#SakeSomm: Why Aren't We Drinking More Sake ?

 

It's Monday morning. It's fitting that I wear my Samurai t-shirt today. Black, with white paint brushed characters and a picture of the Japanese warrior in red, centered, by the heart. We are headed downtown. In a couple of hours we will be tasting a variety of sakes from all corners of Japan while following the first steps to become a Sake Sommelier.  Mostly all before noon. 

The LA rendition of the Sake Master Class takes place every so often at the Sake School of America, in the vibrant arts district of LA. It's a growing part of town, filled with Brooklyn type hipsters and urban clans, all less than a block away from sprawling Little Tokyo and neighboring Skid Row. This type of contrast seems so much in line with what we come to expect from LA every single day so the venue seemed perfect for the day's activities.  

Sake, A Tradition of Generosity

Overflowing sake into the masu (the square wooden box) traditionally signals the wealth and generosity of the establishment serving sake to its patrons. It's an old tradition and one of many interesting peculiarities around the process of enjoying sake.  In similar fashion, as each student passed the colorful bottles around the room, generosity and tradition were dead center as the classes' common themes. Each pour was then followed by a meticulous visual, scent and finally taste descriptions: Floral, silky, notes of peach and lavender, umami, a few among so many adjectives characterizing each varietal. 

 

 Master Eric walks through a tasting sheet with a student during the Sake Master Class in LA

Master Eric walks through a tasting sheet with a student during the Sake Master Class in LA

So why don't more people enjoy sake?  Japan soaks in most of what it produces with South Korea, USA and Brazil rounding up as the major importers while dabbing on some local production of its own. The possibilities are endless - for example, if your thing is to drink wine with cheese, why not go for a bottle of sake one night? Sake's food pairing range is much wider given its natural acidity levels.

The Swish Army Knife Beverage

Like many, I've tasted and enjoyed sake, mostly around the concept of a Japanese meal. It cuts through the fat of a buttery fish and broth noodles like nothing else. It also seems to have a soothing characteristic and typically zero hangover. And when I really think about it, it is always been welcoming in almost any format when it was offered to me. Sake's versatility applies in many fronts: 

  • You can pair it well with a beer - beer and a shot style. Let's not forget the sake bomb.
  • You can take it down hot or cold depending on the weather.
  • You can forego the Pinot Noir for a nice Junmai Ginjo that will pair with both the camembert cheese and the trout salad you made for dinner.

It is without a doubt the duct tape of drinks as it fits many tastes. 

 Master Eric tastes a Nama Sake during the Master Class in Los Angeles, CA. 

Master Eric tastes a Nama Sake during the Master Class in Los Angeles, CA. 

Exam Grades

At the end of a hard earned course and 12 different bottles tasted, the puzzle of sake became evident to me. Why aren't more people excited about it like I was after the class? Maybe the labels, terms and bottles are hard for most to understand and discern between good and bad. Maybe it naturally appeals more to a different diet, palate and climate but I personally do not believe this notion given how versatile Sake really is. I'll be certain to pour a bottle of Dassai 50, my favorite, from time to time and may even come back and sit for the exam to become a true Sake Master.

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 Among the favorites tasted, Dassai 50 seemed to have it all. 

Among the favorites tasted, Dassai 50 seemed to have it all.