As you can tell by our name, you’d pretty much know that we’re Japanophiles, and that includes our love for Sake, an age-old yet underrated spirit that makes for a great aperitif. However, the world of Sake is one that is pretty unexplored and hence we thought it'd be great to combine this with our love for Japanese food! We speak to Charles, the Sake Connoisseur from Epicurean Nomads to learn more about this iconic Japanese brew for our upcoming Sake Pairing Experience, in collaboration with Haru Singapore.
Hi Charles, can you tell us more about yourself and how you got into the trade of sake?
It was a serendipitous encounter with a sake that flicked on the "sake-switch” within me some 6 years back, kickstarting the genesis of my foray into the fascinating world of rice, yeast & enzymes. My prior fascination was with another fermented beverage — beer!
There are many different types of sakes available in the market, but how do we distinguish a good sake?
Balance is of paramount importance in a well-crafted sake; it should have components of umami, acidity, sweetness, bitterness, alcohol and body all coming together harmoniously.
What are some brands good for regular drinking and others that are reserved for special occasions?
Most breweries have a diverse range of sakes, with some commanding a high premium, given highly artisanal brewing techniques and the intensely limited yield. An example is the Komyo, where the semaibuai (percentage of rice removed during the polishing process) is 1% and it takes 1800 hours to mill away 99% of the rice grain; such sakes are best reserved for an extremely privileged occasion.
On the other hand, brands like Toyo Bijin Junmai Ginjo Okarakuchi, Nabeshima Tokubetsu Junmai, Kamonishiki Junmai Daiginjo Nifuda Sake and Yamamoto Pure Black are some labels that people can regularly indulge in without having to break the bank!
What are some of the best sake breweries in Japan and what distinguishes them as the cream of the crop?
While it is not difficult for breweries to have 1 or 2 Sake labels which are really good, outstanding breweries make sure that every single label released is equally outstanding & sublime. Smaller artisanal breweries tend to brew sakes of a much higher quality as compared with National Breweries whose objective is to offer high volumes of Sakes at very low prices. Each year, before the brewing season commences in October, the entire production for Nabeshima is fully accounted for — that’s truly a mark of how successful a brewery is.
How does sake pairing normally work and is it similar to the principles of wine pairing?
Many people feel that sakes pair better with Japanese cuisine but that’s somewhat a myth. Sakes are intensely food-friendly, with high levels of amino acids which enhance the flavours of the food. On the other hand, some sakes are brewed with the intent to help refresh the palate, allowing the diner to better appreciate and focus on the food. Textural compatibility is also an important theme when pairing sake with food.
Personally, what is your favourite sake?
While it’s really difficult to select a favourite sake, I am partial towards Yamahai and Kimoto styles given the complexity and depth of flavours. Wataribune would also rank as my favourite sake rice varietal — it’s an ancient sake rice which was extinct before being revived. These sakes made using Wataribune are quite simply unmatched.
The Sake Pairing Experience hosted by Chun Tsubaki in collaboration with Haru Singapore and Epicurean Nomads will be happening on Saturday, 4 August 7pm, featuring a carefully curated menu inspired by the 4 seasons of Japan with artisanal canapés matched with 4 premium Sakes. Did we mention Sake is free-flow?