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Month in Sake - December 2023

And just like that it is December! Full of Bonenkais (the Japanese equivalent of a year-end party or gathering), Holiday farewells, and my first trip home to Europe in 3 years (!), this promised to be an exciting month. I must confess the prospect of traveling outside of Japan and maybe trying some sake made abroad was something I was incredibly looking forward to!


Discovering Kyoto - Soil & Sun


Finally got to get together with the amazing Akiko Yamaguchi (@ayukoy), sake enthusiast, WSET Sake Educator and Sake Journalist among many things. Sure it only took us about 10 months to make it happen. But I am sure we can improve on that for our next catch-up.


Of course, she had a couple of great sake spots up her sleeve and we ended up settling for @soil_and_the_sun a great sake bar/izakaya, that is well worth adding to your list if you are planning on visiting Kyoto (although be aware they do not speak English).




One Year Older


A rather decadent start to my Birthday with a Mont Blanc accompanied by a glass of Champagne at the wonderful @wagurisenmon.saori.


I don't have a sweet tooth but since I was a child I loved chestnuts and “Mont Blanc” or “Vermicelles” as we call it in Switzerland, and this spot has become a bit of a Birthday tradition for me in recent years as this is literally all they do and to perfection I might say.


They are generally really busy and previously tickets had to be picked up in the morning to get a spot on the day. However, as it is December, there are slightly fewer people, so if you are trying to pop in off-season there is a chance, especially if you are by yourself during the day and if you are willing to wait.




The Fascinating World of Nohgaku


Although not sake-related, Nohgaku is another amazing part of Japanese traditional arts & culture and I have always been fascinated by “Noh Masks”. I was lucky to have recently worked with the Japan Arts Council and had a chance to learn more about Noh Theater, which just opened up a whole other rabbit hole.


So I went to a Noh play at Kyoto Kanze Noh Theater (no photos allowed), but I also got a chance to check out a Noh mask exhibition at The Museum of Kyoto.


It is said that originally about 60 basic types of noh masks existed, but today there are well over 200 different kinds in use. They are passed down from one person to another and many of these are hundreds of years old and you are only allowed to touch them where the strings are attached on the side, in fact, these masks are so special that performers bow to the mask before putting it on and after wearing it 🙏



Kansai Bonenkai


It is the time of the year filled with get-togethers and end-of-the-year drinking parties, the so-called "Bonenkai". So it was a pleasure to meet up with the foreign sake community here in Kansai to share a few Kanpai's.


This year the venue of choice was @rizza_dining, conveniently located right in between Kyoto and Osaka and well-known for its great selection of sake.


All in all just a really amazing evening with great people, delicious food, stunning pottery, and of course sake to match ☺️





Tokubee Masuda Shoten Brewery Tour


Great to be back in Fushimi and visiting @tsukinokatsura_sake for a quick sake brewery tour and a visit to their aged sake storage, followed by a brief sake tasting.


Looking forward to seeing where the new CEO and 15th generation Junichi Masuda will be taking the brand. As a matter of fact, I produced an interview with him for@sakeonair, so if you are curious to learn more about him, the brand and what is in store for the brewery under his vision make sure to tune in and give it a listen here.



Makino Shuzo Brewery Tour - Gunma


Another highlight in December was visiting Makino Brewery in Gunma, makers of @osakazuki_sake among some very funky labels including very tasty and award-winning sake!


Not sure what I am talking about? Well, this brewery is responsible for the very cool "Macho" sake as well as producing a sake line called “Sake Di Pasta”, which was created to beautifully pair different styles of pasta with the sake. To make it extra easy to pair, the pasta dish best matched with each sake is on the front of its label - very much love that!


Because this was a work trip I did get to visit the brewery including a tour, which is generally not available for the public (but might be in the future), however, if you are in the area, the small shop/tasting room is open and worth popping in for a visit to try some of sake. However, just coming out for it, might be a bit of a waste...



Sake Pairing Dinner - Takasaki


As part of this trip, which was about promoting "Sake Tourism", I was also treated to an amazing sake and food pairing dinner at @hotel__grandview in Takasaki with, of course, sake from Makino Brewery.


Loved the detail that went into the dishes as well as the presentation and what a delight to have a brewery that has such a great sake portfolio, pairing seamlessly with the light and fruity Kaki starter, the wagyu sushi (which was likely the highlight for me), over to the hearty sukiyaki and all the way to the dessert.


This may or may not become a bookable tour/experience so stay tuned and I will let you know if it does.



Europe!


It is hard to believe it has been 3 years since I have been home, so very excited to be spending a month in Europe!


Truth to be told, I took out the rest of the month to digitally detox and decompress, rest and spend time with family and friends, enjoyed Christmas and New Year, and got to think about what 2024 may bring...


Happy Christmas and a wonderful start to the new year! Kanpai!





To see all that is happening (in almost real-time) you can follow Sake Nomad on Instagram or Facebook, I will be back with another "This Month in Sake" next month!

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