Sake and the City, or Everything You Ever Wanted to Know but Were Afraid to Ask
Before attending the guided sake tasting and subsequent walk-around sampling at this cleverly named event in NYC, I knew about as much as the average American about this brew. I was familiar with the 3 basic types (junmai, ginjo, daiginjo). I knew that good sake should never be warmed. I enjoyed drinking sake with sushi.
Of course, like fine wines, there are endless facets and nuances to sake, which is one of the oldest fermented beverages in human history. So what I didn’t know could fill a cedar barrel, which, it turns out, is what some sakes are aged in. Here are just a few of the nuggets I took away, many from Timothy Sullivan of Urban Sake, who led the guided tasting:
- Since sake consists basically of water, rice, and the koji mold, the quality of the water plays a key role. Water from a fast-running snow melt is the best, since it’s soft and low in minerality. Yuki No Bosha Junmai Yamahai is one example.
- Just as in other areas of food & drink, local and organic translate into a premium product. Many different rice varieties are used to make sake, but those indigenous to the brewery’s region (prefecture) and grown organically often result in superior product. One of many examples: Daishichi Shizenshu Jumai Kimoto
- Kimoto (as in the above) is something you might want to look for on a label. It refers to an ancient method that allows lactic acid to develop naturally “along with funky organisms,” according to Sake Samurai Sullivan.
- Even more important is how finely the rice as been ground down/polished, which removes imperfections. Sake is classified by the percentage that the rice has been polished. The highest percentage of milling I noted that day was 75%, for Murai Nigori Genshu, which Sullivan termed “a piece of work.”
- Alcohol content can range from about 7.5% to 25% – or at least that was the range in Sullivan’s picks. Weighing in at 25% is one of his particular recommendations, Minato “Harbor” Nama Genshu, which he described as “very full bodied.”
- Sake pairs with a wide range of foods – including Wagyu beef, like the “bone dry” (Sullivan’s words) Kan Nihonkai Cho +15. Check out the pairing notes for this French dinner at wine-zag.com.
Even these considerations don’t cover it all. There’s filtered and unfiltered, pasteurized and non….you get the picture. Plus who knew there is such a thing as sparkling sake (Mio, which is sold at Mitzuwa Marketplace in Edgewater), strawberry sake (Homare Strawberry Nigori), and sake made in Oregon, which is the specialty of Sake One, whose slogan is “America’s Most Honored Sake.” Their website has a particularly lucid tutorial on sake under the heading “Our Kura.” (Kura is the term for brew house.)
Here’s a Twist: A Princeton Packet Story ABOUT Me, Not BY Me
It’s a bit surreal, but this time I’m on the other side of the reporter’s notebook in this article about my radio show, Dining Today with Pat Tanner in the 11/5 issue of the Princeton Packet. Thanks, Keith Loria, for the great job!
This Week on Dining Today with Pat Tanner
If you missed last week’s premiere of my radio show, you’re in luck: it will be reprised this Sunday (11/10) at 2 pm on radio station 920 The Voice on your AM dial. If you’re not in the Central NJ listening area, you can listen live at www.920TheVoice.com. Thanks go out once again to my special guests Rosie Saferstein & Chris Walsh.