May 04, 2005

Sake Masters Bring Their Craft to Town

Sake masters don’t often go on tour to the U.S. They especially don’t often show up in places like Denver, hardly a hotbed of sake connoisseurship or high-end Japanese restaurants. But obviously we’re coming up in the sake world’s estimation, because next week, five sake masters are coming to town to pour their sakes and tell us about their craft in person.

I’ll put it bluntly: People, this is a really big deal.

The brewers that are coming to town aren’t the sorts responsible for the warm stuff served in strip mall sushi joints. They are the Helen Turleys and Philippe Melkas of the sake world: artisan producers making small amounts of very high-quality sake. Like great winemakers, these sake producers make beverages that do more than quench thirst: their sakes reflect the place from which they came in the flavor of the type of rice, the local water, and the yeasts used. The result is an array of sakes, each filled with its own particular flavors and scents, its own particular personality.

Sake makers don’t travel to the States often. Crafting sake is an enormously time-consuming, labor-intensive process. It doesn’t happen in a whirl of activity like wine does, from harvest through fermentation. Instead the process stretches out for the better part of a year, typically from October until spring. In that time, it demands of its workers an almost religious devotion to the kura, or brewery at which its made, as they mill, steam, knead, ferment, and press the rice and mother the koji that it takes to make sake. Any misstep and literally tons of rice can be ruined, the sake rendered unpalatable. The intensity of the process makes it a little hard for brewers to leave the kura for extensive overseas tours. Compound that with the distances involved and the language barrier, and it’s not often you’ll find a sake brewer pouring his wine for you in Denver.

That these sake brewers are in Denver next week, however, is partly due to the fact that sake drinking is falling in Japan, as young people leave their “parent’s drink” behind for the more glamorous feel of foreign wine. To preserve the sake tradition, makers are concentrating on high-end, boutique sakes that can stand out at home and be appreciated abroad.

But it’s also because many of us wine lovers, in our constant quest to find the next great drink, have discovered it in sake. Sake isn’t wine, but it can be enjoyed like a great white wine, served lightly chilled in thin-lipped glasses with anything from sashimi to a roast pork loin—or even beef, depending on which sake you choose. Sakes can be light and delicate or rich and almost tropical in their flavors; they can be sweet and cloudy or even golden and aged. If you haven’t checked out chilled, high-quality sakes, you can stop into Domo, Mario’s Double Daughters Salotto, Sushi Den, swimclub32, Table 6, Zengo, and a slew of other restaurants around town for a class. Better yet, reserve a space at any one of these events, and learn about sake from the masters who make it.

Monday, May 9, 6:30: five-course sake dinner at Table 6, 609 Corona St.; 303-831-8800 ($75 + tax and tip)

Tuesday, May 10th, 9 PM: sake seminar and tasting at Mario’s Double Daughters Salotto, 1632 Market St.; 303-623-3504
Wednesday May 11th, 2:15 to 4:00: sake seminar and tasting at Mise en Place, 1801 Wynkoop, Suite #175; 303-868-2307

Sake masters in attendance:
Ms. Imada from Fukucho (“Moon on the Water”)
Mrs. Sato from Kanbara (“Wings of Desire”)
Mr. Honda from Chiyonosono (“Sacred Power”)
Mr. Ozaki from Tentaka Kuni (“Hawk in the Heavens”)
Mr. Kohiyama from Takasago (“Divine Droplets”)
John Gauntner, sake expert, author, and publisher of Sake World sake newsletter;

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