Eat Your Sake

It’s dinnertime; you are enjoying the company of some close friends in your local haunt. Habitually, you reach for the wine list to scout out the perfect liquid companion to your evening meal. Shall you have white tonight, or will it be red? Or will you, like the growing numbers of culturally curious diners across the world opt for something else entirely? As the popularity of sake grows, and as sake is slowly introduced to drinks lists across the global dining scene, we have begun to witness diners becoming more alcoholically intrepid.

Diners are learning to “Eat with Sake”, not only at Japanese restaurants, but also at Pan Asian, Indian and even Michelin establishments.

Adam Frosh - Third Place

Adam Frosh, finalist

Now that we have learned how to “Eat with Sake”, master brewers Gekkeikan are encouraging consumers to go one step further. In conjunction with the Japan Centre, Gekkeikan hosted its first sake themed cooking competition, introducing us to the concept of “Sake to Eat”.

Cooking with sake has long been part of the Japanese home cook’s repertoire and it is well known that sake’s rich umami naturally complements the equally umami rich ingredients of Japanese cuisine – mushrooms, kombu, dashi, natto. Umami, however, is not confined to Japanese food alone and with this inaugural sake themed competition, Gekkeikan hoped to inspire a new generation of global chefs to use sake more creatively at mealtimes.

Gekkeikan Award winning lamb shank

Gekkeikan Award winning lamb shank

The rules of the competition were simple: entrants needed to devise two sake inspired dishes – one savoury and one sweet – which a panel of well-respected judges would assess along the following dimensions:

1)  Taste, flavour and texture

2)  Presentation

3)  Presence of aroma and/or flavour of sake

After whittling down the entries to a handful of finalists, our experienced panel set about deciding the overall winner during a final cook off on Sunday 24 January, at Japan Centre’s newly opened udon-ya Ichiryu on New Oxford Street.

Gekkeikan masters of cooking

Judges in action

After a morning of cooking, tasting and discussion, the winner was elected. A raft of outstanding dishes were presented, each demonstrating creative use of sake as a cooking ingredient, but it was the Drunken Hainanese Chicken Rice and the vibrant Strawberry Sake mousse with White Chocolate Shell that won us over. In these two dishes, the sake flavour shone through, lifting, rather than being subsumed by, the other flavours.

Drunken Chicken Rice

Winner Natasha Cohen’s Main Dish, Drunken Hainanese chicken rice

 

Winner Natasha Cohen's Dessert

Winner Natasha Cohen’s Dessert, Strawberry sake mousse with white chocolate shell

The winner Natasha Cohen, a copywriter from London, was awarded an exclusive one week trip to Japan including a two day hands on training course at the Gekkeikan Sake School in Kyoto Fushimi, courtesy of Gekkeikan.

Natasha Cohen

Natasha Cohen

Despite there being only one winner of the overall competition, the event itself was an undeniable victory for sake. And as is traditionally the case for celebratory occasions, attendants and judges participated in the time-old tradition of kagami-biraki, toasting the day with the suitably festive Gekkeikan Kinpaku Honjozo (gold flake sake). Kagami-biraki, or sake barrel breaking, traditionally represents ‘breaking’ open the door to fortune and prosperity; and indeed initiatives such like this open the door on a new chapter for sake.  Let us look forward to a new crop of innovative, flavoursome sake themed recipes and the continued re-interpretation of sake’s role at the dinner table in years to come.

kinpaku sake

Kinpaku sake, a sake shot through with gold flakes, traditionally enjoyed on celebratory occasions.

Kagami biraki

Our sincere thanks to the judging panel:

Toshihiko Sakaguchi – Director General, JETRO London

Rie Yoshitake – Sake Consultant, Sake Samurai

Anna Greenhous – Sake Journalist, Harpers

Yukimasa Noda – GM International Division, Gekkeikan Sake Brewery

Kanji Furukawa – Chief Executive Chef, SHORYU & ICHIRYU

 

Other shortlisted dishes:

Second place – Mutsumi Kramer.

Savoury Dish: Sake Souffle Quiche with Fig & Pine Nuts

Sweet Dish: Rosey Sake Jelly with Raspberry Sauce.

Mutsumi was awarded a two days certified sake sommelier course at the Sake Sommelier Academy.

 

Third place – Adam Frosh.

Savoury Dish: Fillet Beef Tartare in Sake

Sweet Dish: Sake Cheesecake Brulee with Sake & Plum Aioli

Adam was awarded a case of Gekkeikan Special Edition Sake from Kyoto with a premium Horin Riedel Glass Set.

Akashi-tai sake

Meet the Brewery: Akashi-Tai

One of the most tragic occurrences in Sake history is the decline in breweries over the years.

In between 1940 and 2014, an astonishing 4,500 breweries shut their doors to the public, leaving just a fraction –  c. 1,500 – in operation. Today the trend continues its downward march (Japan’s National Tax Agency).

Nevertheless, to get to know every single one of the remaining breweries would still require some work, and a substantially deep purse. But isn’t that one of the joys of being a little obsessed by something? The prospect of so much terrain still yet to discover.

There is a bit of method to the madness of exploration though. Faced with a sea of choice, one is drawn towards those breweries with a story, an element of soft emotionality that can be latched onto.

“That is the brewery with the Cornish toji (master brewer),” for example, or “that is the one which polishes its rice grains into diamond shapes…” (allegedly there is one).

And yet, it is not always easy to find this kind of information about Sake breweries. I think this has a lot to do with an Asian cultural bent towards modesty, and a fundamentally different way of appreciating alcoholic beverages in comparison to the West.

Perhaps another contributory factor to the lack of information is the lack of translated material. Sake labels are notoriously indecipherable and what marketing information there is is often written in Japanese. In time this too will change, as Sake exports continue to pick up pace.

Anyway, I wanted to introduce some of my own favourite breweries. “Favourite”, not “best”, or “most expensive”, most “cachet”. “Favourite”, because they are breweries with stories that I enjoyed getting to know.

This week, Akashi-Tai.

What does Akashi-Tai mean?

“Tai” is the Japanese word for Red Sea Bream and “Akashi” is the name of one of Western Japan’s major fishing villages. The brewery is therefore named after the red sea bream of Akashi, which are renowned throughout Japan for their taste.

Symbolically, tai in Japan represents good luck, as it rhymes with omedetai, or “Congratulations”.  It is often eaten at “medetai” (congratulatory) occasions, such as weddings and family gatherings.

Akashi-Tai

Akashi-Tai’s logo, a playful sea bream coiled belly up

Date founded: 1886

Production: 73,000l per year, or roughly 400 koku.

Around 73% of Japanese breweries produce annual outputs of <500 koku, which is considered small. Akashi-Tai is therefore firmly at the bijou end of the spectrum.

Sake:

A full range of Sake is produced at Akashi-Tai, including some of the newer Sake styles, such as sparkling Sake and Sake liqueur.

At every event at which I have seen Akashi-Tai served, the unanimous favourite has always been the umeshu, or plum Sake liqueur:

Shiraume (“White Plum”) Umeshu

A plummy liqueur. Akashi-Tai’s umeshu is made by preserving ume in high quality sake (ginjo sake), rather than distilled alcohol (as is the case with lesser umeshu’s).

Ume are soft stone fruit similar to plums and apricots and traditionally used in Chinese medicine for their supposed health benefits. Therefore, umeshu has also traditionally been seen to possess medicinal qualities  – a bit like Mint Julep in the West!

All in all, a rich, velvety drink that could work well with autumn fruit, cheese and certainly with Mince pies.

Why not.

shiraume

The brewery is also known for a second Sake, which I have not yet had the pleasure of trying:

Genmai Aged Sake

Released in 2005. This beverage is special for two reasons:

  1. It is Japan’s first brown rice Sake (usually Sake is made from polished rice i.e. white rice), and
  2. It is aged for a number of years before consumption.

Hard also to not love the bottle design, redolent of a Glenrothes Select Reserve.

genmai aged sake

What’s next?

When Mr Yonezawa, President of Akashi-Tai, was asked about his next big development, he stated that focus is shifting from producing Sake that goes with food, to that which can “shine on its own”.

After attending last Wednesday’s drinks reception at Sake no Hana, I would say that this future vision is already within reaching distance. In the downstairs bar, a crowd of Fintech CEOs performed a very traditional Kagami-biraki with Akashi-Tai Sake. Kagami-biraki (“opening the lid”) is where the lid of a sake barrel is broken with a wooden mallet, and guests are served with the sake stored within. The round lid symbolises harmony , so breaking the lid represents opening the door to harmony and prosperity.

And really, nothing makes me happier than seeing Sake being enjoyed as the drink of choice in the 21st century.

Looking to try some Akashi-Tai? 

Where to drink Akashi-Tai Sake in London:

Sake no Hana

Hakkasan

Yauatcha

The Nightjar

Inamo

Chottomatte

The nightjar

Murakami

 

Where to buy Akashi-tai sake in London:

Selfridges

Odd bin

Whiskey exchange

Nicolas

Hedonism

The Good wine shop

Harvey Nichols

Fortnum & Mason

Amathus

Harrods

Lea and Sandmann

Whole Foods Market

 

Akashi-tai

Akashi-tai

akashi tai

Akashi-tai sake

International Sake Day

How to Celebrate International Sake Day

With just 10 days left to go, read on for everything you need to know about International Sake Day, and details of all the festivities taking place in London from 30th September – 1st October 2015.

The 1st October is one of the most significant days in the Sake calendar, and indeed, the Japanese calendar. Otherwise known as Sake Day, or “Nihonshu no hi”, it marks the first day of the sake-making season, as Sake is brewed in autumn and winter.

The 1st October, in other words, is Sake’s ‘New Year’s Day’. The date is also of important for symbolic reasons, because the tenth year, hour and month are represented in the Chinese zodiac system by an ancient character that is also the old symbol for sake*:

Sake Symbol

So what have our UK importers and restaurants got in store for this year’s “New Year” celebrations?

*The modern symbol has an added three strokes on the left side, identical to the Chinese character for “alcohol”:

sake

 

Events on Wednesday, 30th September:

vagabond wines logo

Junmai, Honjuzu, Daiginjo – it’s not easy to get to grips with Sake without a guide so we’re happy to welcome Takeshi Nakamura from importer [email protected] and Sake Sommelier Jono Beagle to guide you through some of the many flavours and styles of Japan’s finest beverage. Both Takeshi and Jono are convinced Sake can match with European food and are importing previously unavailable breweries to the UK for the first time. This is sure to be and palate-expanding, fascinating tasting.
See here for event details and booking.
*

hedonism logo

SOLD OUT

The Terroir of Yamagata Prefecture & Dewazakura Brewery
Hosted by Honami Matsumoto
Wednesday, 30th Sept 6.30 – 8.30pm

Following the success of Hedonism’s recent Sake Summer Showcase, Hedonism have welcomed back Honami Matusmoto to host another fantastic masterclass.

Honami will be joined by 5th generation brewers Akari & Shotaro Nakano of  Dewazakura to present a number of their very fine Sake & talk about the terroir of Yamagata Prefecture.

The evening will also feature cuisine provided by one of London’s finest Japanese restaurants, Kikuchi. Each dish has been hand-selected to match a specific Sake.

Guests will sample Tobiroku Sparkling Sake, Oka Ginjo, Dewasansan Junmai Ginjo, Izumi Judan Ginjo Genshu, Omachi Junmai Ginjo, Ichiro Junmai Daiginjo & Yuki ManMan Daiginjo 5 Years Matured.

International Sake Day

Copyright Jimmy Gleeson

*

Events on Thursday, 1st October:

japan centre logo

Japan Centre in Piccadilly will be offering 20% off all Gekkeikan sake bought in store on the day. Sake sampling at Japan Centre will be held on the day between 3-6pm, with Naoyuki Torisawa, Japan Centre’s sake sommelier.

The 1st October will also see the launch of renowned sake brewers, Gekkeikan’s new Master Cooking Competition in collaboration with Japan Centre. For more information see here.

*

shoryu logo
Shoryu Ramen, who specialise in authentic Kyushu cuisine, are celebrating International Sake Day 1st October 2015 by offering a complimentary sake for every diner that visits one of their four restaurants from 6pm on the day. They have also created a special flight of three different Sakes, which will be available for £6.50 – a perfect opportunity to try different Sakes.

For the complimentary sake, Shoryu Ramen will offer Gekkeikan Namasake, which is unlike other types of Sake as it is unpasterurised for a stronger taste and aroma.

Gekkeikan Namasake

The flight of Sakes, will include three Gekkeikan Sakes – Junmai Kome to Mizu, a dry, mellow Sake, Namazake, with the name literally meaning ‘natural Sake’ and Nigori, a sweeter, creamier Sake.  All of these choices have been especially chosen by Vicky Vittoria Vecchione, bar manager and mixologist for Shoryu Ramen.

Shoryu Sake Flight

*

sushisamba

sushi samba ISDCelebrate World Sake Day on October 1st. From 5:30 PM until close, SUSHISAMBA will . . .

Craft a creative range of sake-infused cocktails, including:

ICHIJIKU CLOUD £14 – Enoki Shuzo sake, fig, fino sherry and a blend of chocolate and soy bitters. Stirred with ice until icy cold and served ‘up.’
SAKE SPRITZ £14 – Takashimizu Sake, dry cacao liqueur, lemon juice and a cherry and cacao bitters blend. Served over ice and spritzed with prosecco.

Feature a Kimono performance,

where dressed in traditional garb, Geisha will be serving sake to guests throughout the celebration during the night’s festivities.

Serve sake-inspired dishes created by our chefs,

who have seized inspiration from International Sake Day to breathe some sake spirit to their culinary craft.

SEA BASS SEVICHE £14 – sea bass, yuzu sake, orange, yuzu pearls, maize morado, nasturtium
SAKE SORBET £9 – quince sake sorbet, hazelnut, fig purée ​

To book: +44 (0)203 640 7330 or email: [email protected]

*

tengu sake logo

Tengu Sake is kicking off World Sake Day 2015 at 6:30pm with a Sake Masterclass hosted by experts Tengu Sake.  There’ll be a variety of Sakes to try: different types, styles and regionalities.  They’ll also be talking about temperature and food pairings, with nibbles for people to try with the Sake.

Then, at 8pm, the party starts in true PimpShuei style.  The collaboration with Tengu Sake means Sake both by the glass, straight from the barrel as well as some superb Sake cocktails.  All this mixed in with PimpShuei’s signature cocktails, retro arcade machines and killer Kung Fu theme.  Also present will be Double Dragon Sound Systems on the decks to provide some chilled tunes.

A night to remember so come on down for your sake fix!

*

World Sake Imports

World Sake Imports is organizing a seven-course food and sake-pairing menu at renowned Matsuri, on the first October. For a peek ahead at the magnificent menu, see below. To book your seat, call 020 7839 1101 – last few places remaining!

Matsuri

Matsuri menu

 *
 But most of all don’t forget to…
International Sake Day

Copyright Jimmy Gleeson http://www.jimmygleeson.com/INTERNATIONAL-SAKE-DAY