Sake tasting at the Sake Professional Course

One of the benefits of pursuing the Certified Sake Professional (CSP) course is the social opportunity at the end of each classroom day. The end of each classroom day usually involves a planned sake dinner for all students.  Each day is a full day of lecture and tastings.  The material goes deep and is very thorough for the five days.  The evenings are relaxed and a chance to unwind with classmates.


Depending on the location of the course, the sake dinners are a terrific opportunity for socializing and tasting.  This is particularly true for the course in Japan.  The venues selected for the group dinners are expectedly notable for the quality nihonshu menu as well as food.


Day one of the CSP course recently in Japan included a dinner at Sasagin.  The sake line up for the evening dinner was solid.  For starters, the Shimeharitsuru Junmai was a perfect entry for the evening.  The brewery is located in Niigata, and this particular Junamai was very representative of Niigata sake.  It had a subtle fruity aroma.  The initial taste revealed a light sweetness of the Goyyakumangoku rice.  In typical Niigata style, it was light and easy to drink.  This sake had a clean finish and paired well with the sashimi starter.


The second sake of the evening was a significant change to the initial Niigata representative.  Next was a Junmai Muroka Nama Genshu from a small brewery in Tokushima named Asahi Wakamatsu.  This sake is a rare find primarily because of the small size and small production.  The reputation for high quality also attributes to making is a rare find.  As this category of sake suggests, it was full, rich and aromatic.  Muroka (no charcoal filtering) Nama (unpasteurized) Genshu (undiluted) was a bold second step from previous sake from Niigata.  The decibel level of the group was raised a bit, as the higher alcohol level of the genshu (19%) undoubtedly was playing a part.


The next sake was the star of evening.  Jyuyondai needs no introduction.  Perhaps one of the most exclusive brands in Japan, Jyuyondai is highly coveted.  It is not easy to find this sake on a retail basis.  The brewery is located in Yamagata.  This was a solid sake.  The ripe fruit aromas, rich texture and notably well balance was flavorful yet gentle.  Compared to the previous muroka nama genshu, this sake was refined and luxurious.  It made a lasting impression.


The fourth sake unfortunately was a tough spot as a follow up to the impressive Jyuyondai.  The choice was an interesting one.  Next, was a selection from Shiga Prefecture, which is located in the Kansai region near Lake Biwa.  This selection was a Junmai Ginjo Muroka Nama Genshu,  The  producer is Furosen, Uehara Shuzo., which is a brewery that prides itself on using traditional methods for brewing sake.  Their handmade process uses locally grown rice and wood barrels.  This sake was broad, sweet, aromatic and heavy.  The viscosity was starkly different to the previous refined Junmai Ginjo from earlier.  This was a rich sake that could easily be sipped on as an after dinner drink.  The rice was a local Oimachi rice which has a tendency to be earthy and sweet.  Pairing this sake with food worked well with a hearty grilled meat with a bold sauce.


The final sake of the night was from one of my favorite producers.  Kaiun brewery located in the Shizuoka prefecture consistently makes excellent sake.  The selection was “Hiya-zume” Junmai shu.  Shizuoka is located in central Honshu with a long coastline on the Pacific Ocean.  It is also home of the iconic Mt. Fuji.  Most sake from this prefecture is generally low acidity and easy to drink.  The food of this region naturally has great local fish and the sake generally matches the local cuisine.  Kaiun has a highly skilled toji and a hands on owner.  Kaiun produces a slightly fuller style of sake compared to most Shizuoka styles.  This particular sake was well balanced and served as a nice closure to the evening.


Overall, this was a wide range of styles and flavor spectrums.  The five selections were quite contrasting, particularly in the order they were served.  It was a good introduction and easily made the different styles noticeable.