|Same Saké, Different Vessels:
Review by "saké newbie" Jonathan Hanneman
To explore the concept of how your drinkware affects your saké drinking experience, Saké Nomi hosted a "Same Saké, Different Vessels" seminar on Friday, Jan. 25.
For those of you who haven't had a chance to attend one of our classes or special themed tastings, they're usual very casual, friendly affairs. Aside from seeing some saké-fuelled lightbulbs alighting as the participants grasp a fundamental saké concept, our greatest pleasure is seeing the interaction between the participants and watching our nomidachi ("drinking companion") community concept come to fruition.
A diverse and jovial group gathered to help us in our research on Jan. 25, and we encouraged everyone to take some brief notes to help them notice how their drinking experience differed from vessel to vessel and sake to sake.
To give you an idea of how things went, we'd like to share this review, submitted by nomidachi Jonathan Hanneman:
by Jonathan Hanneman
Friday evening, January 25. I found myself wandering Pioneer Square wondering what I had gotten into. "Same Saké, Different Vessels" was starting in a few minutes. I had spent how much on an evening with a bunch of people I didn't know? And they were probably all experts who spoke fluent Japanese and actually knew the difference between milling levels and other mysteries of rice. My stomach turned. Overcoming the urge to hop an 18 and just head home before I humiliated myself, I turned down Washington Street and entered Saké Nomi.
Though I've been intrigued since my first sip, I'm no saké expert. I've tasted good saké, and I've had my fair share of bad. My experience extends mostly to microwaved bottles at my local sushi joint and my grocery store's limited selection. So I can't claim to know much. But I do know what I like, and brief experience said Saké Nomi seemed to have a lot of it.
Upon settling at the bar, Taiko offered samples of the week's three sakés. I don't know if it was the drink or just seeing the other patrons up close, but I began to relax a little. Our hosts set out the evening's vessels: a kikijoko (the official white and blue tasting cup), a Riedel O glass (a thin-walled, stemless wine glass), and a masu (the small cedar saké box). Finally, each of us selected a handmade ceramic cup by a West Seattle artist. Johnnie explained some history of each of the glasses, made sure we all had introductions to our saké selections, and encouraged us to take notes as we tasted. The evening began in earnest.
We started with a bottle of Dassai Junmai Ginjo "50" from Asahi. Johnnie and Taiko filled our kikijokos first. The saké rolled through my mouth like a gentle wave, its crest breaking at the back of my palate. I couldn't tell any difference in flavor between the kikijoko, the Riedel, and the handmade cup. Disappointment began to set in. Maybe this evening really was going to be beyond me. But the masu was an eye opener. What had been smooth and a little sweet suddenly grew sharp. My interest piqued.
Our second saké was Yuki No Bosha "Cabin in the Snow." While this bottle was rated as slightly sweeter than the first, I found the flavor much zippier. The Riedel brought out extra burning along the edges of my tongue, a different sensation than the kikijoko. The masu surprised me again. In contrast with the sudden bite of the Dassai, this saké took on a smoother, softer taste from the cedar box.
I was starting to get into this. I was also starting to get a little tipsy. I took some more food and, not realizing I had already drunk over 8 oz. of saké, lamented being such a lightweight.
Our final official bottle for the evening was Shichi Hon Yari "Seven Spearmen" from the nearly 500 year old Tomita brewery. This saké was round, like a ball or cushioned disc in my mouth, and was my favorite flavor of the evening. The Riedel again revealed an extra sharpness, though not like the burn of the Yuki No Bosha. The handmade cup lessened the sharpness but definitely kept more bite than the kikijoko. This time the masu brought a sweetness to the saké.
I was feeling dizzy from all the alcohol, but this flavor really intrigued me. I asked for more in the kikijoko in order to compare it directly with the masu. It was bitter! What had been wonderfully round and smooth now tasted completely different. I tested the masu. I tested the kikijoko. I tested the masu again. After a brief period of this wonderful but intense back and forth, I came to a conclusion. The cedar aroma of the masu overpowered this saké's scent, making the flavor a surprise when it hit the tongue. The kikijoko undoubtedly gave a truer, cleaner taste but, not having a different aroma, lacked the element of surprise that brought out the extra sweetness.
The evening wasn't all just saké (or just saké from the evening's menu). Conversation ranged from our taste observations and kanji to Carl Sandburg and South Park. Despite my initial fears and reservations, I had one of the most enjoyable evenings I can remember. Sitting at the counter, I decided that when I get married, my bachelor party's going to be at Saké Nomi.
Several hours after I arrived, I finally left to catch my bus. Happily inebriated, I thanked God for introducing me to such a great drink and for bringing Saké Nomi to Seattle.
I still won't claim any kind of expertise when it comes to saké, though I now know the difference between a kikijoko and a masu. I can't wear the proud title of "regular" (yet), and I may still have an occasional fling with the scorched saké at my local sushi bar. But I do know what I like, and "Same Saké, Different Vessel" gave me more confidence in my taste. I know what the good stuff is. And I know where to find it. Saké Nomi has what I like, and they have a whole lot of it