Sake World Sake Newsletter
March 1, 2007
In This Issue:
-April 07 Issue of Dancyu: All Things Sake
-Hakarime in Ginza for Eel and (warm) Sake
-Links to Sake Book Info and Archives
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07 Issue of Dancyu: All Things Sake
The question of what is new, trendy, hot and popular in the sake world these days is one that often arises. It's always hard to answer because in the sake
world, most trends are sporadic anomalies doomed to fizzle into a slow death. Also, orthodox premium sake still has so much to offer, and so much room for penetration into the world psyche that it is hard to
recommend tangential products.
But in the interest of providing as comprehensive an answer as possible, allow me to base the content of this issue on the April issue of Dancyu magazine, here in Japan.
Dancyu is a gourmet magazine, focusing on traditional Japanese food and drink. Every year in the spring, they do a sake issue, and although last year's was drastically toned down, this year's has come
roaring back with a mighty vengeance. (Those interested in obtaining a copy of the mag will fine information related to that at the end of this article.) Here is a synopsis of some of the more useful informatoin
Recently Popular Sake
One of the main articles focused on a blind tasting performed by 11 sake and food journalists, replete with a listing of the top sake in each of several
categories, including junmai ginjo and honjozo, and a listing of a wide range of generally good sake to look for. While the resulting list of 23 sake was useful (and reproduced below), even more interesting were
the results of sake popularity surveys amongst consumers. If you want to know what Japanese consumers think is good, read on.
The most popular ten brands from the survey this year (2007) were:
2. Kubota (Niigata)
3. Juyondai (Yamagata)
4. Denshu (Aomori)
5. Shimeharitsuru (Niigata)
6. Kokuryu (Fukui)
7. Shinkame (Saitama)
8. Masumi (Niigata)
10. Hiroki (Fukushima)
Now, check out the same list from 2002:
1. Hakkaisan (Niigata)
2. Juyondai (Yamagata)
3. Kubota (Niigata)
4. Shimeharitsuru (Niigata)
6. Dewazakura (Yamagata)
7. Kokuryu (Fukui)
8. Masumi (Niigata)
9. Shinkame (Saitama)
10. Tengumai (Ishikawa)
Well, surprise, surprise; very little has changed in consumer tastes
in the last five years. While all the brands above are of sterling quality, what the above says is that few people are trying anything new. Not that anything is wrong with that. But with so many fine artisan
sake to choose from, it is a tad surprising - if not disappointing - that were so few changes to that list in five years. But still, it is a great list to shove into your wallet and refer to when out and about.
Sake to Watch
Now this one is tricky. Usually, this is one of the things I like about Dancyu: I can always count on them for turning me on to good sake with an interesting story behind it to which I
was hitherto not privy. But... I dunno. Sometimes this ends up migrating to the other end of the silliness spectrum than the one occupied by the popularity rankings above. In other words, in their efforts to
present and promote sake that readers do not yet know, stuff that has a newsworthy story, and perhaps even have a hand in making such stuff popular, they end up grasping at straws.
three kura were highlighted as the "three brands to know to understand the sake of today." All I can say is: Hmmmmmmm.
I ended up fortuitously being able to taste two of them one night
recently. One was outstanding for sure. But I know the toji there, and he arrived a couple of years ago from another kura I know, and seems to be one of those latent genius types that has found his stride. That
sake was deep, focused, layered, full and clean. But one other of the three proved less than overwhelming.
I was with a handful of brewers in town for a meeting, and we crowded into the hidden sake pub
Tsukushinoko. (They do not let magazines or newspapers write them up, fearing it would impose upon their regular clientele, so if you find it, don't tell 'em you read it here.) On my right was Tomita-san
of "Seven Spears," formally known as Shichihonyari, of Shiga Prefecture. He found out they had two of the three on the list, and ordered them. We got da goods and sipped away. One was the sake I
already knew; the other presented itself as below.
Hmm. In short, it was overly simple. Comprised of basically a tubular sweetness with admittedly brilliantly clean sides and underbelly, it stopped
perhaps an angstrom short of cloying. There was admittedly balance and uniformity with the aromas, but Tomita-san's comment was, "Well, it's a good sake for beginners, ya know?" True, true. No
big complaints, but certainly no complexity to go in search of. Another brewer on my left, one I like to (flatteringly) think of as "The Rice Nazi" due to his fanaticism (albeit nonstandard, if not
misguided) on rice, went off on some rice-production tangent related to the sake's weak points that may or may not have been relevant, but was way over my head nonetheless.
My point is not to diss
the sake that was highlighted, but rather to emphasize that no matter what anyone says, be it a great publication like Dancyu, or any other sake authority, remember that *most* have less than pure reasoning in
reporting, even if their intentions are good, and most importantly: taste for yourself. That is all you need to do, and all that really matters in the end. 'Nuff said.
If you are interested and
literate, there are many other cool things in this issue of Dancyu, including an excellent listing of 100 places to buy good sake all over Japan, half a dozen other lists of sake to look for, a couple dozen more
recommendations (some we have seen before, others we have not), an article in which I appear (albeit grossly misquoted) on describing sake profiles, and more. That "more" includes stuff about pairing
sake, highlights of kura like Masumi in Nagano, biggish Takashimizu and tiny Fuku Komachi in Akita, Niigata sake in general, and sparkling sake. There is even a piece reviewing a dozen sake that are certified
organic products. More on organic sake can be found here, for those that are interested: www.sake-world.com/html/sw-2002_8.html
Perhaps the thing that made me most overflow with joy was a short piece on
traditional sake accompaniments, small, intensely flavored salty ditties known as saka-na (a homonym for the word for fish, written with different characters). Smoky, highly fermented pickles, dried and
fermented fish, highly fermented and aged fish called funa-zushi that makes limburger cheese smell like perfume... curiosities like these. I personally dig this stuff big time, and now I know where to buy it and
have it delivered.
In the end, if you are literate in the written Japanese language, this issue of Dancyu will provide oodles of great sake-related information. But even if you cannot read, there are
plenty of pictures of immensely recommendable labels to learn about, and with just a bit of help from a literate friend, the magazine will surely prove very useful.
So where can you get it? Well, if you
and your computer can handle da lingo, go to Dancyu's site at http://www.president.co.jp/dan/20070400/index.html and you can purchase it using a credit card and have it mailed anywhere in the world. If not,
contact a bookstore like Kinokuniya in New York and Los Angeles (at least) and purchase it there. If it is not in stock, you can order it.
For the sake of thoroughness, the top 23 sake in the blind
tasting were as follows. The first three were list as first, second and third, but after that they were all kinda lumped together. But the names are worth remembering and searching for.
Ginjo, Fukushima Prefecture), Naraman (Junmai Ginjo, Fukushima), Takemichi (Junmai Ginjo, Shimane), Yuuho (Junmai Ginjo, Ishikawa), Isojiman (Junmai Ginjo, Shizuoka), Akaya (Junmai Ginjo, Fukuoka), Taka (Junmai
Ginjo, Yamaguchi), Kikuyoi (Junmai Ginjo, Shizuoka), Ishizuchi (Junmai Ginjo, Ehime), Azuma Ichi (Junmai Ginjo, Saga), Haku Raku Sei (Junmai Ginjo, Miyagi), Daina (Junmai Ginjo, Tochigi), Mikawaya Bandaiho
(Junmai Ginjo, Fukushima), Jokigen (Junmai Ginjo, Yamagata), Yamagata Masumune (Junmai Ginjo, Yamagata), Mikotsuru (Junmai Ginjo, Nagano), Sawanohana (Junmai Ginjo, Nagano), Fusoutsuru (Junmai Ginjo, Shimane),
Houken (Junmai Ginjo, Hiroshima), Tatenoi (Junmai Ginjo, Akita), Kuri Koma Yama (Junmai Ginjo, Miyagi), Daijiro (Junmai Ginjo, Shiga), Yorokobi Gaijin (Junmai Ginjo, Kagawa).
Hakarime in Ginza for Eel and (warm) Sake
Should you visit Tokyo, the restaurant Hakarime in Ginza, just across the main street
from the Kabuki Theatre, is an excellent and scrumptious place to enjoy a wide range of sake, much of it offered lovingly warmed, and a whole feast of dishes focused on anago, or conger eel.
knew just how many parts of an eel were edible, and just in how many ways it could be made so delicious. While the menu is extensive, by far the easiest and most enjoyable way to go about things is one of the
courses, priced at 3500, 3800, 4800 and 7000 yen. Just sit back and let it flow.
There is a long, gleaming counter that avails you to a lot of the cooking action, but several small private rooms as well.
It is a very comfortable, friendly environment with warm and attentive servers. The food has been excellent both times I have visited, and the meals end up lingering on and on as I find myself wanting to leave
less and less. Damn those last trains home.
Not only all this, but English *should* get you through your visit. I say *should* because they have an English menu and site, but both times I have been there
their versatility in the spoken language went untested. But it should be fine, methinks.
For more information on the restaurant, visit http://www.hakarime.jp/index-e.htm. Be sure to check out their fine
list of sake, at http://www.hakarime.jp/drink/osuzu-e.htm. Should you choose to wander into the realm of premium warmed sake, this is the place to check that out. You can choose between about ten different
temperature ranges (yes, it makes a huge difference) for any given sake, and they present it in a small pewter vessel after warming it delicately and precisely.
Should reticence rule your reasoning when
it comes to warming premium sake, try one of these to become a believer: Daishichi, Shinkame, Hikomago, or Okuharima.
While Tokyo alone has countless sake pubs, each with their own unique allure,
Hakarime has immediately become one of my favorites.
Sake Events and Announcements
Sake and Pottery Seminar March 31, 2007
sake seminar at Takara is scheduled for Saturday, March 31, 2007. The topic will be "Raw Materials: Sake Rice, Water and Yeast." Also in attendance to provide a seminar on Japanese pottery will
ceramics luminary Rob Yellin. Those interested can make a reservation by emailing me.
Links to Sake Book Info and Archives
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