Tuesday, 20 September 2011

[Event - Sake Tasting] Kanpa-i Hasegawa Saketen Sake Tasting

Location - Piccadilly, London [UK]

With each passing week my relative passion for Sake, through learning and research, not outright drinking - too many empty calories you see - builds steam, obviously not helped by the relative strides I've made in research. Which include the unfathomable purchasing of reading materials such as books, eBooks and personal tastings. Which leads me to this latest tasting event, a mere twelve days after the last one, which itself occurred more than two months lull after the original event that sparked this intense infatuation. Emphasis on the fat, as that is all these empty calories will achieve. As well as some hopeful enlightenment. Yeah, Kanpai >_>.

This latest event was held yet again at the Japanese Embassy, a fitting place naturellement! Hosted this time by Hasegawa Saketen, which I would think it is safe saying, the culprits/divine beings largely responsible for instilling this obsession of sake in me. Much to reiterate, repeat and so on till death do us part, it all started back way back when before I was turned a quarter of a century of age [o_o] - a friend, who was similarly enthralled by many things Japan had emailed about an upcoming Japanese exposition, taunting me that in my typical show of absolute useless commitment of will, that I would not attend. So obviously I checked out the event details to contradict his rather truthful statement. Therein, I inherently headed straight for the Cuisine section whereby I found the stall details of a Sake Vendor. I was intrigued. Why is the man at the stall smiling? Why are there so many bottles, of such variety of colour, size, labelling, of Basmati Water? Is it such a proud drink to warrant bringing it to an exposition that would presumably be filled predominantly by Pokemon-clad individuals that should really be old enough to know better? This titillates me. What an amusing word. Titillates.

Research begun, interest well and truly piqued, first Sake Tasting event experienced, seed of obsession planted. That stall, was hosted by Hasegawa Saketen. Further enabling my obsession wherein I entrapped one of their employees at said stand at the aforementioned event, he brought to my attention a Trade Sake Tasting Event occurring in mid-September, and that I would be welcome to attend, perhaps in a move to relinquish my unfaltering grip of newbie-information gathering, and after the exchange of a few emails, it was to be so. The preceding tasting at the Japanese Embassy had left me in a bit of a quandary; whilst I was able to sample a whole 24 different examples of sake, I was barely left enlightened. I was left more confused than ever. Despite the rather obvious variances and differences between the brews, I was left cataclysmic-ally unable to express just what it was I was experiencing. Perhaps it was the forsaking of dinner at the event, or the complete lack of lifeforms within the vast empty expanse that is my cranium, but I was completely unable to explain just what was occurring with each new found drink. Which left me, elated. Elated, because suddenly, all the advice I had received that had previously frustrated, all the research that had left me unenlightened, suddenly, started to make sense.

Concentrating so hard on attempting to comprehend the intricacies of sake by enterprising on the unique and niche variants of sake, and the wildly differing characteristics thereof, I was essentially denying myself a proper grounding of the understanding of the core sake drink. There is more than Basmati to this water, and I had rushed to comprehend that. I had also attended the previous event completely unprepared, and thus understandably, rather dumbstruck. A factor only worsened by the adding of empty stomach to copious sake. This event would be different however. For there is promise of food. Lots of food. I also brought notes.

~ It Begins ~

I arrived early, prohibitively so, possibly overeager at the prospect of building up my repertoire furthermore, intent on not missing out on any of the variants available. My arrival coincided as well with the arrival of the gentleman that stoked this fire of obsession [I would say fuelled by sake, but I doubt it is alcoholic enough to literally keep it aflame], which with a restrained greeting, was let in, and was gone. What, no generous guest pass for the times we shared?! Maybe that vocal imprisonment was still fresh in his mind. Or my numerous emails kept him awake at night. It seems to be an effect I have on people. Regardless, I waited. And waited. And waited some more... The guards occasionally checking to see if petrification had settled in yet. I would suppose turning up over half an hour early to an Embassy Event would not have its benefits if you did not have the means, shattering all notions for a head start before the masses would swarm. My eventual release could not happen too soon, and I gradually made my way to the Ball Room, a scene of pleasantly intense confusion but twelve days before. Immediately I was struck with familiar faces, the waiters from the La Fromagerie Tasting greeting me with the evening itineraries. Then another, as Natsuki Something, Sake Sommelier at Roka, and serving at the Tohoku table at the last Sake tasting event, recognising me. This was slightly concerning that I had become somewhat recognisable - was I that hideously easy to remember/drunk/foreign? It could easily be an asset. Or my greatest enemy. 

~ The Sake ~
Nevertheless, clueless and vacant minded as always, I awaited further instruction, overhearing that we had to  be seated for the Flower Arrangement Display later. Super Cereal. I noticed mere platters of food upon the tables, perhaps hopeful in lieu of the purported 200 plus guests. It would seem, it what is rapidly becoming a recurring theme of mine, that I severely overestimated the food situation. In the meanwhile, I wrote out my generous donation to put me in good steed of the Sake Divinities, and the waiting recommenced. In the midst of this though, I started sighting, and overhearing of the giving out of what I thought would be the later serving of sake. I understandably bolted out, flabbergasted at the thought of having let valuable tasting time while away - I had a tight schedule if I misread this Programme correctly [half an hour of tasting/eating - sacre bleu!]. Happening towards the closest table, I was poured my first glass - the Asamasan Vento Seco [Gunma], a rather peculiar sounding Sake. Swirl, sniff, and sample, and I consulted my notes, trying to break up the individual characteristics of the sake. This would last but mere seconds, as I was comprehensively devoid of a starting point, and my former haunting of lack of a clue returned. I noted a very faint Muscat fragrance to the nose, and a low acidity. Maybe there was weight to this noticing, as the flavour did not spread much on the palate. That is all. That was my lot. BAH! Though not surprising, as in the twelve days I had barely expected to miraculously hone my blunt senses. Trying to capitalise on the time before the demonstration, I sidestepped to the next vendor, this time an English speaker. His face was familiar somehow, and he seemed to recognise me too. Cutting the romance short, he served me an Otokoyama Junmai Gingo [Yamagata] sake. It had a short finish. What steep learning curve?

Sat down, through the most excruciatingly mind-numbing demonstration ever, with the most misplaced dramatic soundtrack. EVAR. The flautist oscillated from calm, to intense to mellifluous, to the demonstrators placing and trimming of flowers in a pot. Its eventual conclusion more the exarcebated the desire for sake, and I was immediately back at the table of the mutual quasi-conoscienti. He was the sake Sommelier at Umu, and with that his mind too came flooding back, thanking me for filling in that blank. A few words were shared, obviously an individual passionate for sake, and I asked for advice on where to start, the chaos well and truly enveloping the tables. Away I departed, heading for the Azumaichi table on the suggestion of the Sommelier, where I was promptly served the Azumaichi Low Alcohol [Saga] sake. Obviously I had been mistaken for one of the plethora of novices at the event, heathen. Though in many respects, I was, as beyond noting that the flavour filled out at the recesses of the mouth, I noticed not much else. Other than being particularly light-bodied as I would think Low Alcohol sakes tend to in their bid to gently introduce people to this blossoming drink. Whilst writing down my deeply enlightening notes, I recognised the purveyor of my obsession for sake, the man indirectly but directly responsible - Mr. Hasegawa himself, who was also hosting the event tonight. I bombarded him with appraisal, asked a few questions that were left wanting with replies, and was handed a business card. He spoke later at the front, with Natsuki Whatsherface translating. Face, meet palm. 
I continued around. What food I saw at the beginning of the evening was comprehensively mobbed by exaggerated queues, obviously portraying the predominant interest of attendees. Granted, free food is free food, but this was ridiculous. In my hope in vain for a quicker moving queue, I also bumped into and was recognised by another familiar face, a random gentleman I queried with at the previous tasting event as he questioned the effectiveness of ageing sake - I this time brought up my rebuttal. Only twelve days late. Not wishing to waste more time, more sake was sought, this time heading to a sake brewery that was advised to me by both the Hasegawa employee, and by the British Sake Association. I was poured out a glass of Toyo Bijin Junmai Daiginjo [Yamaguchi] sake, wherein I commenced again with my futile proceedings. This one garnered a bit more than the wise musings of the previous sake, adding to its description a nose of strawberry combined with a short finish, again. Maybe my strawberry based breakfasts' were compromising my ability here, as I doubt that all sakes smell of strawberry, or so my notes infer. The sake staff seemed rather intrigued by my seriousness in the tasting of the sakes, perhaps as everyone else was just sampling their wares for the alcohol content. Philistines. Whilst there, I recognised yet someone else - either the sake entourage is small in London, or incestuous it would seem - I would return to him later. More sake as the food queues showed no sign of subsiding. Another suggested sake, this time a Tokubetsu Junmai by Isojiman [Shizuoka]. This sake was made with Omachi Rice, and not that my inspiring notes revealed such, stating that the aroma was ricey [REALLY?!], but this sake immediately struck a chord with me. I remember it being rather well bodied and maybe earthy. It would seem Tokubetsu Junmai's are garnering some sort of preference in my limited and thoroughly unprofound repertoire.

~ The "Food" ~
I believe it was at this point where I made the formal decision to grind through the prospect of waiting in a queue and headed for some nourishment of the solid kind - as my increasingly ragged handwriting was insinuating, the sake's effect on me was becoming rather apparent. The dead crawl of the queue was startling, did everyone ignore the section of the programme that hinted at the predominant Sake theme of the evening? Were they all out to sabotage my notions of an ample "dinner" available for this evening? Bah, too much thinking. Eventually reaching the tables, I was filled with dismay. What remained were a mere couple of trays of assorted skewers, meagre vegetables, and little else. I blinked, and the food was essentially gone. It what happens when you prioritise.

Edamame, assorted fritters, chicken yakitori and breaded skewers

So I snatched what I could, amounting from the one row of tables to a few edamame pods, a couple of miscellaneous fritters, a chicken yakitori skewer covered in barbecue sauce, and a couple of breaded skewers. They were tepid. Temperature, interest, everything. The fritters were not discernible, not actually knowing what they were, perhaps chicken. The yakitori was as exciting as grilled chicken can be, though the barbecue sauce was pleasantly not too sweet and commercial tasting. The other two skewers were peculiar - these were formed of an alternating assortment of meat and onion, then completely breaded over. Other than that, they were still uninteresting and struggled to feed the pooling sake in my stomach. This scene had instantly become familiar.

Not wishing to lose steam, I persisted in the queue, following round the other side of the ballroom to other assorted treats. There I found the Hasegawa employee of destiny furiously preparing away the little treats, obviously struggling to keep pace with the voracious appetite of the masses. He quipped that same notion. Not wishing to imprison him yet again by dint of having his boss mere metres away - who am I kidding, I was just hungry - I took hold of one of the treats and waited in line for the next.

Tofu Block with [devoured] Fried Lotus Stem
The peculiarly ornate combination of a petite seasoned tofu blocked topped with a fried disc of Lotus root captured my eye when I first entered the ballroom. I was less captivated when devouring it however. The lotus root basically was a very dry potato crisp, though perhaps starchier in nature, though the tofu block had an interesting seasoning. A rather predominant infusion of juniper came through, surprising me as I did not think juniper were a spice typically used in Japanese cuisine. That was its only highlight however. And by the time I had completed it, the Wagyu beef rolls being prepared next to them had gone extinct. Damnations. Some skewers and a block of tofu?! These, would not suffice. Not that I was left with a choice, as I had essentially exhausted what remained of items of sustenance. So I returned to the original mission, embracing the modicum of sustenance I had just consumed to assist me with further tasting..Ignorance. Bliss. Et cetera.

~ Moar Sake ~
I ventured around, trying to locate tables I had not neared as of yet, in a bid to spread out the assortment of sakes tasted as much as I could. Nearing the Ugo no Tsuki [Hiroshima] stand, I was poured yet again a Low Alcohol Sake, this time a Junmai. Yet another assumptive vendor, and yet another appropriately useless note by me - it had a short finish. Proud of my indepth analysis, I entertained the vendor next door, or table, that had the welcome benefit of speaking English, and thus allowing me to exclaim certain words that would avoid me being pigeon-holed with yet more Low Alcohol Basmati Water. I was started out with the Yonetsuru Junmai Daiginjo Dewa Sansan [Yamagata] sake, a sake I purported as having a funky aroma, with aeons passing by trying to determine just what nuance I could suss out on the palace. Liquorish? That will have to do. I motioned for the next, this one a Junmai Dewa no Sato - I apparently detected an earthy aroma, which gave way to a drink with a light impact and finish. So essentially it was what a Junmai sake is typically purported to be, rich in fragrance but delicate of nature. It would seem I'm learning perhaps. I concluded with the last of the available Yonetsuru sakes, this one a Junmai Gingo Dewa no Sato. It was rich. And I was poor. Very much so in descriptive powers, and in literal terms. 

With the time ticking down, and notions of ever reaching more food seeming distant, I started making my last few rounds to make a last ditch attempt at some semblance of sustenance, as well as make the most of the available sakes to taste. The chaos was a serious hindrance, but I was determined. I joined the queue for food again, on observing the return of the formerly exhausted Wagyu rolls, patiently watching as the thin slices and preparations continued. With the rolls disappearing at a formidable rate, despite the thinning audiences. Fortunately, with only a couple to spare, I was granted retribution, and the treat was mine, to serve as a further modicum of solids in my sake storage vessel of a stomach. Sadly, that is all the roll served - comprising of a raw Wagyu slice encompassing a smattering of julienned vegetables, overwhelmingly flavourful it was not. With that, I was content enough to continue for a while longer, vying to try the remaining sakes available. 

I approached the Zaku [Mie] table which served me their Nakadori Yamadanishiki Junmai Ginjo sake. Obviously what little food I had consumed had not brought about any enlightening sobriety, as the "richness" of this drink was all I could muster. Splendid. Much was the same at the Jokigen [Yamagata] table after sampling their Daiginjo Misato Nishiki, noting its light aroma. This obviously went hand in hand with the aerated light head of mine. I returned to the Azumaichi table as the commentator announced the looming closing time of the event, in the aim to build upon the heinously misappropriated novice Low Alcohol sake thrust upon me and sample something more representative, following the suggestions from the Hasegawa employee and others. This time I was given a sampling of their Junmai Ginjo Yamadanishiki sake. Slightly more effort or awareness this time, but as always, I noted a light aroma, but a rich palate. The finish was apparently restrained, my scribbles denoting it as "witheld". I am not entirely sure what I was insinuating. The event was well into the closing time now, a lot of bottles completely empty, and the Shochu I had been wanting to try long having been dried out. I encountered Chris Hughes once again, a stifled greeting giving way to some shared words. Advice was asked for, not much was offered or gleaned, some tentative announcements made. 

I left it there, making a bid for some last minute bid for food, or any bottom of the bottle sakes. I joined the line for the Sashimi, having only just remembered of its existence. Despite the emptying of the hoards, the queue was still healthy, so with its proximity to the Umu Sommelier, I engaged in some lively conversation, sharing what we had tasted and so forth. It was pleasing, his enthusiasm captivating and enlightening, only serving to worsen my own. I exclaimed how I found my favourite thus far in the Isojiman Tokubetsu Junmai sake, one of the ones he had suggested following on from my recalling of the sake he chose at my birthday meal at Umu. On this statement, he suggested me another sake to try which should appeal, pulling out and serving me a sampling of Biden Junmai Yamahai Yamadanishiki Sake [Fukoka]. It was appealing. A funky aroma yet again, obviously a word of a thousand uses in my case, it had a soft impact on the palate, and was rather smooth. Beyond that I could not determine more, but it was certainly interesting. With the queue progressing, I temporarily saluted him in order to not miss out on yet another meagre morsel of food by way of the ravenous remaining free food seizers. Arriving, I was met with the rhythmic procession of human sashimi machine preparation, churning out roll after roll. 

Salmon Sashimi courtesy of Zuma/Roka
Two were taken, devoured, and moderately enjoyed. Perhaps the subtle pleasures of sashimi and the like are best enjoyed away from such chaotic proceedings, and before the copious ingestion of sake, as they were otherwise bland, but generously sized morsels. Most of the tables now had cleared their wares, and the ballroom was quickly emptying out - obviously the supply of food was slowing and losing the interest of the attendees, who would presumably be raging through the streets of London for more sustenance. I returned to the Sommelier, expressed my thanks and saluted him, with him inviting me back to Umu. I then chased out the Hasegawa employee, to likewise express my thanks, for...something, not that he was particularly present or available during the evening. With that, the second of my tastings at the Embassy of Japan was done.

Tastings that were completely different in nature and scope than what I had expected. The serenity, focus of purpose of the first fateful event on June 30th giving way to a series of chaotic congregations of attendees of myriad intentions. These events, unlike I was expecting, were geared more towards introducing, promoting and encouraging the wonderfully culturally-intensive drink upon the masses, rather than further education, enlighten and inform those already aware. Which is what I desperately sought. Once again, I emerged thoroughly unenlightened. In essence at an event with such a broad mission as a charity event, that draws persons of all familiarisations with sake, it would be a hard task to cater for all, and perhaps would distract from the main scope of the evening. Bah to that. Though I did contribute to the cause, a whole 0.64% of the total amount raised [perhaps more, as the exchange rate ever plunges]. Yeayer. Crucially though, I did come away with more literal experience, if not figurative, having added a further 13 sakes to my repertoire, for a grand total of 50 sampled thus far [and four umeshus]. My ability to articulate the samplings however, remains as catastrophically inept as always. 

I was rather surprised with the acquaintances building. It is a given that the presence of Sake in the London society is still a fledgling one, but the proliferation of familiar faces and recognitions still struck fear bewildered me, meaning I was far too identifiable. Obviously a hindrance should I cause any transgressions in the future. Nevertheless, there is a benefit - a lot of the familiar faces being well grounded and versed in the Sake circles would mean I have relative access to information and assistance. Certainly with building on these, I can hope to one day overcome my atrocious lack of a clue when it comes to ascertaining and describing such intricacies as the ones apparent in the drinking of sake. The event however, remained a pleasant experience. Despite the abhorrent chaotic mess of people making movement a figurative notion, and decimating food [and shochu] supplies, and the resultant lack of more focussed proceedings, I still managed to broaden my repertoire, if only by volume. Having been so comprehensively redirected by the former tasting nearly a couple of weeks prior, giving a sense of direction at least to my over-enthused proceedings in the bid to build a solid grounding of knowledge upon which to build upon, I found some solace despite the fact that I had not actually learnt much in the twelve days. So how do I progress from here? 


If I had the answer, I would not ask. However, I can only continue on, and build on experience. Build on the research. Build on the advice asking. Build on my fame in search of new resources ^_^. And whilst the attempt to bring flavour charts to better understand what I was tasting was thwarted by the fact that a) there was far too much going on to be bothered with using the chart, b) I had no baseline to use the chart from and c) I still don't have a clue, and thus it overly complicated matters, I can only keep on keeping on in order to understand. It is just a matter of hammering in this quality into my particularly thick skull. 

More importantly of this point in time, it was also imperative to hammer down some more items of substance into my system, for "peace of mind". Dinnar calls. 

No comments:

Post a Comment