@Starchtrade first the written report summary, pictures hopefully to follow tonight.
Sake Day 2018 San Francisco was held for the first time in the ballroom (B1) level of Hotel Kabuki, the space was fairly big (not as big as the Armory 3 to 4 years back) plus a smaller private room with additional booths. 600 tickets all sold and there were a lot of people. Apparently sales went up more than last year which is a great thing. Traditionally they hold it as close to Oct 1 as possible, usually the final weekend in September, and we all know that day holds special meaning as it kicks off the brewing season in Japan.
Beau Timkin and his staff (and daughter) poured the welcome sake which this year was Dewazakura Oka Ginjo and there was a 1.8L bottle nearby that had just been emptied (last year it was Ichishima 5 year aged Ginjo Koshu which was very delicious and aromatic). I was the 5th person in line which Beau told me so, and after exchanging some greetings and quick catching up, quickly did the rounds in the main room to spot what I should taste. I’d say I have tasted about 75% to 80% of the available sake as either they were already represented from Sake Day 2017, or I had already tasted them at NA Sales (NorCal MTC) earlier this year, or I have purchased bottles before and/or tasted them as by the glass in restaurants.
Aisawa Masao of Takenotsuyu was in attendance and actually one of the first to RSVP as a vendor/rep, really awesome and fun friendly guy to talk to and his English is very proficient. I saw him and he recognized my face and we exchanged our greetings. I must take credit for asking him at NA sales show, if he could bring one of his sake that uses the local Yamagata rice Yuki Megami (Snow Goddess) which actually won some gold medals at this year’s International Wine Challenge 2018 Yamagata, and his eyes lit up and he really appreciated the suggestion…and lo and behold, he remembered, kept his promise and brought in the black 39% polish Junmai Daiginjo featuring that rice, and it was quite splendid! This sake rice is not featured in any exported sake, so Sake Day attendees had a chance to taste sake made with that rice varietal.
EHH Enterprise: I was very curious what they would offer, and they had a lineup of sake I had never heard of, not yet exported. These were pretty interesting (the names are on the catalog which is not with me right now and I’ll have pictures later). I quickly spotted two Takachiyo 1.8L bottles, both were of the custom made series which are also very difficult to find. One purple label with the plaid pattern that one Japanese sake vendor/shop calls it “Fanta Grape” in description (it’s more of an usu nigori, sediment added but does not add any thickness or viscosity), and the Hiyaroshi fall label with plaid, a bit off red/orange and you can see a Jack O Lantern in there somewhere. I’m a little bit jaded with Takachiyo these days but I’m sure it fascinated a lot of attendees…some of which know the routine to quickly seek out the non exported stuff to taste. Other than that, the only exported items they had for tasting were the Minakata Junmai Ginjo (better than when I had it last time), and two of the Minakata fruit infused drinks (umeshu and either mikan or yuzu, forgot)
Den Sake Brewery (Oakland, CA) - it was great to see Yoshihiro Sako and his partner/fiancee Lani Keiko Pederson again but this time as sake brewery owners! I’ve already tasted a bottle of his first batch which is a Junmai Nama by category and it’s very close to a Hiroshima style nama with tones of Gasanryu and that for a first batch small production first attempt is commendable! What they had for tasting was batch #2 and Yoshi told me he changed the type of yeast, and the result is more of a feel along the lines of a muroka yamahai genshu…definitely more acidity and a bit more of a punch and I REALLY like batch #2 (which True Sake doesn’t carry yet). They are working on batch #3 right now. Response has been great so far and even their fellow compadres in the industry came by to try, say hello (Sequoia’s table was nearby and I saw Jake taste too). Definitely a major highlight…I told a few people in Tokyo about Den and even they are excited! One female sake personality (certified sake somm over there and in the F&B industry in Japan) even flew over to Sake Day…saw her Instagram that she even dropped by Den, True Sake…and I might even have seen her at Sake Day but couldn’t figure out who she was at first.
Sequoia Sake - I didn’t taste much of their lineup, but thought their sake aged in white wine and red wine barrels both amusing and puzzling at the same time. Right next to them was Dandelion chocolate which they like to do the pairing when you go visit them on Saturdays for a tour. Personally their nama genshu for me is the only one to get, and a few restaurants will have this on tap (e.g. Iroriya Santa Clara)…this is as close to craft sake in Japan as one can get, but cask strength. I’ve also had a bad bottle of this at a ramen shop so not sure what’s up with that.
The Shirayuki people had a few very interesting offerings, the de Ai if I remembered correctly, was a sake brewed with…beer hops?! Had the general feel of beer and sake together. I joked to the rep, dude you just solved the problem of in Japanese where people start with a beer, and you pour them THIS! LOL. There was also a Genshu that looked like a shochu bottle, also had the aged sake feel to it, but super cask strength, look out!
The exec director of Otokoyama (Hokkaido) came but I didn’t drop by the table.
The guy from Rokkasen (via Maruto Sea Vegetables) came and I only tasted the Junmai super dry and the Daiginjo (too fruity for me). Junmai was clean and dry indeed, maybe a bit too clean for a Yamagata sake.
Meimon Shu/Japan Prestige poured their Tsukasa Botan yuzu sake, Daruma Koshu, and a few others not too memorable so I didn’t taste anything
Sake Sanran and Bo…didn’t try them.
Hosoda Brothers had the NY exclusive sake featuring the character for 10,000 and one that looked like “lavender” or “smoked”, and shirayama, but the one that stole the show for me was Shinkame Junmai (we already have one shop in Oakland that sells this) but to feature it at Sake Day is nice.
LA MTC’s table had three offerings, one of them was Akagisan Junmai Ginjo…recognized this as LA only as NorCal does not have this…and this was served/sold at n/Naka which is interesting because of the robust and strong finish that’s more built for izakaya fare (or maybe my tastebuds had been numbed and mixed with too much other sake). The other two bottles they had were not too impressionable on me.
Floating World Sake had a similar offering to last year but it turns out some of their portfolio on their website is still not available yet! The one I had been most looking forward to trying is in such a state (the one from Mie prefecture), but I had a nice little chat with Deborah (the head of Floating World), kudos for her to import what is otherwise craft artisan sake that’s closer to what you can get in Japan. I re-tasted Takenotsuyu’s Hakuro Suishu Junmai Ginjo Muroka Nama Genshu and it’s still remarkably great. Buddy sampled the Akishika Super Dry Muroka Nama Genshu and he loved it (I had it already earlier this year at a Hawaiian fusion restaurant so I passed on it). Last year Floating World had a separate table with various cheese offerings for pairing but this year, maybe a budget cut
Let’s see, what used to be Niigata Sake (now renamed) has similar offerings, but the one that stole the show for me was Onda (rebranded from Tsuzumi “drum”)…I thought I got sick of Niigata sake but Onda’s 48 and 88 if I remember correctly were brilliant…the brewery now uses an exclusive Niigata rice varietal called Ipponjime and I believe Takachiyo also made some sake with it in small amounts. Nice aged lush profile and for a sake with SMV -2 still feels dry enough and much more mouthfeel than Katafune (of which I tasted their award winning Junmai Genshu, although with the tastes I have now, it no longer wins me over). The problem is once you go to the dark side “the cheap side of the Force” it’s hard to go back to enjoy the less structured and more fun and easier to drink stuff
Met Monica Samuels who flew in from NY (she’s in Hawaii now), who is also a Sake Samurai and reminds me a little of Demi Lovato but more striking in person and she was representing Vine Connections. I complimented her on their portfolio and how much I enjoyed Taka Tokubetsu Junmai (which they did not have on offer). Tensei from Kanagawa prefecture (south of Tokyo) is quite underrated…and it turns out it’s the brewing technique…I always thought they used apple or fruit based yeast but they do not (like some sake from Saga prefecture, or Maboroshi from Hiroshima).
Joto’s sake’s portfolio was a bit disappointing, nothing that grabbed me.
Hitachino’s sake offerings…not my thing but commendable for what they are doing. The taru sake is not bad, but they cannot beat Yoshinosugi (Choryu brewery from Nara prefecture) especially the Omachi Yamahai Junmai Taru…Though I’d say they should stick with beer which they do very, very well.
I may have missed some tables and did not try their offerings (e.g. Enter Sake, Momokawa, Sake One) for various personal reasons, but I think I may have covered as much of the waterfront.
Hope this helps.