Thursday, December 22, 2011

Japanese sake: a timeless beverage adapts

I'm very pleased with the way my story on Japanese sake for Montage Magazine (p. 44) turned out. Thanks to interviews with Philip Harper of the Kinoshita Brewery when he was in L.A. earlier this year, as well as help from Beau Timken at True Sake, there's a lot of basics covered as well as mentions of the USA's sake-only stores. Kampai!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sake cocktails: El Morocco's Morocco-tini

Sake cocktail at Desert Hot Springs' El Morocco
A welcoming cocktail at a small B&B is a very nice touch; even more refreshing when it's made from sake.  At Desert Hot Springs' El Morocco, guests are welcomed to the casbah-themed inn with a cool pitcher of sake cocktails.  I found their Morocco-tini just right for the warm desert happy hour--served in a plastic martini glass so you can drink it in one of the inn's fabulous hot mineral water pools.

The recipe:  Mix in a pitcher with lots of ice: sake (I imagine a domestic brand will do nicely), orange juice, cranberry juice, some sweet vermouth and lemon seltzer served over ice in a sugar rimmed glass.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

October 1 2011: Celebrate National Sake Day

Celebrate Sake day: try a Nigori or less filtered sake

In honor of National Sake Day, a reminder to try a new kind of sake. Above is Tozai Snow Maiden, which I tasted at the LA's Nisei Week sake tasting, a lively event. (I won a bag of premium Moatsuri rice!) Snow Maiden is sold in slender pink bottles, and is quite vibrant and not too sweet --unusual for a nigori.

Also check it out: a new kura in the U.S.. Today, the Texas Sake Company opened in Austin, Texas. (Thanks to for the tip).  While Texas might seem an unusual location, it is a great rice growing state and the rice used is organic and Texas grown.  Looks like they are releasing a nigori (Rising Star) and Whooping Crane, their Tokubetsu junmai sake. Would love to hear how they taste.  Good luck Texas Sake Company, Kampai!

And here's a link to my post on the Top 5 thing to know about sake for National Sake Day for LA Weekly's Squid Ink.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Two cool weekend sake tastings: Nisei Week sake tasting and Learn about Wine

"Lolitas" at L.A.'s 2011 Nisei week parade

Little Tokyo came alive with the sound of pounding Taiko drums during the 71st Annual Nisei week parade on August 21st.  Streets were lined with happy parade fans including costumed parade watchers who celebrated Japanese pop culture in their own colorful way.  Capping the festivities will be a sake tasting on Saturday August 20 at the Kyoto Grand Hotel. Sponsored by the Social Sake  Club, more than 50 kinds of Japanese sake will be poured.
Japanese fan dancers
Parade fans with dinos  
Some of the sake available at Toranoko in Little Tokyo
For a sure to be well informed and guided sake tasting seminar, Sunday August 21, Learn about Wine presents a delightful afternoon at Toranoko.  The restaurant's in-house sake expert Kurtis Wells will lead the presentation and introduce the eight sakes from a nama (draft) genshu to daiginjo.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sake flight at Chaya Downtown L.A.

Sake flight in the beer garden

Summertime there's a Japanese beer garden in downtown Los Angeles. You'll find a grill outside and Kirin on tap at Chaya Downtown's popular patio. Sake flight ($12) lets you taste Rock sake and Gekkeikan- correct temperature and fine presentation but not finessed enough to rock your world. However, the lovely, Japanese lantern-lit setting will.

Chaya downtown's Japanese beer garden

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Help Japan's sake brewers: drink more sake.

Tasting sake from Akita at Gonpachi restaurant.

The news from Japan has been devastating. Sympathy and heartfelt condolences to those who lost family members and all those who have been impacted by the earthquake and tsunami.  There are many ways to help: the Japan America Society has established a relief fund.  The American Red Cross lists organizations that are providing aid.
A traditional cedar ball often found outside sake breweries.
Sake brewers have been hard too and the impact on the industry is now being realized: from complete destruction of breweries to damage to facilities to power outages that impact sake making. Hardest hit are sake brewers in the Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures as Elin McCoy of Bloomberg news details. Sake and miso makers are now just beginning to pick up the pieces per The Daily Yomiuri.

The most comprehensive list of kuras affected can be found at John Gauntner's Sake World. He cites a heartfelt plea from Kosuke Kuji that was posted on the Nanbu Bijin brewery blog (translation courtesy of John Gauntner), "For the time being, no one in this area feels like drinking sake. To avoid secondary economic damage, we want to earnestly ask everyone around the country and in other countries to eat and drink products from the Tohoku region. That is the most supportive thing you can do for us."

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fine Japanese sake lists at Little Tokyo's Toranoko and Lazy Ox

Aburiya Toranoko Little Tokyo has an extensive sake list

I rushed out to Abuirya Toranoko the first weekend it opened in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo because I knew owner Michael Cardenas is a true Japanese sake connoisseur. I was not disappointed in the sake list: more than 34 premium Japanese sakes to choose from as well as shochu and Japanese beers. Behind the bar is beverage director/mixologist Kurtis Wells who actually knows A LOT about sake (refreshing) and was happy to share his enthusiasm.  The ultra-mod izakaya, with gleaming bar, vibrant graphics and a small sushi bar, presents a serious menu of sake from sparkling, to Nama sakes like Rin from Fukushimi to the an ultra premium, crisp Ken daiginjo also from Fukushima ($118 for the bottle).

The sake list is very clear: sakes are divided by their flavor profiles and aspects from aromatic (floral and fruity) to roughly filtered, cloudy nigoris. Sit at the bar and try a few five ounce tastes before delving into the menu.

Chiyomusubi Kitaro Jungin one cup sake from Lazy Ox.
We progressed next door to the Lazy Ox Canteen (also a Michael Cardenas enterprise) and continued on the sake highway. Although their selection is not as diverse as Toronoko's, happy to try Chiyomusubi Kitaro Jungin one cup sake, a super-dry sake that features Kitaro, a famed anime character on the label.

243 S. San Pedro St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pasadena: Monopole Wine's Japanese sake selection and tasting.

Monopole Wine, Pasadena, CA sells premium sake and Japanese craft beers.
In a lovely restored 1927-built storefront, Pasadena's Monopole Wine (a shop and wine bar) keeps a number of well-priced premium sakes in stock in addition to boutique California wines and Old World wines. Everything is carefully selected by owners Hiro Tamaki and Peter Nelson, who also welcome customers at a cozy wine bar in the back of the store. The high ceilings and extra-thick cement walls keep the store and sake at a cool temperature. Classes and events are ongoing; stop in for a glass of wine or to taste a flight.

Upcoming: on Wednesday February 2 from 7 to 9 p.m. Monopole's sake and sushi event ($30/person) that features sushi from Alhambra's Z Sushi and select Japanese sake.

Monopole Wine
21 S. El Monino Ave.
Pasadena, CA
Some of the premium sakes in stock.