October marks the beginning of the sake brewing season in Japan. The month is perfectly situated for brewing, as it is just after the September rice harvest and leads into winter, which is the ideal time for fermentation. October 1st is celebrated as Nihonshu no Hi, or World Sake Day. It was officially designated as such by the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association in 1978.
Sake lovers around the world celebrate the occasion. In New York, the American Sake Association (ASA) held a blind tasting at the city’s first sake brewery, Brooklyn Kura. The American Sake Association (ASA) is a not-for-profit 501 (3)(C) organization with the goal of advocating for, connecting, and educating individuals working in the United States sake industry while raising funds for charities approved by the Association. Membership is open to anyone involved professionally with sake distribution, sake importing, sake brewing, on- or off-premise sake sales, sake education, sake marketing, or sake media.
Breaking Down the Blind Tasting
At the blind tasting, thirty-five attendees—myself included—split off into two beginner and two advanced groups. Together we tasted four to five brands of sake. ASA prepared a checklist by which each participant could evaluate the beverages. A sake sommelier stationed at each table advised us through the process. Categories included visual, which determined the clarity, color, and viscosity of the sake. Next, we examined the sake’s nose, to identify any fruity, floral, vegetal, spicy or savory aromas. Then we considered the palate. Was the sake dry or sweet? Acidic? Fruity or spicy? Finally, we were tasked with naming the type and the grade of the sake. Types run the gamut from premium to sparkling to nigori (cloudy), and some examples of grade are junmai, daiginjo, nama, genshu, and myriad combinations of them.
The sake expert at my beginner table was Timothy Sullivan, founder of UrbanSake.com and one of the founders of ASA. He says that a blind tasting is a way to combine the enjoyment of drinking sake with learning something about the beverage. We can hone our senses and grow our appreciation for sake when we are not influenced by the sake’s packaging, brand name, price, or anything else. At the October 1st event, we tasted and evaluated sake from Kiminoi, Born, and Hakkaisan. After the tasting, we enjoyed freshly brewed Brooklyn Kura sake from the tap.
Every Day Is Sake Day in NYC
If you didn’t celebrate World Sake Day on October 1st, don’t worry. Any day is a good day to taste the beverage, and there places such as Sakaya, Union Square Wine and Spirits, Ambassador Wines and Spirits, and Landmark Wine and Spirits are have wide selections of sake and knowledgeable staff to help you make a selection. Plus, these establishments and restaurants host sake tastings all the time, and they are usually reported here at JC•NYC. Union Square Wine and Spirits and Minoru’s Sake Shop at Landmark Wine and Spirits are both having free tastings of award-winning sake from Fukushima. Click here to see the schedule.
Let’s toast to the beginning of the sake brewing season. Now get out there to sip,learn, and enjoy as much sake as you can. Kanpai!