Hey gang, Valkor here. Lately Alacran and I have been undertaking events and reviews that are alcohol related. I think it fits perfectly not just with the demographic, but everything I hope to achieve with the site. So far it's proven quite successful and we hope to keep that trend going with our latest outing – Sake in the City II over at NYC.
Val: Sake in the City II… is well part two of an event that gives guest and media the chance to not only sample sake from all parts of Japan, but we were given the chance to taste portions of Wagyu beef. The venue itself was wicked small but packed with so much Sake and interesting foods to taste. Personally I would have gone with a bigger hall with a larger variety of dishes, but believe me I didn't complain as a good time was had by all. While I don't drink much sake, I learned that I am more prone to sweeter sakes. We also got the chance to learn from the vendors about pairings and how their particular brand matches up with certain dishes. Now the Wagyu beef needs to be tasted to truly experience the awesomeness of that particular meat. Guests were served two varieties – one steak and one cup of sukiyaki. I was a bit thrown by how fatty the steak was only to learn that that is how it is preferred in Japan. And as it melts in your mouth… it's just… wow! The steak was seared rare/medium rare and seasoned nicely. The sukiyaki was more broiled and a leaner cut soaked in a marinade that was full of flavor. If I could have gotten away with it I would have licked the cup clean. Yes it was that good. Gotta keep it classy, Val.
Alacran: We missed Sake in the City I back in Feb. So I was glad to receive my Invitation from Jetro thru Eventbrite to attend Sake in the City II. One of the main focuses of this event was pairing Japanese Wagyu beef with Sake. When we arrived at the 404 there was a large variety of Sakes, appetizers, and beef. This event is a major 1up on our continuing journey to expand our drinking capacity and sharing the knowledge of alcohol with you guys. This round the venue set up was amazingly efficient so our goal to experience as many types of sake wasn't a daunting one. I think in a 4 hour period we tasted about 50 – 60 Sakes covering the gamut of strong to weak, sweet and intense. Going in, I knew very little about Sake; I've only made one fruitless attempt at brewing it and failed miserably. And after today's crash course, I have deeper respect for the art and want to give brewing another shot. I want to elaborate more on Sake and Wagyu beef; I'm sure many of you might have heard of or tried Kobe beef and some type of sake. But, there is a lot more variety out there, so let's make an attempt at familiarizing ourselves with this type of food and drink a little better.
First, sake even though it's a.k.a. rice wine it's actually a cousin to the beer since it's made in a similar process of bringing the sugar out during the cooking of the starch. In order to make traditional Sake you will need a special grain of rice (shuzo kotekimai), water, and koji. Like beer it all depends on how it's brewed in order to get a specific flavor, what type of ingredients you use, and how long you take in maturation. Now, in the modern age some Toji (brewers) use a variety of new grain of rice – koji and sake yeast adding a whole new level to the traditional flavor but the sake has evolved beyond that, a common addition is brewer's alcohol, fruit flavors and carbonation to keep up with the changes in the world market.
Now the beef, Wagyu, is a Japanese cattle that has the fat ingrained into the meat making for a very rich flavor. The cattle are grain and barley fed which play an important factor in its development. I think its California that has the statewide commercial happy cows; make happy milk. Well, in Japan happy cows; make a great dinner. What is the difference with American beef and Wagyu? You have to look at the style in which it is eaten; in Japan smaller portions are common so the meat can be heavier and fattier per bite. On the other hand, American servings are larger and leaner. The cattle is named after its local district so next time you are offered Kobe, Omi, or Sanda you will know and taste the difference.
Other than getting our drinks we had a chance to meet with tons of Producers and Distributors and come learn that not all the sake's are made by major manufacturers and that there are still a lot of Seasonal small breweries. There was one in particular "Sake Story" that was a family owned and operated (by that I mean, they're a 4 man operation from harvesting to bottling). So when I drink some of these bottles I take my time to enjoy the flavor because someone out in the middle of Japan "busted their ass" to make this bottle. In the mix of it all there were quite a few that stood out to us:
Val: Going back to my taste for "sweeter" sake, the first company that truly won me over was actually the last vendor we visited – Homare Sake Brewery/Nishimoto Trading Company. While a wide variety of sake was offered by them - especially one in a metal can, I double-dipped on the Tsukasabotan Junmai Mountain Yuzu sake. It was quite refreshing, with a lemony, citrus taste, served chilled and smooth going down. After that it was the Strawberry Nigori sake that completely won me over. Again very sweet, you could distinctly taste the strawberries without being overpowered by the alcohol, a little dry but much like the Mountain Yuzu, very refreshing. Finally we go back to the first vendor – Kikusui who were showing off two products I really enjoyed. The first is a can sake called "Funaguchi Kikusui Ichiban Shibori" (we'll call it Funaguchi for short), which is an unpasteurized, undiluted sake that has a nice clean taste to it and not overpowering as I would have expected. Finally we have Mio, a sparkling sake that taste pretty much like champagne. It's very soft, very smooth and the fizz gives it that extra pop.
Alacran: We met a lot of interesting characters and taste plenty of sakes during this event. At one kiosk there is a sake, introduced by Samurai Chris Johnson called "Cowboy Yamahai" a strong robust sake that goes well with steaks. We also met with Kevin Mustonen who was showing off Futsu Shu (Genshu), sake aged in whisky barrels that gave it a very dry flavor with a strong 19% Alc content. In the rear of the venue they had a special area for the beef, how the cattle are fed and how the different cuts of meat make a difference. The Wagyu they served us was prepared in two ways first in a light almost stir-fry and the second as a med-rare steak both very delicious but very distinct as they brought out the beef flavor.
Unfortunately we couldn't get into the seminars, which were full to capacity. However affiliate website owner and all-around nice guy. Greg Wilcox of "Destroy All Fanboys" did attend and he had a great time. I wish we could have gotten in but nonetheless it was still worth the trek to taste all that delicious sake plus delving a little bit deeper into Japanese culture. Good food, good drink = Good times!