Japanese sake brewers revive interest by using Western fermentation processes to create “Champagne Sake”

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RocketNews 24:

As imports of Western drinks increase, interest in Japan’s native alcoholic beverages has been declining. There have been efforts to bring drinkers back to traditional drinks such as sake and shochu, but they face tough competition from the likes of wine and champagne, which evoke fashionable, sophisticated images in the minds of Japanese drinkers.

One way to revive interest could be to apply Western fermentation techniques to Eastern beverages such as sake, Japan’s “rice wine”, to create unique twists on traditional drinks.Champagne sake” is an example of this done deliciously right.

Traditional or “real” champagne is sparkling wine made from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France which, after the usual fermentation process, are fermented a second time in the bottle to produce the carbonation. In other words, it’s this special process of secondary fermentation that gives a glass of bubbly its bubbles. People all over the world, including Japan, like to crack open a bottle to celebrate special occasions. At other times, many Japanese people are partial to sake, or nihonshu as it’s known in its native land, a popular alcohol with a long history made from fermented rice.

But what do you get when you apply the fermentation process used to make champagne to sake? Well, you get an effect similar to champagne, but with that special rice wine flavor!

Because of the in-bottle fermentation process, as with champagne, you get the fizz of fine bubbles jumping out at you when you open the cap. It’s different to “sparkling sake“, which has recently seen a boom in popularity, which is simply sake with added carbonation and is more like an alco-pop with around 5% alcohol content. When using the champagne secondary fermentation process, the resultant drink has a fruity flavor and is around 12% proof. It’s very easy to get carried away drinking too much of it but, since it’s made from only rice and natural water, if you’re going to drink alcohol then this is probably a reasonably healthy choice! Apparently it goes well not only with Japanese food, but with Chinese and Western cuisine, too.

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Shusen Kurano is the oldest sake brewer in Nagano and the seventh oldest in all of Japan, and they are extremely proud of their “champagne sake”, called Kawanakajima-Fuwarin, which is different to all the traditional sake they produce. Founded in 1540, Shusen Kurano has over 470 years of history and it’s even said that the famous daimyo Takeda Shingen drank their sake at the Battles of Kawanakajima. While champagne sake may not have been around at the time, if it had been he surely would have enjoyed cracking open a bottle after a win on the battlefield.

Kawanakajima-Fuwarin retails on the brewery’s website at 450 yen (US$3.70) for 180 ml, 750 yen ($6.20) for 300ml, and 1,250 yen ($10.30) for 500ml. If you do pick any up, be sure to let us know what you think.

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HYPEBEAST Eats… Yardbird x Stumptown Coffee Shochu

HYPEBEAST’s latest food and beverage feature combines both coffee and rice-distilled shochu for a drink that’s smooth and full of aroma. Using Stumptown Coffee‘s Indonesia Sumatra beans along with rock sugar (rock sugar dissolves at a more even pace and will evenly flavor the finished product), the mixture is left to sit in a secure jar of Sengetsu Kawabe shochu for a minimum of two weeks.

Simple to make, although patience is required, this drink is perfect for a summer’s day.

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NY Times: “A Quiet Drink- Mixing and Matching Many Tastes of Japan”

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Takahiro Okada, a manager of the TriBeCa bar Shigure, said there were two ways customers could enjoy the distilled spirit shochu, a specialty of the house.

Lightly flavored shochus, like the barley-based Iichiko, are good mixed with soda water made on the premises with fresh lemon ($8) or in a cocktail like the Natsushima ($13), with muddled cucumber, honey, tonic and Kinmiya shochu (made with sugarcane). Both of these are refreshing last blasts of summer.

But then there are times when, to paraphrase Tina Turner on “Proud Mary,” you don’t do anything nice and easy.

In which case you’ll be sipping the shochus that, as Mr. Okada put it, are more like “the single malt Scotch whisky-type drink,” like a glass of Satoh on the rocks ($13). Satoh is a sweet-potato shochu, and the aroma will be familiar to anyone who has had peeling duty in late November. It makes for a drink that could accurately be described as savory.

Shigure, which opened in January above the cocktail-focused bar B Flat, has 24 shochus and 8 shochu cocktails on its list, making it a good place to do a little exploring.

There’s a similar commitment to Japanese beer, from the Asahi Super Dry on tap ($5 at happy hour, from 5 to 7 p.m. daily) to craft beers in bottles like the brisk Koshihikari from the Echigo brewery ($10 for 17 ounces) and a pleasantly hoppy Ozeno Yukidoke I.P.A. ($13). There is also selection of five beers from the Coedo brewery, including the Beniaka, another beverage made with sweet potatoes and not a bad prelude or chaser to the Satoh shochu.

Sakes can be ordered from a lengthy list either singly or in a happy-hour flight (three for $15). On a small tray on the table in a corner booth the other night were the Eiko Fuji Ban Ryu Honjozo (“light touch,” the menu says), the Chiyomusubi Goriki Junmai Ginjo (“ricey and clean”) and the Dassai Daiginjo (the menu has it as “round and smooth,” a description that underplays its pleasant anisettelike notes).

Almost all of the drinks at Shigure are better with food from its kitchen, small plates like the delicious fried chicken marinated in the fermented shio-koji sauce ($8; $6 at happy hour, and the best seller at all hours); charcoal-grilled shrimp ($8) and edamame ($6; $4 at happy hour); and the nicely grilled black cod that has been marinated in daiginjo sake lees ($15).

Everything is served in an airy, high-ceilinged space, with brick walls, dark wood tables and big windows looking out on Church Street. The lights are low (the volume, too).

Dominating the back wall at Shigure is a large map of Japan and its prefectures. Just about every shochu and sake on the Shigure menu is annotated with its prefecture of origin. The Satoh is from Kagoshima, the Eiko Fuji sake from Yamagata, the Goriki from Tottori.

Mr. Okada and Jiro Yamada, the other manager, redesigned what had been Aglio, an Italian restaurant, and they also put together the playlist of unobtrusive but interesting music here. If the menu were to describe that, it might say “unexpected and fun.” If you have the Shazam music-identification app on your phone you’re probably going to use it. There’s lounge music (“Thriller” and “Bad” by the Jazz Lounge Niki Band) and jazz (the organist Jimmy McGriff’s version of “What’s Going On”; the guitarist O’Donel Levy doing Bread’s “Make It With You”).

And then there are the songs that seem to come out of nowhere, like Johnny (Guitar) Watson’s “Real Mother for Ya” and James Brown’s “Hot Pants Part 1.” Everybody sing now: “The girl over there, with the hot pants on/She can do the chicken all night long.”

The word shigure can be translated as a sudden shower in autumn and carries with it the suggestion of a welcome surprise. It fits.

The particulars: Shigure, 277 Church St. Phone212-965-0200. Website: sakebar-shigure.com. Hours: 5 p.m.-2:30 or 3 a.m. daily (closing time depends on the crowd). Closed on national holidays.

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NY Times: “A Quiet Drink- Mixing and Matching Many Tastes of Japan”

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A bottle of… Godzilla?

Konishi Brewing Company is releasing a Special Edition Shirayuki barley Shochu in a Godzilla pottery bottle!

Designed by Japanese molding engineer Ito Shigeaki to look “beserk but good looking, yet friendly,” this commemorative 720 ml bottle is meant to help fans who grew up watching the king of monsters as children reminisce fondly about him as adults.

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A bottle of… Godzilla?

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