A sake for all occasions
Bento Box staff Nicholas Jones and Lisa Tower took a great summer sake and put it to the test.
For this month’s Sake Report, we tried something new and sent Bento Box staff Lisa Tower and Nicholas Jones out to Don Don Izakaya to see how one of our favourite summer sakes, Kikusui Junmai Ginjo, paired with some classic Japanese dishes.
Nicholas: I hadn’t had any experience with Kikusui going into this Sake Report, and I got pretty excited about it when reading up on its history. I’ve always been a sucker for drinks with a good backstory—whether it’s the godly mead of the Vikings, or the hallucinogenic history of absinthe. This sake doesn’t disappoint in this respect as its name refers to a myth about a 700-year-old exiled man and chrysanthemum mist as the secret to eternal youth! The brewery itself has a long history, too: it’s an award-winning sake producer, located in Niigata Prefecture, which is famous for its breweries.
Lisa: For my part, I didn’t know much about Kikusui as I’m not much of a sake drinker. I mean, I’ve definitely had my share, but I’ve never had a sake that really caught my attention.
Nicholas: Until now!
Lisa: Definitely. From my first sip, I could tell this Lisa sake was different. Other sake I’ve tried has seemed harsh, with the taste of alcohol coming through clearly. However, I really enjoyed Kikusui, and didn’t get any of this harshness.
Nicholas: Yes! I hope this doesn’t make me sound like a big drinker, but I’ve never had Lisa’s harshness problem with sake. That being said, the Kikusui did seem smoother than a lot of other sake I’ve tried. We were served our drinks chilled, which is the best way to draw out the complex fragrances—and we could clearly pick up the sweet, fruity notes in the sake, which I loved. (The fruity and elegant finish is due to Kikusui’s extended brewing process and the use of gohyakumangoku rice, which is specially made for sake brewing.)
Lisa: Typically, you pair sake with sushi or sashimi as the delicate flavours of the fish work well with the delicate flavours of the drink. It was recommended we try this particular sake with takowasa: raw octopus mixed with wasabi. I can see why this was the recommended pairing for Kikusui as they went especially well together. The wasabi notes from the takowasa definitely complemented the sake.
Nicholas: Agreed! Though we went with accepted convention on pairing Kikusui with takowasa, we were allowed to choose whatever we wanted for our second dish, so naturally we went with—
Lisa: Karaage! Japanese deep-fried chicken, and one of the best-tasting things Japan has ever produced! However, with its heavy, oily flavour and hints of ginger when done correctly, it’s a dish you’d be more likely to pair with a beer than a wine.
Nicholas: Yeah, only crazed fried-chicken lovers like us would ever want to pair karaage with a choice bottle of sake. Like Lisa mentioned, sake is known for its clean, delicate flavour, and subjecting this delicacy to the full-on gastronomical assault of karaage is a stress test that not many sakes are going to survive.
Lisa: Except this one did. We were both amazed at how well the Kikusui held up in the face of this stick-to-your-ribs Japanese comfort food. We came up with the idea of pairing it with karaage as a kind of joke, mostly as an excuse to eat more karaage, but Kikusui really showed its versatility. The sake’s crisp notes were perfect for cutting through the oil and ginger in the karaage to cleanse the palate after this heavy dish. It’s definitely a sake that I’ll be enjoying again!
Don Don Izakaya
Don Don Izakaya is a centrally located restaurant with an impressive collection of sake from all over Japan, and a delicious menu full of authentic izakaya (pub-style) fare.