Flash forward nearly 20 years and I’ll be honest, I haven’t consumed much saké since those earlier and more reckless days. Recently however, my good friend and winemaker for Anne Amie Vineyards recommended I try saké and encouraged me to specifically visit Saké One in Hillsboro to taste both their wines and their imported specials. So as a part of my quest and journey, I set out for the education of a lifetime; Tony from Saké One gave me my first and very valuable lessons.
Lesson #1: Drink your saké room temperature to slightly chilled. The piping hot saké served in sushi restaurants is served that way to mask the flaws, making it more palatable.
I then learned Lesson #2: Current leading experts agree, using a wine glass instead of a thimble is the preferable way to imbibe. Men, you’ll be pleased to know you don’t need to feel like you’re at a child’s tea party with your dainty pinky finger hanging out in Nowhereland. Wrap all of your manly digits around a real glass and enjoy. Saké stemware is available for sale and if you’re hosting a sushi party, it can add that fun level of authenticity (kind of like chopsticks verses silverware, I suppose), but it’s not necessary and any old white wine glass will really do.
Tony went on to teach me how saké is made with only four ingredients: water, rice, yeast and Koji-kin (a mold which helps convert the rice into fermentable sugars). Saké One uses domestic U.S. rice with Japanese yeast, while more traditional Japanese sakés use different varieties of rice to produce different flavor profiles. The water is another key component, brewers look for both purity and mineral content to impact sake’s flavor.
Although called rice wine, it’s probably a closer relative to the beer family since it’s made from fermented grains instead of fruit. And like beer, saké is best when consumed fresh, while in its youth, as opposed to being aged.
Saké One offers a food pairing flight, which I highly recommend. Similar to wine (and beer), the saké tasting experience is enhanced by thoughtful and complemented food pairings. I personally tasted through their portfolio without the food, but I wonder if my experience might have been different if I had tasted the different sakés with their suggested combinations. Would I have come away a saké convert?
Sake One is the only American owned sakery in the world. Their wines are bottled in eco-friendly glass, with bamboo labels, making them an excellent example of the Oregon wine industry’s commitment to being a part of the environmental solution. In addition to their Ginjo Junmai (pure rice) sakes, they also make fun infused sakes of Asian pear, coconut lemongrass, raspberry and plum. They encourage fans to experiment with their elixirs, and invented a series of Sakétinis adding a whole new dimension to mixology.
If you’re ever anywhere in the vicinity of Hillsboro, Oregon, I emphatically encourage you to visit Saké One —even if you don’t like saké… and sadly and admittedly, I don’t even though I enjoyed every minute of my stay. So, after visiting and tasting the real goods, I can wholeheartedly say, sorry Thomas, I’ve still yet to acquire a taste for rice wine. I did equate it to what it would be like drinking a real, handcrafted ale for the first time though—discovering there was a world beyond MGD—and I will certainly try saké again. With sakery tours daily, Saké One is a must-visit… look forward to both an education and an experience you won’t soon forget. Until we sip again…
For more information about Saké and a great read (except for the wisecrack comment about wine being made by monkeys) check out Joe's SixPack.