International Saké Day: Made like a beer and sipped like a wine.

by Alison Smith

My first experience tasting saké was back in my sports marketing days. I was shown how to do a "saké bomb" while hanging out with the Oakland A's baseball team after a game one night at a home tucked in the curvy hills of the East Bay. FUNNO! Fast forward a few years and TexaCali Ali became known as the "Saké Ninja" due to representing a portfolio of family saké breweries from Japan. With some hesitation at first (due to my saké bomb morning-after experience) I fell head over heels in love with Junmai & Ginjo Saké! So to all those who are making the "bitter beer face" about right now, listen up!...

Junmai Saké is pure saké made with only 4 things: rice, water, koji (simple mold) and brewer's yeast. Easy to grasp. I often say, it's made like a beer and sipped like a wine. The Junami saké (as well as Ginjo and Daiginjo levels) should be chilled (never ever heated) and served in a wine glass - never in a wood-box that admittedly is soo darn cute!

I had the honor of attending a SakéOne dinner in August to learn more about Momokawa's latest and greatest. Wooters do love some saké and Dewey was so excited to talk about what's in store for us all on October 1, 2011! The Momokawa Silver, Diamond, Ruby, Pearl and Organics made the night a roaring success for me. This was my first taste of many of them and the QPR was mind-blowing good.

SakéOne is headquartered in Oregon. So I had to ask - why Oregon? Oregon rain is ideal for saké. The Oregon Coastal Range (nearly 3,710 feet above the Pacific Ocean) creates very lush temperate rain forests. The high hills and peaks form an aquifer that filters as much as 120 inches of rain each year through rich organic sediment, sandstone, siltstone, igneous rock, basalt flows and basaltic sandstone. This water source is important, exceptionally low in iron and manganese, making it ideal for saké brewing. I also learned that the Kura (Brewery) in Oregon was designed by leading Master Toji (sakémaster) Yoshio Koizumi, who integrated ancient techniques with modern technology for a highly efficient system that relies on handcrafting, rather than mass production methods. This was important for me to hear after having spend a few weeks touring and learing about Kuras in Japan. Winemaking is a piece of cake compared to the meticulous and extremely detailed and strict procedures of a Toji. Whew.

A few core terms to know:

Milling - a.k.a polishing. It is the milling of the rice that defines quality grades and greatly impacts flavor. The more rice is milled, the more desirable the aroma and flavors become due to the removal of fats and proteins found in the outer layers.

Nigori - literally means cloudy. The result of leaving rice sediment in the saké. Roughly filtered. *Shake up the bottle of nigori before serving!

Junmai - Pure saké

Ginjo - rice milled to at least 60% before brewing.

So I challenge you to branch out if you haven't tried a Junmai saké before. Alcohol levels are very similar to wine in most cases and food pairings can go way beyond sushi. In fact, one of my favorite pairings with Saké over the years is an old-fashioned baked almond chicken. The savory and nuttiness was a match made in heaven with the chilled saké! Excited to celebrate International Saké Day with SakéOne and Wine.Woot! this year!


PS: Don't you DARE use the SakéOne offerings for saké bombs!