Dear True Sake Reader,
Welcome to the 129th Issue of America’s sake-centric Newsletter. In this mid-month issue read one of my favorite pieces that I have ever written for this here newsletter about the IWC in London last month, take a trip to Seattle to visit with another sake store, read some press about our soon-to-be sake bar in SF, save a very important date for the Tenth Anniversary of Sake Day, help the drought in California by drinking a Top Ten List of sakes made without added (extra) water called Genshu sakes, go Beau-Zoning with a sake that he found in the Seattle sake store, check out the new cups and nama sakes in the new store arrivals, and Ask Beau about True Sake LIVE!
In this issue:
Sake Importance – The International Wine Challenge
Can you taste gold? Can you taste a medal? How do you know? How can you taste one sake that stands out from hundreds?
Simple. You can.
I don't want to simplify three days of tasting almost 900 sakes. I don't want to trivialize me personally tasting perhaps close to 200 sakes in about four hours, but in a word, you know. You simply know by the fluid in your mouth – in your “pallet” – that it is an exceptional brew. The sake, as I always say, speaks for itself. It is a liquid “rightness” and that’s it. It's as simple as that.
There was a day long ago when I first started on this sake journey that I used to say that you cannot drink a gold medal! And I was fascinated by Japanese brewers who laid it all on the line for what the “judges” thought about their sakes. They held the judging as their end all be all. I would ask, “Aren’t you pleased enough with the sake that you brew that makes all of your customers so happy?” And they would reply, “I want to know how good my sake really is.” It confused me. It made me want to shake their shoulders and say, “You make sake that is wonderful, what else do you need to know?” But now, nine years later I get it.
Sake competitions like all “judging” competitions are important for those who need to be validated. It’s an inner voice that says, “Sure my family and friends think that I make a good product, but do I?" It’s also an economic incentive to be heralded in the industry in which you dwell and “compete.” So as much importance, validation and trust brewers put into sake judging competition it’s paramount that the competition itself is as solid as their individual efforts. Gold medals should truly be earned and not given.
The International Wine Challenge does not “give" gold medals, nor silver, nor bronze. Each medal and trophy presented is based purely and simply on the strength and virtue of that specific sake. Sakes are awarded for what they truly deserve. This fact became abundantly clear to me this ninth year of my involvement with one of the largest and best sake tastings in the world.
The IWC held in London every April is the largest wine tasting in the world, and is recognized as perhaps the most significant international wine tasting in the history of “judging” wine. Nine years ago this body had the foresight to include sake in the mix. Perhaps it was on account of knuckleheads like myself who implored the Japanese Sake Brewer’s Association via the Sake Samurai to market sake in a new vein and a new direction. (Thank you Koichi Saura of Urakasumi Brewery for leading this charge on behalf of the Sake Samurai.)
I’ll admit that it was nerve wracking nine years ago to be one of the first panel chairman looking at my table with 6 Japanese and 6 western judges looking back at me. In our first incarnation we used the 100 point system to judge each sake. Wow! What a shock that was to see the western judges give a certain brew an 89 and the Japanese judges give the same sake a 59. Gulp! Really? Thirty points apart on the same sake? Who’s tastes did we trust more? Big impact and super flavorful sakes spoke to the west, and light and clean brews appealed to the Japanese tasters. Who was right? And more to the point, who was wrong?
That seems like so long ago! But we managed, and we excelled. And each year the number of sakes and judges increased. This year 16 countries were represented with judges judging sakes from Japan, the US, Norway, and Canada. It’s truly an international competition for a libation that wants to be taken seriously on the international stage, which of course means appealing to tastes from all over the globe.
The first day of tasting was business as usual, and a lot of fun. Basically we separate the wheat from the chaff. It’s a blistering fast day where sakes are judged in three categories; Medal (which means they are medal worthy and will be judged for a specific medal on Day 2), Commend (which means the sake is worth a recommendation, but it’s not medal worthy), and Out (which means the sake is either faulty, damaged, or poorly produced). Each panel was in charge of 96 sakes in multiple flights. As I run a pretty effective panel, we were given 106 sakes.
What do you look for before you spit? Ha! Purity, intensity, complexity, finesse, elegance, and of course, flavor, and most importantly, balance. Basically, as I stated before, the sakes speak for themselves. There is no lying in liquid form. It’s good or it’s not, and if you get it wrong there are 5 other judges who will remind you via their call if a brew is good or not. In the beginning 9 years ago I was a dick. I was very very tough on the sakes. I didn’t push many through. But as time has passed I have learned that the brews have a more global appeal then just my pallet. So as a panel chairman I am more of a consensus accumulator. That’s really our jobs, to listen to the panel and take what they like and drop what they don’t like.
The structure of the tasting panel is as follows: Panel Chair (moi), Senior Judge, Judges, and Assistant Judges. Each year we get reviewed and you progress as well as you taste, meaning a judge who does well eventually becomes a Senior Judge and then a Panel Chair as the event grows and we need new tables. (This year we had nine tables) And then there are two Co-Chairman, who oversee all of the sakes. Yup! That means they taste all of the sakes to make certain that each of the tables are doing their jobs of sending through excellent and medal worthy sakes. Then all of the Table Chairs and the Co-Chairmen select the trophy winners from all of the gold medal sakes. Yes! lots of tasting and a ton of work! But wait! What’s the saying, be careful of what you wish for?
This year I was selected to act as a Co-Chair for the second and most important day of tasting. (So too was my Swedish sake brother, Ake Norgnan, who did day one.) Basically I sat in a separate room and reviewed each and every sake that came through the process along with my other Co-Chairs. It was indeed an immense honor and I left everything on the field of play, the court, in the pool, on the mat etc. It was awesome because it rocked me. I was toast afterwards and it was well worth it, because I could really see the integrity of the IWC product shine through. In a sense we were a double secret security check making certain that the right sakes were awarded and rightfully so. (I have been involved in many “Sake Tastings” and there has always been some trickeration where certain sakes automatically won gold medals, and that is wrong – just saying!)
So how did a white boy from America judging Japanese sakes in the United Kingdom do? I was told that I did very well, and that I was spot on, which means a ton to me, because it’s good to know where your pallet stands amongst some of the greatest sake tasters in the world. Personally I will say that I probably tasted over 200 sakes, and I had my fair share of pushing down a sake as well as elevating a sake. Huh? Each sake we tasted had the panel’s scores and notes, and I could tell if a panel leader was influencing his or her panel too much. I could follow each taster’s personal scores for each brew. I then would taste the sake and concur or say perhaps not! If I disagreed with a medal given, I would then let a fellow Co-Chair taste and make a case. It took three Co-Chairs to change a medal grade.
Again the questions come, how can you taste so many and be accurate? And again I will say it’s the sakes that speak for themselves. Perhaps an anecdote will demonstrate this notion. I was following a certain new Assistant Judge, who did not jibe with her table at all. She continually missed the consensus, which is fine as she was tasting from her perspective, which is the name of the game. Point being I was looking over the panel notes and saw that she had a certain palette profile, which would give Bronze medals to sakes that the entire panel gave gold medals to. Finally she gave a sake a gold medal that the panel gave Commended or Bronze medals to. I tasted the sake and said Aha! She gets it! This is a Gold Med…. Ah wait a second! The sake had a wonderful aroma, the first sip was glorious, (Gold baby Gold!) the middle mouth was succulent and then wham! It hit! Like a slap in the face! The sake spoke! And what it said was CHARCOAL! Right there in the middle mouth after all of the tasting glory was a deep rooted over charcoal taste that simply ruined the sake! Ouch! It was a pity for the sake but it was a good lesson in how the system caught the brew. Pretty cool right!
Day two of the IWC 2015 in London England was one of the greatest sake days of my life. I mean that. Even though it crushed me, I was a zombie for about two hours after the tasting, it made me sake whole again! It gave me faith in myself and my product called the International Wine Challenge. Ironically it “challenged” me, and I am damn proud that all of my years of tasting, training, and being fascinated with sake paid off! And I want to thank you all for helping me hone my craft and make me a better taster and all around better sake advocate. I do it for you as much as I do it for me! Thank you!
Lastly, after each IWC I get brewers from all over Japan emailing me and asking the same question, “How did you like my sake?” (Of course they submitted sakes) To which I always reply, what part of blind tasting don’t you understand? We DO NOT know what sakes we are tasting from start to finish! Period. (I can sometimes surmise as you would imagine a retailer of sake could) But we simply have no clue. That said! I do have the results of the Gold Medal and Trophy winners! Apparently I earned the right to a sneak peek! Hell yah I did! The official results will be announced in late May, but who knows - take me out to dinner and maybe I’ll sing like a sake canary!
Hint #1 – There were 43 Gold Medals awarded!
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Sake Celebration – Finally Visited Sake Nomi In Seattle
So my sister invited me to visit her place in Seattle, and since it’s such a cool city who could say no? Not me! Fast forward to my two stellar daughters and I walking through Pike Place Market looking at such highlights as the “Wall of Gum” and flying salmon. This was the warm up to what I really wanted to check out!
For years I have heard stories and reports about a sake store that opened in Seattle, and a cool guy named Johnny who ran the place. And for years I have told people if you are ever in Seattle go to Sake Nomi and check it out for me. (I have also sent customers who were visiting Seattle a bottle of sake to give to Johnny – even though we had never met.)
Owning a sake store is a labor of love and there are only a few passionate souls out there doing it. So in a sense we are all kindered spirits, and I openly root for all of us as we are doing the Lord’s work! I have a ton of respect for each and every person who has dedicated themselves to pushing sake for a living. We are a unique breed, and I have been told that Johnny is one of the most unique.
So with daughters in tow I made an unannounced visit to Sake Nomi.
When I opened the door to the shop I immediately saw the tasting bar/counter and I thought to myself, “lucky duck!” I hesitated for a second, because I saw a sign that read “21 and Over.” As I stood momentarily paused in the doorway a white guy with a Japanese dew rag on his head looked up and said, “Beau?” (Sake souls have extra-perceptive senses) I sheepishly said yes and we walked in, all three of us including the 11 and 15 year-old who Johnny was looking at.
Basically kids are not allowed in Sake Nomi because it is a bar, but I asked if they could hide in the corner. I really wanted the girls to see the space, because they grew up in a sake store and I wanted their opinions. Johnny said it was cool and I told the girls to move away from the windows – Ha! And then we took it in. It was surrealistic to be in another sake store, and I walked around one part as a customer, one part as a sake fan, and one part as a competitor of sorts. My mind was wearing several caps.
There were several people sitting at the bar and I could not take my eyes or mind off of them. How different would True Sake be if I had a tasting bar/counter? Well in a word I know! (That is why when we open the next True Sake it will definitely have a tasting bar component to it!) Johnny looked very comfortable talking to the cusotomers and I could tell several of them were repeat offenders. They knew Johnny and they knew sake! “Cool” I thought to myself.
As I walked around the “store” part of Sake Nomi I began looking at the shelves and in particular the sake offerings. I didn’t see price. I didn’t see asthetics. I only “saw” the different types of sakes that Johnny offered and the ones that we at True Sake didn’t. For the most part he carried lots of brews that I carry, used to carry, or temporarily didn’t carry. But there were a few “Hey what the heck is this?” sakes that drew my attention. And I was reminded of the old adage that “Desire rests in the wanting not the having.” (I noticed in particular Nanbu Bijin’s Shinpaku, and in honor of Johnny I will make that my sake this month for the Beau-Zone Layer
The girls would later say that they “Like True Sake better!” but of course they are partial. I liked the bar feel of Sake Nomi and I could tell that Johnny did a great job making people feel comfortable with sake. We parted with a handshake and hug and the unsaid commitment that we both will keep doing the Lord’s work to the best of our abilities. Thank you Johnny!
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True Cup – The Cat Is Out Of The Cup!
Check Out The True Cup Social Media Scene: Truecup on Facebook, #truecupsf on Instagram and @truecupsf on Twitter!
Okay folks! We told you that we would keep you posted from the get go! So here is your current True “Cup”date! (True Cup Update – get it?)
The lease is signed, the design is almost complete, and we will soon start the build-out! We are extremely excited. For me the fun part is designing the sake program layout. I am very pumped to bring sake to the peeps in a fun and informative capacity. And yes, it is totally different and unique!
Herewith are two web-based articles about True Cup and for the numerous folks who have asked about being part of this True Cup and the others yet to come in terms of investing please direct your questions to Stephen as he is in charge of that “stuff.”
Hoodline: True Sake Opening Restaurant and Sake Bar
Eater: True Cup Sake Bar with Beau Timken
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Save The Date – Sake Day’s 10th Anniversary
Do you have a pen? Do you rent one with an option to buy? Can you borrow one?
Now take this pen owned, borrowed, stolen or otherwise and circle OCTOBER 3rd on your trusty calendar. Got it? I’ll wait until you are done. Finished? Good! Why? Because it’s the 10th Anniverary of the Bay Area’s very own Sake Day! Ten years of a tremendous party that you helped make famous! So famous that many people have tried to copy this event in many ways shapes and forms. (You listening “International Sake Day”?)
Yes Siree! We were the first and we are the biggest and, of course, true to form we are the bestest! Sake Day or Nihinshu no Hi has been a San Francisco tradition for a decade and this year in celebration we are making sake history by taking this stellar event to a larger and far more dramatic location. On October 3rd please join us at the Armory in San Francisco to honor sake to its fullest. Did I say the Armory? You bet! Do you know about the Armory? Well other then being a stupendous event space it also has a special charm to it that will make the evening all the more thrilling!
Tickets will go on sale soon! And this year we totally want to reward groups of sake enthusiasts with special pricing packages, so get your business to get in on the sake act. It is truly an event not to miss and this year will be filled with tons of outstanding sake surprises that will fascinate and titillate our amazing guests!
Sake Day 2015 – The TENTH ANNIVERSARY!
Circle that date amigo!
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Top Ten List – Top Ten Genshu Sakes For The Drought!
Drought Drought Drought!!! This Top 10 List is our best efforts to conserve water at True Sake and in California as a whole. Here are 10 sakes that have no added water – undiluted or “Genshu” sake. Typically after fermentation the brewers will add water to dilute the sake back down to 15%-16%, which is the typical average alcohol content for sake. Genshu sakes have a slightly higher alcohol content anywhere between 17%-19%. So think of it this way, you are getting a better buzz AND saving water at the same time! Woot!
1) Urakasumi Honjozo Genshu “Misty Bay”
This Genshu comes wrapped in awesome gold foil and it tastes very golden! Deep, rich, bold, and full-bodied this sake is just shy of being a monster! It is powerful and pleasurable and super drinkable! It warms well too!
2) Tenzan Junmai Genshu “Mt. Tenzan”
Talk about another extremely well wrapped sake! This genshu is awesome on so many levels other than the awesome packaging! (Hint – do not try to unwrap the entire leaf – simply cut the top and open the cap and pour!) This brew is robust and fruity without drinking too sweet! It is one of those sakes that walks the walk – flavorful and very fun and with some great impact! (Oddly this fruit-forward sake warms very well too!)
3) Umenishiki Junmai Ginjo Genshu “Sakehitosuji” “Georgous Plum”
Are you ready to take a walk on a different side of sake? This genshu “undiluted” sake that pairs so well with cooked fish is a trip to the fruit basket! There are layers and layers of bright, semi-sweet fruit tones that speak to white wine drinkers who like a little friskiness in their glass! A very delicious sake that has great legs and strong glass presence and is a little different then other genshu sakes.
4) Wakatake Tokubetsu Junmai Genshu “Demon Slayer”
Hello Demon Slayer! You’ve probably had the famous Wakatake Junmai Daiginjo, but have you ever tried the powerful and full-bodied brother brew! This genshu is a really fun thick and round sake that drinks dry and large. Take this baby to any BarBQ and look like a super star as it pairs so well with greasy, salty, and savory fare! Or just fill your glass and enjoy a sake that is famous for making bad things go away!
5) Kikuhime Daiginjo Genshu BY “Chrysanthemum Princess”
Some sakes are perfect! This is one of them. This Genshu is legendary in the world of sake connoisseurs! It simply is hands down a liquid work of art as it is extremely complex but absurdly drinkable. “BY” is a trip down the “as good as it gets” sake road and should be tried at some point by those learning sake and those who want to taste perfection in a glass!
6) Murai Family Nigori Genshu “Peach River”
Say hello to 19.9%! This nigori “unfiltered – cloudy sake” is a massive production in a glass that mesmerizes all nigori fans. All of the milky textures balance into extremely smooth sake that is full and fun. Great fruit tones without being too sweet. Great creaminess without being thick. Just simply a great “foggy” sake that packs a wonderful punch!
7) Tsukasabotan Junmai Daiginjo Genshu Shizuku “King of the Peony”
Might as well toss in the mix one of the most pampered sakes in the industry. Shizuku sakes are basically the highest form of sake manufacturing as they let this baby gravity drip the sake away from the lees. This King is a very tasty sake that has layers and layers of bright fruit tones with a very elegant acidity play that speaks to those white wine drinkers out there who like to be surprised by what’s in the glass! I also paired this sake with a Spicy Uni Pasta for the New York Times. It worked because it’s fantastic!
8) Narutotai Junmai Ginjo Genshu “Red Snapper”
So you probably have had the Narutotai nama ginjo in the “Can,” but have you ever tried the more elegant and complex Junmai Ginjo? This Red Snapper is a wonderful expression of sake that drinks easy, but there is so much to it! It’s like cave exploring and you discover so many things on so many different levels. Look for a richness here, a silkiness there, and all those wonderful flavors here! Complex western fare take note as this sake is a powerhouse food pairing sake that makes any dish better! This Snapper CAN drink better then it’s fellow brew!
9) Minato Tsuchizaki Yamahai Futsushu Nama Genshu “Harbor”
Talk about cans! And talk about 21% alcohol! Then let’s talk about one of the most powerful and immense sakes in the store. This “Harbor” is a massive walk on the crazy side of sake. Huge flavors and huge feelings connect to make a “can-tastic” sake that many love to explore and party with! Not a super fruity sake, but a bold brew that speaks to those who love extremely large red wines that blow you away with impact and intensity! Save the drought with this sake that is so large it can make it rain!
10) Born Muroka Daiginjo Nama Genshu
Welcome to one of the most amazing sakes at the store! This nama Daiginjo is a flavor rush like no other! Can you say umami? Can you say unique? Talk about an indiviudual in the over populated sake world. Born is a complex exploration of sake that will open your eyes and fascinate you every bottle, every glass, every sip! An extremely popular sake amongst those who “know” sake. Give this sake a try and you will be sold! It will teach you a thing or two for sure!
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“Beau-Zone” Layer – Nanbu Bijin “Shinpaku”
From Iwate Prefecture. Junmai Daiginjo. SMV: +4 Acidity: 1.6
Okay Folks! I’ll bet you didn’t know that there is an area within milled rice that is best for special brewing mold to inoculate the rice grain itself! Huh? Okay let me reword that. Mold needs to propagate throughout each grain of rice to help sacchrify the rice before it ferments. The better it sacchrifies the better it ferments. This special area that is best for this is called the shinpaku. The larger the shinpaku in the rice the better quality the rice. Big shinpaku means good fermentation, and guess what the name of this sake is? You will really enjoy this extremely flavorful brew that drinks juicy, smooth and bright. And for the price this sake that uses Yamadanishiki rice (hint hint – good shinpaku) is a real steal!
PS. Check out the sign out front of True Sake – that is an artist’s rendition of shinpaku in grains of rice and no it’s not ikura!
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New Store Arrivals – Cups and Namas!
Kaika Sanomaru Cup
From Tochigi Prefecture
SMV: +2, Acidity: 1.5
Nishinoseki Daruma Cup
From Oita Prefecture
SMV:-1.5, Acidity: 1.4
Masumi Arabashiri 2015
From Nanago Prefecture
Junmai Ginjo Nama
SMV: -1 Acidity: 1.9
Denshin Haru 2015
From Fukui Prefecture
SMV: -0.5 Acidity: 1.
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Sake Images – is now #truesake on Instagram
So there have been a lot of requests on how to follow me and my let’s call it unique eye for sake-centric photography. There are two ways. First you can follow me directly at @truesake on Instagram, which is a really fun format to show off your creative side. Secondly, you SHOULD be following me on Facebook.
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Ask Beau – “Are you hosting any events soon?”
We get this question quite often, and the simple answer is that we can always do events! On occasion we will do store tasting events, but what we enjoy more is coming to your house or business to do amazingly fun and informative sake exploration and fascination events. That’s right! And we call this True Sake Live!
Think about it! Why do another boring wine and cheese mixer? How about a cheese and sake throw down? Your office “get-togethers” have been sort of on the yawn side! Why not host a Sake 101 where you learn about sake while tasting some excellent brews? One of our favorite styles of events is what we call the Sake Bar! This is where we man or woman a sake station and pour three or four sakes and have micro-conversations with the guests! They can grab a sake or two and be on their way or they can linger around and speak to our professionals who love to speak the gospel of sake.
Why not challenge True Sake Live and have us come and blow away your next wine tasting event! We have several Sake Challenge Stations for the 101’ers or some very intensive and challenging tastings for the pure sake geeks! We are here for you, and honestly we rock events! The bottom line is that we will always have events in our store line up, and we will have a ton of events at the new bar! But why wait for us? Think up your own excuse to have a True Sake Live event! Corporate, birthday, food pairing, special location, cooking events all have one thing in common – sake makes them better! So use us! Use the best in the business to make your special occasion even more special! True Sake Live is an exciting, informative and highly entertaining way to socialize and promote team spirit! Give us a try!
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The SECRET WORD –
Ah, at last we have reached the end of this Newsletter and that of course means that we have come to the now-famous SECRET WORD. To those who are new the SECRET WORD is a chance for you to try a sake of note for half of that sake's original price. Just for reading this Newsletter. It is our way of saying thank you for trying to understand the wonders of sake.
Please remember the rules: only one bottle per reader, and don't tell your buddy at the moment if he/she isn't a Newsletter subscriber, always use a hushed or secret agent voice when saying the SECRET WORD.
Please remember the rules: only one bottle per reader, and don't tell your buddy at the moment if he/she isn't a Newsletter subscriber, always use a hushed or secret agent voice when saying the SECRET WORD. This month’s Secret Word sake is a historically popular Junmai Daiginjo made with the very famous and ancient Omachi rice varietal from a great brewery in Fushimi Kyoto called Tamanohikari. We usually sell this brew for $45, but for you great readers we will part with this Daiginjo for $24 if you say the SECRET WORD: “OMACHI-Me!” (With a slight game show host accent!)
You can now also order the SECRET WORD SAKE from the website and enter the secret word as the discount code at time of checkout!
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