Sunday, September 10, 2006

Let's Enjoy Sake!

That was the subject line in an email I got from one of my students, Rumiko. She and her husband took me on a sightseeing trip to Yokohama a few months ago, and now she wanted me to join her at a sake-tasting party that was held last night.

While I've tasted sake a few times, I have to admit I wasn't much of a fan. It was "just OK", but I was still interested in going to a "women only" sake party. I enjoyed the wording on the website sponsoring the party: "This is a women's function however only one man accompanied by a female guest(s) could be admitted if she wish."

Apparently three women wished to be accompanied by a man.

The evening started out after work Saturday, and I was already tired because it was the last day of my work week and I had just taught eleven lessons. On top of that, it was so frickin' hot and humid that I thought I was going to boil inside my skin!

Rumiko met me at work and we headed for the train station. We needed to go to Shibuya and transfer to another train that would take us to Shimokitazawa Station. Every station was packed with people and hot as Hell! When we got to Shimokitazawa Station, we had to walk for about 10 minutes to the building where the party was being held. By the time I got there, I looked like something the cat had dragged in! I was soaking wet from head to toe from the heat and humidity. The temperature, I found out later, was around 98 with the humidity factored in.

So, I made a quick restroom stop where I pulled out my wash cloth (always carry a wash cloth in Japan!) and wiped down my face, neck, and arms to cool off and wipe away the sweat. When I felt that I was minimally presentable, we hit the elevator and went up to the twelfth floor where we were the first to arrive and only had to pay 2500 yen instead of the usual 3500 yen.

The room was set up with three very large, round tables dressed in white linen tablecloths over pink linen cloths. There was another table set up with a nice array of Japanese food, but unforunately I forgot to take pictures! Argh!

Once everyone (about 30 people) had arrived, the tasting began. There were ten different types of sake to be tasted, and I wondered if I would make it through the entire tasting without falling flat on my face! We were given the traditional bamboo sake cups (to keep as souvenirs) and after each round, we were instructed to wipe out the cup with a napkin to get it ready for the next tasting. It took about two hours to taste all ten sakes (is that a word?). After each tasting, Rumiko and I discussed the qualities and then scored the sake. After a few tastings, the shy Japanese women at our table joined in to express their opinions too. Their English was quite good!

Somehow, I managed to make it through all ten tastings without even getting a "buzz!" I think the food helped, and the tastings were very small--maybe a tablespoon or so each.

I was amazed at all the different sake tastes. Like wine, there are mary variations of sweetness and dryness. Some go down smoothly, and others burn all the way down. My favorite was the first one, and I have no idea what it's called in English, but it was smooth and delicious. With each tasting the MC explained how that particular sake was made, what percentage of rice, how long it fermented, etc. I remember one that she said had been set in snow for 180 days which made my mind do some weird things--imagining bottles of sake all in a row, stuck up to their necks in snow! Maybe it was the effect of drinking several shots of sake. . .and also wondering how nice it woud feel this time of year to be stuck up to my neck in snow!

These were my three favorites, in order:

No. 1
This was soooo delicious and smooth all the way down! It was an exceptionally nice, dry sake. Perfect!

No. 2
This sake was also very smooth with just a tad of sweetness. It would taste wonderful with any Japanese food, or nice with snacks.

No. 3
This was a very, very mild-flavored sake. Rumiko said it tasted like water, but I liked it. It would be perfect for sipping ice-cold on a hot day with some light food.

At the end of the party, the winning sake was announced. It was this one, but Rumiko and I didn't care for it at all! I thought it tasted like fire water!

Then we were invited to have free sake cocktails! I didn't know cocktails could be made with sake! I had no idea what to order so just asked the evening's hostess/bartender (who was a great MC!) to fix me whatever she liked. She did an amazing job of combining sake, strawberry liquer, and litchee liquer, shook it over ice, and poured out a beautiful pink, viscous-y drink in a tiny martini-shaped glass. It reminded me of a Cosmopolitan. Yum yum! Rumiko chose a sake/kahlua combination served in a tiny glass shaped like a beer mug.

Soon after that, the party ended and we began our trek home around 10pm. While I had hoped it would have cooled down a little by then, it really hadn't because the humidity had climbed even higher. By the time I got home, it was nearly 11pm and I was exhausted and sweaty again! Couldn't wait to hit the shower and go to bed! I'm such a wuss!

The party was fun, though, and I always enjoy Rumiko's company. Maybe we can go to another tasting party when the weather cools down.

1 comment:

PeterD said...

Sake cocktails are becoming much more common in some States, like California. The laws here require a different liquor license for hard alcohol as it does for weaker drinks like wine, beer, and sake. So restaurants that only serve wine and beer can make mixed drinks using sake under the same permit.

As always, thanks for writing these. Very enjoyable to read these. Remind me of when I was in Japan.