Whilst Taste with the Tōji focuses on Sake Breweries of Japan and the people behind them, the ‘In Conversation and Q&A’ events aim to shine a spotlight on other individuals, working in Japan, who are doing wonderful things for Japan’s national beverage and promoting sake in their own, unique way.
Like Meet the Artisan , these ‘In Conversation and Q&A’ sessions are fewer and far between than the TWTT sessions but are certainly every bit as important and informative.
With travel still currently at a standstill for many due to the pandemic, these online events continue to be a great way for many of us to stay connected to, and within, the sake community ~ and to hear these unique stories from some of those involved in it.
Next session: TBA
Session 1: In Conversation and Q&A with Yoram Ofer
On Monday 1 March 2021, we got to spend a couple of hours chatting about sake with Yoram Ofer, owner and operator of Sake Bar Yoramu in Kyoto, Japan.
Yoram Ofer was born in Jerusalem, Israel, in 1962. At the end of his military service, he travelled to Japan in 1984 and has been based there ever since. He opened Yoramu at the end of 2000 and over the years, (in my opinion), it has become more of a sake institution than just a sake bar – one which I have had the pleasure of visiting on a number of ocassions.
I first visited Yoramu around 10 years ago and if it was not for that visit, I don’t think I would be on the sake journey that I find myself on today ~ for that, I am truly grateful. The experience opened my eyes to a whole new world in terms of sake and it was great to catch up with Yoram, albeir ‘virtually’, for this special event.
A lot of the questions from attendees were about ageing sake and it is possible a misconception that Yoram only serves aged sake at his bar.
Everything Yoram serves at his bar, (which seats only around 8 people), is Junmai – a good amount of that is aged, at uncontrolled temperatures, and a lot of the sake he ages is unpasteurised ~ however, not everything he serves is aged. Yoram says his main goal is to offer his patrons a wide taste range, which he does, thus providing his customers with a most unique experience.
Sake Bar Yoramu is located on Nijo-dori (east of Karasuma) in Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan.
Sadly, due to the pandemic, Sake Bar Yoramu has had inconsistent opening hours due to government restrictions. For anyone wanting to visit in the future, you can contact Yoram via his webiste here to find out his current opening hours. Once things are back to any kind of normal, the bars regular hours are Wed-Sat from 6pm-midnight.
Session 2: In Conversation and Q&A with Marie Chiba
On Thursday 22 July, 2021, we got to spend a couple of hours chatting to Marie Chiba from Tokyo’s GEM by moto.
Marie Chiba was born in Iwate Prefecture, Japan. She started her career as a system engineer, but after finding herself in love with sake, turned to the food & beverage industry. She visited many sake breweries throughout Japan and trained at institutions such as National Research Institute of Brewing to gain knowledge and expertise on sake.
Chiba now offers innovative sake experiences at her Tokyo venue, GEM by moto.
This was the second session in TWTT’s ‘In Conversation and Q&A’ series and this wonderful interactive session couldn’t have come at a better time. It was nice to just switch off from everything else for a couple of hours and go on a sake and culinary journey around the world.
2 hours, 1 sake, 5 countries and 100% fun.This session focused on Nigori and some interesting and creative pairings and ways to enjoy it. For the purpose of this session, Marie was drinking Niida Honke’s Shizenshu Nigori… which just happens to be one of my favourite nigoris and drinking it again last night reminded me of how much I love this sake.
A fascinating flavour journey involving ingredients such as garam masala, sansho pepper, coffee ice cubes and even olive oil. It was great to see a number of participants had also re-created GEM by moto’s Ham Cheese Katsu for the event, to eat alongside their sake of choice. I have had the pleasure of trying the real deal at GEM and it was so delicious paired with doburoku – just magic!
Session interpreter: Maki Tanaka
GEM by moto is located at 1 Chome-30-9 Ebisu, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0013, Japan.
Opening hours and more information can be found via their website: GEM by moto.
Session 3: In Conversation and Q&A with Sachiko Tsukuda
Monday 2 August, 2021, saw TWTT present the 3rd session in the ‘In Conversation and Q&A’ series, as we headed to Tokyo to spend a delightful 2+ hours with Sachiko Tsukuda from Wagashu Kunpu.
Prior to opening Kunpu, Sachiko-san worked as an analyst at a major pharmaceutical company for 8 years. In her pharmaceutical work, she grew interested in the concept that “medicine and food are of the same origin”.
While working for the pharmaceutical company, she put herself through night school and became a professional chef, turning to the food and beverage industry.Sachiko trained in French, Italian, Japanese cuisines as well as in the delicatessen field, and was involved in menu development in a large restaurant enterprise.
After her “lemon dorayaki”, which was born out of an encounter with a lemon farmer in Iwaki Island, received much accolade, she opened Wagashi Kunpu in Sendagi, Tokyo, in July 2012.
It was a delight to listen to Sachiko-san tell us about the deep rooted history of Wagashi and the parallels shared with Sake ~ both on and off the table! A wonderful connection as well as a wonderful pairing!
The history of Wagashi sees it as an offering to the Gods, asking for a good crop, a good season… thus, after a good crop of rice, (and/or others, but I do like the connection here), the full circle then saw Sake offered to the Gods ~ as a thank you for the good crop / season.
Some attendees in Japan had with them the 3 different types of Wagashi that were presented by Sachiko-san last night. Also, in a delightful cross-continent collaboration, some of us here in Melbourne were fortunate enough to have a Wagashi set, of similar nature and flavour, put together by the super talented Mianko Asai of MinnieSweets in Melbourne.
It was a first for many, pairing Sake with Wagashi, and it was most definitely a delightful experience as the flavours of both danced harmoniously on the palate together.
Working our way through seasonal Nerikiri, that looked almost too pretty to eat, with delightful hints of orange that paired nicely with Junmai Ginjo, (I had one from Nagai Shuzo that worked beautifully); Sakura Mochi with it’s divine blend of sweet and salty that paired perfectly with my Hanatomoe Yamahai; and finally the Mitarashi Dango with all it’s sticky, tasty goodness, pairing beautifully with Daruma Masamune’s 5 year aged Koshu. A truly enjoyable flavour journey!
Wagashi Kunpu serves Wagashi that reflects seasonality and uses ingredients direct from the farms. They serve a diverse range of sake and it was lovely to have Shirato-san, who works with Sachiko-san, join us for a good portion of the session last night. Shirato-san is also a Sake Sommelier, amongst other things, and works alongside Sachiko-san to create some truly remarkable Sake and Wagashi experiences for their customers.Kunpu presents a “marriage between Wagashi and Sake” that enhances Wagashi’s 5 elements: aroma, acidity, sweetness, umami, and bitterness, alongside the uniqueness of each sake.A huge thank you to Sachiko-san for sharing her time, knowledge, passion and joy with us all ~ and to Shirato-san also.
An extension of that thank you must go out to Maki Tanaka for a brilliant job interpreting for this session, to Anat Parnass for helping to make this session happen, and, of course, to Minako Asai from MinnieSweets for her eager willingness to collaborate, her amazing organisation and execution of some incredible Wagashi for those of us in Melbourne.
Thank you also to everyone who attended this session, Wagashi and Sake lovers alike!
Such a uniquely enjoyable event and I hope many of you will have the chance to visit Wagashi Kunpu in the not too distant future! And for those in Melbourne yet to do so, please check out MinnieSweets.
Monday 15th November, 2021, saw TWTT host a special event as part of the ‘In Conversation and Q&A’ series, a sister project of Taste with the Tōji created with an aim to shine a spotlight on other individuals, working in Japan, outside of the breweries, who are doing wonderful things for Japan’s national beverage and promoting sake in their own, unique way.
This was the 4th session in this series and it was a sheer delight to spend a few hours with one of the kings of Koshu, Mr. Nobuhiro Ueno.Ueno-san is the founder, owner and operator of Shusaron, a bar dedicated to Koshu (aged sake) located in Ginza, Tokyo.Ueno-san is also the founder of the Toki Sake Association.
I know that I, along with many others from the TWTT crew, have been keen to do a Koshu-centric session for some time. It’s a topic/category we have touched on during TWTT from time to time but not something we have done a deeper dive into. Even after chatting with Ueno-san for a few hours about Koshu last night – there is still so much more to discuss and discover, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing – as drinking Koshu is kind of a discovery all on its own…. and new discoveries await with each and every one, just waiting to be savoured and enjoyed.
Ueno-san was involved in his family’s business, which was selling brewery equipment. This, of course, saw Ueno-san have the opportunity to visit many breweries through his field of work. He shifted his interest to the service and hospitality industry and began working for Tokyo’s Hotel New Otani in 1979. He went on to manage the hotel’s restaurant, Tour d’Argent Tokyo.Ueno-san explained that he enjoys all styles of sake, however, it was during his time working for his family’s business, around the same time that Japan’s ‘Bubble Economy’ collapsed, that his curiosity for Koshu was ignited. He noticed that many of the breweries he visited were in possession of quite an amount of Koshu, (or aged sake) – some not really knowing what they were going to do with it or how to move it (in the current market). Thus began Ueno-san’s ‘Koshu collecting’ journey, one that eventually led him to opening his bar, Shusaron, in 2002 – a place for people to taste some of these incredible aged brews that he has acquired along his journey.
He certainly has an impressive and eclectic selection. Some of the sake he serves dates back to the 60’s and 70’s. Some of the sake he owns, dates back even further… We got a glimpse of a special bottle from 1926 that he is hanging on to. It has been opened, but it’s not served at the bar. In fact, the last time Ueno-san had a taste of this sake was 15 years ago. I admire his discipline! No doubt he will enjoy a taste again in 5 years time, from one of his elegantly designed glasses, specifically created for enjoying Koshu, when the 1926 brew turns 100 years old! Oh to be lucky enough to be able to share in that experience… but sadly, there’s not enough to go round so perhaps some of us can share the experience vicariously through Ueno-san when that time arrives.
A truly insightful session about an often misunderstood member of the sake family. Ueno-san’s passion certainly ignited something in many of those who attended this session and hopefully it will be possible for more of us to visit his bar in the near future.A huge thank you to Nobuhiro Ueno for sharing his time, knowledge and passion with us all. An extension of that huge thank you must go out to Christopher Hughes, who went above and beyond for this one by actually travelling to the bar to do the session alongside Ueno-san… not like there weren’t any perks to actually being there…
Chris and Ueno-san certainly had the audience drooling a number of times. Thank you also to everyone who attended this session. I hope it inspired you to further explore the wonderful world of Koshu.
Kanpai!Shusaron website: http://www.shusaron.net
Toki Sake Association website: https://tokisake.or.jp/en/