I’m a huge wine lover and my love for sake doesn’t fall short either. I’ve tried sake ice cream, bought sake Kit Kats, and sampled a half-dozen sakes from the local Family Mart and 7 Elevens in Osaka – like literally lined them all up side by side and compared characteristics. I have even gone to sake bars tasting each of their selections until they’ve run out of things for me to try. I began thinking to myself how can I up my game a bit?
The answer is so obvious once I saw a flyer for a 90-minute sake course pinned to a wall at the hostel I was staying at. It’s only my first official day and it’s midweek so I tried to sign up for the following night until I realized it was only held on Sundays, but, hey, there’s a July special for half the price! Suh-weet!! It’s also at underneath my hostel at my favorite sake bar in all of Osaka – the Hana Sake Bar.
I patiently wait several days for Sunday to come setting a calendar reminder. The Sake School Osaka sends me a confirmation email and I find out that my sake master, Koji, will be offering different selections other than what the sake bar offers. Superb, because I cleaned them out.
I’m the first to show up eager to expand my aficionado-ness and so it’s a great way for me to get to know our sake master before the class begins. A couple of others show up and I learn they’re digital nomads living in Osaka for a few months and working from a co-working space nearby. I’m intrigued but I don’t push to ask questions. We’re here to learn about sake damn it!
Koji had a nice sake set up for us with a note card to take notes, a sake information pamphlet, a tiny bowl with light snacks, and then introduces himself. He speaks English very well and I learn he went to USC (Go Trojans!), has a “regular job” but has decided to begin opening up sake courses to pursue his hobby more. We’re his second week of customers!
Okay, let’s start drinking!
Koji gives us a sake cup and explains that the blue and white swirlies are traditional of a sake tasting glass. It’s easier to distinguish the color having these cups. Fun fact, right?
He pours us two tastings. The first sake is from Land of Water Brewery and very aromatic, bright, dry, and refreshing. I already know this style is a favorite! He proceeds to tell us this is a seasonal summer version. I tried sake similar to these characteristics at the Hana Sake Bar. He recommends we pair it with tofu, which by the way is so much more different than any tofu I’ve had in the States. It’s softer, milder, and I don’t know how the heck Japanese eat this stuff with chopsticks because my chopsticks were like a knife in these suckers.
The second pour had a much more yellow color and meant to be paired with savory food. I learned about a new characteristic category to describe sake and that’s umami; the flavor of two amino acids. Not too shabby but I’m still feeling the first one.
He serves us a couple of zucchinis with a peanut based sauce at the bottom. While we’re pairing our snacks with the sake tastings he shows us the differences between the rice polishes.
Apparently, the way to tell the characteristics and tendency for higher quality sake wine is by the polish. If the rice polish is 60% or less, it tends to be top quality with the most top quality being 50% or less. These are the types of sake you don’t heat because they tend to be more aromatic. Anything higher than 60% is usually of a lower quality and the type of sake you’d heat. In other words, they don’t use the whole rice grain in fermentation. The core center of rice has a good starch producing more aromatics while the outer layer of rice has more protein producing a more rich, rice taste. The new trend preference for young generations is the aromatics; they don’t like full body flavors. While their parents and older generations prefer the rich, rice taste.
He pours two more sakes for us and serves us some scrumptious mackerel to pair it with the third. I continue to pair the sake with some of the cheese with outer dried cod – a common snack to find at parties – and these mini sausages wrapped up like tiny candies.
I’m still feeling the first sake, but these are nice too. The third tasting is from Shushinkan Brewery and is a bit fruitier, more traditional, and old style – somewhere in between super traditional and new age. The fourth is from Asahi Shuzo Brewery and apparently, they’re branding a new style of sake that is becoming increasingly more popular. This was my second favorite with a 50% rice polishing and had that aromatic characteristic I love. These aromatics also tend to have a higher alcohol percentage; albeit not the reason I choose them! I’m a lush, er, I mean I’m not a lush? But the alcohol certainly helps add to these characteristics.
We then watch a brief 15-minute video learning more about the sake making process. He pours us a tiny taste of “umami” to help us identify what makes up an amino acid flavor.
Sadly, we’re on our very last two tastings. The fifth sake tasting was from Kinoshita Shuzo Brewery in Kyoto. It was slightly yellow in color. Sake is actually always yellow, but then it goes through a charcoal filtering giving us the clear color. It had a high alcohol content at 18-19% but not my favorite (I told you I’m not a lush!). This style is apparently also a new trend and has a rich body.
Kyoto serves us a couple of savory meatballs with a sweet sauce to pair these with. Now we’re onto our final unfiltered sake tasting from Shushinkan Brewery. The rice polishing is 70%, but still somewhere in the middle not being too classic. This is the sake he recommended we pair with the sausage.
Oy, this was such a fun and enjoyable way to spend my time in Osaka. You should definitely check the Sake School Osaka (also referred to as Sake Sake Nippon) if you’re a sake lover or looking to feel less guilty about your drinking habits and expand your knowledge. Sake! Sake!