Monday, April 4, 2011

Sake Pairing Dinner at Sake Institute of America and Japon Bistro (Pasadena)

After my first sake tasting and pairing with Master Sake Sommelier Yuji Matsumoto, I was sold. That's why I happily obliged to attend another pairing. That night I also heard the great news that he and his friend at Japon Bistro had started Sake Institute of America with a sake store inside Japon Bistro. Did I mention Japon Bistro is within walking distance from my apartment? Double score.
Sake Pairing Dinner at Japon Bistro

Mizbasho Sparkling SakeA toast to start the night with Mizbasho sparkling sake from Gunma, which is supposedly the only sparkling sake produced per the standards of French champagne production. It's more full-bodied than champagne. A little sweetness here, a little sourness there.

With this sake pairing dinner we had the chance to taste sake with food other than sushi, but of course, we all started with some sashimi.

Early summer assorted sashimi paired with Dassai 50 Junmai Daiginjo (Yamaguchi)

The most interesting part was seeing how the different sashimi interacts with the sake. The Aji brought out the floral aromas while the hotate (scallops) made it more subtle. It works the other way as well, the restrained Dassai made the saba (mackerel) less salty, sweeter.
I've been a big Dassai proponent since the last tasting. Dassai sake is made by the Asahi Shuzo brewery in Honshu, which only makes junmai daiginjo sake.
The number 50 refers to how much the rice has been polished, in this case to 50% of its original size.

Yakitori, paired with Kikusui Junmai Ginjo (Niigata)
The chicken actually made the Kikusui sake less astringent while preserving its flavor/sweetness.

Miso Black Cod, paired with Mizbasho Ginjo (Gunma)
Miso Cod
The black cod and miso easily made the sake sweeter and smoother.
Yuji san asked us to mark the "sake positioning map" that he had made, indicating where each sake lies in terms of their aroma and body. Since no one volunteered answers, he had asked me to read mine. I failed. I failed miserably.

Guess I'll just go back to eating ...Grilled lamb paired with Kenbishi Junmai (Hyogo)

The Kenbishi Junmai was nothing like the other sakes we tasted that night. It had a medium body but had a sour, aged aroma (basically smelled like it was fermented). When it was warmed it tastes even stronger, reminded me almost of the "umami" of soy sauce. As funky as it was, it works with the lamb. It brings out the savoriness of the lamb while reducing the gaminess. I personally like the gaminess of lamb, though, but the sake does reduce the after taste.

A little tidbit about Kenbishi: it has a 500-yr history (since 1505) and was the first sake to be branded in Japan.

Gorohachi, Kikusui Nigori
We then had some nigori ("unrefined") sake. The Gorohachi Kikusui Nigori (21% alc) is an unpasteurized "nama" (draft) nigori sake. It was sweet and creamy and tasted much like rice. Think korean rice punch, with alcohol?

The unpasteurized draft sakes are sold in cans, which apparently preserves the unpasteurized sake better.
The Gorohachi (right) is seasonal and available from November to March. During other months, you should be able to find the Funaguchi nigori sake (left).
draft sake
You can find these sake at the "Sake Only Store" inside Japon Bistro, and you can also enjoy them during dinner for a small fee. Of course, the restaurant itself has a list of sake by the glass, and even seasonal flights.

Dassai soapSo. Disclosure time, because I am obligated to. I got a free soap from Dassai! To my understanding the soap is made out of the rice dregs leftover from the sake production. See, they're sustainable too.

The sake for the dinner was provided by the sake companies and importers, so each guest only paid a minimal amount for the food.
As you probably know, many of the sake breweries have been damaged in the recent Japan earthquake and tsunami. There are many ways for you to help. Buying sake can keep their revenue stream going so they can rebuild, and of course donating to various charities will help rebuild the country!


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