I recently attended a deep dive into sake with an incredible sake brand! Hakkaisan was founded in 1922 and is situated at the foot of Mt. Hakkaissan, which means “eight peaks”. The mountain actually has eight peaks and is very famous in Niigata, Japan, where the deep winters create snowfalls reaching over 10 feet!
The brewing water begins from snow, from the mountain, and goes through a light filtering process. The water is soft and pure and unique to the Hakkaisan Sake. Their mission is to produce the highest quality sake possible, which also pairs well with food. They only use Koji rice which is the best rice for making sake and ferment at low temperatures. This produces clean, dry, elegant sakes that are ideal for all types of sake drinkers. You can serve these chilled or warm, but I prefer chilled sake especially with food pairings.
The seminar was led by Timothy Sullivan, Sake speaker, and educator. Timothy actually moved to Japan for one year, just to study and learn sake production. His passion is what made this virtual class so much fun! I actually had some sake knowledge prior to this seminar, because I was a Sommelier at Hakkasan, in NYC a few years ago, however, Timothy really brought it to life, and I re-learned everything as well as learned so many more new things from him. Here are some things you will want to know about Sake basics.
- Sake has about 1/3 less acidity than wine.
- Sake is made from rice, water, yeast, and koji. Sake rice is much different than the rice we eat. Koji rice is a type of mold spore on the rice, that helps the fermentation process and turns rice into sugar. Without Koji, there would be no sugar, meaning no alcohol!
- Rice milling is so important to sake production, and the more polished the rice is, the higher quality the sake will be.
- Sake Classifications include Junmai, Junmai Daigingo, and Junmai Gingo. You will also see Honjozo, Ginjo, and Daiginjo in the premium sake categories. Each one has a different milling percentage requirement.
We tasted through four different types of Sake from Hakkaisan’s portfolio. We started with a super cool sparkling sake which is the brand’s most unique one. Clear Sparkling Sake Awa is bright and refreshing with an elegant sweetness. Awa means bubbles in Japanese and like sparkling wine, the bubbles are formed during secondary fermentation. This is unique, and Hakkaisan is one of the founding members of the Awasake sparkling sake association. This wine can easily pair well with tempura, smoked salmon, and light pastries, but since it was the afternoon and I am all about keeping healthy for my “wedding diet”, I decided to make baked Teriyaki Salmon with Garlic Eggplant and Bok Choy! It was delicious with the sparkling sake, and the savory and salty notes really paired beautifully.
After the sparkling sake, we tasted the Junmai Ginjo. This sake is very crisp and smooth and tastes perfect when chilled because it is refreshing and flavorful. This is an iconic example of the Niigata region’s style of sake and has a soft, dry finish. This sake is ideal with fish dishes, so it totally worked with my salmon, but you can also pair it with vegetable dishes as well. This sake is also great for cocktails if you were to make a sake martini!
The third type of sake we tasted was a Snow Aged Junmai Ginjo, aged three years in the snow from the mountains! Hakkaisan has a “Yukimoro” which is an eco-friendly snow storage facility, which produces a fine yet complex style of sake. From the snow alone, the temperatures are kept ideal for this style of storage, and make for a unique sake. It is very round, with intense notes of umami, which comes from the three years of age. This is a sake that can stand up to steak, no doubt, as well as wash cheeses, and short ribs!
Last but not least, we tasted Hakkaisan’s most versatile sake, the Tokubetsu Honjozo which has a smooth texture and mellow taste. This one can be served chilled or warm, and I think would make a fun spin on a hot toddy cocktail for winter; a sake toddy! This sake does have alcohol added and is one of the different classifications that can. This one will pair well with grilled foods as well as tuna and chicken. It also went well with some Kimchi, which I enjoyed as a side to my salmon and veggies.
Overall sake is a pretty cool category, and if you’re into sake and food pairings, you will really enjoy these! I highly recommend doing a sake tasting at home, with a selection of sashimi, sushi, tempura, and maybe some steaks, and see where your palate takes you. I can’t wait to try more from Hakkaisan, and I guarantee you’ll love so many of their expressions!
Always remember, eat what you like and drink what you love. Please pair responsibly!