There’s something about sake and music that seem to go together.
This year we have seen master brewers from Hokkaido down to Okinawa, and most of the Prefectures in between, performing uplifting jingles in response to the pandemic, uniting the industry in a season of crisis and sticking two fingers up at the virus whilst pouring plenty of sake for each other.
Many of you will have been drawn to the striking spectrum of colour that is the label for Tatenokawa’s junmai daiginjo, created in honour of sake evangelist Toshiro Kuroda by rock band Phoenix in conjunction with the brewery. A lovely way to be remembered, and a cracking sake.
It’s also not unusual to have music - jazz, rock, opera - being played through primitive brewery sound systems as the kurabito go about their tasks, inspiring the bubbling moromis across the country to be the best batch yet.
The calm of Japan would on the face of it appear to be an unlikely lure to an Ibiza music demigod but for Richie Hawtin, like many before him, since his first foray into the culture in the nineties, he was hooked.
Turning his mind from cutting edge sound technologies and DJ stadium sell outs on the hedonistic island of Ibiza, Richie has spent over 20 years learning, loving and promoting Japan’s sakes to the world, earning him a Sake Samurai initiation in 2014, joining the exclusive club of individuals (including our own Elliot Faber), recognised for their services to international sake evangelism.
Starting off at his Ibiza stronghold, Richie would create Europe’s largest sake bar, ENTER.Sake, filled with sakes carefully selected due to their scarcity outside of Japan. It was an instant success and the springboard to, essentially, go on a tour with the concept around the world, hosting events in New York, Amsterdam, Stockholm, London and beyond. At each event a unique menu would be accompanied by Richie’s sakes, all to the background throb of his celebrated electronic vibes.
As momentum and demand grew, it was time for Richie to curate his own sake line up. Working with five breweries across Japan, the current offering extends to seven sakes, ranging from a humble one cup honjozo all the way up to a pair of junmai daiginjos.
Lucky for Hong Kong, Sake Central is privileged to be the only place in Asia where ENTER.Sake is available. You can’t even get it in motherland Japan. After five long years of discussion, cajoling, strategizing and asking, we are now sharing with the city’s sake lovers the ground-breaking core ENTER.Sake line: ENTER.Sake Black, ENTER.Sake Silver and ENTER.Sake Gold.
All three are brewed to Richie’s exacting requirements at Sekiya Brewery in Aichi Prefecture, pretty much at the centre of the Japanese main island of Honshu. Away from Nagoya, the Prefectural capital, lie the Japanese Alps and it’s here that Sekiya has been harnessing the plentiful clean waters from the surrounding mountains since 1864.
The rural Shitara town, the brewery’s location, has a population of under five thousand people and belies the range of hi-tech machinery inside the kura walls, just the kind of inventory Richie was looking for to deliver his visionary sakes. But that’s not to say it’s just a matter of hitting a few buttons and calling it a day because Sekiya’s sakes are still worked on very much by hand, particularly the higher grades.
It was current seventh-generation Executive Director Takeshi Sekiya that struck up the bond with Richie Hawtin, at the time having a significant role in the Sake Samurai programme, and the rest is brewing history.
The low minerality of the Alpine waters delivers a generally mellow taste to Sekiya’s sakes. The joy of the ENTER.Sake range is that you can trace how that performs across three different grades - honjozo (Black), junmai ginjo (Silver) and junmai daiginjo (Gold) - and their respective polishing rates (65%, 55% and 50%). It’s fascinating.
Throw into the mix a variation in the use of rices - regional strains, supporting the local community - and these three sakes take you on a journey around Aichi and quite simply open your eyes to the spectrum of flavours and aromas possible from such humble ingredients. It’s a great introduction to the world of sake for an international audience.
To help inspire a virtual trip to Aichi, let’s take a look at each in turn.
ENTER.Black, the honjozo, is light and dry making it easy drinking and a good accompaniment to a range of foods from light, crisp tempura through to ramen and gyoza (you could even serve it warm for these latter two). It’s subtle on the fruit and floral notes, preferring to go in for umami and acidity. Great food sake for sure.
ENTER.Silver is more floral as you’d expect from a junmai ginjo at 55%, with exotic fruits abounding on the nose with perhaps some tart confected red fruit flavours. This mellow sake’s profile points at aromatic fish dishes like scallop ceviche, tuna tartar and anything uni-centric.
ENTER.Gold, the top of the pyramid junmai daiginjo, treats you to layers of flavours, mostly tropical fruits but also strawberry and is elegant all the way through to the finish. Looming in the background there’s some smooth vanilla, or perhaps crème anglaise, yet it still has some attitude and could take on the dining challenge of the ocean’s bounty. We’re thinking turbot, lobster, king crab - expensive but worth it!
But come taste for yourself and indulge in these fabulous Sekiya sakes inspired by Ibiza’s narcissistic anthems. It’s the next best thing to having that Mediterranean holiday in 2020!