Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Sake I Tasted at Takagi Brewery

Sake we tasted at Takagi Shuzo (Brewery)

Last Saturday I had a chance to try “sake-tasting” at a local brewery. As I wrote in my another blog, it was an experience that changed my view on sake almost completely.

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting a dramatic learning experience or anything that day. I thought I knew enough about sake --- enough for me to enjoy life. Being brought up in a small fishing village where people drink very dry sake, I had many chances to taste a bit at various ceremonies such as wedding and the first visit to the shrine of the year, etc. since childhood. Though I can’t drink much, I like the little sensation I feel in my throat when I drink very dry, inexpensive sake (at least with the first couple of sips), so whenever asked “Do you like sake?” my answer was usually, “Yeah, it’s OK.”

I once tried a sweet sake that was known as “women’s favorite,” and thought it was too watery, so I categorized myself as a dry-sake drinker after that. But I don’t remember enjoying such a great combination of food and sake, as good as that of freshly deep-fried food and ice cold beer or French bread and wine. And I never bothered to experiment on different combinations, thinking that the taste of sake I hadn't tried cannot be too different from the ones I'd already tried.

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After seeing several rooms and equipments at the brewery, we were lead into a storage room where 7 or 8 sake bottles were waiting for us on a long table. For each bottle, the president first told us what kind of sake it was, and tasting followed using tiny plastic cups.

The first two bottles were the same product, but different batches. The first one was, IIRC, their just-recently-extracted ginjo-shu that was waiting for the remaining sediment to settle to the bottom before bottling. When I tasted it, I understood for the first time what “fruity fragrance” meant. It was literally fruity, banana-like aroma, and it was by no means unpleasant. Then he let us taste the sake in the second bottle, which was the same product that had been stored for one year. Surprising! The sake tasted distinctively stronger, leaving the familiar sensation in the throat. It was definitely the taste I was more used to.

The next one with red label on the bottle was the one specially made to be enjoyed during meal, he said. To me it was a little too light, but it might taste good when consumed with food. What came next was the same product as the first 2 bottles, but made from Kochi-grown sake rice. I think there was a slight difference in the flavor, but I don’t remember very well, because the one I tasted right after that gave me much stronger impression.

The one that gave me a strong impression -- the one called "Ekin" named after a famous local painter -- was my No. 1 favorite of the day. It was daiginjo which was extracted by pressing, IIRC. To me it had the best balance of dryness, fruitiness and lightness among the sake I tried that day.
The next one (see photo) was actually the most expensive, "drip-pressed" daiginjo, extracted using the most authentic(?) and time- consuming method. This was definitely the kind that I can never afford in my everyday life, so I felt really lucky. But for me its taste was a little too light and elegant, and that's why I didn’t pick it as my “most favorite” when asked which one I liked the best.

The last one we tasted was a liqueur with yuzu juice and β-glucan added. I didn’t know this before, but β-glucan is something found in agaricus mushrooms and supposed to be good for health, according to his explanation.

This tasting did not make me drunk at all, but it did change my view on sake, and now I’m really tempted to try a wider variety of this Japanese liquor. If things like the kind of rice used, the degree of polishing, the yeast used, the length of fermentation and extraction method can make THAT much difference in flavor, what a great variety is out there in this country!? In the past I didn’t expect to be able to find my "real" favorite sake, but now I’m convinced that it must be possible, and the experimentation would be very, very enjoyable! :)

Oh how I wish they would sell premium sake in much smaller bottles for a lower price so that I can try them one after another for experiments!


Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

I love sake's fine taste!

obachan said...

Is sake popular over there in Swetzerland?

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

I guess one could say that it is moderately popular... We have a few Japanese restaurants and Sushis are very trendy here, so this alcohol is not unknown to us. We can buy it in many stores (Japanese or normal supermarkets).

obachan said...

Thanks, Rosa. (Sorry I spelled Switzerland wrong!)
So glad to hear that people enjoy sushi and sake over there, too. :)

Anonymous said...

Very nice to read about the sake I bought last month in this brewery! (I bought the one on your picture and could not understand the explanition Mr. Takagi gave as I wasn't feeling very well at that time, so I missed most of the tasting as well). Later, in sakebar 'Yoramu' in Kyoto I learned that more refined sake doesn't mean that the taste will be be better. Now, back in the Netherlands I was looking on the internet to find information about sake and was finally able to read in your blog the story that Mr. Takagi must have been told. So thanks! Nanca