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    Cans from Japan (and other places) – Some New Entries from the World of Sake

    The following is a guest post written by Alex Dubois and Cyndi Tolosa.? Both have a love of fine wine and spirits, along with many other things.? Alex has contributed to this blog in the past, and you can read more of his work by clicking here.

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    First things first—sake isn’t for everyone. Quality sake has a distinctive flavor profile and mouthfeel that can take some getting used to. Low grade sake (the stuff you’ve probably had shot into your mouth at a Hibachi restaurant) is probably best avoided. More sake for the VOLCANOOOO!, and college students.

    The good news is this: if you want to try sake (and you should), now is a great time to do so. Sake is everywhere. The chances are high that your go-to shop has a small sake section, probably next to the specialized wines (think Port) or the more unusual liquors. Your favorite sushi restaurant is sure to have a few sake options on the menu. And don’t be surprised if the next craft beer festival you attend has at least one sake producer.

    Between 2011 and 2016, the volume of sake in the U.S. grew by about 16 percent. We are now the largest overseas market for sake, accounting for over a third of Japan’s sake exports. Most sake in America is Japanese, either imported or produced by Japanese breweries with U.S. production facilities (such as the ubiquitous Gekkeikan). American craft sake production is small, but rising. In 2019, there were an estimated 21 brewers in the U.S.

    I’ve been a sake drinker since the day I turned 21 (and, let’s be honest, probably a bit before then). I won’t go into too much detail about the basics of sake, as the proprietor of this blog (a sake convert, albeit begrudgingly) has already written a wonderful piece you can view here: http://www.ekvapt.com/sake-anyone-sake-tasting-with-sakeone/. For this guest appearance, I’ve chosen two sakes that may be the best entrée into sake drinking that money can buy. And yes, they both come in a can (koozie optional).

    Sake 1 – Bushido: The Way of the Warrior

    Right off the bat, this sake has a few things going for it. The branding is exceptional, and the can lid actually pops clean off the top, turning the can into an easy-sipping cup. I must admit, I am a sucker for good design.

    Bushido is made in Kyoto by the Kizakura brewery. It is a ginjo grade sake, meaning that each grain of rice used is polished or milled to at least 60% of its original size (meaning at least 40% of the grain has been removed; this is called seimaibuai). Generally speaking, 20200126_143042sakes with a higher seimaibuai are higher in quality and smoother and cleaner in taste. The interesting part about Bushido is that it is also a genshu sake. Genshus are not diluted during the pressing process, allowing for a higher alcohol percentage (18%-20%) compared to conventional sakes (14%-16%).

    Tasting notes: Bushido pours with a slight yellow color. We tried it chilled from the fridge, amounting to a wonderfully crisp and refreshing sake. The dominant note was pear, with lesser notes of green apple and watermelon. There was a nice tartness experienced under the tongue, and some good alcohol and even spice at the end. As with most sakes, there is a distinct but enjoyable flavor of rice or grain that also produces a slightly dry feeling in the mouth (like a wine with some good tannins). This is good stuff, as fit for a nice meal as it is for easy drinking from the open can. Slightly more expensive than its counterparts (in terms of size), but the higher alcohol makes up for it.

    Alcohol: 18%; MSRP: $6.00

    Sake 2 – Night Swim

    One thing these canned sakes get right is branding. This is another eye-catching design, once you look past the fact that the label on my can was upside down. Night Swim is also from Kyoto, produced by Tozai (which is actually a collaboration between Kizakura 20200126_153804brewery and a major sake importer). This is a futsu sake, a term generally used for any non-premium brew, akin to a table wine, that makes up about 80% of Japan’s sake production. Futsu-shu grade sakes do not have a milling requirement for their rice, though Night Swim has a seimaibuai of 70%.

    Tasting notes: Night Swim actually poured a bit clearer than Bushido, though this is perhaps due to Bushido being an undiluted sake. We also tried this one chilled from the fridge. At least to me, it was immediately clear that this is a less-refined sake offering. The immediate taste is sweetness, stemming from the very discernable banana and pineapple notes, with a slight note of citrus as well. Night Swim has less complexity, lacking the alcohol and spice of Bushido, with a shorter finish. The grain (rice) is certainly less forward in this sake, almost masked entirely by the strong fruit flavors. Overall, not my favorite style, though it is certainly good enough to drink regularly and would pair wonderfully with some sweet-n’-savory foods like BBQ. Given its sweetness, this may be the better starting point for those just getting into sake.

    Alcohol: 14%; MSRP: $4.99

    Sake 3 – Not a sake at all!

    This I couldn’t resist. Brewed by Robinsons Brewery in England and named for a certain Iron Maiden song, “Sun and Steel” is actually a beer infused with Japanese sake yeast. And it is actually made by Iron Maiden (sort of), the product of a partnership between the 20200210_173144brewery and the band’s vocalist. I am, unabashed, an Iron Maiden fan. I remember a young me standing in the rain to see them perform, complete with a “vintage-looking” t-shirt and Vans shoes adorned with Eddie, the band’s zombie mascot. The artwork on this can is right off of an album cover.

    The beer itself is brewed using yeast from the well-known Okunomatsu sake brewery in Fukushima, though I found myself stretching to find sake notes in what was otherwise a nice pilsner. While others may have appreciated the “light” touch of sake, I wanted more. But nothing better signals the arrival of sake into the world of “hip” craft alcohol than this.

    That’s all for now. Get out there and try some sake! But if you hear someone scream VOLCANOOOO!, first consider closing your mouth, and then instead reach for the sake menu. Or don’t. Or do both. More sake, more happy!

     

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    You probably should try some sake and expand your horizons.? Alex is a big fan.? I enjoy it occasionally as well, although I am not fully converted yet.

    A votre santé

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