas and profiles.

However the words and terminologies can mix a bit:

Other useful terminology

Sometimes you will see other specifications on a bottle label. These pieces of information will give you a better idea of a sake's profile based on dryness level, acidity, and alcohol percentage.

Nihonshudo (SMV) - A rating of 0 would typically mean the sake is neutral, it is neither sweet nor dry. However some people debate that nowadays a rating of 3 is considered neutral.
Generally, the higher the number from the neutral point, the dryer the sake. And 0 or below would indicate more sweetness. The sweetness refers to the residual sugar and alcohol in the sake itself.
You could have a sake that is fruity on the nose, aromatic, and a touch of sweetness on the tip of your tongue, but the sake finishes dry and has a higher SMV value.

Acidity - Most sake hover around the 1.3 to 1.5 range. Traditional more labor intensive methods of sake production tend to result in higher acidity levels, reaching values of 1.6 or higher.
Low temperature long term fermentation and storage could bring that number up a little more as well, and the sake will become more full bodied, more structured, and better suited for food pairing,
much like some red wine profiles.

Alcohol percentage - Sake can have alcohol percentages between 12 to 14% to upwards of 16% or higher. Genshu sake, which are produced by not adding additional water in the brewing process, resulting in more concentration, will generally have higher alcohol content. Summer seasonal releases, and more modern style sake, tend to have lighter alcohol percentage, are easier to drink and generally wider appeal.

Things to pay attention to when tasting a sake

OK so now you get a try a glass of something you are curious about! How do you drink it?

These are things to consider and explore when you taste by itself, and with food:

Aromas on the nose - when you are served the sake, the first thing you should do is smell it and savor the aromas. What do you smell?
It could be a little yeasty (fermentation), earthy (grassy, ricey), fruit scents (apple, pear, melon, lychee, banana), or anything that reminds you of other foods or other scents you are familiar with. I once smelled a sake that reminded me of sandwich meat! There is no right or wrong answer, whatever something reminds you of, you might remember something you had before!
Texture - how does the sake feel in your mouth? Is it smooth, rich, well rounded, velvety, plush, or perhaps has a "bite" or kick to it? Try swirling it around your tongue a little to warm it up a little before swallowing. How does it taste now?
Aromas on the tongue - how does the sake taste from the tip of your tongue, to about mid way back (what we can call the mid palate) all the way to the end? Do you sense any variance? Any difference over time and with food?
Finish - when the sake goes down your throat, how does that feel or taste like? Does it prolong, or is it very quick like drinking water? Do you feel any coating remaining on your tongue? Is there an alcoholic burn that you dislike or perhaps enjoy?
Temperature - now re-try the sake very chilled (5 degrees C), lightly chilled 10 to 15 degrees C, room temperature 15 to 25 degrees C and repeat. What's your favorite spot or moment?

I hope this was a helpful start!
Feel free to leave comments or questions :-)

Writer: ChuToroZuke

ChuToroZuke is an avid enthusiast of Japanese cuisine and culture and remembers his first ever sukiyaki experience at the tender age of 6, particularly the magical combination
of dipping sukiyaki beef into raw egg and then chowing it down with a bowl of Japanese rice. However years later in adulthood, a passion ignited with a great explosion one evening 4 years ago, as a result of experiencing a bottle of sake with perfect otsumami and sushi at a favorite restaurant, that was so impactful and memorable. This lead him down a geeky journey of discovering sake as well as rediscovering food with sake. Suddently traveling to Tokyo and dining at various establishments (high end and low end) last few years became a whole lot more exciting, allowing this geek to deep dive and meet other fellow lovers of the beverage (and food of course).
It is with great pleasure and honor that he was invited to contribute to TokyoTableTrip, as a means of giving back to the community and help spread the word and love of sake, and to help promote sake in Japan from overseas.

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Menchikatsu

Just a brief follow up, on something we talked about before. Tonight, I brought a bottle of Shinkame Hikomago junmai to an upscale izakaya, and had it corkaged. The boss brought up, that he used to have a kandouko sake warmer 燗銅壺, but not anymore, so they heated it up in a hot water pot for me. It drops in temperature very quickly using this method! The bottle recommends it at 55-60 degrees celsius, which I liked it most at... though I burnt my tongue. 45 degrees it's still good, but the taste is definitely different. I brought my own thermometer, which got a laugh out of the staff. Drank it with a variety of shellfish (local abalone, oysters), sashimi (tako, fatty fish), and various types of snacks. People seated next to me were from Kyushu, and are regulars at wagyu restaurants in Tokyo, like Yoroniku and Jambo Hanare. I shared some sake with them. They were drinking satsuma shochu. They tell me, apparently Fukuoka is more shochu territory.

9 months ago

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User default d6f8776075bbcbf91b3886fd7b0aeb86c94956e290bd9b9223466618a8cd47a2

ChuToroZuke

Thanks for reporting back! I hope the corkage fee was not high, considering the bottle you brought was probably less than 2500 yen. Yes, every 5 degrees increase, there are different names for the type of warm sake. Good to know about the kandouko, that does explain similar experiences I had.

Imo Shochu is actually quite delicious with heavy yakiniku (probably pairs better with wagyu) and also with yakitori. There's a sake called Kuro Kabuto from Fukuoka prefecture that is brewed using black koji that is normally used in shochu brewing, and their Junmai Daiginjo is exported. Quite a few sake breweries also make kome shochu (Shichida, Tatsuriki, Juyondai, Dassai come to mind).

9 months ago
Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

The corkage was no so much. The food was particularly so however, haha.

This kandouko came up in a previous conversation we had, about the box at Sushi Kimura. This one:
https://tabelog.com/imgview/original?id=r0378263722191

They seem to be usually made made of copper. I did not realize there are so many different types.
This company makes one that resembles the one he has, with the hand mallet/hammer finish. I wonder if it's the same maker:
http://www.takumiya.net/kandouko_business.html

This has made me feel like I should buy a kandouko, with a nice tokkuri, to make kanzake with.

In your note, it is interesting how rice kome shochu and sake share a history. And almost resemble the way beer and whisky use the same ingredients, but differ in method of brewing vs. distillation. I just looked it up, and saw how many ingredients can be made into shochu (rice, sweet potato, barley, sugar, corn, sesame...)
I suppose you've been to Florilege? Similar philosophy towards sustainability as L'Effervessence. The beverage/bar man seems to be distilling(?) his own shochu, using many types of ingredients he labels on the bottles. I remember shiso, maybe buckwheat, and even cheese I think... He incorporates many of them into the cocktail pairing. Worth a visit for this alone. I myself want to return and try the unusual non-alcoholic beverage pairing.

9 months ago
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Shi

@Menchikatsu you mentioned that using a hot water pot caused it to drop in temperature very quickly but I'm curious what the alternatives are? I'm not familiar with kandouko sake warmers so not sure the advantages it brings. We've successfully used a water bath with an immersion circulator in the past with pretty good success ourselves.

9 months ago
Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

Hi @Shi !
I think in most cases, you get a little tokkuri pot of sake directly on the counter. Even if it's been heated by the kandouko, they serve it to you separately, and then it gets cold fast. In my case here, they actually brought me a bath bowl of hot water, with the tokkuri sitting in it. The opposite of champagne in an ice bucket. And yet... it still got cold fast after it drops below 45C degrees. But while it was at 60C, it stayed there for quite a while. So I guess the hot water bowl helped for a bit. And they kept changing the water, to keep it hot.

Are you talking about something like a Joule sous vide? Yes, I'm sure that's an excellent solution. Though I doubt restaurants would have one on hand. And if you really need to keep sake hot for a very long time, you probably aren't drinking it fast enough! Haha.

Personally, I don't know much about the kandouko. I only caught notice of it recently. ChuToroZuke would know much more about these things. I've read some sake shop owners say, the machine enables you to perfectly control the temperature. And some have multiple machines, set to different temperatures.

9 months ago
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Shi

Yep in our case it's like a Joule immersion circulator we just happen to use the Anova brand! Appreciate the clarification, I'm interested in trying more sake warm as I've only ever had anything other than house sake's warmed up at Godenya which were quite tasty. When we used to warm up sake it was more of a comfort thing than us actually knowing what we were doing and we'd generally stick to less expensive bottles so as not to let our ignorance spoil them haha!

9 months ago
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ChuToroZuke

To be honest this is an area that is still uncharted territory for the most part to me. The ideal situation is that you get the standard 90 to 180 mL pour of a warmed sake at a very specific temperature, and the owner selects a sake profile that works once it's warmed and also when it comes back down towards room temperature (the taste will be totally different than if it were not heated).

I don't think the idea is to drink the warmed sake as fast as you can, but rather a smaller portion at a time where you can savor the aromas and the heightened acidity (at least in theory), and this is where specific porcelain vessels (or saucers) work more tradtionally that the typical ceramic cups even for warmed sake.

Pretty sure the nicer hot water warmers that transfer heat to the copper sake warmers are plug in with or without a thermostat. I would be surprised if Goshima san of Godenya didn't use top of the line equipment for serving warmed sake.

9 months ago
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Shi

Hopefully this is not too presumptuous of me, but I created a flickr album of our 2017 visit to Godenya. My wife is kind enough to handle most of the photography and it seems she did not take pictures of the warming apparatus in our most recent visit having already photographed it on our first trip haha: https://www.flickr.com/photos/186164831@N02/albums/72157712344617458

As we've discussed previously both our visits with Goshimaさん have been absolute delights. If there's interest I can upload our 2019 visit as well.

9 months ago
Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

@Shi
The silver cups, with handles and a thermometer, look like parts that would be inserted into a kandouko. The big pot more or less looks like something that could be used for oden. And is that a portable heater underneath? I do like this method though, I've seen izakayas where they do use a square oden bath for heating up sake. And according to the website above, you can actually custom make an oden + kandouko combination piece, that fits your restaurant counter.
Going back to your comment above, about only ordering cheap sakes warm. I used to think the same thing, but I've been rethinking the whole thing lately. And I've found a few people at restaurants in the west, that have also learned the difference between cheap and high quality hot sake, if done so properly. I do occasionally come across a restaurant that simply microwaves it still.

9 months ago

ChuToroZuke

I think with Uchida you need to go with seasoned locals. I was not aware Shinof customizations, although if you just stick with the more well known skewers you are already good with sampling. Even their shochu drinks look rather hardcore.

You can check out shinkame.co.jp and their authorized retail shop shinkame.jp (I believe outside the brewery) to see their crazy lineup. I think just start with a Shinkame Junmai and perhaps the Shinkame Hikomago Junmai and see how you like it...try both room temperature and heated to 50 C and if the shop is willing, past 50 C. Then explore the Hikomago Junmai Ginjo varietals, then the Hikomago Junmai Daiginjo

The maderia colored sake or true koshu you speak of, are aged differently under different conditions. If you go to Ginza Matsuya basement, they might have verticals of Daruma Masamune koshu spanning the last 30 years or so, and you'll see the gradation of the color shades for each vintage, as well as their higher prices. If you want to experience food pairing with koshu in a koshu specific bar/eatery, highly recommend a visit to Shu Sa Ron in Shinagawa, very close to the station. The cuisine is more western approach, although the servers will be more than glad to recommend. Koshu and braised Japanese beef cheeks with cabbage is quite fantastic with koshu. They will also give you the right glass to enjoy the various koshu with. It can get a bit overwhelming as koshu can sometimes have very high acidity.

I don't speak for OL's but my feeling is that they like to go to drinking establishments that cater more to females, and perhaps have food that is a bit lighter, less greasy, great service, yet fun but not salary man necktie around forehead boisterous. Basically ladies version of male bonding kind of joints but less subdued. But it is also a culture of going to multiple drink places. Maybe a few go in groups of both male and female...but the fun is later in the evening when you see them walking (and you can tell they are super tippsy as they can't walk in a straight line) and you'll know they are completely gone when coworkers have to help them into a taxi....

Kirakutei's owners are also good friends with the master brewer of Jikon (as well as a few of the other breweries) and they have a special relationship with the shop in Tokyo that provides it to them....the likelihood of general public going to the shop and find Jikon to purchase retail is next to zero.

11 months ago

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Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

Now that we've discussed Uchida more, and I've done a little reading, I definitely think asking to go with a Japanese friend, with leadership qualities, is a good idea. I thought Shimizu was a bit intimidating. But this is really quite a bit moreso.

Thank you for the Shinkame links. The bottle nearby me is indeed a Hikomago junmai daiginjo. Think I'll stop by their shop, and see if they cellar it correctly. Bottle label looks a bit different though. Has a turtle illustration on it. If I can find any of the other varieties, I will try to heat it up myself at home. I have a yukihira pot in my kitchen, and thermometer, so this could be fun.

I think this 'true koshu' aged sake is very interesting, doesn't taste like normally conceived sake at all. I will check out the Ginza Matsuya depachika for it. Don't normally hear that name nowadays, since Mitsukoshi and Isetan kind of take up all the spotlight. Although sampling koshu with the beef cheeks and other dishes you're thinking of sounds good, I am afraid to be the bearer of potentially bad news, as Shu Sa Ron is listed as permanently closed. Perhaps they have moved elsewhere, or it's a mistake.

It's nice to hear that such a party culture exists in Tokyo still. I haven't gone out as much in recent years, late at night. But I would love to end up in a place, where salary workers go wild. Pretty people are always welcome in my vicinity ofcourse, haha. I do draw an obvious visual distinction between the trendy Azabu or Marunouchi crowd vs. Shimbashi workers.
Something that really peaks my curiosity, is when I was staying in Ginza, and latenight I would go for a walk. There are so many private drivers parked outside, of what I assume to be company bosses sneaking out to hostess bars, of which the women in kimono seemed a bit more 'mature'.

I think I'd definitely like to try Kirakutei, though I'm still a bit perplexed by its identity, in cooking both high end dishes and snacks. I wonder if they'd let me step inside for just a few dishes, and a lot of sake. I would also guess that a big component of going to places like this, is the conversation with the owner, and I would be somewhat limited in my ability to converse. And I am all about the exclusive impossible to find bottles, so if I could try some rare Jikon or anything else, that would really make my day.

10 months ago
Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

Adding a bit of follow up to the above,

I located the umeshu you mentioned, from Niwa No Guisu. It's a green bottle called Otoro. Indeed it's quite pulpy. Fairly nice, very forward on the plums. There is however a slight, almost cough syrup taste to it. I can't compare the bottle condition, since I haven't tried it in Japan. But I would assume it's still in good condition, considering Japanese families soak their ume plums in shochu jars under their house floorboards, and the weather conditions range wildly from cold to hot, plus humidity.
I've found that Umenoyado makes quite decent pulpy aragoshi style umeshu, at that price point. So does Kumejima no Kumesen (pardon if I messed up the name). And this one was my favorite recently, Manzairaku 萬歳楽5年.

I've also just purchased a bottle of the Shinkame Hikomago junmai. Going by your advice, I'm starting from here, before going up to the ginjo and daiginjo levels. The bottle actually suggests warming to 55-60 degrees. I think they ship internationally, as this bottle has english written over it, and is rather poorly stickered to the glass bottle, haha. I'm quite a fan of design, so not having the original label bothers be slightly, but I'm sure the inside should be ok.
I will have to find a place that gives me some leeway on what I'm allowed to do. You might be horrified to know, lots of restaurants in the west actually microwave sake to make it hot. So I will try and locate an izakaya or something that can do it in a hot water pot for me.

This is a side question. But what would you say is the most recently released batch of Jikon junmai daiginjo? The wine store I sometimes visit just received a shipment in a (assumedly) sealed box. It's a 2017 bottle. But we don't know if it came directly from Japan, or was relocated from a store that couldn't sell it. The box has no Japanese lettering on it, which is suspicious, compared to every other box they received. 2017 seems a bit old to me, being it's supposed to be nama? And it costs quite a bit, roughly 20000 yen. I passed on it, being too risky. Though I am considering getting one of their junmai ginjo's, fairly priced at under 5000 yen. However, the 2017 and 2018 dates on these are also a bit old.

10 months ago
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ChuToroZuke

I believe Shinkame recently released a more limited edition of their Junmai Daiginjo, not the same as the one on the website, but I can't recall why or how it is different.

The Hikomago Junmai baseline was offered at Sushi Kimura before (only as hot sake) and Inomata had a few varieties of Shinkame also for hot sake.

As far as Jikon Junmai Daiginjo, for example the bottle called Nabari usually has a year associated with it. It reflects the brewing year, which typically starts October of a given year and goes into March give or take of the following year. New sake (shinshu). If you get a bottle that say brewing year 2019 and get it in 2020, it's recent. Or it gets abbreviated Japanese style, which you typically shave off the first two digits of the year then add 2 (e.g. if brewed in Oct 2019 start date, the brewing year in two digit format would be BY21...it's just how it is). Most recent Jikon might be 2018, but new release 2019 could be made available. I'm not entirely sure how they operate with these, and whether they actually do any aging before release (maybe not for the nama sake). If the Jikon you came across says 2017 and it was not aged in sub zero temperatures in cold storage I would not even consider it, even if it were single pasteurized. Too risky...

Wow I had no idea Shusaron had closed! That's a shame.

10 months ago
Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

Yes, I can't quite tell the difference, being that Shinkame labels all their bottles so differently.
Well, since I have a bottle of the Hikomago junmai now, I don't have to regret not getting the hot sake at Kimura. Plus, it was like 100 degrees out in the summer, and that would be crazy to order hot sake.
The back of the label says, they're based in Magome Hasuda city in Saitama. If you are around there at some point, I would again like to recommend that Kurakawa restaurant, that my friend took me to, in Urawa, Saitama. That chef Kurosaki gave his thumbs up. I think he only served all the sake hot. Food was pretty good too. Interesting fermented items, aged fish, an oyster paste, cheese menchikatsu for the main. Apparently, there's very good unagi at certain times of the year. But clearly, this is a place to go for hot sake. Sorta coincidence that both Shinkame and this restaurant are in Saitama, the hot sake world.
http://tabelog.com/en/saitama/A1101/A110102/11028705/

That Jikon is definitely suspicious. I'm not sure exactly how this business operates. Whether they get the left overs, and ship them from Japan to America. As you know, most people aren't that educated in sake, and would fall for it. Lots of 'new money' over hear just like spending on expensive stuff, not knowing the difference in taste, and I think these wine importers know that.

Yes, that restaurant seems to be closed, as far as I can tell. But do keep the suggestions coming! I don't tend to find the places mentioned here easily. For izakayas I don't think are something easy to search for.
Of the recommendations I've jotted down, I'm pretty excited to try Akoya, the seafood izakaya in Ebisu. And that tip to do the L'Effervescence beverage pairing, is something I'm pretty curious about.

10 months ago
User default d6f8776075bbcbf91b3886fd7b0aeb86c94956e290bd9b9223466618a8cd47a2

ChuToroZuke

I actually like Hikomago and regular Shinkame at room temperature. 40 to 45 C if I'm craving it hot but not hotter than that. You can and should experiment to find your favorite sweet spot for it. Wider wine glass is fun in it too.

Thanks for the recommendation on the Saitama restaurant. I'll keep that one in mind for the future!

Give Takasago a try if you come across it, Jikon's other label from the same brewery. Only tasted it once, can't remember too much about it.

10 months ago
Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

I think I'll try various ways of heating up the Hikomago. A small portion in one cup, quickly in boiling hot water. And another in a water pot that's 45 degrees, and just let the cup get warmer slowly. Since I'm probably sharing with friends, will probably use standard size little sake cups.

Curiously, I checked to see the temperature of the water at onsens, and it seems many places hover around that same temperature. Because I remember seeing movies of people drinking hot sake in the bath. Apparently 45-50 is sort of the recommended temperature of bath water at some ryokans.

I have not seen Jikon's other label, nor a normal Shinkame around here. I tend to bounce around cities on North America's west coast, so it's always different, at the local Japanese markets and wine stores I frequent. But ofcourse, just stepping into a single sake store in Japan, reminds me of how limited the shipments to America are.

I am planning to check out the somewhat famous store Mitsuya Saketen, in Ogikubo. And hopefully, a few other more 'neighborhood' oriented bottle shops, not just the high end ones in Nihombashi, etc... I get quite a kick out of finding these kind of places. Have you been to Tanakaya Liquor store in Meijiro, for example? Places with that vibe, though they focus on spirits and beer.

I also want to try and find some nicer places, you can walk in and have wine/sake, with some snacks. I remember a rather packed one in Kamata, but I'll have to go back to find it. I went to the area for gyoza. That neighborhood seems extremely popular with salarymen, like a quieter Shimbashi.

10 months ago
User default d6f8776075bbcbf91b3886fd7b0aeb86c94956e290bd9b9223466618a8cd47a2

ChuToroZuke

My recommendation is to do this: set aside three to four portions. Take one and chill it, and serve it lightly chilled. Do room temperature for the second, third drink some warmed to 40 to 50 (experiment with 40, 45, 50). Then for the last portion heat it up to beyond 50 (whatever you're comfortable with) then taste it as it comes back down to room temperature and compare with the never heated at room temperature.

There's a place in Ningyocho where the obaasan takes a magnum Hikomago and uses it as a base for hotpot. For oysters I think she uses the nama nigori.

Yup been to Mitsuya. You'll find Shinkame there and other eclectic pursuits. If you're lucky you may find some Shinkame / Hikomago koshu, but make sure you have enough cash on you. Tanakaya I bookmarked but never made it.

If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, True Sake in SF and Umami Mart in Oakland carry Shinkame Junmai. I believe it's the regular 2 year aged Junmai, but it comes in a green bottle with a simpler labeling (exported version). If you want the 1.8 L you will have to special order it. It's a very costly Junmai but unfortunately that's how much sake costs in the US. If you drop by Soba Ichi in Oakland, you can order Shinkame by the glass (cold or warmed) and also nearby Den Sake Brewery (local sake). Hinodeya which is a ramen shop from Saitama that specializes in katsuo dashi ramen, in San Francisco Japantown, also carries Shinkame by the glass or bottle.

Hikomago and Shinkame Junmai has very high acidity, you'll want to pair with a wider range of versatile izakaya fare. Chinmi, nimono, yakitori, deep fried, and most beef dishes would work great. If with sushi it probably needs to be some really heavy duty flavors, which is why Inomata carries it (don't know of recent reports though) but mostly is served hot (you could ask for room temperature).

10 months ago
Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

Ok, I can try to do that. Hikomago at 4 different temperatures. Very fun stuff. Hope I don't mess up the heat.

The Ningyocho hot pot is entirely sake, rather than water? That's the first time I've really heard of that. It does sound good though, oysters simmered in nigori sake. To a westerner, this is really creative, out of the box thinking.

Just to throw this out there, because I just thought of it. My friend from a while ago, she bathes in a bathtub, partially filling it with sake, to benefit the skin. Apparently hot sake is also a beauty technique!

I'm quite excited to be trying these cult fan sake stores like Mitsuya. Looking forward to if they have any unusual offerings. I'll take note to have cash on hand. More importantly, I learned my lesson, that it's not easy to carry around a heavy bottle of sake, if the day is just starting. Also to have some way to keep it cold. One time, I stayed at a hotel, and they were kind enough to properly refrigerate the large bottle of sake I bought, for the duration of my stay.

If I go to SF soon, I'll check those out. I did note, that for some reason, Shinkame exports their bottles with really sloppily labeled stickers. Sounds like they have a rather strong presence in the US.
You're right about sake costing a premium here. At a high profile wine store in LA, the head buyer told me they could bring in Juyondai, before anyone really knew about it. The entry level tokubetsu honjozo was already priced at over $700.
Surprisingly, even the Japanese supermarkets occasionally have some worth looking at selections. Mitsuwa especially. But also Marukai (which is owned by Don Quijote).

If I'm getting something like Shinkame/Hikomago, it probably excites me more to try it hot. I rather like little chinmi snacks, particularly karasumi. Little bite sized dishes seems to just be easier with hot sake.
It seems though, I have an inclination towards ordering hot soup type dishes, usually the heartier/heavier kind, and those pretty much don't pair with any alcohol, to my tastes. At that point, I switch to cold oolong tea.
If I'm eating sushi or sashimi, I pretty much only ever get sake very cold. I would actually be interested in hearing more often, who has the most interesting nihonshu pairing program, at sushi restaurants in Tokyo. Aside from the places we've already mentioned.

10 months ago
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ChuToroZuke

For Marukai LA the Japantown location is going to shock a lot of sake industry folks, as when I visited in September it was over 32 C outside and inside the air conditioning was barely working. A lot of sake just sat on the shelves baking... The one on Melrose on the west side seemed just a touch better, but nothing super eclectic (they mostly only use one distributor or two).

I've heard about the sake in bath technique, but can't confirm how effective that really is. There are products made with sake kasu (lees) and Denshu I believe makes a facial mask with it. Some breweries make soap with it that is supposed to be good for the skin and help a little with anti-aging (or so they claim). The best use of sake kasu I've had was interesting in a French style chiffon cake that was super marvelous (paired with locally grown fruit). Cheesecake also makes sense to an extent.

Hotpot and nigori sake (nama nigori) seems to be an industry combo (especially if a bit spicy). I guess it's the pseudo acid vs yogurt effect. For oyster hotpot I suppose it's a substitute and enhancement in a weird way using a heavy duty nigori nama like Shinkame, vs soymilk.

Have fun at Mitsuya! They also sell some wine and other foreign liquors, canned foods/dried goods that would be good otsumami. Quite a few 1.8 L bottles too and you'll definitely find Shinkame and Hikomago there (humbler selection but enough to keep you curious). Enjoy!

10 months ago
Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

I did notice that, Marukai in downtown LA puts all its sake on a shelf in the middle of the room. The Torrance location is the main one. But after the recent corporate shuffling, it's lost its character. It used to be a really fun place, with condensed aisles, like the feeling of walking around a library. But now, they've opened it up, and it's no better than a standard grocery store. Worth mentioning is how Don Quijote now owns them, and has also rebranded their other locations as Tokyo Central. The Orange County locations are actually rather impressive. They even get new crop rice from obscure farms. Although again, only certain sake are refrigerated, while it's curious that the more rare bottles sit on shelves.

I'm pretty sure sake bath is either a secret only the experienced really know, or it's a placebo... Luckily, not to horrify you, she was using some lower grade sake for her bath, like Gekkeikan, not Juyondai, haha.
Denshu is pretty smart to be thinking outside the box, with beauty products. Finding a way to monetize the waste of the leftover sake lees is smart. And a good way to brand yourself outside the beverage market.
For me, I still like hearing when a sushi chef puts sake lees in his shari. Using it in a dessert sounds rather avant garde. I can't quite remember if I've seen it in any dessert but ice cream.

I'll try ordering a nigori next time I eat hot pot. It's been actually a very long time since I've touched nigori at all. That sake oyster hot pot is seriously intriguing, and I don't think I will ever see it in this lifetime, haha. I've taken note of the izakayas you recommended me, so maybe I'll come across something like that.

I will certainly have fun browsing Mitsuya. And after all this discussion with you, I am heavily in the awareness of trying to transport bottles at their optimum temperature. Will need to bring a carrying device.
Do you have more recommendations for special sake stores? Moreso on the 'indie 'scene', rather than large chains. I'm looking at a few right now... Aji no Machidaya in Nakano. Sasaki Saketen in Ningyocho. A tasting bar with bottles to go, Ginza Kengyo. Kurand Sake Market also sounds like a fun concept, I guess for a more affordable entry level? And something way out in Yokohama, called Kimijimaya.

10 months ago
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ChuToroZuke

You've named quite a few good ones I would have recommended already for the indie sake shops. Kimijimaya has locations in Ginza and the one in Ebisu in the Atre building (I think it's west wing) is a more comfortable wider/newer space, and both these locations have tasting bars but the menu is only in Japanese. One last one to visit: Suzuden which is literally right next door to Sushi Sho Honten in Yotsuya. Hit the basement and check the walkin freezers too, although there's probably more 1.8 L than 720 mL bottles.

10 months ago
Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

Ok. I will check out the Ebisu Kimijimaya location! I quite like how Atre runs their train stop department buildings.
Suzuden appears more to be an actual restaurant, more than a store? I'll take a look if I'm around.

A few places I like... There's a liquor shop in Akasaka, 赤坂四方 (Yomo). I walk around there at night on almost every trip, and I enjoy browsing this store. Not sure what you would say are the standards, but their fridge selection seemed pretty exciting to me.
There's also this particular shop in Shibuya, west of the crossing. I don't recall the name. But it's run by a funny old man, who's missing a few teeth, and hard of hearing. I quite like the place, as he amuses me, and is very friendly.

What is your usual approach? Do you have a few usual shops you stop by, or is it pretty random, when you buy sake to take back home?

Let's continue this sake conversation, as more ideas come up. I will be reviewing everything you've posted here.

Curious as to what your next article will be on.

10 months ago
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ChuToroZuke

Suzuden has an adjacent eatery that sells small plates food.... in fact this mention is part of the next article (but not sure when it will get published)... the eatery keeps different hours than the shop, I've never been but is worth checking out. Never been to two of the places you mentioned, there are way too many.

Don't really have a strategy each time, it's more dependent on what I want to buy each visit and that might change once I hit the ground. Sometimes dictated by what I've tasted in the past, what I didn't get to previous trips, maybe repeat buying one particular producer (or try their other eclectic / seasonal offerings), or okamisan from a restaurant recommends something that I really want to buy and bring back as a souvenir. Never enough luggage space and far too many choices. Sometimes you go to a shop and find something that either you didn't think about getting before, or you find something you didn't know existed. Or you're so fixated on one producer you want to try quite a few. Then once you know what you want to buy, to figure out which shop carries which producers that have what you need. I guess for yourself and for others, it's best to make a wider list, keep an open mind, and get what you are able to as well as make some trade offs on types/styles.

10 months ago
Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

Sounds good! Look forward to the read about that shop.
I agree, it is somewhat daunting to record all the different sake stores hidden around town, when you take into account all the lesser known neighborhood ones. Nevertheless, I will try to draw a map for myself, and cover as much ground I can.

I will try to take your more 'on the go' approach, with an open mind, as I familiarize myself with new sake. And I'm sure I will run into the same problem, of becoming too interested in too many, and no place to put them.
Certainly this time, I'm going into it more educated thanks to your help, and that my understanding of this field is much better than before. I think I grasp the pairing of sake and food far better now.

One probably can't help wanting to pick more bragworthy things, over lesser known ones. But I think, I am transitioning into relying less on the brand label, and drawn towards particular special taste.

10 months ago
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ChuToroZuke

When buying sake as souvenirs, assuming you've tasted them, think about whether it is for yourself only, or if you plan on sharing with others (and think about what they might like or not), then consider what food you want to eat with (or where you will pay corkage to enjoy it to get the most out of it), or are you buying something nice just to enjoy by itself regardless of whether the food will pair or not; this could be the case for some of the highly sought after high end sake in which case might as well take it to fine dining of any sort (unless it's greasy/oily like tempura). If enjoying multiple bottles think about at what point in the meal do you open your bottle. This has served me pretty well when considering my purchases. Lower end like Junmai, Junmai Ginjo are versatile enough to pair with a wider range and thus do not have this problem. Work in a nama or two (or single pasteurized) if you can. Don't forget those fun individual portioned "one cup sake" which Aji No Machidaya is supposed to have the best selection in town (which is also where Standing Bar Buri in Ebisu gets most or all of theirs from, in which they also serve Euro influenced gastropub fare, as well as some Japanese whiskey). Usually the one cups are from Junmai, Junmai Ginjo, or Honjozo (could also be Futsushu), great for on the go or smuggling into movie theaters.

10 months ago
Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

Not sure if all bottles I bring back, would be something I've tasted. I'm pretty sure, unless I come across it in a restaurant, or the store gives me a pour, that Toyobijin I will be getting blind. Hasegawa seems like a reliable source, if my neighborhood indie hunt doesn't come across it.

I think within my social reach of people, I probably would be more knowledgeable in sake (though that's not much compared to Japan locals), and would be the one to introduce people to new ideas in how they see sake. As you might already know, many people in North America know very little beyond Kubota Manju and Dassai, when it comes to their concept of special occasion sake. And as we've discussed with the hot sake topic, most people feel they might as well pay less anyways, thinking the heat brings all sake down to the same level, which is not true.
So I buy, with myself as the criteria of good taste in mind, haha. And I think about what special restaurant I might go, or if a certain bottle might be a valuable and memorable experience to someone that I invite.

After all this discussion, I do think I will attempt to pair some sake with food. You seem to be very experienced in knowing what dishes go with what. My knowledge of pairing drinks isn't so vast, beyond things like foie gras with sauternes for instance. I have it pretty hammered into my head, that nothing pairs better with cold elegant sake than sashimi. Though I'm starting to expand on that.
I do consider what course the bottle is opening at. Though there have been times, when I couldn't wait any longer, and it gets opened way before it's supposed to. Heh.

I am particularly excited about finding some good nama sake, and trying them at optimal freshness. Perhaps I'll bring some back, though the process of keeping them at the highest state seems to be a pain, when you consider transit back to hotel, chilling with ice if a hot day, storing it during my stay, transit during the plane, cushioning... Seems a lot too consider.

I know very little about one cup sake, aside from the obviously most famous one Ozeki. I see their product placements in tv shows quite a bit. I didn't actually know there's so many brands of one cup sake. Honestly, I'm not opposed to smuggling in an entire giant bottle of liquor into a movie theater! I've gotten away with bringing in steak and pasta on occasion. A sushi platter and 720ml daiginjo is not out of the question, haha. But maybe US movie theaters are far less strict than Japan. The teenage staff will usually turn a blind eye.

10 months ago
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ChuToroZuke

Food pairing with sake can be hit and miss. The more you drink it with a variety of food and also outside of Japanese food (izakaya fare is a fantastic start and safest/easiest, then venture into fusion izakaya fare where Western cuisine elements are incorporated) the better you will get at it. In the end it's still just instinct but sometimes you can end up being wrong (as I have quite a few times) despite your best guess. Especially true when you haven't tasted an exported version of a sake which could have changed since it left Japan. Then there are restaurants no matter what sake you bring, you can't force the pairing (sometimes because the food is just no good haha).

You would be surprised how well certain sake pair so naturally with say, Italian cuisine (especially seafood pasta), or dry higher acidity Junmai Daiginjo with something as simple as whipped butter. A Junmai Kimoto works nicely with a VPN Margherita pizza. Kenbishi Mizuho (aged 5 to 8 years) with very high acidity is fantastic with charcuterie (especially the fatty porky meats like salami, head cheese, porchetta, lardo). Some of these are rather basic (much like wine pairings where you use astringency and acidity but mostly tannins to cut into fat), it's the out of the box pairings that are very hard to grasp.

A friend is in Japan now and she sent me a photo of a new top of the line Toyo Bijin, it's a blue bottle I've never seen before and just slightly higher in price than Ichiban Matoi Junmai Daiginjo. Might be a seasonal release but I'm sure it's really good. I believe the Toyo Bijin Junmai Ginjo Karakuchi (red label) is now available / exported to the US but only in certain markets...they're going through a distributor that deals with wine and they impose a higher cost than a Japanese importer that doesn't deal in wine. The white label non dry Junmai Ginjo seems to be the one to get as I'm seeing several sough after Tokyo sushi restaurants I'm dying to try, actually carry it in their beverage pairing.

10 months ago
Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

I guess I have to just eat more with pairings to get further experienced in it, and natural at spotting things. In some cases, if I'm already planning to bring a bottle out to dinner, I just wish for the best, and hope I can time it to the right dishes.
I have experienced what it's like to try a bottle of something (beer, wine, cider...), but opening a second bottle much later, it not longer tastes the same. Not necessarily sake, but I suppose I will run into the same challenge here too.

If the food is no good, do you sometimes give up on opening the bottle, and wait until the next time?

I actually can't mentally picture sake going with Italian too well, in my head, haha. I eat a lot of tomato based dishes. But I get the seafood one. And probably clam linguine 'vongole'! And I've definitely tried certain little dishes at standing sake bars, that sort of resemble whipped butter. Sometimes it's more a cheese or spread. There's a trend lately I've come across: whipped beef tallow, in place of butter. Seems to be catching on.
Sake with pizza is a thought I've never had. But I'm starting to see different beverages served with neopolitan pizza, not just a beer and soda. Especially if you go into the realm of white sauce, anchovies, and with an egg on top. I think Pizza Studio Tamaki is a good place to do something like that. He is very interesting, and expresses interest in experimenting with different drinks. Over here, the popular drink nowadays at any Italian place, is the cocktail negroni, or its variations using Campari/Aperol. Now that I think of it, if there's a decent champagne sparkling style sake out there, I would enjoy it with pizza.

That Kenbishi sake is quite famous right? I can definitely get this one easily! And yep, I do like head cheese, lardo, most charcuterie, etc... I really like that prosciutto wrapped around a bread stick. On this topic a bit, have you eaten at Pellegrino? I sat at the ham bar of a restaurant one day, and realized it's quite similar to what I imagine in pictures there. Same ham slicing machine.

I'm getting more careful at balancing acidity and such, with wine/sake paired with the right/wrong food. Probably I'm not advanced enough to mentally come up with creative ideas, as to what weird 'out of the box' foods could go with what sake. But from what I've seen so far at different places with odd food, it seems it's all fair game. At least I think most people know when something doesn't pair, because it tastes unpleasant, and you discover you shouldn't have eaten that. Sometimes I think this is why it's much better to leave a set course and pairing in the hands of the chef and sommelier, rather than order ala carte. The most common error I keep making, is eating something too sweet, and forgetting about my glass on the table.

I think the Toyo Bijin you recommended me before is a white label, with red script character? I see they have many different types of labels. Even a red font on blue sticker, and an all black bottle. Will get very lost trying to find out the differences. I will keep an eye out for that non dry white label. Hope I get to try a few on my next trip. I recall that their bottles are pretty big.
What sushi restaurants with strong sake pairings, are you excited to return, or try for the first time? We've spoken in depth on Kurosaki. I remember Amamoto paid rather close attention in describing sakes to his guests. I would like to perhaps know more about Japanese restaurants with an interesting approach to the beverage program, with unique personality. I think I commented in the past on my experience at Ichita, and the surprisingly good selection he had. I used to not really look at that 'drink' tab in the Tabelog photo gallery section. But I think I will be doing so from now on!

10 months ago

ChuToroZuke

I no longer have the URLs but if you type in the Japanese name of Uchida and then the Japanese characters for strategy and then motsuyaki into google search you will find maybe a few blogs that really detail the rules. I had them bookmarked on my phone ready to check them out, but was a bit worried about falling ill with food poisoning (you never know with these things) before a trip to Hyogo prefecture.

Shinkame is probably one of the most otaku level sake out there, but if you ever get the chance try their second label Hikomago (grandchild), aged an additional year (2 for Shinkame vs 3 for Hikomago) and the resulting smoothness and complexity is ridiculously good. Some of these really dedicated traditional old school non celebrity breweries make sake that are so good that I think some of their top of the line offerings could give celebrity sake a run for their money and even pair better with food (and also at a fraction of the cost). I'm dying to try Shinkame Junmai Daiginjo and some of their crazy 10+ year aged koshu lineup, but those you will have to trek to Saitama prefecture to get it.

I think your chances of hitting a pretty decent izakaya or drinking hole in Shinbashi are far better than if you were to go to places like Ebisu Yokocho which is more for youngsters grabbing quick bites and moving on. As my friend used to say, if in Shinbashi just follow the salarymen, unless you want to scout out the OL's for eye candy haha but the venues they go to may be a bit different in vibe.

Kirakutei is excellent. Subjective but if you liked Kurosaki you will enjoy Kirakutei (the owners are very good friends with each other). It's an upscale kappo izakaya, super chill vibe. Chef's English is very limited although okami san speaks a little more (she's awesome too). Their sake is a bit lighter bodied but there are some very fun surprises, and some cult sake as well. Some don't like the place because for the same money you could eat a mid tier kaiseki restaurant, but others love this more casual relaxing format.

There are other neighborhoods much further out that are a lot of fun. Sangenjaya in Setagaya ward is completely unexplored territory for a lot of great local fun, but it's not for those who are uncomfortable wandering into a place where servers don't speak English and no English menu at all.

11 months ago

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Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

I took a look at it. I googled 宇ち多 戦略 and translated the page. I did not realize so many items can be customized, and that lots of it are raw, and off menu. Really feels like an intimidating place. But maybe I'll have a Japanese friend look over the 'strategy guide', and we can attempt to try it. There was no line last time I went. But the place is really busy, despite the rest of the hallway being fairly empty.

Are you talking about Shinkame 'Hikomago junmai daiginjo? Or is it just under the regular Shinkame name. If so, I might be within reach of a bottle, and maybe should take a look.
I do like 10+ year aged sake quite a bit, when it turns really brown. Really interesting earthy taste. Not every day, but it's nice occasionally. Reminds me of madeira.

Yea, I've walked through Ebisu yokocho, but never really stayed. The surrounding streets are more interesting to me. The main intersection reminded me of Takadanobaba (?), I think there's a drinking alley there? Tokyo is so huge, it's hard to remember some of the places I've been, and how to revisit places, when I forget where they are. But I would love to map out every yokocho in the city, as I've done so for mostly all the central ones.
I think my main issue walking around salaryman neighborhoods is, I don't want to make a mistake, in case it doesn't taste good. So I've sometimes not walked into any place, just wandering around Shimbashi. But I do like when it pays off. So much variety in that area. Japanese breakast, with pickles and fish... spaghetti napolitan. The gyoza shop on the second floor I wandered into was pretty rowdy and fun.
I would love to know where these OL go... haha. Probably not quite 'serious gourmet' spots I'd imagine.

Kirakutei does look interesting, but like you said, some of the dishes remind me of a kaiseki restaurant, and the prices reflect that. Lots of Jikon I see. I notice it's the highest rated actual izakaya in the Tokyo area on Tabelog. Maybe if I really want to have that upscale sake and snacks night, I will do it. And Kurosaki seems to have quite good taste, so I'd imagine it's a good place. He seems to be friends with quite a few well known chefs?

Last time, we scoured Kita Senju and Sangenjaya, which is a place full of surprises. My friend took me into a place called Sai 采. Was really a blast. Their sake menu is so organized, into 4 types of tastes, and they serve you from giant bottles out of one of their fridges. We were standing at a small table, not at the main counter, but in some ways, was probably a better experience. Some of the little dishes were so unusual, I couldn't even figure out what it was.
And noted, a lot of these places are really a challenge for a non-local. Another place around the corner served us 5 types of raw chicken, and threw in horse for good measure. And then a whisky bar, called Pond, with a ridiculous selection of bottles. In the daytime, I even like the bakery Signifiant Signifie. Probably the best of this type of bread I've tried anywhere.

11 months ago

Menchikatsu

Thanks for the notes on Uchida. I didn't know everyone including myself, would have such trouble ordering. I figured all the locals already know how. Place was really packed also. I walked over to Edokko, and had basically the same food. Their menu was also difficult to comprehend, things needing to be ordered in pairs and categorized. But the proprietress was kind enough to be patient with us, and guided us through it. I walked in when there were maybe 3 other people, when I left, every seat was filled. Interesting neighborhood.

Ah, I think I grasp 'geek' sake now. It's quite similar to American craft beer scene. Throwing in unusual and rare ingredients, or doing very particular things to achieve impressive flavors. And not necessarily making huge profit from it. Yea, I think I can go with it, and get into geek sake myself. Just wish there was a more easy way of learning about each brewer's story and methods. I like people such as the one you mentioned, who go to ridiculous lengths to research and extract new ideas out of their craft. I think I've had Shinkame a few times. The sake you mention, Tamagawa, that looks to ancient recipes, that's an idea that also interests me. I'm actually starting to faze out from that period in my life, where I seek out impossible to find rare 'celebrity' sakes, and want to try more under the radar stuff.

Yep, I've got quite a few of the izakayas highlighted on this site, and ones you've mentioned below, on my list. Like the seafood place you brought up in Ebisu, Akaoya. I will take your tips into consideration, if I go to Kotaro. Not a surprising story, as most restaurants I go with a 'greatest hits' menu, tend to be disappointing. I don't exactly know who choose these 'hits' haha. But in my experience, the best dishes are never included onto that selection. Probably what pleases the most people, but certainly not the best dishes.
I was eyeing Kirakutei. Though it comes across to me as something almost aiming towards a more refined Japanese traditional kappo/kaiseki counter. Although I noted some of the more fun casual offerings. I would certainly like to go, if I feel like spending.
Would love to try more casual atmosphere places this time, even smoky is fine. Things like Sutamina-En, Uosan Sakaba, Kishidaya, Yamariki Honkan. Also noticed recently, how saturated Ikebukuro is with izakayas, as I'm there somewhat alot. Sampuku, the Chidori tofu place...
I'll look into Kanade, as I'm always passing through Toranomon, or I can just walk over to Shimbashi. Surprised you found something really good in this area. I figured all the best izakayas for 'izakaya hunters' would be in outskirt and difficult to get to areas. I've been thinking lately, there must be really great stuff in Asagaya. I also had a fantastic time a few years back at Koenji's Awa Odori dance matsuri, and noted how many pubs were everywhere.

Actually, if you want to hear a problem I run into a lot. I often walk down Corridor Gai, and wander around the maze of Shimbashi. I think I'll just walk into a random place. But it's a bit difficult to choose and not worry about picking the wrong place. So I end up relying on advice from experts like you, or desperately try to scroll through Tabelog at the last minute, haha. And yes, I don't necessarily go by the score. I feel like 7 years ago, it was very reliable, with users who wanted to portray the most accurate scores. But nowadays, it's all members/regulars, who skew the numbers at places 4.5 and above. Personally, my favorite way to 'sort' is by sheer number of 'reviews', not 'overall ranking'.

11 months ago

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ChuToroZuke

Also I think at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter about a sake's perceived value or celebrity status. In the case of Nabeshima vs Isojiman, a lot of this is subjective. I have not tried many of both, but for the few that I have, I like some of the lower end Nabeshima, and Isojiman the Junmai Daiginjo Omachi is excellent, but it's the version that's either 43 or 48 (I forgot which). I did try Isojiman Nobilmente 28 Daiginjo which was a sake served during the G7 summit a few years back, and they poured this at Namba Hibiya....although I felt it did not pair with anything (but don't tell that to the unicorn lovers lol) and it was unusually dry for an Isojiman. Perhaps the value depends on if you are getting it as a gift and how the receiver perceives it, or you need something to show e.g. you bring it as a souvenir back to the States and take it to a top high end restaurant and need to impress say a client or a hot date in the know. In that case you should be getting the super nice ones with the killer boxes haha.

11 months ago

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Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

Oh, I think in the States or Canada, names like these, most people wouldn't even know. Probably only Japanese chefs, or people who moved from Japan that used to dine out a lot. Actually, to my surprise, I met a caucasian woman who studied in Japan, and moved back to LA, to open a sake bar. Turns out she earned a sake sommelier's license. She introduced me to aged sake, with a bottle that was 8 years. But most people who bring up the subject of sake with me, at most, they might know Kubota Manju. Some are very excited to grab that purple Dassai from duty free... so I keep my mouth shut, haha.

So the lesson you're illustrating here is, I have to be discriminating in which bottle I get. I probably can't bring back the whole set... too bad. And yea, just because there's a prestigious name, I'm still a bit critical of whether it tastes good or not. Saito-san's story on the other thread, about diners basing their knowledge of good neta based on a chef telling them how high quality/expensive his fish is, still stands out in my head.
I opened a 100 point bottle of Chateau d'Yquem sauternes recently, and was horrified to find the cork was molding, and falling apart. The wine itself had taken on a rather fermented character, quite different than its normal sweet state. But those who I asked, said that's still fine. So to make myself feel better, I'm concluding it tastes excellent. :D

I probably wouldn't be using it to impress a hot date, but just drink it myself, haha. I usually try to share with people who I think would appreciate it most. Though recently, I did meet a woman who moved from Shirogane in LA. She knew just about everything there is to know about sushi, as a former regular at Saito, etc... That's probably the person this would do well with.
I brought back that blue bottle of Hakkaisan (kongoshin?) 'diamond heart' once, which I actually quite enjoyed. And everyone was amazed by the look and taste.

(I will continue to read your post below, and reply there.)

11 months ago
User default d6f8776075bbcbf91b3886fd7b0aeb86c94956e290bd9b9223466618a8cd47a2

ChuToroZuke

@Menchikatsu, good plan. That might work for overseas but the sake buyer at the wine shop wouldn't know the distributor side much unless they visit their warehouse. Shipment date only gives a certain clue. To be more well versed you would have to be able to discern the change in quality based on taste, and better if you've had the original bottle in Japan (or if you purchased/hand carried it yourself back home to taste). It's quite sad when you notice a dramatic difference in quality but that's how it is.

In general yes most lighter / medium bodied sake depending on how they are built and stored, within one year of bottling date is good idea. Exceptions would be for sake that is aged before release, and if aged at the brewery at room temperature. e.g. some geek level Junmai like Kikuhime and Shinkame, or even Tatsuriki Tokubetsu Junmai Kimoto (available at Natural Lawson's too in Tokyo) have various amounts of aging prior to release, so even if you stored in a cool dry place at room temperature probably would give the sake more character. If you want to age sake, it's best to keep it at a very low temperature, so you slow down and keep a consistent level of change/age/. If your refrigerator is very cold and you don't suffer a power outage, you should be ok.

I am not a huge fan of Sawaya Matsumoto. Some of the sake might be fun to enjoy as apertif but they have very limited food pairing capabilities. The baseline Sawaya Junmai is not bad but not so good for sushi. It's too light bodied and loses complexity if kept open for too long (in the case of the higher end Shuhari series Junmai Daiginjo, if not consumed within a specific period of time it becomes more sweet and you lose any effervescence). Aramasa is kind of like that as well, but I think Aramasa is a bit more versatile (personally I prefer them over Sawaya).

Honda Shoten/Tatsuriki started re marketing some of their lineup using the concept of terroir, (different rice plots) although the label showing the rice fields doesn't seem as attractive. I think this is their way (and others like Sawaya) to do what White Burgundy does for naming vineyards and cru levels, but doesn't seem to have the same impact overseas for sake.

I think the mushroom effect was due to uneven further fermentation in bottle and whatever chemical reactions occurred in combination. Plus some of these single pasteurized namas and Junmai Daiginjo's weren't meant to be kept in these various strange conditions. I'd imagine if you find wine at certain supermarkets where the turnover is low, the bottles are kept upright all the time so the cork dries out, and the temperature changes a lot, or you go to some big name wine superstore where the handling could be a bit suspect as well, the chances are you could end up with a dud. I remember buying a 2015 Pouilly Fuisse that was fantastic at a restaurant where my friend took it to, but when I bought it from the wine superstore and opened that one, it tasted quite terrible in comparison.

11 months ago
Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

Guess I'd just have to get lucky receiving shipments from this end. Or actually bring the bottle back myself. Still, one of the joys I get from bringing a rare bottle of sake back, is the ability to share with friends who don't know. So if I can get it pretty close to its original state, I'm pleased, especially if they think it's really good. And I can look forward to drinking sake at optimal quality on trips to Japan.

Yes, I learned my lesson in waiting too long to drink a sake I brought back. But if it's a tokubetsu honjozo and has alcohol added, I thought it shouldn't spoil as quickly as junmai ginjo. And I am really starting to like aged sake. So maybe I will starting seeking those out more, which sounds like the safer way to go. Or invest in a dedicated sake fridge.
Do you categorize "geek level" sake as sort of below 'holy grail' sort of sake, like those in your other list?

Silly me for not noticing, but the bottle I got from Matsumoto is in the very first photo on this page, the colorful ones in the center. Yea, being that I've seen the label so often all over the place, I suppose it's not as beautifully made as smaller production stuff. And the buyer who sold it to me also warned of how sweet it can be.
But the idea of studying terroir is interesting I think. I'm guessing the idea already affects a lot of young inexperienced sake buyers, in the same way people automatically assume Bordeaux is the best Cabernet grape, and gives way towards a certain feeling of prestige. I would think a lot of people automatically assume that Niigata Koshihikari makes the best sake... end of conversation. But I would think that is too much a generalization.

I've had the same problem, of trying a wonderful wine in a restaurant, but when I bought the bottle from a store, it wasn't even close. And a couple times I've run into this issue, where it's the brewer's fault, in improperly fermenting the wine, or some kind of strain of yeast or whatever infected the whole batch. And ofcourse... they don't refund you. I assume this does not happen in sake as much though.

All this sake talk has gotten me very excited. I'm putting more emphasis on trying to hit a variety of trendy sake standup bars. Also upscale izakaya this time, places like Kotaro, Kandakouju, Sasagin...
I'm not sure if it's seen the same way from your experienced view point, but for a person from outside Japan, it is very difficult to research and compare izakayas, map them out, and have the confidence to walk in and order sake effectively! Back to this website's theme of helping people on trips out. It is much easier to narrow down the top restaurants of other categories, like sushi, kaiseki, ramen, tonkatsu, etc... But izakayas and standup bars feel more like uncharted territory, intimidating for sure. I once attempted to walk into Uchida in Tateishi. I loved the editorial in Dancyu magazine. But after taking the train all the way there, and getting lost in the process, finally walking in the door, I was turned away. Though it was busy, and that could be a contributing factor, the owner felt we would not know how to order efficiently. Too bad, as I like motsu and nikomi. So this made me think, I should really come more prepared from now on! Haha. Luckily for me last time, I had a very neighborhood versed, local sake nerd take me around. Perhaps this time, I will try to be more adventurous, and just venture solo with the bit of experience I've gained.

11 months ago

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