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Month in Sake - February 2023

For me, February is such an exciting month because I generally spend a lot of time in one of my favorite places in Japan: Hokkaido! A big part of this is, of course, due to the Snow Festivals popping up all around the prefecture, but also because of its sake festivals, breweries, and of course the delicious food!


Kamikawa Taisetsu in 3 Parts!


This time I was uber-excited as I was scheduled to meet all Kamikawa Taisetsu Breweries. Yes, that is right, as I am typing this, there are 3 sake breweries located in different areas of Hokkaido; Asahikawa, Obihiro and Hakodate. With plans to opening up a 4th one in the near future.


So here is a quick recall of my visits:


Heikiwun - Obihiro

"Heikiwun" meaning "dark blue clouds" was the second brewery opened by Kamikawa Taisetsu and it is built on the campus of Obihiro University of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine. This is exciting for many reasons, most importantly Toji Ken-Ichiro Wakayama has become a guest lecturer at the university, being able to teach sake brewing not just the theory but give students practical experience in the brewery.


They do currently not have a tasting room or tours set up, however part of the brewery has a gallery built in where visitors can watch the sake production, including the steaming of the rice in the morning.


I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Wakayama Toji, with a wide range of experience (he even brewed in France for a while), his attitude and ideas were really refreshing and I could see his approach reflected in a very light and happy work environment.




"Ryokkyu-gura" or the Brewery on the Green Hills


My second stop was Kamikawa Taisetsu's first brewery which opened in 2017. About 1h from Asahikawa, but possible to visit on public transport, this location again has no tasting room and no official brewery tour. There is a shop and a few windows where people can peek into the brewery, but spontaneous visits might not be optimal.


I was incredibly surprised to again see a rather young team as well as female kurabito working here. The atmosphere created by Toji Koiwa-san was really relaxed, friendly and I loved that the environment seemed to encourage questions being asked.


I would have loved to spend some more time here, but unfortunately, I was on a tight schedule to be on my way to the last brewery at the other end of Hokkaido. But here is a sneak peek from the Koji room:



Hakodate Goryo-no-kura

The latest addition to the Kamikawa empire, with its name leaning on the famous "Goryo-kaku fortress" (which is shaped like a star), was my last stop and I was very excited to meet general master Toji Shinji Kawabata, who oversees the 3 breweries. I was once more surprised by the warm atmosphere and the young team.


Again, this was a private tour, however, at the Hakodate showroom, tasting sets are available (for a small fee) and the shop is connected to the fermentation room, with a huge window where you can watch the kurabito work. One tank is strategically placed near the window so you even get to see the insides bubbling away



Nigori Day


I love cloudy sake and every Nigori Day I venture out to find something special. This year I decided to buy two bottles, the Kawatsuru Sanuki Cloudy from Kagawa prefecture - buttery smooth and sweet which I have been looking at for a long time and it was delicious!


And then I found a black Nigori "Ezo no Homare" made with limited black rice from Niseko Shuzo. Now, to be honest, I was VERY excited, especially as the shop assistant told me it is still alive and might be a tiny bit explosive. So I was rather disappointed when nothing happened. No fizz, no bubbles, no explosion. And of course, it was not black either. It was red, red-ish, purple. I should have anticipated that.


Was it good? It was. Was it what I expected? Not at all...



Sapporo Snow Festival


I am always excited to visit Hokkaido in winter because as part of the Sapporo Snow Festival, I offer food and sake tours. Unfortunately, this year the organizers decided to not have any food/drink stalls at the festival. This did not just surprise me, but also many of the locals as other food fairs did take place last year. So I had to cancel my food and sake tours, which was a real pity.


However, it did give me a little more time to explore some local sake bars, and restaurants and opened up time for some extra brewery visits. So all was good in the end and I am looking forward to holding these sake events in Sapporo next year. If you are curious of what I do or are interested in joining get in touch with me 😊


And I revisited another project of mine "Let's Travel and Eat" and made a short video about what to expect/what this year's Sapporo snow festival was like, check it out:




Otokoyama Sake Brewery Festival


Every year the second Sunday in February Otokoyama sake brewery in Asahikawa holds its annual sake brewery festival and it’s one of my favorites!!! It has been canceled for the past 3 years due to the pandemic, so everyone has been super excited about it being held this year.


Turning their parking lot into a festival space there are food stalls, tiny low tables and crates to sit on, plenty of free sake, and a little bit of entertainment.


This year, as with everything else, the festival has been a little smaller in scale - still so much fun. I even found a few sakes in their lineup I did not know of before. One I really want to mention is their gooey almost soup-like Nigori. Just to put a little perspective on it, I rarely buy sake when I travel, but when I do it is something I absolutely love and I bought 4 bottles of it...


Until next year!



Kubota and Taiwanese Food Pairing


Another great sake-tasting event organized by @kubota_sake_global in collaboration with @lesleywwu for an amazing Japanese sake & Taiwanese food pairing! I have been to a few of these events in the past, but this might have been my favorite one yet!!!


Highlights were the fermented garlic Brussels sprouts paired with Kubota Senjyu Ginjo Namagenshu, Shaoxing wine marinated chicken ham paired with the Kubota Manjyu Muroka Namagenshu, and of course the succulent braised pork belly with salted sour plum paired with Kubota Heikijyu.


I really am a big fan of what they do. These events have changed my perception of what I thought Kubota was and putting so much effort and passion into promoting their sake in different ways, I am really super impressed!



Watanabesahei Brewery visit in Nikko


Watanabesahei Brewery in Nikko is one of the breweries I work with as part of Sake Voyage and I love bringing visitors here for many reasons. One, Watanabe-san is such an entertainer. He loves meeting people and showing his brewery. And although I have been there many times, there is still always something new!


This time he showed us some Kodamai, ancient black rice that he was just preparing for the Yodan Jikomi, and after the tour, we actually got to try the "new" product he is making for an upcoming (cannot tell you which one yet) sake competition. I would have bought 4 bottles right there, that is how good it was, and cannot wait until it is for sale!





A trip to Kodama Shuzo in Akita


Another highlight of the Month was certainly my first trip to Akita and meeting the Kodama's and seeing their brewery!


Starting off with a private dinner in downtown Akita together with new and old sake friends, we headed over to Kodama brewery the next morning. To be honest, I did not know exactly what to expect, but I was really impressed. There is so much history and knowledge in these walls and although we got everything thoroughly explained, I wish I could have stayed a few days longer to really let all the information sink in properly.


The tour concluded with another sake tasting, including a very energetic Nigori, which we all would have loved to take home. However, we were told it might not survive the train ride, so if you are in the area, this is one you definitely want to try.


As for me, this is certainly a brewery I would love to revisit later this year and spend a little more time, both exploring and of course tasting their other seasonal sake.



Visiting Terada Honke


I did not realize that Terada Honke did regular tours and that you could purchase tickets on Peatix. So I was quite surprised when a friend invited me to come along as he had an extra ticket.


Now the tour is all in Japanese, but it is really well done and if you do have a little sake knowledge you can easily fill in the gaps. Loved the small performance of Yamaoroshi (motosuri), although they only "pretended" I could imagine what it would be like and I was able to get a better feel of the brewery through it.


The tour concludes with a "Hakko" Lunch ("fermented" lunch), which was incredibly nourishing and delicious as well as a tasting set of three of their sake. It was well worth coming out to Chiba and a great Saturday trip!



American Food and Kubota Sake pairing

American food and Sake? A big yes from me! And proven right by yet another sake event by Kubota. These events have become one of the best-kept secrets in the Tokyo area and are often sold out (although the fee is really only symbolic) as soon as they are posted.


I must say I absolutely loved the food prepared by @chillmatic_higashibu which was brilliantly paired with sake from @kubota_sake_global! My favorite pairings of the day were: 🍶 Spicy fried chicken with Kubota Koujyu 🍶 BBQ pulled pork with Kubota Junmai Daiginjo 🍶 Dry aged beef cheeseburger with Kubota Heikijyu I used to be a little sad that the pairings were only pop-up dishes and that the sake and the food would disappear after the events. So I was extra excited to hear that for a limited time, these pairings will be available, and even better, one glass of sake will be free!


I was also told, if enough people ask for it, there is a great chance of the sake making it onto the regular drinks menu, so for anyone in Tokyo you know what to do!



Eureka!


Another visit to what has quickly become one of my favorite places to drink sake with people visiting Japan - Marie Chiba's Eureka!


Now I must be honest, the experience can vary. On days that Marie Chiba is off, it is just not as magical. The experience is still great, however, the magic that comes with her knowledge and enthusiasm is just not the same.


This time we were lucky, she arrived halfway through our dinner. We already had all the classics (Doburoku and blue cheese & ham katsu etc) but then she added a little spark and out came the coffee bean ice cube, which was topped with the silver label Senkin collab sake - so delicious!


And many more...


We stayed at least 1h longer than we thought we would and spent probably double the money, but it was all worth it :)






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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