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.


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).


Sake Fest

11 04 2009

Sake Fest Philadelphia is an annual event that benefits the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia by inviting sake vendors and restaurants to give the public a little taste of their wares. This is the third time Matt and I attended so we know the routine by now: arrive early, get some food in our bellies (because it’s usually gone in an hour), and then schmooze amongst the sake.

The event is held in Millennium Hall of the Loews Hotel:

This year Sake Fest hosted sixteen beverage distributors and twelve food vendors, although unfortunately three of the food vendors did not show (Di Bruno Bros., Alfa, and Miss Amelia’s BBQ).

This is generally a fine event for people who want to taste as many different types of sake as they can in two and a half hours.  It was difficult to have a lengthy conversation with any of the vendors about their sake as there wasn’t much time to talk–they really only had time to pour.  A select few of the vendors had representatives just to discuss and educate but it worked most effectively on a one-on-one basis.

Matt and I do enjoy this event because of the diversity and uniqueness of sake that is presented.  For the novice, it can be an excellent introduction to this beverage.  For the expert, it’s a playground of new selections and tastes (more of which will be detailed in a future sake-only review).

We also can see old acquaintances that have come into town just for this event:

This year, two beer vendors were invited to Sake Fest.  This didn’t really make much sense to us but the event organizers explained that it was because “sake” in Japanese actually means “alcohol.”  What we call “sake” is actually called “nihon-shu” in Japan.  It would have been a nice addition to the Fest if these were unique and little-known beers being introduced to many people for the first time, such as Hitachino Nest.  Asahi and Sapporo are like the Budweisers and Heinekens of Japanese beers.


There was an underlying sense of sake education being an important part of the event and this could become a major selling point in future years. This year there was a bit of a disconnect between the education and the beverages and food. Signs were put up on the tables with recommendations on what to eat with the sake at that table. There was a “sake educator” on site but placed at the back of the room, quite difficult to locate.  This concept needs to be fully committed to. This event could be really dynamic, as it is unique and only happens once a year, but it needs some focus and more effort and thought to be more than just tasting and leaving. I hope that the event continues to grow and add to their concept of education and diversity.

Sake and food posts will follow.  Stay tuned.

Event Announcement: Sake Fest 2009

31 03 2009

On April 7th, Sake Fest 2009 will open its doors again to a thirsty and enthusiastic crowd.  Sake Fest has been an annual event in Philadelphia since 2005 and has drawn in crowds of people eager to learn more about this increasingly popular drink.  The event features dozens of sake varieties and food from local restaurants, with the intent to educate people on the different types of sake, how it is made, and how to pair it with food. 

Sake Fest is organized in conjunction with the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia (JASGP) as a featured event in the annual Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival, said to be rivaled only by the festival in Washington D.C.  All net proceeds from Sake Fest benefit the JASGP.

As devoted fans of this beverage, we are looking forward to attending sake fest and we will post reviews of our experience and of the sake and food soon after the event. If you are planning to go, maybe we will see you there. If you can’t make it this year, maybe our reviews will provide a list of reasons to be there next year.

Sake Fest 2009
Presented by Event Navigators
Tuesday, April 7th
6:00 – 8:30pm
Loews Philadelphia Hotel
Click Here to purchase tickets.

Sake barrels at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo:
sake barrels

Rice at a sake brewery:

The fermentation process:

Sake in traditional cups, “kiki-joko.”
sake cups

Urakasumi Junmai

26 04 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen, please let me introduce to you one of my all-time favorite sakes. Urakasumi is an impressive sake, with all the bearings of a classic junmai sake. The aroma is like steamed rice and chestnuts, inviting and comforting. The flavor matches well to the aromas, with a soft wash of rich flavors, but retaining a light feel on the palate. The mouth-feel is very creamy and rounded, feels like sake should be, liquid rice. The finish is fairly lengthy, just long enough to entice you to come back for more. A special note for this particular sake is that the toji uses a proprietary yeast for this brew. This yeast was discovered and can only be used by Urakasumi brewery.

Note: Whenever I can get a hold of it, I will also post information (whatever I can find) regarding the brewing specs of a particular sake. Some folks find this tedious, some swear by it, and some say that ultimately, it doesn’t really matter, because everything is in your personal taste of how you relate to a particular sake.

Grade: Junmaishu
Rice: Manamusume
Seimaibuai: 65%
ABV: 15-16%
SMV: +2.0
Acidity: 1.5
Amino: 1.7

Below is a blurb from the English portion of their website, giving some background and historical flavor to the beloved brewery. It should be noted that matsushima is considered to be one of Japan’s three most famous views, although not as famous as Mt. Fuji, it has inspired many artists, and seemingly, many sake brewers for generations.

“The Urakasumi Sake brewery dates back to the time when the feudal lord of the influential Date clan in northeastern Japan ordered sacred sake to be offered to the gods of Shiogama Shrine in the feudal domain.For more than 280 years since we first produced sake in Shiogama,near beautiful Matushima Bay,our brewery has been one of the leading local sake breweries in the northeastern region.Using mainly choice sake rice grown locally, and with the consummate skill of a Nanbu toji(master brewer),we brew sake that has been described as maboroshi, or dreamy sake.”

Try it out if you get a chance.