Ty-Ku was there with their Junmai Ginjo and their Junmai Daiginjo. The bottles below are of a tropical fruit liqueur (not for tasting, pretty, though) and their Junmai Ginjo. The Junmai Daiginjo is in a white bottle that looks just like the others...but it was hidden in back, even though they were pouring tastes of it. I liked the Junmai Daiginjo better, but that is usually the case with me.
In fact, I kind of concentrated on Junmai Daiginjos most of the night because there was so much to taste, and sake really catches up with you...and when it is really, really good, it is very hard to spit or pour out. ;o) I realize that there are lots of folks that don't really know a lot about sake so let me give you a VERY brief primer and some info.
The hot sake served in cheaper sushi joints is generally low quality stuff, the heat covers a multitude of sins, and it is the Ripple/Thunderbird/Boone'sFarm/add your favorite rotgut wine here - of the sake world. Good sake is served chilled.
Sake is made from rice and this rice is polished before anything else is done. How much it is polished is a factor in determining the grade of the resulting sake - more polishing removes more of the grain, more of the grain removed makes for a more refined and higher quality sake - the daiginjo sakes are made with rice that has been polished more than 50% - meaning more than half of the grain is polished off.
Sake is 80% water, and the quality of that water is of the utmost importance. Brewers pride themselves on the quality of the water used. FYI, Sake One also bottles the Oregon Rain brand of bottled water (those cobalt glass bottles are used for both Momokawa and Oregon Rain and it is bottled in the same place, in Forest Grove - go out there for a tour, it is really cool and free!).
When it comes to grades of sake, it's mostly about the rice. Both type of rice (certain strains make better sake, some are better eating) and how it is processed goes into this - but labels on bottles generally refer to how the rice was polished, specifically how much it was polished.SAKE GRADES: Futsu
means regular, and is made with rice polished up to 70% of its size. The type of rice used for regular sake is not of high quality. Honjozo
uses rice that is polished so that no more than 70% of the grain remains. Also, a small amount of brewer's alcohol is added. If no brewer's alcohol is added, it is called Junmai (and is higher quality..though in this category, that doesn't mean as much). Ginjo
uses rice that is polished to 60%, and is brewed slowly, under low temperatures during the fermentation process. Again, for Junmai-ginjo, no alcohol is added, making it a better grade of sake. Daiginjo
("dai" means big) uses only the white, opaque starchy middle of the rice, which occurs at 50% of its original size. This results in a refreshing and delicate flavor. Again, for Junmai-daiginjo, no alcohol is added. Special Daiginjo
uses rice that is polished to 40%, resulting in grains that are almost round. This type of sake is considered the crowning glory of the sake makers, and is sent to sake competitions.
The cloudy sake you will see is called nigori
. It is cloudy because it's not filtered. Sake is also typically aged, but in the spring, namazake
is released. It is unpasteurized and undiluted (but unlike nigori, it is filtered and clear).
OK, does that help? I hope so, because I want you all to follow along, and if you've wanted to try sake, I hope this inspires you to go out there and do so. We are really lucky to live in a place where it is produced, and thanks to Marcus Pakiser (with P&S Wine of Young's Columbia, and our local sake expert - or Sake God, as I have heard him called ;o) who has created many of the great sake lists for local restaurants, you can not only find great choices when you go out to eat, but also at places like Uwajimaya which probably has the best selection for purchase in our area (but check the dates - shipments often get held at customs, unpopular brands can linger on shelves, and heat and time are not friends of bottled sake).
OK, back to Sake Fest PDX...
Vine Connections distributes one of my favorite junmai daiginjo sakes, Ginja Shizuku Divine Droplets. But they also make several other very nice sakes. Here from left to right are Origins of Purity (junmai-ginjo genshu - genshu means it is undiluted), Moon on the Water (junmai ginjo), Hawk in the Heavens (junmai), and Tozai Living Jewel (junmai).
Left to right: Voices in the Mist (nigori), Divine Droplets (junmai-daiginjo), Tears of Dawn (daiginjo). I tried the Tears of Dawn in addition to the Divine Droplets (OK, I 'tried' the Divine Droplets several times...it's good stuff!) and I liked them both. The Divine Droplets is made in the far north of Japan, so cold that no bacteria can grow during the process, and it is filtered using hanging canvas bags where the sake drips out, not a press (they think it is less bitter that way) - the goal is purity...and this stuff has an ethereal quality and a vague minerality to it that really pleases my palate. The Tears of Dawn has more fruity - almost vaguely tropical notes, full bodied with a strong finish. It's nice too.
And if sake isn't your thing (We are at a sake fest, ya know!) there was also Asahi and Sapporo beer and plenty of Earth2O water: