Dispatch From Joy of Sake, NYC
All photos by Aliza Kellerman.
New Yorkers hate mold. Unless it's used to produce booze, of course.
Last Thursday, the mold du jour was koji, the trifecta ingredient that turns rice and water into sake. The Joy of Sake, a non-profit deliciously promoting the education of its namesake, returned to NYC to showcase over 370 sakes to an exceptionally eager crowd. Among the artful bowls of sake, open to sampling via pipette, were tables laden with the fusion-rich food from restaurants I normally would have to wait awhile at which to be seated. Translation: I ate a lot of wagyu beef.
When an expo presents such a portfolio of wares, I find that it's important to not drink everything assembly line style. But fear not! I tried plenty of different kinds of the Japanese beverage, often relying on the recommendations of the event's volunteers.
Premium sake is classified according to the extent to which its rice is polished and the presence or absence of additional brewer's alcohol. The sakes I tasted fell into the categories ginjo, junmai, daiginjo and variations of the three. After tasting dozens of sakes from each of the categories presented, I realized what I cherish the most in a sake is subtlety. Some of the gold star winners I sampled were so deep-flavored, they were almost too aggressive for me.
Since I love the build up to a surprise, the Seitoku “Genshu” made by the Seitoko Meijo brewery was a personal favorite of mine. Beginning with a bright, clean taste, the ginjo crescendoed into a blooming full, floral flavor. Of the gold-star winners, I preferred the Suishin “Tokusen Junmai Ginjoshu” from Suishin Yamane Honten brewery to the Shichida “Junmai Ginjo” from Tenzan Shuzo brewery. While the former is super light and crisp, the latter was full-bodied and acidic. As one volunteer pointed out, unlike we laymen, sake masters are trained to consecutively taste hundreds of sake varieties, and thereby appreciate a more shocking, robust flavor. Another interest tasting note a volunteer pointed out to me is that ginjos often don't have a distinguished scent, but are wildly complex on the palette, while daigijo's, which I'll get to in a second, have heady noses followed by airy flavor.
Of the daiginjo's, I was struck most by the Fukuchiyo Shuzo's Nabeshima “Daiginjo.” A stinging nose gave way to a shockingly mild, almost oceanesque flavor, both parts sweet and salty. I grabbed another guest to give a second opinion/confirm I wasn't crazy, and she confirmed the sea-like quality.
Now that Americans are branching out more into the sake realm (there was even a sake from Minnesota!), it'll be interesting to see if what we shell out makes the cut, or if sake is a clear product of terroir. Regardless, The Joy of Sake shows that American interest in the juice is brewing. So to speak.