Last Thursday, I had an invitation to a sake workshop at Ichiba London, the largest Japanese food hall in Europe. The workshop covered usual topics of sake origin, ingredients, brewing method and the classification with a focus on rice varieties used in sake making.
As I’m currently writing an article about rice as a sake ingredient (following the one about water), this part was especially interesting for me.
It was great to know more about the characteristics and use of the most popular sake rice varieties such as Yamadanishiki or Gohyakumangoku and less obvious such as hinohikari, one of the best table rice varieties in Japan.
From a Japanese student to an advertising photographer
The mix of people at the Ichiba workshop was also very good. One of the participants was a young Japanese student who had never tried sake before. I guess it’s true that Japan’s younger generation still considers sake as an “old man’s drink”. A photographer, who works for advertising asked quite a lot of questions about the sake making process. There were also a bond analyst from a credit rating agency, a nice couple from Chiswick, who are travelling to Japan soon and other people to whom I only spoke briefly.
Some people had never drunk sake before and it was a good introduction for them to the drink. Others drink it regularly and wanted to know more about the brewing process and the meaning of all these strange names like ginjo or . There was even a guy who said that he knew quite a lot about sake but didn’t drink it. Hopefully, he will move from theory to practice after this workshop!
Familiar and new sake from Keigetsu
This evening we had four sake and one yuzushu, all from Keigetsu (Tosa Brewing Company) from Kochi Prefecture. Keigetsu yuzushu is my favourite yuzu sake and I was very happy to have a glass of it even though we had just finished a bottle at home! The two of the Keigetsu sake we drank at Ichiba I had tried before: Keigetsu Tokubetsu Junmai ‘Aikawa Homare’, dry and crisp sake, and Keigetsu 45 Gin-no-Yume Junmai Daiginjo, delicate and fruitier sake.
The other two were new to me. First was a table sake, futsushu, a very solid sake which went very well with the food. Another one was Keigetsu Sake Nature, a new sake not yet available in the UK. It was excellent kimoto junmai daiginjo, made 100% from organically grown Yamadanishiki rice produced around the brewery.
Sake Nature is a fruity and medium-body sake, rich in umami due to the brewing method and very interesting in terms of the flavour. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough to make a full impression of it. So I’m looking forward to trying it again.
Great food and sake paring options
The sake was paired with three nice Japanese dishes. Keigetsu Tokubestu Junmai went nicely with salmon and seabass sashimi. The dryness of the sake counteracted the oiliness of the sashimi and but was light enough to highlight the delicate taste of the fish.
Beef and pork yakitori were very good with futsushu, which complemented the meatiness and richness of the food. Keigetsu 45 Gin-no-Yume Junmai Daiginjo was also a good paring for rich in umami grilled pork and beef and somehow counterbalancing its richness.
The shrimp tempura was paired with Keigetsu Sake Nature, which washed away the oiliness of the dish and played very well with the delicate taste of the shrimp inside. The boldness of the kimoto sake suited the deep-fried dish very well.
Ichiba: Great if a bit busy venue
In terms of the venue, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, Ichiba is a great venue for sake tastings and workshops. The store offers one of the best sake selections in London and great food options. I think in terms of attractiveness, it worked very well. People come here for Japanese food and drinks and it’s just natural for them to stay for a workshop.
On the other hand, it’s quite a large area. Although the workshop was tucked in the corner of the shop floor and Honami used a mike for the presentation, the sound wasn’t that great. There was also a bit of distraction from customers browsing the store. Probably, for future events, it would be possible to make the area of the workshop slightly more private by putting a couple of screens around it to keep the distractions to the minimum.
Still, the organisation of the event was excellent. Honami is a great presenter and knows a lot about sake. She also has a very friendly personality which puts people at ease and makes them comfortable to ask questions.
Together with very good content, lively presentation and excellent choice of sake and food, the workshop was a great opportunity for those who are interested in sake to learn more about the drink, who it’s made and what terms like junmai daiginjo actually mean.
I’m looking forward to more such workshops covering other types of sake (nigori, sparkling sake, namazake, koshu etc), different serving temperatures and other interesting topics.
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