May 15, 2017
May sakes ship today for Sake Gumi, our monthly sake subscription club. If you like what’s on deck here, you should join!
We are celebrating women makers at Umami Mart this month. From spotlighting Jennifer Colliau of Small Hand Foods to Donna Lo of Far Leaves Tea we will be rolling out interviews, recipes, and insights from our favorite food producers who are always up to something intriguing and bold. Make sure to subscribe to our e-newletters and check our blog for those featured stories.
To fit within the theme of women makers, I chose sakes produced by women for Sake Gumi. Allegedly, there are only 20 female sake producers in Japan (with a select few of those exported to the U.S.), so I had to expand beyond the borders of Japan to find sakes that fit the bill. I was more than happy to include a local American sake brewed by a woman. This month, the selections are close to my heart not only as a woman but as a Japanese-American.
Included in both levels is a sake from Imada Shuzo, a brewery from Hiroshima that started in 1868. Miho Imada is the toji (head brewmaster), who saw a chance to take over the brewing responsibilities when the last toji retired in 2000. She makes sure that everyone on her team has an essential role in the brewing process, and creates sakes that reflect the terroir of Akitsu, the village in Hiroshima where the brewery is located, by using local water and indigenous strains of rice.
Level 1 includes a junmai genshu from Sequoia Sake Brewery located in San Francisco. One of the head brewers, Noriko Kamei, wears many hats in the company. In addition to being one of the founders of the company, she oversees the brewing process and operations, and hosts tastings at the brewery. When asked about how women have impacted the sake brewing scene, she responded, “It is important that the industry opens up its door to ANYONE who has a passion for making sake, including foreigners and people from different business and cultural backgrounds.”
When I found out that the owner of Honke Matsuura Brewery (who makes Narutotai Nama Genshu, a staff favorite) was a woman, I wanted to include one of her sakes in Level 2 this month. One of the tennets of sake making for Motoko Matsuura is “to talk about sake like we do wine.” I chose the Narutotai “Water + Rice” junmai genshu which drinks juicy and sweet like a Riesling.
As I tasted all of these sakes, the common thread is that they are all bold and are solid in structure. Although I don’t brew sake, as a woman small business owner, I think that being bold and solid is a trait that many women in male-dominated fields possess.
LEVEL 1: Introductory Membership (Two 300ml bottles)
I am excited to include a fresh, locally made sake this month. In fact, this is the first US-made sake included in Sake Gumi. Founders Noriko Kamei and Jake Myrick brew this bold, dry, cedary junmai genshu in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco. At a high ABV of 17-18%, I love drinking this sake on a big block of ice. Having it on the rocks opens up the bouquet full of cranberries and anise. Pair with foods draped in spicy curry, BBQ sauce or oily fish like sardines and mackerel.
Until brewmaster Miho Imada came along, Hattanso was an indigenous rice strain abandoned and forgotten. Imada was driven to revive this strain, convinced that it would be ideal for sake-making. After years of cultivation, Fukucho (Forgotten Fortune) is the result. Turns out that this rice is so well-suited to Imada’s vision that she uses a high rice polishing ratio of 75%, meaning she only mills 25% of the outer portion of the rice. Hiroshima is known for its oysters and this sake is dubbed the “oyster sake” at Umami Mart. In addition to pairing with oysters, try with chicken liver pate or lamb. Enjoy at room temperature or slightly warm.
LEVEL 2: Premium Membership (Two 720ml bottles)
This junmai ginjo has a heavenly fragrance of sweet pineapples. Although this sake starts elegant and tropical, it delivers a long, bold finish full of pepper and spice. Try this champagne-hued sake chilled with aged, hard cheeses like Gruyère and Parmigiano Reggiano or minerally seafoods like crawfish and scallops. Read our interview the brewer Miho Imada here.
There’s a reason why Motoko Matsuura of Matsuura Brewery bottled this sake in wine bottles. Her philosophy is to get people to talk about and enjoy sake like wine. This particular junmai genshu drinks like a Riesling – tart, juicy, but with an especially clean finish. I couldn’t get over how much this sake smells like a plum pie straight out of the oven! The ripe juiciness of this sake makes it an ideal beverage to drink chilled in wine glasses and pair alongside spicy thai food or noodles dressed in spicy black bean sauce. Try this sake warm as a digestif.