Saké: 6th Annual Saké and Japanese Beer Show – The really hard advanced class

Saké: 6th Annual Saké and Japanese Beer Show – The really hard advanced class

Marcus Pakiser invited me to come to the Young’s Market Annual Sake Show and attend his advanced saké course. I did not know what to expect but I was very interested in attending, so I blocked out the time on my calendar. While waiting anxiously, I wondered what the class could be that would make it as difficult as Marcus said it would be. There was to be a tasting test. I don’t think I am very good at understanding what I taste or detecting what is there. Given this, I was both excited and nervous.

When the 16th finally rolled around, I went to the show which was being held at Saucebox in Portland. This venue was nice and intimate; much nicer than the Rose Quarter venue where I attended the show in the past. The introductory class was being held in a room in the main area not far from the bar. The advanced class was in a room that seemed not to have any internal door way to the rest of the restaurant so we all were going out into the rain to make our way back and forth to this room.

The room that held the advanced class was filled with chairs and had three, maybe four, tables around the room with 8 full decanters on each. Some of the decanters could be mistaken for having water while others showed a yellowish tint or some cloudiness that you would not have with water. Hey, they must be filled with saké, right?! Each decanter had a number in front of it; from 1 to 8.

Marcus called everyone in and brought the class to order. He began a short discussion on the 8 categories we were going to be looking for in our tasting test. There were:

  1. Junmai
  2. Honjozo
  3. Yamahai
  4. Kimoto
  5. Modern Yeast
  6. Domestic
  7. Dry
  8. Omachi (this is one of, if not the, oldest know native rice strains in Japan)

He then introduced us to Israel from Wafu. Israel explained to us how they do tastings at Wafu and presented the “Wafu Saké Tasting Grid” to us. The grid starts with appearance at the top, moves to aroma, then palate and final assessment. Thinking about these, while tasting, often helps to notice aspects that might be easily overlooked.

With this background, Marcus explained our task. We were to evaluate each of the 8 saké in front of us and determine which one matched each of the categories above. That was it. Wait, what?? You’ve got to be kidding. I’ve never heard anyone describe what is unique about domestic sake as a group; there all different, right… Aaah, now I see why Marcus said this was going to be so hard.

Well, we all got started, each move to a table and started with the nearest decanter. For me this was decanter number 4. Kind of harsh, dry, very dry – ah, this one is probably the dry sake. I guessed that the SMV was +8. I next tried decanter number 6; candy cane aroma, sweeter side, SMV +2, rough finish maybe the yamahai. Moving on to decanter number 7; candy cane sweet, +2, clear, honeydew melon, a little creamy – possibly the Junmai. Next up for me was decanter number 8; very light, delicate, can’t smell a thing – Honjozo, I think this is the honjozo.

Having hit the end of the table, I needed to go back into the fray where it was pretty crowded. The next decanter I sampled was number 5; very subtle flower aroma, +4 low acid, melon – may be the domestic. Squeezing in, I reached decanter number 3; Taste of sweet water, sweet but not cloying, +1, Simple, Domestic? Two domestics? No, I need to change one of them. At this point Marcus gave us an 8 minute warning. Just move on, two to go. I moved to a side table were the low numbered decanters were in the open. Now, decanter number 2; Lots of acid, +4, +5, Yamahai…Times out, I did not have a chance to try decanter 1.

Marcus sat us all down again and reviewed the saké. They were:

  1. Kimoto – Dewatsuru Kimoto Junmai
  2. Junmai – Tyku Silver
  3. Modern Yeast – Chokaisan Junmai Daiginjo
  4. * Dry – Kan Nihonkai “Ring of Fire” Junmai SMV +15
  5. * Domestic – Momokawa Organic Junmai Ginjo
  6. * Yamahai – Yuki no Bosha Yamahai Junmai
  7. Omachi – Rihaku Origins of Purity Omachi Junmai Ginjo
  8. * Honjozo – Murai Tokubetsu Honjozo

Wow, I got 4 of them, the ones with the stars. That is much better than I thought I would do. I would have guessed that I would get only 1, maybe 2, from sheer luck. I am very pleased with my performance on this. Some of those present were able to pick out the specific saké being used in each category; that’s outstanding. Maybe someday with lots of practice, I too will know sake that well.

Anyway, this was a great experience for me. The class was followed by sampling saké from many of the companies that Young’s Market Distributes for. All in all, I believe there around 120 saké represented. Everyone involved did a great job!

Sake Tasting Score Sheet
Sake Tasting Score Sheet

This week just a bit of babble

This week just a bit of babble

I want to apologize for missing my last post and not having something more topical for this post. I have lots going on so I have not been able to live up to my schedule. I was trying to complete my book: Brewing Sake – Release the Toji Within by the end of 2011while at the same time changing jobs. I didn’t make any of this work as planned.

I did get the book to the proof stage and am working through the proofs now. It is so exciting to see the proof. They are just a very limited printing of the book itself. Seeing the cover I designed and that I worked on with my son on an actual book is just about hart stopping. It took me over a day of adding little post-it notes in the book for things that needed to be corrected before I could bring myself to actually just write in the book. It is meant to be a proof right? It is meant to be marked up. Anyway, it should not be long now before I have completed it and it is available for sale.

I have a few ideas for future topics but they are not ready yet. One of the topics is sake oxidation. Many beer brewers that begin to brew sake are very concerned about oxidation and how to avoid it. However, many of the practices for making sake seem to actually encourage oxidation. This juxtaposition of concern and flagrant abuse confuse many brewers and so, warrant some discussion.

Another topic is the use of charcoal filtering. I need to do lots of work on this one but I have heard that there are 6 to 9 different types of charcoal that can be used to get specific types of results.

I am working on more information on special types of koji for making very high grade sake; that is the daiginjo. I have written about this before but need to firm up some of the details. Writing this last statement reminds me that sake brewing is done very differently by different people. One will insist on the need to stir the koji to break it up and get air to the koji while another, just as good brewer, will leave the koji in a single undisturbed bundle until done; creating one big clump that has completely grown together.

Another topic that I have worked on, off and on, but have not cracked yet is the different ways that sake brewing changes with different types of water; that is soft vs. hard water. The old stories of about how water differs across japan and how regions went from having, at best, so-so sake to having really good sake all hangs on learning how to brew with soft water. As this knowledge spread so did the number of areas with good sake. Despite this, it has been very hard to get the specifics of the differences. Well, I am pushing on this area again and believe that I will make more progress this time.

What would you like to know more about? Is there something you would like me to cover? Are you interested in writing a guest article? A little while ago Elise Gee provided an outstanding article. What is on your mind?