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Sake Anyone? Sake Tasting with SakeOne

sakeI have to admit I’ve never been a huge fan of sake.  I’ve tried it maybe five or six times, generally warm, and it tends to leave me feeling like I just drank lighter fluid.  My son is a sake drinker, however, and he has good taste, so maybe there is something to this.  Last week I had the chance to gain a different impression as part of another Brandlive virtual tasting, this time with SakeOne from Oregon.

The SakeOne Kura

SakeOne is the only producer and importer of fine sake in Oregon and one of only six Kuras the United States.  A Kura is a sake brewery.  They make their own from pure Oregon water and rice, as well as import a series of top Japanese labels.  These guys know their stuff, as they have studied with Japanese Master Brewers and have partnered with Momokawa from Japan on their Oregon venture.  They love sake, they love making sake, and most telling they love drinking sake.  It was time for me to find out why.

As usual the folks at Charles Communications  Associates  were efficient, and mailed out the samples for the virtual tasting and the bloggers joined online.  We tasted through the four offerings from four of their Japanese import lines.  Three were actually somewhat similar, while one was very different.  All were served cold at the advice of the Oregon sake gurus.  I must admit I was surprised, and we’ll get to the notes in a second.  First though, a little sake terminology.

Since rice doesn’t have sugar for the yeast to turn into alcohol, they add the mold which eats the starch and turns it into sugar, and then they add the yeast.  It’s really a multi-step process.  Sake is made from rice, water, Koji mold and yeast.  That’s it, although some manufacturers add flavorings.  They might add alcohol.  A sake made only, and I mean only, from those four basic ingredients is called a Junmai.   Other important terms refer to how much of the rice is polished off prior to making sake.  It can vary all over the place.  A Ginjo has been polished between 51% and 60%, meaning only 40-50% of the original rice remains.  This makes a super premium sake.  So a Junmai Ginjo is a sake made with only the four ingredients where the rice is polished between 51-60%.   There are also different methods of making sake, with the Kimoto process being the traditional, and more labor intensive way.

So here are the sakes, again all were served well chilled in a white wine glass.

Murai Family Tanrei Junmai – this was clean, dry, crisp and carried a great nutty quality.  sake 1I got definite melon and a hint of anise.  This was crystal clear, something you would never see using a traditional sake cup.  It finished long, and actually was reminiscent of white wine.  This I could sip.  It was a very good start.

Yoshinogawa Winter Warrior – also a newer style this was actually something I would call fruit forward.  There was citrus, anise, maybe some peach.  Floral notes presented as well.  It was vaguely (I said vaguely) like the bottle of Verdejo that was in my fridge.  Again a long and pleasing finish came across.  So far this was not what I was expecting, and that was a good thing.

Kasumi Tsuru Kimoto Extra Dry – this is the old style traditional method here, or Kimoto.  It was also the closest to what I traditionally think of when I think of sake, only far better.  It has serious body and unctuosity, with more savory, smoky and earthy qualities.  Maybe some dried fruit as well.  I liked it, but I’m not sure I would drink it, even though this is a style they would recommend for people who drink red wine or whiskey.

Hakutsuru Superior Junmai Ginjo – Hakutsuru is a new brand for SakeOne, and they take over sole distributorship in the US starting July 1.  This Junmai Ginjo was very fruity and floral, and represented yet another elegant wine.  Smooth and long as well, it would go great with a lot of food, but seafood and sushi come to mind easily.  All of these wines would be good food wines.

This was an eye opener.  There is a lot more to sake than I ever suspected.  These were good.  When you consider that most people are only exposed to sake at their local hibachi restaurant when the chef squirts the cooking sake from the bottle into their mouth, it’s no surprise that high quality sake is mostly unknown here.  I’m sure they’re not squirting the expensive stuff.

It is starting to catch on though, and there were about three million cases of sake sold in the US last year, about 3/4 of which were imported.  In Japan sake drinking has been on the decline since the 1970’s, and about 1250 kuras remain from the peak of 7000-10,000.  Maybe the US can spark a sake comeback.

Best of all these premium and super premium sakes check in at between $16 to $27 a bottle.  They do make some super rare sakes that can go for $500-$600, but in general this is not a super expensive drink.  Maybe Burgundy and Bordeaux should take a lesson here.

If you haven’t tried sake I suggest you do.  If you’re a regular squirt bottle sake drinker at the local hibachi expand your horizons and try the good stuff.  If you’re going to buy a few bottles take a look at SakeOne and what they have to offer.

SakeOne’s website is at http://www.sakeone.com/

A votre sante!

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