Japan Eats

Japan Eats Podcast, Episode 26: “The Shochu Whisperer”

We talk with Christopher Pellegrini about what it takes to become a qualified shochu adviser.

The Japan Eats Podcast is presented by Garrett DeOrio, Marcus Lovitt and Christopher Pellegrini. To listen, click play on the audio player below:

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Here are some links to what we discussed this week:

You can e-mail us at lovitt@japaneats.tv

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Japan Eats Podcast, Episode 18: “The 19.6 minute lunch break”

On this week’s show, we cover recent travels and the evolution of the Japanese lunch hour

The Japan Eats Podcast is presented by Garrett DeOrio, Marcus Lovitt and Christopher Pellegrini. To listen, click play on the audio player below:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

You can also subscribe to the fortnightly Japan Eats feed via iTunes or directly with our RSS feed.

Find the Japan Eats Facebook page here. Have something to say? Drop us a line.

Here are some links to what we discussed this week:

You can e-mail us at lovitt@japaneats.tv

Follow us on the Japan Eats Twitter feed. And please “Like” Japan Eats on Facebook.

Japan Eats Podcast, Episode 16: “Size doesn’t matter”

This week, the team talk about kitchen storage and the types of rice used to make sake.

The Japan Eats Podcast is presented by Garrett DeOrio, Marcus Lovitt and Christopher Pellegrini. To listen, click play on the audio player below:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

You can also subscribe to the fortnightly Japan Eats feed via iTunes or directly with our RSS feed.

Find the Japan Eats Facebook page here. Have something to say? Drop us a line.

Here are some links to what we discussed this week:

You can e-mail us at lovitt@japaneats.tv

Follow us on the Japan Eats Twitter feed. And please “Like” Japan Eats on Facebook.

Boozehound: The Joy of Sake

Christopher Pellegrini takes in The Joy of Sake

Tokyo’s installment of Honolulu’s Joy of Sake party was packed by legions of professionals from the nihonshu industry and the well-heeled business folks from the southwestern section of the Yamanote train line. Also in attendance were some of sake’s biggest supporters outside of Japan, namely author John Gauntner and sommelier Ake Nordgren, and the air in the two tasting halls was one of a giant reunion made possible by the continuing success of one of this country’s most recognizable exports.

Bottles of Daiginjo 'A' waiting in the TOC Main Hall.

And then there was me.

To be fair, I wasn’t the only nihonshu nerd in attendance, but very few others felt brave enough to whip out their notebooks and scribble tasting notes as they worked their way up and down endless banquet tables of daiginjo. And I must admit, it was truly a joyful experience.

Curiously, many guests chose to ignore the TOC Main Hall where all of the daiginjo ‘A’ bottles (rice polishing ratio of 40% or less) sat vulnerable to unlimited perusal. The other, more brightly lit hall had more food, but no daiginjo ‘A’.  With everyone busy munching away, I was allowed ample elbow room to compare some of the best sake currently known to the world. In fact, there were no less than 329 labels from 166 breweries on display, and the main hall also featured a good selection of yamahai and kimoto sake.

No, I didn’t try them all. I’m only human. And there were no spit buckets.

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Australian Ginjo.

All 329 varieties of sake were in fact entrants in the 2010 US National Sake Appraisal which took place in Honolulu back in August. That includes all of the daiginjo ‘B’, ginjo and junmai labels on the tables in the Tokubetsu Hall. The two day event sees ten judges run through all of the bottles as they attempt to find imbalances in each of them.

Of the 83 daiginjo ‘A’ bottles, 27 were gold award winners with top honors going to Kizakura’s “Daiginjo”, Kodama Jozo’s Taiheizan “Tenko”, and Nagurayama Shuzo’s “Kanpyokai Shuppinshu.” My favorites were Asahi Shuzo’s famous “Dassai 23″, a sake with the unimaginable polishing ratio of 23%, and Ume Ichirin Shuzo’s “Kanpyokai Shuppinshu.”

The former didn’t make it to the final round during the panel’s blind tasting, but the latter did and earned a gold award in the process. Interestingly, Ume Ichirin Shuzo is located in Chiba Prefecture, a region not typically associated with sake brewing excellence.

Other bottles that caught my attention were “Hana no Youna” junmai ginjo from California and “Go-Shu Blue” ginjo from Australia. Neither won plaudits from the contest’s auditors, but Australia’s entry was noticeably more enjoyable than America’s.

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Several top notch restaurants offered small portions of their finest sake-paired appetizers.

More than anything, Joy of Sake is an excellent opportunity for the nihonshu-curious to figure out what they like. By using the mini-siphons to import two thimbles of sake into one’s tasting cup, it’s possible to keep inebriation on the back burner and slowly sample everything from the refined to the complex, the clean to the more cloying.

And of course there was food there, too. Twelve top-notch restaurants from both Japan and America provided appetizers to the buoyant guests. Takao (Los Angeles) served their Maguro Spring Roll with Avocado and Sweet Spicy Miso Sauce while Al Porto (Tokyo) offered Bruschetta di Prociutto Crudo e Caponata.

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Volunteers begin uncapping bottles before the start of the festival. Notice the small plastic syphon used to transfer sake into guests' tasting cups.

Through conversations with other guests, it became clear that many were enthusiastic about Nobu (New York) and their Fresh Sashimi from Niigata with Yuzu and Dried Miso. Hoku’s (Honolulu) also had a long line waiting for bowls of its Sake Braised Black Angus Beef Short Angus Beef Short Ribs with Hawaiian Chili Pepper, Spiced Crispy Onions and Lomi Pineapple Tomato.

Judging by the 8,000 yen ticket price, Joy of Sake is not an event targeted at the 20-something crowd, and that observation was easily supported by a quick look around the audience. The average age of the guests was likely late 40s, which is not meant to imply that this sake celebration was a sedate affair. Anything but. Several couples old enough to be my grandparents kept up and carried on just like the small groups of young women four decades their junior.

If this party returns to Japan in the future, indeed if sake is to survive at home, this generational imbalance is something that they will hopefully choose to address. In the meantime, let’s hope that this event continues to turn heads and change minds overseas as sake brings its special brand of Japanese joy to a wider audience.

Boozehound: Joy of Sake Does Tokyo

This is one that you shouldn’t miss. Purchase your ticket online now.

THE JOY OF SAKE is finally coming to Tokyo!

Tuesday November 2nd, 2010, from 6-9PM on the 13th floor of the TOC Building in Gotanda (Tokyo).

Click here for a map.

Tickets are 8,000 yen and will allow you access to more than 320 sakes and appetizers courtesy of Nobu (New York), Yoshi’s (San Francisco), KomahachiRestaurant J, and other gourmet chefs.

The Joy of Sake has held tasting events in San Francisco, New York and Hawaii in the past, and this is the first time that the party, which typically hosts 2,000+ sake-loving guests, has come to Japan.

These events have been pivotal in opening North Americans’ eyes to the wonders of the sake world. Please join Japan Eats in supporting this non-profit organization’s quest to bring sake to the masses!

Reserve your ticket here.

Boozehound: “Taste of Akita” with John Gauntner

Several industry insiders came together to bring the nihonshu-loving public “Taste of Akita” on Saturday

John Gauntner, author of The Sake Handbook, answering questions at each table.

October 23rd at Akita Bisaikan. And 40+ fortunate souls were treated to an evening of Akita’s finest, all while being guided every step of the way by nihonshu author and expert, John Gauntner, bilingual guide and brewery tour organizer, Etsuko Nakamura, and brewery representatives such as Saiya Shuzo’s Akihisa Sato.

Starting with a quick introduction to the history of sake production in Akita Prefecture, Gauntner simultaneously espoused on the mystery sake, a unique unlabeled contest sake given to each table. From there the food began to arrive. First, a hinaidori chicken liver pate followed by broth-simmered Azuki Babylon Shellfish.

And by this time sake number two had already been delivered, again one bottle per table, but this time every table got the same thing–Mansaku-no-Hana Daiginjo. Aged for two years and much more refined than the contest sake, this sake was an excellent counter point to the far richer flavors found in the shellfish and pate.

Next up was the Kariho Hiyaoroshi (fall seasonal sake), a junmai ginjo that nicely complemented the fresh sashimi selection with its pronounced and bright aroma.

Mr. Sato from Saiya Shuzo sat with the guests for much of the evening.

Right on Kariho’s heels was crowd favorite Saiya Shuzo’s Yuki-no-Bosha which is actually a genshu at 16%. Genshu is the result of a brewing style that doesn’t involve using water to dilute the sake, and the fact that this sake peaked at 16% means that the toji (master brewer) is one of the best in the business. Most genshu end up being several percentage points higher in alcohol content.

Last but not least, and as the small dishes of food continued to appear in front of the six people at our table, a tokubetsu junmai sake by the name of Ama-no-To Umashine appeared. Teamed with Akita’s specialty, Kiritanpo Nabe, this sake from Asamai Shuzo added liquid notes of raisin and butter to the end of the meal.

From start to finish, “Taste of Akita” was a wonderful experience for both the uninitiated and experienced sake tippler. The Akita cuisine matches easily with what Gauntner calls the “fine-grained” nature of the sake produced in that region, and there were ear to ear smiles on everyone’s face as they left the restaurant to take pictures with the two namahage waiting outside.

This was the first time that Gauntner and Nakamura have teamed up with a prefectural government to help sake reach a wider audience. To make sure that you don’t miss future events like “Taste of Akita”, subscribe to Gauntner’s monthly newsletter.

World Cup Sake, Match 1

Hasegawa, purveyors of fine sake and savvy marketers of products such as the Tokyo Swallows baseball beer, have outdone themselves for the 2010 World Cup.

Rather than produce new libations, Hasegawa has repackaged some popular sake, shochu, and umeshu in fancy 2010 World Cup South Africa-themed bottles. While there were 13 different sake, two shochu, an umeshu, and a lemon liqueur thus bottled, we here were able to get our hands on six nice sake selections. Read more

What we’re drinking: Tokyo Swallows sparkling nihonshu (sake)

That’s right. The Tokyo Swallows may be terrible at promoting themselves, but they sell nihonshu with the team mascot on it. Although, to be clear, I don’t think that you can get it at or near the stadium–go figure. Big thanks to my friend, Kyoko, who gave me this bottle because she knew that the shock-value would be extreme. My jaw is still bruised from smacking the table in that bar.

This one is a junmai-ginjo with a seimaibuai (milling rate) of 55%. Definitely better quality than one would normally expect given the graphic on the label.

And although it doesn’t say so on the bottle, this is actually a sparkling sake that has a mouthfeel a lot like what you get with champagne. The body, however, is fuller than in a sparkling wine. Much of that is due to the fact that this nihonshu hasn’t been fully filtered. The Japanese word for this cloudier version of nihonshu is nigori, and indeed you can see a bit of leftover rice and sediment from the brewing process if you swirl it around. In the case of the Tokyo Swallows sparkling nihonshu, one could best describe it as being lightly nigori.

A little extra scouring of the label reveals that this is actually a “Toyo Bijin” sake with a bird on the front. Toyo Bijin is a brand brewed in Yamaguchi prefecture, and it is known for being quite dry. At first I disagreed with this, but my second and third sip revealed a sweet splash at the front quickly overtaken by an arid finish. I think maybe all the bubbles distracted me on my first attempt.

Out of fear that my palate is being unduly influenced by this bottle’s stage name, for the record I will say that this is not the best drink I’ve had this week. However, while I’m not normally one for sparkling nihonshu, this stuff is very drinkable. I like the fruit on the nose and palate even if this is the first nihonshu I’ve ever had that is reminiscent of a chu-hi .

I was told that this bottle can be purchased at Tokyo station, but I’m not clear on the exact whereabouts of the shop. If anyone knows, please leave a comment below. Apparently there’s a Tokyo Swallows beer out there as well.

Restaurant Review: Touan (Kichijoji)

Located on the same street as the Emporio Armani store, this basement izakaya, “Touan”, specializes in decent drinks, tofu, chicken, and sashimi. Several private tables, plus a few that look out onto a cellar-type Japanese garden, provide the perfect backdrop for a romantic dinner or small-scale night out with friends. Jazz music plays in the background.

And Touan has a few dishes that will keep vegetarians happy. Try the dekitate (fresh) tofu, at 780 yen, that comes with seven toppings and can be split amongst four if one thinks in izakaya serving sizes (read: small). The large tofu slabs go well with a side of fried renkon (lotus root) chips (480 yen). The negi shiitake kushi (grilled green onions and mushrooms on a stick) are also worth a try at 200 yen each.

Meat-lovers will enjoy the tebasaki no karaage (fried chicken for 580 yen), and the tofu no gyoza (580 yen for six pieces)–sorry, healthy people, this one almost certainly has meat in it. It’s just too good. But everyone can wind down with a dish of tofu ice cream which is astoundingly tasty (380). Another wise selection is the ebi (shrimp)tenpura and cha (tea) soba (680). The tea flavor is more apparent on the nose than anywhere else. Very nicely done indeed.

The “Naina?” imo shochu at 700 yen a glass, and yuzu umeshu at 620, are excellent choices for herbivores and carnivores alike. The “Hakkaisan” junmai ginjo nihonshu (980) is recommended for those looking for a decent bit of the drink that John Gauntner has taught us so much about.

The drink selection is respectable in several ways. While “Four Roses” is the only whiskey on the menu, Touan steps it up with 14 different bottles of umeshu, 12 potato shochu, six nihonshu, plus wine, beer, kokutou and rice shochu, and cocktails. Draft beer is 580 yen, and wine is 450 per glass. Most alcoholic beverages range from between 450 to 900 yen. Soft drinks are 350.

Directions: JR Kichijoji north exit. Outside the station (looking at the rotary) turn left. You’ll soon pass Baskin Robbins. Go straight until you come to a four-way intersection with a traffic light. Turn right. Walk one block and turn left before Tokyu Department Store. Walk straight (past Banana Republic) and take the second right. Touan is on the left (B1) just before a furniture shop called Kagura. If you reach Emporio Armani, then you’ve gone too far.

Guru Navi Page: http://r.gnavi.co.jp/a045212/

Lunch: 11:30 – 14:00
Dinner: 17:00 – 24:30

What We’re Drinking: Takachiyo honjouzou nihonshu (sake)

I’ve recently been spending tons of time learning everything I can about shochu. If you follow me on Twitter, then you’re probably already familiar with my ramblings on the subject.

Anyway, it came as a bit of a surprise when I noticed that I have yet to review a bottle of nihonshu.

TakachiyoSo I busted out a bottle of Takachiyo and gave it a whirl.

After letting the temperature on this one rise a little (I purposefully keep my fridge cold enough to kill the taste on most Japanese macrobrews) it hit the tip of my tongue with a bunch of bready sweetness that gave way to a rather round body.

The closer this sake got to room temperature, the more I liked it. It developed more of a spine as sour notes began to creep in from the sides. I started to get a slight amount of fruitiness as it warmed as well. This made perfect sense since I was revealing a fruitier bouquet on the nose with each refill.

Although I didn’t have enough left to try it myself, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it might be amenable to warming. This nihonshu really made me want to eat some fish. It would go well with saba (mackerel).

The seimaibuai (milling rate) on this one is 63%, and the label on the bottle states that it is a honjouzou which indicates that a small amount of distilled alcohol was added during the brewing process to (most likely) level the flavor out a bit.

So while it wasn’t ginjo, it was definitely smooth and balanced enough to be worth another try. If anyone else has tried this, I would love to read your tasting notes. Just post them in the comments.

For those who can read Japanese, here is the Takachiyo website. You won’t find the bottle pictured above on that website. As you may already know, labels and bottle colors can change drastically in the nihonshu world from year to year.