Saké Day Part Two, A recap of Nihonshu no Hi
True Sake hosted their second annual Sake Day celebration at Fort Mason this past October 1st and I'm happy that I had the opportunity to be there and join in the festivities. See the Sake Day website for details and great photos.
The fun started at the registration table as we signed in and picked our colored necklaces (mine was red!). Being a True Sake newsletter devotee, I knew that later in then evening there would be drawing and the color of your necklace would determine which of four sakés you would be trying. The welcoming reception was great - outside the Firehouse with a view of Alcatraz along with live music, we were served Chikurin Karoyaka "Bamboo Forest," a newly imported saké from Okayama Prefecture (Junmai Ginjo milled to 50%, smv +3, acidity 1.40). It was delicious and Beau Timken was a gracious host, keeping glasses filled. I tried to be restrained because I knew what lie ahead...
Inside we were seated and Beau offered a few words of wisdom. After reading his newsletters, I thought he seemed like a nice, funny, sincere, obsessed man. In person his truly big personality shines. He's very witty, very fun and very enthusiastic (but not stuffy) in his passion for saké. If this man can't bring saké to the American masses, no one can. He started the evening off with a raffle and my table won 2 bottles of Karen Coy (smv -23, acidity 2.9, alcohol 10-11%) which we dove right into to get things going.
I loved the way the evening was set up. Dinner courses (catered by Mari's Catering) along with accompanying saké were brought out one at a time, yet the dinner was casually paced and people were free to get up throughout the meal to visit the four saké stations set up at the back of the room and in a side room. The menu included:
Assorted nigiri sushi (maguro, unagi, salmon with yuzu tobiko, escalore with wasabi tobiko) and an-kimo (steamed monk fish liver in lemon cups with lemony ponzu)
*Shirataki Jozen Mizunogotoshi "Pure flavor" Tokubetsu Junmai from Niigata Prefecture (smv -1, acidity 1.4). Very clean in the typical Niigata style with a quick finish.
Noshi-dori (baked chicken) served with teriyaki sauce and tomato basil sauce, asparagus served with vinegar miso
*Takenotsuyu "Bamboo tears" Junmai from Yamagata Prefecture (smv 2, acidity 1.4). Less sweet; savory
Bacon wrapped shrimp in Nigori (sake) cream sauce, wasabi mashed potatoes
*Tsukasabotan "Tosa Space Sake" Junmai Ginjo from Koichi Prefecture (smv +5, acidity 1.5). This course was dubbed "Pigs in Space" by Beau who had this to say about the saké: "This sake was made using ingredients from outer space. Well sort of, in fact, it was made with brewing yeast that was sent to space on a Russian rocket. Did zero gravity have any effect? You make the call on this dry Ginjo that has a nose filled with steamed rice, whipping cream and green veggies tones. Think dry 0 as this celestial sake is clean, soft and shimmering with an overall dry earthiness that hides a hint of dry fruit elements. As close to the sake gods as one can get..."
Deep fried tilapia, peppers, and onions marinated in spicy vinegar, steamed stuffed daikon
*Narutotai "Beau-shu" Nama Ginjo Genshu from Tokushima Prefecture (smv +5, acidity 1.7). This was one of my favorite sakes - it comes in a can! but it tastes FRESH.
Beef marinated in miso and sake, edamame rice, Japanese pickles, Japanese custard
*Masumi "Yamahai Tsukuri" "Autumn Yamahai" Yamahai Junmai Ginjo from Nagano Prefecture (smv +2, acidity 1.8)
Sake creme brulee topped with sake blueberry sauce, green tea with gold flakes
The saké stations were all about testing your saké tasting skills.
Saké Station #1 was "Name that sake" and you were given 3 brews by a True Sake favorite brewery, Irakasumi. We tasted a Junmai, a Junmai Ginjo, and a Junmai Dai Ginjo. Despite receiving (from a mysterious, guru-type man) the excellent advice to "think of a fresh, clear, running stream" when thinking about the Junmai Dai Ginjo, I got all of these wrong! Well, I wasn't the only one and I got to this station at the very end of the evening - that's my excuse. I want another chance!
Saké Station #2 was called "Sake experiment" and here we got to play a "sake scientist" and discover how saké degrades over time. We tasted 2 sets of saké that had been inadvertently aged (meaning that the brewer intended that these saké be drunk fresh) and, to make it a bit more interesting, two of the saké had been opened on Sake Day 2005, exactly one year ago. So, we had:
Daishichi Kimoto Honjozo 1999
Daishichi Kimoto Honjozo 1999 - opened in 2005
Daishichi Kimoto Honjozo 2000
Daishichi Kimoto Honjozo 2000 - opened in 2005
I think I may have noticed more similarity in the saké opened last year than others. I definitely felt that you could see the relationship there. Others thought the saké opened in 2005 was really off, some were even a bit disgusted by it. I mainly thought it tasted flatter and sweeter. What the hell, no one got sick. This means don't throw out that saké that you opened last month and then forgot about before you give it a try... I didn't hear anyone really complain about the 1999 and 2000 sake that hadn't been opened, so, although the taste likely changed greatly from what the brewer had intended, old saké can still be worth drinking.
Saké Station #3 was a "Blind Tasting." At this station, six bottles were offered and everyone was told to choose their favorite. Another bit of fun: two of the sakés were the same! I did this station early in the evening and I was able to correctly guess the two identical sakés.
Saké Station #4 was called "Madhouse Sake" and it offered three sakés that were called "a little bit crazy." First was a Junmai Dai Ginjo that was left in a True Sake window for 5 months and a bottle of the same saké that had been stored properly. To me the exposed saké had an off smell and tasted similar, but lighter. Next, we tried a Kikusakari Gekkakow "vintage" saké which was aged by the brewery for 3 years. Finally, were tried a sparkling saké from Okunomatsu. This was made for Formula One racers to spray on each other in the victory circle at the Japanese Formula One races. I liked this light, bubbly saké.
And finally, "The Necklace Finale." Everyone would get a final saké, but which one would it be??
Kamenokou 17 milled to 17% $850/bottle
Kakunko milled to 27% $150/bottle
Dassai milled to 23% $70/bottle
I had a red necklace and I was a first runner up with the Kakunko. This was phenomenally delicious and I would definitely buy some of this for a special occasion. A highlight of the evening came when my wonderful tablemate David offered me not one, but TWO SIPS of his first prize Kamenokou. I must admit that I looked at David and asked "is it worth it?" I can't quote exactly what he said, but he reminded me that saké is more than just a bottle of alcohol with a price and more than a "good" or "bad" taste. Whether a saké is "good" is determined by a combination of the love and care that the brewer put into making it, the personal tastes of the taster, the occasion at which you drink it and the people who you drink it with. So, yes, this sake was worth $850 a bottle.