Nurturing Sake

Customers who come to my bar or events sometimes ask me, “Why does this sake taste like this?” “Why does this sake taste different from the same one that I tried before?”

I always reply that, “All sake I serve are different from those of other restaurants or liquor stores.”

It doesn’t mean that brewers make special sake for my bar (we also carry such bottles though). Basically I buy what brewers make and sell them as they are.

The difference is here.

Firstly, I consider WHERE I buy the sake.

Directly from the brewery? From liquor store A, B, or C? Via wholesaler?

You may feel, “It should be the same sake wherever you buy.”

Actually it should be the same when it is shipped from the brewery.

But – do you think the temperature in the refrigerator or the storage of store A is the same as that of store B? Do they have the same lighting? Are there railways causing vibration around the stores? Do they play music in their stores?

Taking these factors into consideration, I choose where to buy the sake.

Secondly, I start thinking HOW the seller ships sake – via Yamato, Sagawa, Japan Post Office or others. The vibration level depends on each courier too, which affects the flavor of sake.

After letting the sake that I received rest a bit, I open one of each product by the end of the day to make sure of its aroma and flavor. I take notes of what I feel, putting them into words, symbols, or illustrations. Various ideas come up to my mind:

“I should warm up this sake to maximize its potential.”

“I had better serve this sake as soon as possible.”

“If I age this sake for three years, it tastes more delicious at a hot temperature.”

“This sake goes well with that food.”

Sometimes I think in the following way: “This sake tastes much better hot than chilled. What should I do if the customer who will come next Saturday wants to drink it chilled?” If he/she wants it chilled, then I have to make the sake still taste close to its ideal, potent flavor, which is usually when it is hot. This is what I always do – nurturing sake.

I start planning, e.g., storing at X℃ for a few days. Then moving into the Y℃ fridge for three days. After that, leaving it at room temperature all day. Lastly, storing it at -4℃ the day before to “tighten” its flavor quickly.

I do such “nurturing” for each sake, which makes customers say, “This sake tastes different from when I tried it at the other bars.” Or, “It’s my first time to enjoy this sake chilled,” etc.

The sake at my bar has unique flavors because I try many things even before deciding the serving temperature.

Each brewery decides to sell each sake because they have confidence in its quality. From the brewer’s perspective, the sake is complete and perfect. It better be  because people will be buying and drinking it.

On the other hand, if the sake tastes totally the same everywhere, I should just buy the sake myself because that’s cheaper than drinking it at a bar.

So it comes back to why customers bother to drink sake at my bar.

This question drives me to create a unique flavor for each sake that you can taste only at my bar.

Brewers are professionals at brewing. Liquor stores are professionals at selling. Restaurants and bars are professionals at serving.

Treating this “serving” as “just serving sake” or “serving something special” makes a difference.

For these reasons, there’s a lot of sake waiting for just the right time at my bar.

Even if I buy a six-pack of the same sake, I store each of them in different ways so as to not to miss various possibilities.

Of course, each sake has not only its own potential but also its maker’s affection. I have to make sure to accommodate both.

Honestly, it is super hard.

Now I’m talking about only sake itself. In fact, however, I have to consider what foods are suitable for it, how to cook them, and when I should serve them.

Regular business at my bar is easier. What is more difficult is collaborating events with other restaurants. Understanding the chefs’ philosophies and goals, I have to think about what kind of tastes I want customers to enjoy for the sake and the dish.

Even if I feel, “This sake is best with that dish,” the chef might not want that flavor combination.

I am always struggling.

Imagine a cartoon. Food is a character on the first cell. Aroma, flavor, and texture are on the second cell, such as “raining sauce” for example. I mean, sometimes sauce rains around the character (food). So what should I do for this cartoon? I believe that sake is the background on the third cell. Should I draw the background while embracing the chef’s philosophy and effort in creating this dish? Or should I make the sake like a realistic drawing by Kazuo Oga for Studio Ghibli? No, this chef’s dish tastes nostalgic…Hmm…oh, shoot! Let me make this sake like a soft-touch background by Taku Tsumugi!

It might not make any sense for you (actually I’m kind of tripping even while writing this text), but this is what I do.

Battles against ambiguity help me bring out my professional serving capability. I nurture sake at my bar to deal with any kind of situation.

Therefore sake is always ready at my bar – all of them are dyed in the hue of Chinju no Mori.