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Discovering Saké

On Tuesday I visited the London Sake Fair at the beautiful Baglioni Hotel, just off Kensington High Street. Before visiting the event I happily admitted that I was not the most knowledgeable in the field of sake. My only experience of sake was really having the occasional glass at sushi restaurants or using it in teriyaki sauce. There were sixteen different sake breweries showing their different styles.

A couple of things first before I launch into some recently learned jargon. Japanese sake is made with rice that has been polished or milled down. The polishing ratio is the percentage of the rice that remains after the husk or outer portion of the brown rice (all rice is brown before the removal of the husk). The husk and outer portion of the kernal contain protein and fat that can have a detrimental effect on aromas and flavours.

Now there are five main basic types of sake: Junmai (pure rice wine; no adding of distilled alcohol), Honjozo (at least 30% of rice polished away; a tad of distilled alcohol is added), Ginjo (at least 40% of rice polished away, with or without alcohol added; if bottle is labeled Ginjo, it means distilled alcohol was added; if labeled Junmai Ginjo, it means no alcohol added), Daiginjo (at least 50% of rice polished away, again with or without added alcohol; if bottle is labeled Daiginjo, it means distilled alcohol was added; if labeled Junmai Daiginjo, it means no alcohol added), and Namezake (special 5th designation for unpasteurized sake; incorporates all four above).

The first stand out Brewery was the Toshimaya Corporation, they had three on show so the first one was the Miwatari Junmai Umakuchi which is made from the Hitogokochi rice variety with a polishing ration of 65%, the Houka Junmai Ginjo Gensshu from the rice variety of Shirakaba Nishiki with a 59% polishing ratio, and then my favourite of the three the Miwatari Kinugoshi Umeshu. This one is an Umeshu which is a Japenes Plum sake, made from japanese plums and local sake, it was delicious sweet and sour plum notes with a long giving finish.

The next stand I visited and was extremely impressed with was the Armitsu Sake Brewery, and in particular their Akitora Yamadanishiki 80% polished Remain Junmai. As the name would suggest it has a polishing ration of 80% which gives the sake a cleaner and more refined flavour. This particular sake is from the Yammada Nishiki rice variety. It was bone dry, full bodied, crisp and refreshing, and in my opinion the perfect sake to pair with chicken teriyaki or prawn tempura.

Last, and by no means least, my favourite brewery was the Tosa Brewing Company. I first sampled their Sparkling Sake “John”. It was amazing, so clean, crisp, light, refreshing, and had such delicate bubbles the perfect aperitif in my opinion. Then I tried their Tokubetsu Junmai Aikawa Homare which is made up of the Hinohikari rice variety with a 60% polishing ration. This is again dry and refreshing but had delicate notes of banana and tropical fruits. My last sake of the day was a yuzu sake, so it’s made in the same way as the plum sake but with the yes citrus fruit instead. It is deliciously sweet and ever so slighty tart but very well balance and as with all the sakes I tried so refreshing.

After the Sake Fair I am now a sake lover. I think it is underrated and under represented in the UK. However, after chatting with many people from the drinks industry I think we will see an increase of premium sake in restaurants, bars, and in wine shops. Everyone seemed very impressed by these Breweries and will be looking at sake in a new light.

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