Feb 28, 2011

Closed-door party at an izakaya

A sake drinking party was held at Izakaya Oumi in Tachikawa City. This party occupied all seats and ordinary customers could not enter this izakaya.

This izakaya carries reasonably priced sake. They have, I think, probably 30 brands or more of sake (later, I was informed that there were at least 45 bottles). Since they sell sake also in units of half gou (90 ml), you can try many different brands for comparison. The staff are only two guys of chef and server.

There seem to be many frequent customers of this izakaya, and it often happens that you visit there several times and get acquainted with some customers. And soon you will have many new acquaintances who haunt there. One of such people planned the party this time. The number of the participants grew so large that all the seats were reserved.

I am often approached by someone who is a stranger to me, but she/he later turns to be a reader of this blog or watcher of my Youtube video. Also at this time, the person who sat next to me said to me, "Ichibay san, I believe?"

He is also a blogger and he owns a pottery hibachi, with which he warms his sake and grills snacks to be eaten with sake. In a nutshell, he seemed to have a nice drinking environment.

【日本酒】 家呑み時々外呑み 【焼酎】

Well, let's continue with the topic of this party. This was basically an all-you-can-drink party, and we can drink almost all the bottles (except for some unopened for aging) kept in the refrigerator of this izakaya. The entry fee was only 5,000 yen.

Since this was an all-you-can-drink party, I drank various types of nice sake.

There were also other bottles of which I missed taking pictures.

Feb 25, 2011

Finally got a kandouko (sake warmer)!

Before, I wrote about an article about kandouko, and I said that I want a one for pleasure of sake life. Later, I checked net auctions, but it was difficult to find a good item, or I didn't succeed in the bidding of such an item. Even when I succeeded in the bidding of a small kandouko once, I had to return the item I had received because it had water leakage. I mean I could not get any kandouko in spite of my efforts. So, my enthusiasm for owning such an antique item had gradually been shrinking until recently.

However, one day recently, an incident occurs at Sawanosuke.

Sawanosuke is an izakaya set up on the premises of Sawanoien run by Ozawa Syuzou. This small tavern has only an L-shaped temporarily set up counter, and is operating only on weekends until the end of February (for details, read the post about Sawanosuke). About two weeks ago, I was enjoying warmed sake at Sawanosuke. I saw there was a beautiful nice kandouko inside the counter.

By the way, in my understanding, there are two types of kandokos. One type is used as a standalone device, and the other is used in combination with a nagahibachi (box-shaped wooden hibachi used for heating) or irori (square fireplace fixed on the floor in a room). The mechanisms of these two types are roughly illustrated as follows:

Standalone type

Type used in combination with a nagahibachi or irori

In use of either type, charcoal fire heats up the water in the vessel surrounding the fire, and the heated water warms up the sake in a sake flask placed in the water vessel.

The one kept in the Sawanosuke tavern was not the type used with a nagahibachi or irori but the standalone type. However, it was just placed there and not in practical use. This was an exhibited item in the bar.

Anyway, I was enjoying various types of warmed sake there while admiring this artifact. Then, the president of Ozawa Syuzou appeared. We had some conversation, including the following dialog:

Writer: "Hey, president, that's a nice kandouko."
President: "We are not using it any longer. I will sell it to you for 6,000 yen."
W: "O.K. I'll take it."
P: "Aah, O.K. 8,000 yen on the second thought."
W: "Why you raised the price?"
P: "Because this is an auction."

This was a strange auction, where there was only one bidder but the price went up. In short, it didn't seem he wanted to sell it. :-)

However, once you are shown a beautiful thing right in front of you, and you are told you can buy it at a reasonable price. And just immediately after you are told so, you learn you can't obtain it. In that case, you probably crave to own it more strongly than before.

Thus, this incident added fuel to the dying fire, and I relapsed into my kandouko-craving disease. Later when I was checking the Internet for auctioned kandoukos, I found a nice item priced at 4,900 yen. So I bid it for 5,000 yen, and I could soon succeed in this bidding. This kandouko is the standalone type.

I selected the standalone type because I don't need to prepare a nagahibachi. The other reason is because, in case of a kandouko used with a nagahibachi or irori, the former is very heavy and difficult to move and the latter is permanently fixed on a floor and impossible to move from one place to another.

After receiving my kandouko, I made a test run of this new toy for the sake drinker. The taste of the sake warmed with this was quite mild.

Although it looks small, it holds a lot of water, maybe 2 litters or so. I prepare hot water in a kettle and poured the hot water in the kandouko, and set fire to some charcoal and put the burning charcoal in the brazier inside the kandouko.

The temperature of the water did not rise up to the boiling point but to a point hot enough to prepare warmed sake. A small amount of charcoal was unexpectedly enough to warm the water and sake. Above all, the amusing point of the kandouko was that I could grill some snacks on a grill while sipping warmed sake.

I think the kandouko is a wonderful gadget for sake lovers. Two or three of such people can use this to share a delight of warmed sake while grilling dried fish or squid or other foods and nibbling such foods at an easy pace. So, you readers who love sake, if you find this kind of gadget in a Japanese antique shop, in an Internet auction, or in any other chance, don't miss getting it.

Feb 24, 2011

Sake Drinkers' Bus Visited Shizuoka

Last Sunday, I attended a bus tour to Shizuoka Prefecture. This was a tour planned and held by Izakaya Mamiana operating in Tachikawa City. Sake lovers haunting Mamiana got together and started for Shizuoka.

I myself do not go to Mamiana very often, but fortunately there were vacant seats because several people had canceled their participation. So, I could join the tour.

When people who gulp sake like a whale got on the same bus, then what will happen?
No problem! A sake embargo was imposed until the bus got on the express way on the return path.

The itinerary of the tour includes:
- Lunch and shopping at a fish market (Shizuoka has several famous fishery harbors with fish markets)
- Study tour at Suruga Shuzojo Brewery
- Seeing the exhibit of a MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM
- Shopping at Sake Shop Okitsu

Lunch and shopping at a fish market

Rice Bowl of Negitoro with an Onsen Egg had a creamy taste.

Study tour at Suruga Shuzojo Brewery

The brewery has several brands of Tenko, Haginokura, Sogatsuru, Chuumasa, etc.
The brewery was originally making Chuumasa brand sake.
Later, it inherited the brands of Tenko, Haginokura, and Sogatsuru from another brewery, and started as a new company at the current place in Shizuoka..
I took some video of the brewery.

Seeing the exhibit of a MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM

A big statue of GUNDAM was exhibited near JR Higashi-Shizuoka Station.

Shopping at Sake Shop Okitsu
This liquor shop owns two namazake tanks in the store.
The generous-hearted owners let all of us (39 people) drink their sake.
Each of us could drink quite a lot.
Please watch the video below to see how the shop was.

The sake was so nice that I felt an impulse to drink directly from the tap of the tank.

Feb 16, 2011

Izakaya where you can drink various warmed sake

In Sawanoien, which is run by Ozawa Syuzou, Izakawa Sawanosuke is now operating on weekends until the end of February. A temporarily L-shaped counter has been set up in the rest station on the premises of Sawanoien. Maybe 7 or 8 people can sit at the counter, and if too many people want to sit there and drink sake, maybe other tables in the rest station will be used. Anyway, this is a small and simply built izakaya.

Last Sunday, I went to this Sawanosuke.

On the counter were bottles of Sawanoi sakes, and these sakes are apparently types that would taste nice when warmed. These sakes include Genroku, Honjizake, Iroha, Kuramori, Ginjirushi, etc. (元禄、本地酒、彩は、蔵守、銀印など). You can order any sake you like, and the chef-cum-server behind the bar will warm it for you soon.

Snack menu they provide are simple foods including toasted dried-squid, yakitori, vegetable pickle, smoked tofu, etc., but what is noteworthy here is that you can try the all types of sake as warmed sake. I think it is not easy to find such an interesting izakaya.

One of my favorites there was warmed Genroku (元禄), which was sweetish and rich. I enjoyed with smoked tofu this sake that tasted somewhat like the skin of baked sweet potato.

While I was drinking, Mr. Ozawa, president of Ozawa Syuzou, appeared, and came to the counter. He had friendlily had an idle chat with us and chef-cum-server, and finally joined us as a drinker.

Then, the president bought Junmai Daiginjo Mizu-no-kioku (純米大吟醸水乃記憶), which was not listed on the menu, at the souvenir stand, and handed it over to the chef-cum-server. He kindly treated us to a warmed version of this junmai daiginjo. Although I knew that this sake had been designed so that it was also good when warmed, I drank this sake warmed for the first time. I hadn't imagined it was so good. A ginjo aroma, touch of sweetness, .... I surely realized that warming up this sake incredibly adds to its fascination.

By the way, I hear this Mizu-no-kioku will go out of the market soon, but the same sake will be sold under the more generic name of Junmai Daiginjo.

Today's Movie -- Namachozoshu chocolate and Daiginjo chocolate
On February 14, the Valentine Day, I ate sake chocolate!

Feb 8, 2011

Start of spring

February 3 was the day of Setsubun (the day before the calendrical beginning of spring). On the day of Setsubun, people scatter beans to drive away bad luck and call in happiness. Of course, my family practiced bean scattering this year as usual. Beans are sold at supermarkets or grocery stores. We bought beans and put them on the shelf of Shinto god altar built in our house, and skewered the heads of sardines on skewers. Actually, we didn't have good bamboo skewers so we substituted old sharpened cooking chopsticks for skewers. The sardine heads were then toasted on the gas burner. These skewered and toasted sardine heads were displayed with holly leaves at the front door. This is a custom called yakkagashi (or yaikagashi).

Speaking of Setsubun, people are apt to think of nation-widely known ehoumaki, a big rolled sushi, which is eaten in hope of good luck. This was a custom originally practiced in Osaka or Aichi Prefecture, but it later became known to people across the country by some chance. In the meantime, how about the above mentioned custom yakkagashi? I'm not sure it is practiced nation-widely. Anyway, we are observing this practice instead of ehomaki.

And, the next day of Setsubun is Risshun (the start of spring, this year it falls on February 4). Oh, speaking of Risshun, there is sake named Risshun Asashibori. This year, 38 sake breweries in the country pressed this special sake in the very morning of the Risshun, and it was shipped as non-pasteurized non-diluted sake on the same day. Of these 38 breweries, the one closest to my place is Ozawa Syuzou, which is making Sawanoi.

For ordinary sake, the timing of pressing is determined by judging the conditions of the fermenting mash. For Risshun Asashibori, however, it is destined to be pressed in the morning of the Risshun. So, the fermentation process must carefully be controlled and adjusted in order that the sake can be pressed in good conditions. I hear attentive care is required for this process.

On the Risshun day (February 4), I happened to have a chance to drink with friends, which was the birthday of one of them. So, I wanted to send something to him, and went out to a nearby sake shop to buy a bottle of Risshun Asashibori as a present. At the sake shop, they were unloading from the truck cartons of this sake they had just brought in. I asked whether I could buy some bottles of this sake to a shop clerk unloading cartons. However, I was told that I couldn't since all the bottles were sold on a subscription basis. So, I went back home empty-handedly.

Nevertheless, shortly I wanted to buy something instead of Asashibori for the friend, and revisited the sake shop. I found that they were selling this sake under a tent in front of the shop. If I remember correctly they were selling Asashibori not under a tent but on the shelf in the shop last year and the year before last. So, I told one of the shop clerks under the tent to make my doubt clear, "I think I could buy this sake last year at your shop without a reservation?" He told me that they would sell this sake on the ordinary shelf after several days or a week if they had remaining bottles. So, I thought I needed to visit this shop again, maybe a week later.

Well, this post is just saying I couldn't buy Risshun Asashiori on the Risshun day and maybe not very interesting. But, you have read to this point anyway. Thank you for reading. The photo below shows the last year's version of Risshun Asashibori.

Feb 2, 2011

Home drinking, daiginjo taruzake, and Katsuho

If you want to drink your favorite sake to your heart's content while sharing its pleasure with friends in a relaxing mood, the best way to do so is to hold a drinking party at someone's house. You know, preparing foods and drinks by yourselves does not cost too much, everyone can bring one's favorite sake or any special sake in which she/he has found significance, and everyone can enjoy the party without caring for the time.

The question is who kindly offers a good room or place. A desirable room or place should be big enough to accommodate the guests, and everyone should be able to enjoy the party there without feeling too great a delicacy about the presence of family members of the host. After all, I always reach the conclusion that using the irori cabin is the best solution.

The irori cabin, built by my father just for amusement in the yard of our house, has the interior having a raised floor and an earth floor. The raised floor is furnished with an irori fireplace and has a space enough to place two low tables beside the fireplace. In addition, being equipped with an extractor fan, we can discharge smoke when we make some fire in a table-top hibachi etc. Beside the cabin, there is a small kitchen with gas and water supply, allowing us to cook some simple foods. Also, hot water supply from the flash water heater is convenient for washing dirty dishes and tableware after the party. In a nutshell, the irori cabin seems a perfect facility for a home drinking party.

Last Saturday, I invited friends to this irori cabin and held a sake drinking party.

At first, I planned that we would leisurely drink sake while grilling some dried fish and vegetables on a shichirin brazier. However, since someone said he would kindly bring some lamb meat, so I prepared a tabletop BBQ hibachi.

We used the shichirin brazier and BBQ hibachi to cook dried salmon, shiitake mushroom, green onion, komai fish, etc. Also, we cooked some lamb meat and oysters on the BBQ hibachi.

As to sake, there were Kirinzan, Ofuku-masamune, Yoitashuu, and Katsuho from Niigata Prefecture, Daiginjo Bon Bingakoi, Daiginjo Taruzake, and Oomiki from Sawanoi of Tokyo, and Kikuhime Nigorizake from Ishikawa Prefecture. In addition, someone brought us some mysterious white liquid (I can't tell details of the contents for some reason, though).

By the way, what was the Daiginjo Taruzake? Normally, they fill regular sake or other low-priced sake in a wooden sake cask to make a taruzake. After several days, the sake will take the scent of the cedar used for the cask and make sake with a fresh cedar scent. So, it is quite strange to use aromatic sake such as daiginjo for making a taruzake.

Anyway, if there is sake in front of us, we cannot help but drink it. Each of us, of course, had a try of this special sake. After a sip of it, the taste was not bad but with a strong scent of cedar cask. According to the lady who brought this sake, this daiginjo taruzake seemed to have been prepared by a sake shop from curiosity. Wow, they are quite an adventurous sake shop! However, we all agreed that using expensive daiginjo for taruzake was wasteful.

By the way, I must tell Tsubame san in Nagaoka City, Niigata, "Thank you for the bottle of Katsuho, we all enjoyed your sake. It was very nice."