In the evening of ‘Hinamatsuri‘ (Girls’ Day, the 3rd of March) I attended the Sake Tasting seminar which was organised by Japan Centre. The venue was the popular Ramen restaurant Shoryu near Piccadilly Circus in London. Although it was early evening on Thursday the Ramen shop was packed with Ramen lovers. As soon as we arrived in a private Dining Room downstairs we were welcomed with a glass of chilled sake 🍶. Lovely 💓
The seminar was held by Shigeki Tonoike, the Director of Tonoike Brewery from Tochigi prefecture in Japan. He was in London for promoting their range of Sake. He explained the process of Sake making briefly while we were sipping their delicious ‘Dai-ginjo‘ Sanran.
What I learned was that Sake is made only during winter. He did not say why but I believe that fermentation has to be done in cold temperature otherwise some other bacteria might grow and also slower fermentation in low temperature creates better tasting sake. It must be the same as bread making. Bread proved slowly like sourdough bread tastes so much better than the bread made quickly with manufactured dry yeast.
The things I learned
- It is winter that they make sake
- You need to polish rice carefully in order to make good sake
- You have to wash rice carefully without disturbing the grains much
- Cleanliness of the brewery is very important
However, the most important element of all for making good Sake is ‘quality of Water’. The water for their brewery is taken from the natural Spring nearby and has a reputation for its immense purity.
Types of Sake
After the sake making lecture the important time for us came, “Tasting” Sake! Mr. Tonoike brought two types from their best range ‘Sanran’, one of them is ‘Dai-ginjo’ and the other is ‘Junmai’. So what is Dai-ginjo? I am not an expert but I researched a little to make myself understand more about Sake.
As I mentioned above you have to polish rice grains for making good Sake. Actually they polish a lot. Average Sake is using 60-70% of rice and the best quality one is using only about 40% of whole rice grains. Apparently Tonoike brewery’s Dai-ginjo is made from just 38% of rice grain. It sounds Sake is such a luxurious drink.
Basically ’Ginjo’ is the Sake created with special care. ‘Dai‘ means Great in Japanese so ‘Dai-ginjo’is the sake that was created with great care and is the very best quality.
Which Sake is for what food?
We asked Mr.Tonoike what kind of food goes well with Dai-ginjo. He answered “a Book”. Aye? Great! He’s got a sense of humour. What I understood he meant in his joke was that Dai-ginjo is so delicately flavoured that you don’t need food. Actually it was very lightly flavoured and had a subtle flowery fragrance.
On our table the Dai-ginjo was matched with Tempura of White fish. I am regretting that I did not ask what kind of fish it was. I have eaten good Tempura in my life but this was one of the best Tempura I’ve ever had. It was melting in my mouth. The Scottish man seated next to me was repeating “Oisii! Oishiiiiiiii!!!”. Oishii means delicious in Japanese by the way.
The next type of Sake ‘Junmai’ was served to us as cold with Chicken ‘Yakitori‘. I could taste it certainly had more alcohol content than previous Dai-ginjo. It had a less flowery fragrant but it had the umami in sake flavour which goes well with Chicken with sticky and sweet Teriyaki sauce.
The same Junmai Sake was served next heated. We say heated Sake but Mr. Tonoike mentioned that the temperature should be about 50℃ and will be about 45℃ by the time you drink. He showed us the tool for heating sake. It is a shiny beautiful jug made of Tin. I remember that my father was using a jug just like this. Although it was not made of shiny Tin and not having a lid like this one. You pour Sake inside of this jug and place it into hot water. Keep an eye on the temperature and remove the jug from the hot bath and serve to drink.
The food matched with this hot Sake was Smoked Salmon Cheese Roll. This Sushi was a fusion sushi. Avocado was wrapped in ‘Uramaki’ (rice side out) with Smoked Salon as the outer layer. It was also decorated with cream cheese topping and ‘Ikura’ salmon eggs & ‘Tobiko’ fish eggs.
Chatting while having some quality Sake and great food, I was almost feeling like I was in ‘Izakaya’ (Japanese bar). All the seminar attendants took photos by wearing ‘Happi’ (the work coat) Mr. Tonoike brought (the coats that the two girls standing on the back line are wearing in the photo below).
‘Being Happy with Happi’. I think everybody had a great time!
🍶”Oishi-katta!” (It was delicious) and “Gochisousama deshita!” (Thanks for the nice meal) 😀