Dec 31, 2010

Izakaya serving sake from five Tokyo breweries

Yesterday, my friend and I went to an izakaya named Tenku (天空).

What is special about this izakaya is that this izakaya serves sake from the five sake breweries in Nishitama area (western area of Tokyo). These breweries are Ozawa Syuzou (Sawanoi), Tamura Syuzoujou (Kasen), Ishikawa Brewery (Tamajiman), Nozaki Syuzou (Kisho) and Nakamura Syuzou (Chiyotsuru). Since I was backing up Tokyo sake and Tokyo sake breweries, I thought I had to visit this izakaya at least once, and I tried to enter this izakaya about 20 days before. However, all the seats were occupied and I could not enter there then.

In this izakaya, the tables are arranged on both sides of the entrance door, and in the recesses was the kitchen surrounded by the horseshoe-shaped counter. Two young men were working busily there. Since it was a weekday and I guessed the restaurant was not so crowded, but there were actually many people there. Some who got to the restaurant later could not enter it.

Well, when we were seated at the counter, we ordered warmed Sawanoi Karakuchi. However, the waiter served it cold. My friend asked him to warm it, and we needed to wait for another several minutes. Finally, our warmed sake was served. Maybe, we should have ordered cold sake or beer as the first drink so that we did not need to wait very long.

I am glad to say that, as to foods, flatfish and tuna sashimi was nice and reasonably priced and sake was also sold at low prices.

There, I drank the following Tokyo sakes:

Sawanoi: Dry and quaffable regular sake. We drank this warmed first.
Kisho: Mellow and rich Junmai Ginjo. I like sake from this brewery.
Kasen: We drank Tamura this time, which has something sophisticated.
Tamajiman: Tama-no-Yorokobi has a soft and tender taste.
Chiyotsuru: Junmai Ginjo. I felt even a freshness of namazake. Is it due to good pasteurization technique?

Dec 30, 2010

Preparing for the Niigata Sake Expert Test

In March of 2008, I went to Niigata to attend the Niigata Sake no Jin (Niigata Sake Festival) and took a Niigata Sake Bronze Expert Test there. Since then, I have frequently been visiting Niigata.

The Niigata Sake Expert Test has three levels of certificates: the easiest Bronze Expert, the second easiest Silver, and the most difficult Gold Expert. To take the test for a certain level, you must have the certificate of the one-level lower than the target. For example, only holders of the Silver certificates can take the test for the Gold Expert.

In my case, I passed the Bronze in 2008, and Silver in 2009, and I took the test for the Gold this year, but, to my disappointment, I failed in it.

The tests for the Bronze and Silver Experts are paper tests, while the examinees for the Gold Expert are evaluated by their short essays and sake tasting ability. This sake tasting ability test is a so-called 10-item matching sake tasting test. (In this test, you taste 10 sakes in group A, and then taste the same 10 sakes in group B. The arrangement of sake bottles is different between group A and group B. Then, you must match each sake in Group A to the same sake in group B.) For a paper test, all you need to do is to study hard to increase your knowledge, but I think it is difficult to increase sake tasting ability.

Can the taste sensation and olfactory sensation be enhanced? I think these types of ability are inborn and difficult to improve. However, there might be room for improvement in terms of knacks and techniques.

After having thought the above, I am planning to again challenge to the Gold Expert certificate, which I have almost given up before. So, I think I should become more familiar with Niigata sake, and I started the sake tasting training in preparation for the test in March next year.

Dec 25, 2010

Walking around in Kawagoe

On December 23, I went to Kawagoe City. At the location where the defunct Kagamiyama Brewery was operating before, there are some buildings with whitewashed walls, which used to be used by the company as facilities of sake brewing. These premises have been converted to a commercial establishment named Koedo Kurari. In this sophisticated place, you can eat food at the restaurant or enjoy shopping.

I think, already having the beautiful street flanked by kura buildings and other old buildings and the Kashiya Yokocho (Confection Side-street), Kawagoe will be more interesting city due to the start of its operation of Kurari.

Well, I thought I would visit Kurari at the next chance, and I headed for Cafe Elevato. This cafe is often used as a meeting spot for us when we come to Kawagoe. Two friends of mine were already having coffee or tea when I enter the restaurant.

I ordered some vegetable chips and pastrami and draft beer, Coedo Beer Kyara, which was Kawagoe's beer I enjoyed after a long time. Naturally, the friends also ordered beer and we enjoyed drinking each drink.

Then, we moved to Kamonrakuza, a direct selling sake shop of Koedo Kagamiyama Shuzo. There, I purchased Kagamiyama Junmai Shiboritate Nama (pure rice, just-pressed, unpasteurized sake).

Around this time of the year, several types of just-pressed, unpasteurized sake including junmai ginjo and junmai are displayed and sold in the refrigerator. In the same refrigerator, there were bottles labeled as "Mutoka Nama Genshu," but I wondered what difference was between "Muroka Nama Genshu" and "Shiboritate." So, I asked the shop clerk about the difference. She answered that "Muroka Nama Genshu" was made from rice harvested last year. I thought this meant that the sake was made at the end of last year or early in this year and aged until this winter. However, I was wrong.

When I was asking further details about the sake, a worker of this brewery happened to come in the shop, and kindly gave me a clear explanation.

He explained that they kept rice harvested in the autumn of last year in their refrigerator and used it in this autumn to make this sake. Koedo Kagamiyama Shuzo is a very small brewery and they do not have a sufficient refrigerating installation, and they do not age winter-made sake over the summer season until the next autumn. A small microbrewery has its own challenges to overcome, which larger companies do not have.

Then, my friends, who were all women, headed for a kimono shop Tsuruya, while I decided to have a sole walk along the Taisho Roman Yume Dori Street and Crea Mall, since I was not interested in shopping in the kimono shop very much.

On the Taisho Roman Yume Dori Street, I was interested in a coffee shop. This coffee shop named Taishokan serves home-roasted coffee. From the outside, I saw two women in decent white-and-black uniforms were working in the coffee shop, which has an old-fashioned atmosphere.

I came in the coffee shop and ordered Ishigama coffee. There were a few customers and I could enjoy a cozy time. The home-roasted coffee was nice. Above all, a warm smile of a waitress made me relaxed. After killing some time there, I got out of the coffee shop and started walking toward the Crea Mall.

I got to the kimono shop Tsuruya and stayed there for a short time, and then moved to Cafe Pachanga. It was around three o'clock, when the Christmas gathering of kimono lovers was just about to start.

Dec 14, 2010

Kagetora from Miyagi and Urakasumi from Niigata

Recently, my friend and I went to an izakaya located in Akigawa City, close to JR Akigawa Station. Initially, we intended to drink at "Tenku," an izakaya, which is one-minute walk from the station, and this article would have told you that this izakaya carried Tokyo sake and we enjoyed sake from five sake breweries of Tokyo if there had been two vacant seats there.

Thinking we will visit Tenku at the next chance, we walked around in the vicinity of station looking for another izakaya to enter. When I walked around there before, it was daytime and izakaya and other watering places were difficult to find, but those in the evening were like light traps and we were attracted to their lights easily like night moths. However, we needed to visit several izakayas to find vacant seats for us. The izakaya finally we were accepted to enter was located on an alley secluded from the main street.

As soon as I got seated, I looked at the sake menu, which listed "Masumi," "Kagetora," "Urakasumi," "Dassai," .... Thinking they had a good assortment of sake, I looked closer to determine what to drink. And, I found that there is a description of "sake from Miyagi Prefecture" on the left of "Kagetora," and "Niigata Honjozo" on the left of "Urakasumi"!! (Actually, there is sake named Koshino-Kagetora in Niigata Prefecture while Miyagi Prefecture boasts its prestigious Urakasumi.)

Well, I ordered "Kagetora" and drank it, and it actually tasted like sake from Niigata.

Oh, No! Forget about where sake is made. Just enjoy it. It's all right if the sake is good.

Dec 9, 2010

Surprised he should drink it undiluted!

Okutama Yuusui-jikomi is a regular sake of Sawani from Ozawa Syuzou, and this is one of their low-end products.

The genshu (undiluted version) of this sake is sold around in May and June to be used for making umeshu (plum wine).

"Making of umeshu by using sake"

You can make umeshu from this sake much faster than you make one from shoshu. Actually, you need to wait for two or three months before you can enjoy good umeshu if you use shochu, while sake-based umeshu makes nice enough as quickly as about a week or two. You don't need so much sugar to make sake-based umeshu as you do for shochu-based one. So, the made umeshu will have a flinty and smooth taste.

By the way, this guy is drinking this genshu as it is.
I am surprised he should drink this undiluted! This is too strong since the alcohol content is 20 to 21%.

In addition, Okutama Yuusui-jikomi is also sold as Karakuchi Nigorizake (nigorizake version) around this time of the year. They are sake the sake from the same tank as different products by arranging it differently according to the seasons. Recently, I was given the Karakuchi Nigorizake by a friend. She also gave me radish pickled in sweet sake.

This radish picked in sweet sake is also a Sawanoi product. And I heard this is in short supply, and they ship this product to limited liquor shops only during December. Even Sawanoi-en, a shop directly operated by the brewery, does not sell it.

The Karakuchi Nigorizake was nice. Although I guessed this was a bit fizzy, which I am not very good at, it tasted mild. And, although it includes a lot of lees, it was a smooth and flinty, quaffable sake.

I am drinking Karakuchi Nigorizake with radish picked in sweet sake

Dec 6, 2010

Gleaming sake!

November 27, my drinking friends and I met BBQ facilities in Ome City, Tokyo. We brought sake bottles (one or two bottles for each) there and had BBQ & sake party.

This place is, to our delight, very convenient because they provide guests with various tools and tableware. They had tokkuri (pottery flasks), choko (small sake cup), and kettles, so we could even prepare warm sake there.

We made warmed sake using the leftmost bottle (Nagaokajo from Hasegawa Syuzou) and the tall brown bottle (Junmai Ginjirushi from Ozawa Syuzou) in the photo above. Both of these two bottles are nice when warmed.

In the video below, I drink Daiginjo Bon Genshu, which is a limited product of Ozawa Syuzou.

My jolly drinking friends and I are performing a skit in the video below. We had a 30-second arrangement talk and were filmed without rehearsal. Don't you think we were good actors?
The message on the back label of this sake bottle says, "This sake gleams in the mouth. See how it gleams.

At this time, I drank very much and fell asleep. While I was sleeping, these ladies ... !

Nov 30, 2010

Pleasure of warmed sake

Lately, it seems that sake is gaining in popularity outside Japan. I sometimes read blog articles about sake written by non-Japanese people. Reading such articles, I think that they tend to prefer ginjo sake, junmai sake, and other premium types of sake to regular sake and other low-priced sake types. This is probably because, in other countries, sake is not so popular as in Japan, they do not conceive it to be a beverage consumed on a daily basis, and they may think sake is something special and it should be enjoyed with sashimi or tempura in a fancy Japanese-style restaurant. Of course, it is a nice way to enjoy sake, and I don't deny it, though.

Needless to say, sake is an alcoholic beverage Japanese people have been drinking since old days. It have been drunk in ritualistic scenes such as wedding ceremonies, funerals, religious festivals, etc. Maybe I can say that, for Japanese people, sake is a part of their life. However, people can't afford high-end sake such as ginjo sake as a daily drink.

When people call it a day and then go back their own houses, they drink sake while feeling tiredness as an evidence of their satisfactory hard work. Looking back on the day or increasing their motivation for tomorrow's work, they drink sake in a relaxing mood. This has probably been a typical way of banshaku, or evening drink, for many of the Japanese. I guess they have been drinking sake in this manner on a daily basis since the Edo era or maybe earlier.

In my opinion, non-Japanese people would be able to have a wider range of opportunities to enjoy sake if low-priced table sake including futsushu (regular sake), which can be drunk on a daily basis casually at home, gains in popularity as widely as sake drunk during formal dinners or sake paired with decent Japanese foods.

As I thought in the way above, I am trying to introduce kanzake (warmed sake) to people in the world because kanzake is one of the casual ways of drinking sake, and usually people warm relatively low-priced sake to make kanzake (high-end sake tend to lose the balance of taste when warmed). And, here I provide the following movie:

The message of this move is "Boil some water in an electric pot, and place a flask filled with sake to warm it. This is an easy way to prepare kanzake, so I recommend this way to you!"

This movie seems to have a number of viewers from the United States and other countries. One viewer gave me a message to tell that he had even purchased an electric pot to use it for warming up sake. I am happy to receive such comments.

I want people in the world to know there are various ways of drinking sake. If you have never tried warmed sake, I want you to have a try.

Nov 25, 2010

South American folklore music and sake

It was September of 2008 when I first visited Toshimaya Syuzou sake brewery. On that day, a managing director of the company showed us their facilities such as the rice washer, rice steamer, fermentation tanks, bottling line, etc.

(This movie was taken September 9, 2008.)

At this time, we sampled some sakes of this brewery, and I drank Juuemon for the first time. The full-bodied bold taste of this junmai sake impressed me strongly.

By the way, Toshimaya Syuzou held an open brewery event last Sunday, on November 21. And, I went to the brewery for this event.

I got on a train and reached Higashi-Murayama Station at around 11:35. When I started walking to leave the station, someone called me from behind, and it was one of my drinking friends. So, we together reached the brewery.

At the brewery, we had sample this year's new sake, kamekuchi sake, etc., purchased bottles of junmai ginjo jukusei nama genshu, a limited item specially sold in this event, and then walked around in the venue to see whether some of our friends were there and to find no one. So, now, all we must do is to buy some sake and foods and enjoy them.

Since we heard the toji, master brewer of the brewery, and his company performers would start performance of South American folklore music from 12:30, we went to the square where a stage was set up. A lot of sake bottle boxes were arranged there so that visitors could use them as tables and stools. However, almost all the seats were occupied.

We were walking around in front of the stage for music performance while taking video and pictures and talking. Then, luckily two seats suddenly became vacant, and we could sit down just in front of the stage. I bought some foods and we had sake and foods while enjoying merry folklore there.

My friend bought a bottle of Juuemon Nakadori Nama Genshu, which we drank there. The toji was playing music with zampoña, quena, bombo, etc. while we were drinking his sake. That is to say, the toji amused us doubly.

Nov 18, 2010

Drinking various sake with right sake vessels

Recently, I bought four sake vessels at the pottery market in Mashiko Town, Tochigi Prefecture.
(Play list of movies regarding the Mashiko Pottery Market

I know that drinking a specific type of sake with a right drinking vessel enhances good characteristics of the sake. So, I tried choosing vessels according to several types of sake, and drank the sake. However, I may have been dogmatic in deciding on these combinations of sake and vessels described below, and some people may have different ways of combining sake and these vessels.

Vessel (1)

The first vessel is a tall one, which can hold as much as about 140 ml of sake. When I filled about 60% of this cup with ginjo sake, the aroma rose up from the inside of the cup. I set the thin brim of the cup to the lip and tilted the cup. The sake flew into the mouth from the cup smoothly, and I felt a pleasant touch of sweetness first. It seems that this cup accentuates the clear taste and fragrant aroma of ginjo sake.

Vessel (2)

The next vessel is also tall (this time, I bought three tall vessels). The capacity is about 90 ml. The marks on the cup look like hieroglyphic characters. They also look like dancing people with horny headgears on their heads. I also noticed that one of the marks looked like a kanji character of "笑," which means a laugh. The general mood of this cup is that of an unearthed ancient item. So, the idea that hit me was "Let's fill this cup with long-aged sake."

Vessel (3)

This tall cup has a white outer surface, on which line drawings have been scratched. The brownish color of the foundation mud is exposed as a result of the scratched lines. So, I am sure that two types of mud are used to make this cup (brownish mud is used for the foundation with white mud coated on it). The outside surface of the cup does not seem to have been glazed, while the inside surface has been glazed and has a layer of thin glass. I drank fresh chilled namazake with this cup.

By the way, the line drawing shows giant robots, or Mobile Suites (Gundam). So, this is a very unique sake vessel and I liked it at first glance.

Nov 15, 2010

Drinking "Tenranzan" on Mt. Tenranzan

Last week, I went for a hike in the vicinity of Han-no City, Saitama Prefecture. I walked along the following course:

Higashi-han-no Station on JR Hachiko Line -- Igarashi Shuzo Sake Brewery -- Mt. Tenranzan -- -- Koma Pass -- Kinchakuda Paddy -- Koma Station on Seibu Line

I started walking at around 10 o'clock at Higashi-han-no Station, and ended the walking of this day at Koma Station at about 2:30. If I had not taken the detour for visiting Igarashi Shuzo for sake, my walk would have been shorter by about one hour. However, in that case, I can't write an article for this blog, which deals with sake, so I walked the longer way.

An easier way to get to Igarashi Shuzo is to walk from Han-no Station on Seibu Line, but the map showed me that walking from JR Higashi-han-no Station to the brewery did not make a big difference in terms of distance, so I decided to walk from Higashi-han-no Station. However, I was not very sure whether I was on a right track, and I walked approximately southward by making a guess. And, finally I reached the street that runs along the Koma River. I was sure that the Igarashi Shuzo was located on this street. Actually, I have a good sense of geography, and I can usually manage to find a right way to the destination in such a case. However, it was a bit long way.

Igarashi Syuzo (arrival at 11:20)
Anyway, I could get to Igarashi Shuzo, and the shop there was selling their sake. When I entered the shop, the salesclerk was busy with some paperwork at her desk. She confirmed that I was not driving, took out some bottles of sake from the refrigerator, arranged them on the table, offered me sample sips of sake, and then went back to her desk to resume her work.

After sampling all types of the presented sake, I purchased a bottle of aged sake Koten and a 300-ml bottle of namazake and put them in my rucksack. According to the salesclerk, it takes about 20 minute on foot to Han-no Station, and the starting point of the trail to Mt. Tenranzan is farter beyond the station. Well, I had known that since I looked the map, and I thought she told me roughly correct time to the station. However, I don't like a 30-minute or longer walk on a paved road very much. I hoped that I could walk on unpaved trails soon and I tended to be at a trot.

The starting point to climb Mt. Tenranzan was near the Noninji Temple, and I walked the trail that passes beside the temple. It was a very short way to the summit, and actually it took only about 10 minutes for me to reach the summit. The part of the trail just below the summit was somewhat steep, but I think even kindergarten children can walk to get to the summit.

Tenranzan summit (arrival at 12:30)
Mt. Tenranzan stands 195 meters high. There is a robust concrete structure on the summit. This is a viewing platform, from which you can look down the town of Han-no City. Also, you can have a panoramic view of Okutama mountain area. In the past, Emperor Meiji watched his warriors hold military exercises from this point ("Tenranzan" means "a mountain from which Emperor watched something").

I drank some of Tenranzan namazake on the summit as I planned, had lunch there, and then started walking again for Koma Pass. I took about one hour to the pass, and the trail was broad and comfortable.

Koma Pass (arrival at 1:40)
It was somewhat dim on Koma Pass. I could not have a good view from there. From this point, I walked for about 30 minutes to reach the Kinchakuda Paddy.

Do-re-mi-fa Bridge (arrival at 2:00)
The Do-re-mi-fa Bridge is a small submerging bridge spanning the Koma River that runs meanderingly around the Kinchaku Paddy. I walked across this bridge and reached the Kinchakuda Paddy.

The photo above on the right was taken from the Do-re-mi-fa Bridge. I tried to take picture of swimming fish in the water, but can you see them?

Kinchakuda Paddy (arrival at 2:10)
I think the best season to visit the Kinchakuda Paddy is late Sempember, when flowers of the cluster-amaryllis are in full bloom. The photo below on the right was taken in late September, 2008.

Views from the Shikanodai Bridge
I left the Kinchakuda Paddy for Koma Station. On the way to the station, I walked across the Shikanodai Bridge over the Koma River. The photos below were taken from this bridge.

Nov 8, 2010

Pleasant pottery market

Selecting a sake drinking vessel according to the type of sake you drink, how you like it, or your frame of mind -- this is one way of enjoying sake. I already have so many drinking vessels that I often hesitate about which drinking vessel to use when drinking sake. Therefore, I did absolutely not need to purchase any additional sake vessel in the pottery market held in Mashiko Town, Tochigi Prefecture, on November 3 to 7.

Anyway, on November 3, I went to the market in Mashiko Town with two drinking friends since they wanted to visit there and buy something.

At around 9:00 in the morning, we parked the car in a parking lot somewhat far from the venue. There, we could park the car free of charge. Then, we walked for about 10 minutes to reach the main street of the town, which extends from Mashiko Station to the east.

As we walked along the main street eastward, the street got busy and crowded with more and more cars and people. After we passed the intersection named Jonaizaka, I began to feel an all-out brisk atmosphere of the pottery market.

On both sides of the street, there were many shops and tents, where various types of pottery were sold. There were also tent shops on backstreets and alleys, in squares, and in parks. Besides pottery, folk handcrafts were sold. There were also food stands selling snacks such as hot dogs and beverages such as beer and sake.

As I own a lot of sake drinking vessels, I intended to buy the least possible number of sake cups, but, in fact, I bought these four cups. There were so many nice works there.

Nov 6, 2010

Warmed sake and autumn leaves

Now that it is November, high atmospheric pressures are coming in series from the Asian Continent to Japan to cover the archipelago, and we are being favored by good weather lately. So, on November 5, I went on a hiking to Mt. Takao in Hachioji City, Tokyo.

This time, I took a ride of the chair lift to quickly gain elevation, and then reached the summit via the No. 2 and 3 trails of the Takao Nature Study Trails. Then, I walked farther westwards to the point called Icchodaira, which is located within about a 30-minute walking distance from the summit.

It seemed that the culmination of autumn leaves of Mt. Takao was yet to come, but along the ridge trails connecting the summit of Mt. Takao and Icchodaira, leaves of cherry trees and some other trees were turning into yellowish and reddish colors. In the spring, these cherry trees charmed us with beautiful sakura blossoms, and now in turn they were entertaining our eyes with autumn leaves.

Well, this time, I enjoyed drinking warmed sake over these beautiful autumn leaves. I had brought some snacks to eat with sake and put them on a table placed at Icchodaira. Then, I boiled water and put sake cartons in the hot water to warm them. In a few minutes, the sake was warmed nicely.

Incidentally, I prefer futsushu (regular sake) to high-end sake such as junmai or ginjo sake for warmed sake in a case like this since futsushu can be drunk more casually than high-end sake.

Nov 1, 2010

I want a sake warmer!

As the autumn advances and it gets colder, delight of warmed sake increases. I like drinking warmed sake while grilling dried fish on a shichirin (small desk-top charcoal brazier) and nibbling it.

However, it is bothersome and spoils the pleasure to bring back an empty sake flask to your kitchen to make another helping. So, you need something that allows you to continuously enjoy your drinking without leaving your seat, or some device with which you can prepare warmed sake at the table. More specifically, it can be a douko (sake warmer used in a nagahibachi) and nagahibachi (brazier used indoors for heating). Otherwise, it can be a household-purpose small-sized sake warmer. Incidentally, a commodity called mini-kansuke uses just hot water to warm up sake and does not have a heating system, so it may be useful if you do not drink sake very much and you don't need to make many helpings of warmed sake. However, it is not very useful for heavy drinkers since the water in the mini-kansuke soon cools down.

Of all types of such sake warming devices, what I want to get is a copper kandouko (sake warmer) sold by Daikokuya. The kandouko holds some amount of water in it, warms the water with heat of charcoal fire also burning inside this device, and warms sake with the warmed water. While warming sake, you can also cook some foods such as dried fish on the grill placed over the charcoal fire. It seems perfect for my requirements, doesn't it? However, it is priced at 126,000 yen, and I am hesitating about whether to purchase it.

Mechanism of a kandouko

The combination of a nagahibachi and douko also seems a cool setting for enjoying warmed sake. They function by the same principles as Daikokuya's kandouko mentioned above. The douko is placed on the burning charcoal in the nagahibachi so that the water contained in the douko can be warmed and, subsequently, the sake in a flask sunk in the water can be warmed up. Maybe, I can buy them through an Internet auction less expensively than Daikokuya's kandouko. However, a nagahibachi is big and heavy and it is not very convenient to use it on a table.

Combination of a nagahibachi and douko

For now, I use a small electric pot to warm up sake. Although it is not so elegant as a douko, nagahibachi, etc., but it is anyway useful.

Yesterday, I used this electric pot to warm up a sake carton as shown in the movie below. I jut put the sake carton in whole and drank it. This is maybe a rude and wild way for preparing warmed sake, though.

(Later, in February of 2011, I finally bought a kandouko. So, I wrote another artilce about the kandouko after the test use of it. Here is the post: "Finally got a kandouko (sake warmer)!")

Oct 29, 2010

Arabashiri, but this is not a sake term

When moromi (fermenting liquid of sake) is pressed and is separated into liquid part and solid part, the liquid is called sake. The part that is pressed in the first stage of pressing is called "arabashiri." Then, "nakadori" is pressed, and "Seme" is finally squeezed. So, even if moromi is fermented in the same tank, the taste and aroma of sake vary depending on in what stage it is pressed.

Probably, the same thing can be said regarding coffee brewing. When you brew coffee with a coffee dripper, the very first dripped coffee is different from the later dripped part of coffee in taste and aroma.

In case of sake, nakadori sake has a better taste and aroma than arabashiri. However, in case of coffee, I feel that arabashiri coffee is better than nakadori coffee.

Today's Sake
Sawanoi Honjozo Shiboritate (Ozawa Syuzou)
Actually, I am not very good at new sake because it is somewhat burning on my tongue and a bit difficult to drink. Of such new sakes, this new sake is easy to drink and, at the same time, has a rich taste. I think we can expect much of this season's Sawanoi sake.

Oct 25, 2010

Sawanoi Open Brewery Event

On October 23, Ozawa Syuzou (sake brewery making Sawanoi sake) held an open house event on their premises and at their related restaurants and facilities. My friends and I went to the brewery, sampled various types of sake, attended interesting activities, and then of course got drunk.

When we got to the reception desk set up in the parking lot beside the brewery, President Ozawa and Employee A were busy there in selling sake-sampling tickets and welcoming visitors.

As soon as we got the sampling tickets, we went for sampling sake inside the kura building. Various types of sake, including daiginjo, junmai, koshu (long-aged sake), and of course shinshu (new sake), were prepared for sampling.

As the lady says in the video, this year's Honjozo Shiboritate was very nice. Unlike a new sake, this sake has a mild and well-balanced taste.

The brewery was open from 9:00 a.m., but some of us were already there by 8:50, and had occupied a table in the rest station for friends, who would join us later, by 9:30. Then, we started a long-time sake drinking party which changed places and lasted until 10:00 p.m. lol

Oct 19, 2010

NINE and sake with a self-heating system

NINE -- this is the name of sake. This sake is brewed with the method called bodaimoto, which is a very old method for preparing yeast starter.

From this name of bodaimoto, I thought that the flavor of the sake was old-fashioned and crude. No, this is very sophisticated sake. It is very rich in taste and, at the same time, delicate. I like the moderate sweetness of this sake. This is hiyaoroshi sake, which means the sake has been pasteurized once. However, I hardly feel anything caused by pasteurization, and the flavor of this sake gives me a crispy and brisk impression of namazake.

By the way, here is another sake product, which is completely different from NINE. It is called "Kanban-musume." This is canned sake, but not an ordinary product. The can has a heat generation system, which use quicklime and water. Chemical reaction of quicklime and water warmed up sake contained in the can!

Although this product is a bit more expensive and heavier than ordinary canned sake, it is an interesting product. Please watch the movie below to see how to I enjoy the warmed sake.

As I recall, I bought a lunchbox at JR Sendai Station before. It was rice with sliced and baked beef tongue. This had a string coming out from one side of the box, and when I pulled it, the lunchbox became hot. It was cold winter season then, and I was happy to be able to each hot lunch on the train.

Oct 3, 2010

No Special Event on Sake Day

October 1 is Sake Day (Nihonshu no Hi) in Japan. The brewing year stated on October 1 before, and this seems one reason why this day is designated as Sake Day by Japan Sake Brewers Associations.

Anyway, at this time of the year, whatever October 1 is called, sake breweries ship various hiyaoroshi sake, and are busy in advance sale of new sake by means of such as direct mail advertisement to their customers. Several weeks ago, we were sickening of excruciatingly hot summer days. However, after we felt sudden cool air of autumn, our appetite increased suddenly. Now, we crave nice sake so badly.

Besides hiyaoroshi, the taste of namazake becomes better after the summer season, so I am lately buying namazake bottles from breweries in Tokyo and enjoying them.

And, to me, there was no special event on sake day, but I was happy with Sawanoi Honjo Nama in that evening.

Today's movie -- Recently, I climbed a mountain in the Okutama area in Tokyo. Then, I found some mushrooms. I cooked them and ate them with cup noodles at the lunch time. Mountains in autumn are enjoyable.

Sep 30, 2010

Attraction of Taruzake (Casked Sake)

Recently, I checked old video data I took before, and found footage of kagami-biraki (ceremonial way making a toast with sake). Since I thought this can be a good movie, I edited the data and uploaded it to the Youtube site.

The movie I presents in this post was taken when we had a Christmas party for kimono lovers in 2008. A generous sales person from OZEKI Co. Ltd. (famous and big sake brewery in Japan) kindly prepared a big cask of sake for us, and we could have this wonderful experience.

The Japanese often celebrate happy events with kagami-biraki. In kagami-biraki, a wooden cask filled with sake is prepared. People crack open this cask and then make a toast with the sake.

A cask for kagami-biraki is usually filled with inexpensive regular sake, and regular sake is in many cases light and quaffable. Actually, I do not easily become tired of drinking regular sake. So, although I usually like rich and bold sake like muroka nama genshu or full-bodied sake such as yamahai, I sometimes feel inclined to drink regular sake.

Since the cask is made of cedar, the sake takes scent of cedar in the cask. Magic of cedar scent turns the cheap sake into something completely different.

Regular sake drunk as casked sake is fresh, flinty, and crispy, and gives you briskness. This is due to the scent of cedar that the sake takes while it is prepared in the cask.

Oh, after watching my video, I became to deliriously crave casked sake.

Sep 24, 2010

No 720-ml bottle, but a 1800-ml bottle

If you visit a liquor shop in Japan, you will find various sake bottles being sold there. And if you a great sake lover, you may want to buy as many bottles as possible so as to try as many types of sake as possible. In my case, I usually prefer 720-ml bottles to 1800-ml bottle to buy because smaller bottles allow you to buy many types of sake at lower cost and you don't need to continue to drink very much of the sake of one bottle before moving on to another bottle.

On the premises of Ishikawa Brewery, which is making Tamajiman sake, the company is operating the sake shop "Sake Cellar" (酒世羅). I often see bottles of Junmai Ginjo Muroka Nama Genshu "Koryu" (紅龍) are displayed on a shelf in the refrigerator at the shop. And every time I see these bottles, I want to buy one, but this sake is sold only in 1800-ml bottles. So, I have been somewhat hesitant about buying the sake.

This summer, I found this sake was served in an izakaya in Tachikawa city, so I ordered a glass of this sake. This sake gave me a bold impression and I liked it.

So, recently I drove my car to the brewery and bought a 1800-ml bottle of this sake at the sake shop there. I had probably been thinking of this sake for more than a year, and finally I bought it.

Having been made from 50% polished Gohyakumangoku sake rice, this junmai ginjo sake was sweetish with a clear taste. Although I felt the sake was still young in its taste, I expect time will add to the good taste.

Sep 9, 2010

Season of Hiyaoroshi

Hiyaoroshi or namazumeshu is a certain type of sake. Usually, sake is pasteurized twice before it is shipped. The first pasteurization of sake is performed after the sake is pressed and before it enters the aging process, and then the second pasteurization comes when the sake is bottled. However, for hiyaoroshi sake, the second pasteurization process never occurs, it is shipped after the aging period of half a year or so without undergoing the second-time pasteurization. Thus, hiyaoroshi sake acquires mellowness through the aging process while maintaining a flavor of namazake.

Around September 5, I received a notice informing of hiyaoroshi sake being sold or to be sold soon from the liquor shop where I often buy sake. A flier I received showed hiyaoroshi sake from breweries in the Nishitama area. According to flier, Sawanoi, Kasen, and Chiyozuru are shipping hiyaoroshi, while Tamajiman is selling Daiginjo Muroka Genshu Aki no Yorokobi.

This summer saw excruciatingly sizzling days but autumn is steadily approaching; cicadas are no longer chirp, while autumn grasshoppers and crickets are getting louder. Hiyaoroshi is the sake that tells you the coming of autumn. I made a phone call to this liquor shop and ordered some bottles of hiyaoroshi.

At another liquor shop, they are also selling hiyaoroshi sake that comes from various places in Japan. In the refrigerator of the shop are Ichinokura, Urakasumi, Mine-no-Hakubai, Harushika, etc. I bought Harushika Junmai Ginjo Namazume and Kamikokoro Umakuchi Hiyaoroshi at this shop.

I had a try of Harushika first. Gulp, gulp, .... It was very nice sake. Hiyaoroshi is a taste of autumn.

Within a few days, the liquor to which I called will deliver the hiyaoroshi bottles I ordered. As it will become cooler and sake will become tastier.

Sep 7, 2010

Vinegared Rice with Okutama Yamame (Mountain Trout)

The Japanese food restaurant named "Imoutoya" stands on the Tama River, on the side opposite to JR Mitake Station on Ome Line.

"Okutama Yamame no Chirashizushi" they serve at this restaurant includes sliced raw yamame (mountain trout), but this yamame, (Okutama Yamame) is not of an ordinary type.

According to the Web site of Okutama Fish Breeding Center of Tokyo, Okutama Yamame is "triploid female yamame that has been bred by using biotechnology. This fish never reaches maturity and grows over 2 Kg in weight in three years. It is well suited for cuisine such as sashimi and meunière, which are usually made using meat of rather a big fish." In other words, these fish do not spawn, and they grow larger and taste better than common yamame.

Recently, I ordered Okutama Yamame no Chirashizushi at this restaurant for lunch.

The fish meat is different from common yamame in appearance, looking somewhat pinkish like salmon.

Topped with young Welsh onion, green shiso, myoga, and other herbs, firm sliced raw fish tasted nice.

And sake! They serve Sawanoi sake tasting set "Ki-Sho-Ten-Ketsu (起承転結)" including four different types of sake.

Ki 起: Junmai Namazake Sawane. Fresh sake with low alcohol and slightly higher acidity
Sho 承: Honjozo Nama. Sake with a typical taste. Moderate alcohol gives this sake a flinty impression.
Ten 転: Soten, junmai ginjo sake, with rich body.
Ketsu 結: Daiginjo. Nice aroma and flinty taste.

Aug 31, 2010

Drinking Kisho while eating sumibiyaki charcoal-grilled foods

Sake can be paired with various types of foods, but if you want to enjoy this beverage in quite a Japanese atmosphere, you can of course go to a Japanese restaurant.

In a walking distance from Nozaki Syuzou, the brewery that is making Kisho, in Akiruno City, Tokyo, there is a Japanese restaurant named "Kurochaya." This restaurant serves sumibiyaki charcoal-grilled foods. The over 250-year-old buildings of this restaurant were before owned by a big sericulturist who was a village headman in the vicinity, and the buildings have been brought over from the original place and reassembled here.

When you enter the front gate while seeing a big water mill wheel on your left, you get in the garden of the restaurant that looks like a grove where restaurant houses with thatched roofs and magnificent structure stand. The garden is interspersed with bamboo and other trees, resting arbors, souvenir shops, etc. This place is on a cliff from which you can look down on the Akigawa River. I could see from a resting bench children bathing in a clear stream and an angler fishing sweetfish.

Inside the restaurant, beams, columns, and floors were shining black, and tools for reeling silk off cocoons including spinning wheels, tools for making medicine, and other antiques were displayed. Baskets that had been used for sericultural work were hanging upside down from the ceiling. These baskets on which paper was pasted were now used as lamp shades.

Sake we enjoyed at this restaurant while waiting for fish, meat, and vegetables to be cooked on the grill was of course Kisho. Namazake served in bamboo tubes was of course very nice. However, I wanted to drink sake in a relaxing mood with the nice foods, and in that case, I prefer nurukan or lukewarm sake. Anyway, if you are Kisho fan, this is a perfect place for you.

Aug 26, 2010

Sake I drunk in Nasu

Lately, we have sizzling days in July and August here in Japan. It is too bad that some people died from the heat of summer.

To escape from the brazing inferno, I planned a short trip to the Nasu highlands. My friends and I gathered and left to the destination place in two cars last Saturday.

Nasu is a highland place in the north of Tochigi Prefecture. Naturally, it is cooler than our places. There, we had an overnight stay in a small rental cottage.

Beside the cottage, a small mountain stream was running, and the bathhouse that only the lodgers of our cottage can use stood on the river bank. In the bathhouse, a hot spring bath was provided. I first bathed in the stream to cool down myself then I warmed in the hot bath. It was a very relaxing experience.

Another amusement was barbecue. We had bought meet and vegetables to cook at a nearby grocery store before we got to the cottage.

And, as to beverages, beer, shochu, and whiskey were on the table, and of course sake.

One of our members was actually a sake master brewer from a brewery in Tokyo. He kindly brought to the cottage a premium daiginjo sake he made and another commercially available bottle of Yatsushika.

The daiginjo sake was nice but might be too nice for our wild BBQ food, while Yatsushika's bold impression and nice aroma of mellowness were well paired the BBQ foods. The master brewer (the guy behind the bottle in the photo above) was quite happy especially with this sake.

Another lady brought a 1800-ml bottle of Junmai Daiginjo Kinshi Masamune Matsuya Kyubei. She was bought this sake in Kyoto because she liked this bottle. Finally she brought this bottle in the bathhouse and later we joined her for enjoying mixed bathing with this expensive sake.

I myself brought a small bottle of Junmai Goyotei from Shiraso Co. Ltd. This sake tasted quite like a namazake. I liked this one but the master brewer didn't appear to.

Aug 16, 2010

Tofu restaurant "Ukai"

The garden was maintained quite well. Carp were seen in the pond in the center of the garden. I felt the space was a little small and the atmosphere was damp, but the setting here was relaxing and appeared suitable for killing time to wait for companions to have lunch with; stone-paved paths in the garden were wet with sprinkled water; a wind-bell under the eaves was swaying in the breeze and sounding clearly and brightly; thus, the entire stage scenery here seemed helpful in adding to the cool and refreshing taste of the garden. This place I was visited recently was the tofu food restaurant "Ukai" in Hachioji City.

In the garden, there was the spring water that was used to make tofu of this restaurant. I had a mouthful of the water, which tasted mild and permeated through my body.

On this day, this tasteful and elegant restaurant was used as the venue of a luncheon party of our kimono circle. Since most of members of the circle are women, it is virtually a must for me to attend this gathering (maybe, I'm a philogynist).

We had some sake in a friendly and relaxing mood while enjoying foods beautifully arranged on small plates and bowl saucers. This was a delight of the palate and sight.

Sake Note
Tokubetsu Junmai Ginrei Gassan Nama (特別純米 銀嶺月山 生)
"Gassan" is the name of a mountain in the Tohoku area. The mountain is know for its behind-the-season skiing (the skiing season is from late spring to early summer) and also known as an object of mountain worship. Having the same name, this name sounds conveying cool air from the mountain. Is this too easy of me to think in this way?
The impression of the sake was that of average namasake but it has rather a higher degree of boldness in various aspects: bouquet, taste, etc. The alcohol content is 16 to 17, also being higher than typical sake. However, it leaves a clean-cut aftertaste.

Jul 31, 2010

Banzairaku Jin was nice

Our aikido master recently suggested that we get together for a meal once in a while, and we went to an izakaya Uotami last Thursday. The master kindly paid the bill for us.

We were five guys including one grade school boy. Only two of use, the master and I, drank alcohol beverages.

I don't frequent chain izakaya restaurants of this type lately. However, foods of this izakaya were not bad, and the interior layout was nicely designed with many cozy private rooms, and we could have relaxing time there. I guess such chain restaurants are also making efforts in improving customer satisfaction.

After having had beer to quench our thirst, we of course ordered sake. The sake we drank were Kita no Homare (北の誉), Tomio (富翁) and Banzairaku Jin (萬歳楽の甚). All sakes were contained 300-ml bottles, which were good quantity for the two drinkers.

Jin, a junmai sake, particularly had a rich taste and was my favorite one.

Shaved ice with sweet sake: This is shaved ice with thick sweet sake (beverage made from sake lees and sugar) and is sold at Sawanoi-en rest station run by Ozawa Syuzou. If you have too much sweet drink, you tend to suffer summer weariness. However, sweet sake is rich in nourishment, so I think it does some good for your health.

Jul 29, 2010

Coolness in front of the basin of a waterfall

A friend of mine, who is an employee of a sake brewery, said that she wanted to take some pictures of their sake against a background of a waterfall. According to her, they will use the pictures for advertisement. I was interested in this photo shoot, and I accompanied her.

We went westward on Route 411, which ran along the north lakeside of Okutama Lake, and entered Tabayama Village of Yamanashi Prefecture. On that day, 25 of July, a summer festival was being held in Tabayama Village. There was a parking control guy deployed in front of a large parking lot. This place was close to the destination where the waterfalls we wanted to visit existed. Usually, we can pass by this parking lot and get closer to the waterfalls, but it was a festival day, some control was applied to traffic, and we couldn't drive farther. So, as the guy in front of the parking lot instructed, we drove into the lot and parked the car. Not interested very much in what were going on in the festival, we started walking for the waterfalls.

Leaving the car, we walked across a scorching tennis court, and then waddled up along an asphalt-paved slope. We walked down on stone steps to the stream, but the path was somehow damp and seemed to be a favorite haunt of pit vipers. I carefully went down to the bottom of the valley. On the riverbed, it was wonderfully cool.

And, we went upstream along the valley, and found two stages of waterfalls.

The employee of the brewery took out two bottles of sake, placed them on the rock that formed a small dam of the basin of the lower waterfall, and took some pictures of the bottles. And as to the sake she brought there, I drank it from the bottle after the photo shoot as you can see in the video below.

Drinking nice sake in front of the basin while being cooled by the waterfall was certainly a pleasant experience.

Jul 28, 2010

Barely surviving a scorching summer

Last week, we had torturous intense heat here in Japan, and it was very hard to survive the week.

In order to cool off myself, I ate watermelon ...,

Went to a river for a cool evening breeze and had some beer ...,

Took a cold water bath ...,

But, I couldn't find definitively effective measures to cool myself. Anyway, at last, I drank chilled namazake.

Muroka Nama Genshu Tokubetsu Junmai Yamahai "Kaze no Mama"

This sake has fresh bouquet and savor distinctive of namazake, substantial acidity, and slight astringent taste of fruit.

In the movie above, I am gnawing fresh ginger sticks simply because I like them with sake. I don't mean to convey any special suggestion such as this sake is well paired with ginger. I often eat fresh ginger when drinking sake.

Jul 22, 2010

A nice izakaya to drink in

Sunday, I visited izakaya Ukou close to JR Shimbashi Station to attend a small drinking event.

Shimbashi is very far from my place and I don't usually go there only for the purpose of drinking. However, one of the organizers of this event eagerly and frequently invited me to the party. So, I finally accepted her invitation.

After just a two-minute walk or so from the Karasumori Exit of Shimbashi Station, I found a signboard of Ukou displayed on a two-story building. There was an opening on a building wall and the opening was the start point of a steep flight of stairs that lead to the upper floor, where this cozy little izakaya was operating. The izakaya had about 10 counter seats and a small tatami room.

Although being a sake lover, since I went there through the sizzling air of summer, I wanted to quench my parched throat with beer. The beer contained in this very thin glass was very drinkable, and I felt like I was drinking a cool breeze.

This nice otoshi appetizer made me want to drink some sake soon.

When I wanted sake, the izakaya manager displayed these bottles of sake on the counter top in front of me. Wow! It was very nice to see these bottles. The participants of the party could drink any sake they wanted, and I of course wanted to taste all of these sakes. And, so did I.

As being introduced by a gourmet information Web-site as a sake-centered izakaya, foods they offered seemed to be well-paired with sake. Look these photos. If you drink sake with these foods, they, both sake and foods, are nice. This is a synergistic effect.

And now, for something different, I am lately suffering heat of summer and I feel like I am in the hell. Are you all right in these sizzling days? When it is hot, eating watermelon really cools you down.