Sake Tasting

Sunday, June 28, 2009

There's something to be said for the satisfying sound of a hard shot glass slamming onto a table at your favorite sushi bar. The odd tasting but soup like brew that makes up the sake shooter is a slightly disturbing - yet satisfying - concoction.

If you've never had one a sake shooter is composed of hot sake, a quail egg, a slice or two of green onion, a raw oyster, and diced chili peppers. It kinda tastes like soup with that sears your throat with the burn of cheap booze and capsicum. This has been the totality of my sake knowledge up until now.

"Cheap sake is always served warm," Ed Lehrman told me and the others over the phone during our conference call. "It's to cover up the undesirable flavors that develop." It made sense I suppose, I guess it's why most people at the sushi joints order good sake chilled.

"Also, sake in Japan is rarely drank with sushi. Usually with grilled seafood or other meats. More often than not beer is served with sushi."

Ahh, point goes to you Ed.

I was learning a lot over this little tasting session. My homegirl in Florida, Jaden, had been acting as a liazon with Vine Connections (whom Ed is one of the founding partners of) to organize a sake tasting with various other food writers. I was honored to be included with a distinguished group such as Andrea Nguyen, Amy Sherman, Matthew Amster-Burton, Lorna Yee, and Kim O'Donnel. When I first logged into the online conference room I was slightly intimidated as I'm a devout acolyte to their writing and strive to obtain even a slight modicum of their talent. To be in included in an event with them blew my socks off and clear into the washer.

After a few technical difficulties and a quick run upstairs to put my hair up and put a shirt on (no one told me my webcam would automatically be turned on) we were led through a sake tutorial (you can see Jaden's here) along with a a few question and answer sessions. Afterwards we were led through the various types of sake sipping, sniffing and analyzing through chat messages our takes on each proffering a nose of cheese or a taste of banana peel in an attempt to pin down the profile of each sake.

The sakes were each amazing, one in particular called Divine Droplets was particularly impressive. The brewer Takasago Ginga Shizuku builds an igloo every years as a place to press the sake during its final steps in processing in order to keep the sake pure and free of contaminants. It had a distinct nose of slightly stinky cheese, but a flavor that was crisp with notes of apple and pear followed by a pleasantly fermenty funk.

The tasting was assisted by the bottles themselves, the Vine Connections peeps ensure that their label is clear and describes the flavor, grade, type of rice, and so on. All participants were in agreement that wine, tequila, and all liquors should emulate this label model. Clear, simple, and useful.
Just as one might discover with wine or chocolate, sake develops personality based on it's processing mode, the type of rice used, the terroir. The whole tasting was culturally enlightening and gave you an appreciation for the sake brewers who had been dedicated to their task for years and years (one brewing company had been around fro over 800). All this knowledge and the understanding that you were drinking sake that had been carefully crafted using such precise methods bestowed a pleasure that was thought provoking. ...And tipsy. Drinking a bunch of sake at 10 am on a weekday will do that to a guy.

Now, having a tiny frame and a little roommate it was mandatory that I call over friends over to try them as well. After giving them the history of sake and watching Jaden's video on the sake making process we all went around and tried each of the sakes. We laughed and took notes, enjoying the sake and it's ability to bring us all together to enjoy one another's company. I was happy that I given the opportunity to learn about sake and then pass that knowledge on to the people I care about so much.

I'm looking forward to creating some desserts with sake and doing some dessert pairings in the future. Be sure to stay tuned to see what boils up. Another special shout out to Ed, Sarah, Jaden and all the peeps at Vine Connections for their kindness, articulate presentations, and generosity.



  1. I love Sake.
    Usually the stuff we get here is cheap so warm would be the way to go then. I've never had a good chilled Sake.

    You're so full of information all the time! I learned something new!

  2. An online conference? So did they send out boxes to the participants with the sake? Did I miss seeing that detail?

  3. Catherine: Ah yes, they sent it to us a few days prior. =)

  4. Garrett, so glad you could participate! We had fun once it got rolling. Thanks again for playing. Glad it was helpful.


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