Sake Fest: Sake

20 04 2009

The 2009 Philadelphia Sake Fest featured a wide variety of sake, shochu, and two beers. While the beer part of it made little sense to me, the shochu is certainly a welcome addition as this beverage has received a tremendous amount of attention in Japan, but very little recognition here in the US.

A few specific selections from the evening stood head and shoulders above the rest. Of course, some of my all-time favorites were available, such as Tsukinokatsura’s Yanagi Junmai Ginjo, Dassai Junmai Ginjo, and Dewatsuru Junmai. In addition, there were a few other standouts both good and bad.

Masumi Kara-kuchi ki-ippon (below) is a round and full sake that isn’t overstated. Soft but full and brewed in Nagano.

The distributor presenting Raifuku Concentrate and Sakurafubuki specializes in unique and hard to find items. They shared with me that Sakurafubuki is minimally produced with only about 200 cases made. Raifuku concentrate was a fascinating drink. Introduced as “Japanese Brandy,” it is soft, smooth and fairly sweet. Somewhat cloying but very enjoyable.

Okunomatsu is always a delight to taste and here they had both the Ginjo (below) and the Tokubestu Junmai which is also a nama-chozo sake (one of my favorite types of sake pasteurized only once after brewing).

One of the items that was a bit of a let down this year was Kikusui Funaguchi. This sake is placed in a can to protect it from damage as it is extra sensitive to light, heat or other factors, which might normally damage wine or sake. This was a bit heavy and cloying, and despite the precautions, it felt as though it had perhaps experienced some detrimental temperature extremes in transit. The other confusing issue with this sake is that it is listed as both Honjozo and Genshu. Genshu means that the beverage is “cask strength:” not diluted or, in my mind, altered from the way it leaves the fermentation tank (outside of having the solid stuff taken out). Honjozo means that distilled spirits of one kind or another have been added, so to call something “Honjozo Genshu” seems really bizarre and out of place to me.

The sake below was something interesting from the folks at SakeOne in the U.S. While I don’t care for most of the sake they produce, they have recently begun to offer a shochu with origins around the world. The barley comes from Canada, the distillery is in Vietnam, and the company is Japanese. This was a good, clean, straightforward shochu that I found very enjoyable. If they follow their product model of good pricing and attractive packaging (which seems to be the plan) then the SakeOne group may well end up being the driving force in presenting shochu to the US.

Yumehibiki Brightly is extra fortified plum wine. All plum wine is essentially shochu with plum infused in it, but this plum wine drank a little richer than most. More equivalent to a liquer in both strength and flavor, definitely worth seeking out (if only a distributor in PA would pick up this importers products).

Watari Bune and Yuki no Bosha were two of the best sake present. Both were at the same table, and were far above the other options at that table. They are very good, very enjoyable, and highly recommended. Seek them out if you have a chance. Sorry we don’t have a picture of the regular Yuki no Bosha.  The nigori is also good, but somewhat like Dassai and the regular version is far superior to the nigori version.

Another all-time favorite is Umenishiki (below).  This sake is produced in Ehime, in the far southern region of Japan, and is slightly sweet and cloying to cut through the traditional foods of Shikoku island. This is a great sake with a variety of foods, but especially baked or grilled fish of any kind.

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Now we come to my secret soft spot for the evening. If I could have had a bottle of this and nothing else, well, that would have done me in, but even so, I would not have minded so much. Oni no te (Hand of the demon) is a shochu that is carefully aged for twenty years in casks that impart a wonderful vanilla bean aroma to the drink. While it packs quite a punch, I’d personally recommend treating it like good scotch. I’d probably prefer to have a small amount of ice with this, but even just neat it was a delight to experience.

I’ve been told that it is available as a Special Liquor Order item, but have not yet found it on the PLCB search system.

I was pleased to see and taste lots of old favorites at Sake Fest, as well as discover some great new gems (many of which you cannot purchase in Pennsylvania…yet).

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