Sake dinner in Shinbashi, Tokyo
The second sake dinner of the Sake Professional Course in Tokyo was held at Shinbashi Koju. Shinbashi is a well known office area of central Tokyo. Such companies as Fujitsu, All Nippon Airlines (ANA), Softbank among others have their corporate offices located there. In addition to numerous high-rise office buildings filled with corporate workers, there are many interesting izakayas servicing the after work crowds.
One such izakaya that specializes in quality sake selections is Shinbashi Koju. The location is not easy to find. It is the type of place that people go to that knows about it. The entrance is not clearly visible from the street. It is tucked into a basement level. But once inside, it feels like you arrived to the right place for good food and sake. Many bottles are displayed on the walls, and customers are cheerfully enjoying the many selections to choose from.
The first sake of the evening was Junmai Ginjo made by Kamenoumi. Kamenoumi is considered to be one of the first “Ginjo” style sakes produced in the Nagano prefecture. The Nagano is one of the few inland prefectures that does not have a coastline. It is a mountainous area that gained global recognition when it was the host of the 1998 winter Olympics. The style of sake from Nagano generally is light, fragrant and soft. Very easy to drink. Recently, Kamenoumi has received a strong following among a small group of sake enthusiast. It is not widely popular, but they have loyal group of fans. The Junmai Ginjo was a clean and approachable sake. It was subtle and matched well with the tofu and vegetable dish it was paired with.
The second sake was another Junmai Ginjo. This one was produced by Kamoshibito Kuheiji. Again, this is another brand that is quite popular. While Kamenoumi has a smaller cult following, Kuheji is more flamboyant and has some global recognition. The sake is particularly popular in France, where Kuheiji deliberately targeted the French market and attempted to create a sake that could match western cuisines in addition to local Japanese foods. The bottle labels even posses the French phrase”Eau de Desir”, or “water of hope”, This particular Junmai Ginjo was brewed with Yamada Nishiki rice. It had solid body and was rich and refined.
The third sake of the evening line up was from Saga prefecture in the most west and southern region of Japan. Sake producers from this region tend to brew rich and full flavored sake. This was the third consecutive Junmai. It was Nama (unpasteurized) Junmai shu made by Azumaichi. Azumaichi grows much of their rice for brewing. This began as a result of the difficulty to access premium Yamana Nishiki rice years ago due to Saga’s remote location. Today, the brewery maintained this trend to primarily grow their rice for brewing. This particular nama was lively with a heavy rice flavor as typified in the style of the Saga region.
The next sake of the multi course dinner was another popular brand, Isojiman. Like Kuheiji, Isojiman is a progressive brewery that has targeted a global market by embracing some of the marketing attribute to the wine industry. The brewery is located in Shizuoka prefecture and embodies traditional sake taste and flavors that match the region. The relatively low acidity, smooth and easy to drink style make their sake versatile with both western and eastern cuisines. Isojiman has adopted somewhat of a “terroir” concept that some wine consumers are aware of. This idea is an effective method to convey the locality of the rice and quality to the foreign market. While wines can be more precisely defined by terroir and appellation (local climate, soil and topography), regional sake can have greater variation. However Isojiman has effective applied the concept to their product. The sake is local and very good. Even some of non-ginjo grades of sake are impressive. The junmai ginjo had some fragrant hints of ripe banana. The impact was soft and mellow with a nice long finish.
The closing sake for the evening was another nama (unpasteurized). The final course included Suminoe Junmai Ginjo Nakadare. Suminoe is located in Miyagi prefecture. Miyagi is located along the Pacific Ocean in central Tohoku (north of Tokyo). The capital city is Sendai. The region is well known for the excellent food culture as well as quality sake production. The Suminoe nama was very subtle and too heavy on rice flavors. Sometimes namas can be a bit overbearing, but this nama was well balanced and sophisticated. A great way to finish a top notch sake dinner.
There are many choices for izakayas and quality sake selections in Shinbashi. If you are able to find the hidden Shinbashi Koju, it will be an experience that will not disappoint. The staff is also very knowledgeable of sake and makes it easy to discuss options.