Jun 23, 2010

Fresh Sake in Summer

When new sake is ready for sale in the winter, I often purchase namazake made in Tokyo that I have ordered in advance at a nearby liquor shop.

Drinking new namazake is very refreshing and pleasant. However, I have a slight impression of carbon dioxide gas in winter's namazake, and feel a somehow burning taste on the tongue.

By contrast, I like namazake sold around at this time of year. Such namazake has been aged for about half a year, and is mellower and more drinkable than that drunk in winter.

Before, I had an ambiguous conception that namazake produced in Tokyo was not very good. However, reflecting the above described circumstance, it was partly because I live in Tokyo and I can drink Tokyo's newly-brewed namazake frequently in winter.

Now in summer I drink namazake from a brewery in Tokyo, and actually I think it is very nice.

Today's Tokyo sake is Kasen Funeshibori Muroka Nama Genshu (嘉泉「ふねしぼり無濾過生原酒」). I drank this tokubetsu honjozo sake several times before, but it was winter when I drank it. Now in summer, I like this sake more than before. Thus, I realized summer is a good season to drink namazake.

Anyway, of course, beer is also good in summer, especially when I drink it with being surrounded by kimono ladies in a beer garden.

Jun 21, 2010

Nomikiri Open to Public at Toshimaya Syuzou

It may be late to write about this, but Toshimaya Syuzou (豊島屋酒造) held a nomikiri event on June 6, Sunday. (Nomikiri is one of the sake making processes and occurs several months after the target sake is stored in a tank for aging. In a nomikiri process, the sake is tasted to check its quality.)

On that day, they opened their brewery to public. People could enter the brewery and taste their sake on the premises for an admittance fee of 500 yen. The presented sakes included the three nomikiri sakes, limited sakes, sakes sent in the National New Sake Contest in the past, sakes on shelves, and other sakes.

The following are nomikiri sakes of this year:
1. Junmai ginjo genshu (Hattan-nishiki rice is used.)
2. Junmai genshu (General rice is used.)
3. Tokusen genshu (General rice is used.)

The first sake tasted somehow blunt, but it may become better after a little aging period. As to the second sake, I could feel a pleasant sweetish sensation of rice. The third one was the most favorite sake of the three to me. It was the richest in taste, and I bought two bottles of this.

In the limited sake corner, I could sample namazake (non-pasteurized sake) and nama-chozoshu (sake only once pasteurized before shipment). The following two sakes were especially nice:
4. Junmai ginjo muroka nama genshu
5. Hyo-on san-nen junmai ginjo muroka nama genshu (sake stored for three year at the temperature of ice)
The limited sakes were being sold on that day, but they didn't have so many bottles. When I went to the selling counter, the No. 5 bottles were already sold out and someone was buying the last No. 4 bottle.
Anyway, I didn't have intention to purchase more bottles since I had already two bottles at that time.

I enjoyed this nomikiri event very much.

By the way, this brewery won a gold prize at the National New Sake Contest. Congratulations on the brewery's and toji-san's (brewer master's) achievement!

Making Umeshu from Sake

Ozawa Syuzou, known for its brand name Sawanoi, is selling genshu (undiluted sake) named "Umeshu-ni-shitara-oishii-genshu" (literally means "Undiluted Sake Good for Making Umeshu (plum wine)). This sake is the undiluted version of Okutama-yusui-shikomi, the most reasonably-priced sake of the company. Its alcohol content is 20 to 21%, and it is difficult to drink this sake as-is. This sake will be easier to drink when drunk after being diluted or on the rocks. And, this sake is, as its name suggests, intended for making umeshu.

In the garden at home, there are several plum trees, and, in spite of the fact that plums suffered poor harvest this year, I had enough plum fruits for making umeshu.

So, I decided to make umeshu this year.

Using sake for umeshu makes umeshu more quickly than using shochu. Probably, I will be able to drink good umeshu in a moth.

Actually, I sipped some only two days after the day I prepared the umeshu bottle, and it tasted like almost completed umeshu! Now, I am anticipating a good finish.

Jun 20, 2010

Walking around in Fushimi, Kyoto

In the previous post, I wrote about the visit to Matsuo Shrine (松尾大社) and Umenomiya Shrine (梅宮大社) during my stay in Kyoto. However, if you are a great sake fan, and you visit Kyoto to offer prayers for the gods of sake making at these shrines, is it enough? There is Fushimi in Kyoto, the heartland of sake making. So, naturally, I wanted to visit Fushimi, and, with no special purpose in my mind, I headed for Fushimi.

During the three-day stay in Kyoto, I had two continuous rainy days from the beginning. However, the gods of sake seemed to finally do us a favor with a shiny day. It was the day we planned the visit to Fushimi.

Firstly, my friend and I went to Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社). This shrine is known for its vermilion-lacquered torii gates. There are so many gates on the shrine's premises and they stand so close to each other that they form vermilion tunnels (there are several series of vermilion gates on the premises). And, I simply wanted to see these tunnels.

We already knew that an acquaintance of us had contributed a vermilion torii gate, and it had been placed among other gates in one of these vermilion approach ways of Fushimi Inari Shrine. Each gate was bearing the name of the contributor and we could know what gate she had contributed (if we could find her name). So, we tried very hard to find her name, but to no avail, ... . The gates were too many. When walking through these vermillion tunnels, looking for her name, I almost felt dizzy. After giving up finding her gate finally, we went out from the shrine, went to a railroad station, and take a train to go to Fushimi Momoyama Station (伏見桃山駅). From this station, you can walk to Gokonomiya Shrine (御香宮神社) and the sake breweries district of Fushimi.

First, we walked to Gokonomiya Shrine, where famous spring water is flowing out. After offering prayers, I drank some water from the spring and left the shrine. At this time, I got some water from the spring in a PET bottle I was carrying. (I brought this water home later, and made good coffee.)

At Momoyama-goryo-mae Station (桃山御陵前駅) on the way to Gokonomiya Shrine, we noticed that a guide map was displayed at the station. This map was indicating the locations of famous springs in Fushimi. According to the map, there were as many as 10 springs around here. Some of the springs are being used by sake breweries in Fushimi for brewing sake.

The sake breweries district was on the opposite side of the railroad tracks, and we had to walk back on the same way to the Fushimi Momoyama Station, and then further went westward beyond the railroad. I checked the map taken in my digital camera and learned there was a spring named Shiragikusui (白菊水) in a walking distance from the station. So, we decided to go there for some water. It is somehow fun to walk around in an unfamiliar town with relying on a map. It is like a game that is played with using your feet, eyes, ears, brain, and intuition. You can enjoy the town that is new to you by using your five senses.

It was amazing even to me that I had a good sense of direction, could easily locate the spring Shiragikusui, and reached it. Two or three people with empty PET bottles were there to get some water. Since we wanted just a mouthful, they treated us with a favor letting us drink water first.

Torisei Honten (鳥せい本店), a restaurant serving poultry, is operating just next to the spring. This restaurant is run by the brewery Yamamoto Honke (山本本家), which is brewing sake "Shinsei (神聖)" by using Shiragikusui as mother water. A water supply machine is placed in the entrance hall of the restaurant so that customers can freely drink the water.

The foods of this restaurant were reasonably priced, and their foods were very nice as far as I judged from what I ate there. I ordered the chicken lunch box (鳥弁当), which contained delicious softly deep-fried chicken. While eating this chicken box, I noticed another menu item, which was the chicken ramen (鳥ラーメン). I also ordered this ramen, which was also very nice.

Being fully fed, I needed to walk the meal down in the neighborhood of the Fushimi breweries' district. We walked along the narrow street flanked by buildings of different sake breweries, and we took the left at a point and found a souvenir shop, Ryomakan, apparently named after Ryoma Sakamoto (坂本龍馬), a historically distinctive character at the end of Edo Period. When it comes to Ryoma, there should be Teradaya (寺田屋), an old inn connected with him around here. So, we went southward anticipating we could reach and have a look of Teradaya. Then, I found a river resembling a moat ahead of us. Later, I learned the river was named Horikawa (濠川), which can literally translated the Moat River. This is a simple way of naming a river.

There were walkways on the both sides of the river. It seemed nice walking on these ways along the river. We walked on the bridge and got across the river. There, we went down stone stairs to one of the walkways, which was at almost the same level as the water.

A gap eroded by water was seen between the river wall and the pavement of the walkway. Sightseeing boats travelling up and down along the river were seen from time to time. These boats generated furrows, which approached the river wall as waves and broke against it. Thus, the gap was being supplied with water. In the water contained by the gap, some creatures were quivering. They were shellfish, spiral shells. Children were playing beside the river. There seemed to be a lot of fish in the river. The depth of the water reminded me of kappa goblins, which were used for advertisement for Kizakura (黄桜) sake.

Along the Horikawa River, hydrangeas were in flower and cherries were half ripened. Some red brush-shaped flowers whose name I don't know were also in bloom. In other words, there are a lot of things to see, and I never felt bored with this walkway.

Thus, we were enjoying walking and getting farther and farther away from the place of Teradaya. And, finally we didn't think it very important to visit Teradaya. When we walked up the stairs to get to the upper level, we were on the Otesuji Dori Street (大手筋通り), which led to the shopping arcade near Fushimi Momoyama Station.

After a several ten meter-walk, we found the building of Fushimi Sake Breweries' Association (伏見酒造組合), so we entered the building from curiosity. However, there was just one of their offices inside, and they appeared to be working on their daily business. In other words, this is not a place for sightseers to visit, and we were just bothering the clerk. So, we came out of the building after taking just one picture.

From the long-distance walk, we were a bit tired. It was good time to find a place we could sit and sip some sake. Fujioka Shuzo (藤岡酒造) known for its sake brand name of Soku (蒼空) is a small brewery, but its prestigious junmai sake is worth tasting. We sat at the counter of the Sakagura Bar En (酒蔵Bar「えん」), which was operating in this brewery. This bar is of course offering sake fresh from the brewery. Being in a brewery's building is relaxing and more so is drinking sake.

Thus, we could top off our enjoyable walk in Fushimi with Soku. Good bye, Fushimi!

Jun 1, 2010

Matsuo Shrine and Umenomiya Shrine

On May 23, I visited Matsuo Shrine and Umenomiya Shrine in Kyoto City. Both shrines have are related to sake brewing since the gods of sake making are enshrined in these shrines. So, as a sake lover, I had been feeling that I should visit these shrines and express may gratitude to these gods for I could drink good sake everyday.

Matsuo Shrine is located in Saikyo Ward, Kyoto City, and Umenomiya Shrine is in Ukyo Ward in the city. Although they are located in different wards, I learned from the map that the two shrines were not very far from each other, and I could walk from one to the other. Both shrines are accessible on foot from Matsuo Station on Hankyu Arashiyama line.

I took Hankyu Kyoto line and then Hankyu Arashiyama line to get to Matsuo Station. When I came out from the station, it was raining unfortunately, worse still, pouring down. After hesitating a while, I daringly stepped in the downpour with my seemingly undependable collapsible umbrella unfolded. Just all the same, Matsuo Shrine was very close to the station, and I could actually see a torii gate of the shrine when coming out from the station. Apparently due to this nasty weather, only a few people were visiting the shrine. But, this was a shrine of a nice atmosphere.

There are several gardens on the premises of this shrine. I could see these gardens including Kyokusui no Niwa, Joko no Niwa, and Hourai no Niwa (admission fee: 500 yen).

At first, I thought these were old gardens, but it was not true. The construction of these gardens was completed in 1975.

In the Kyokusui no Niwa garden, a meandering stream was flowing modestly. When I entered the garden from the upstream side, I saw big stones were placed on the slope on the left. The stones stood high and they pointed the sky as if they were rocks in deep mountains. The stream running around the foot of the slope looked like a mountain creek. The stream viewed from the downstream side looked as if it were a long and grand river that ran over hundreds of kilometers. It is amazing that this small-sized garden represents the sublimeness of the great nature.

The Joko no Niwa garden was placed in the stillness and tranquility of deep mountains. Arranged big stones are said to represent the enshrined gods of this shrine and their subordinate gods.

The Horai no Niwa garden is a walk-around type garden, where you can enjoy walking around in the garden to admire various views of the garden from different spots. A lot of big stones were placed also in this garden. These big stones were beautifully arranged in the center pond, exhibiting some sense of rhythm and tension. If it had not been raining that hard, I would have stayed longer and enjoyed walking around in the garden.

Matsuo Shrine is a shrine of sake-making god, and it seemed very natural that they were selling sake in the restaurant on the premises.

The rain was persistent and did not seem to stop very soon when I left Matsuo Shrine. Walking in this rain to Umenomiya Shrine did not seem to be a pleasant experience. After somehow hesitating, I finally decided to head for Umenomiya Shrine because this was a rare chance to visit the shrine. Before I reached the shrine, my shoes were completely soaked through by the rain. After about a ten-minute walk, I came to the place of a direction signboard of Umenomiya Shrine Front Approach.

Another god of sake-making is enshrined in this shrine.