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Thursday, Dec. 9, 1999
Plenty to imbibe on the Internet
Sake has slowly seeped through the Internet, having reached a fairly saturating presence there. Any search on the word sake will yield intoxicatingly broad results. A lot of it is good information, some of it is a bit light and some of it is pure business. Here is a quick rundown of what can be culled from the myriad of sites out there.
If neither your computer nor you are daunted by written Japanese, naturally a whole lot more becomes available. A great number of sake breweries have created Web pages, and often they are quite snazzy and informative. Often they show great photographs and images depicting the brewing process and other aspects of the sake world.
The first place to go would be sakewww.sho.ichi.org, the mother of all sake sites. Called the Sake WWW Server page, this is a fairly well-organized list of links to all things sake. Click on the "zenkoku sake map" button and you will see a simple map of Japan. Clicking on any one prefecture will show you a complete list of all the breweries located there.
There are 15 or so links here to all kinds of sake information, including where to buy it and drink it, with several subscriber services as well. Click the "sake links" button on top for an even wider array of URLs. Here, by hitting the jar labeled "kuramoto," you can see a list of all the breweries in Japan that maintain Web pages. Elsewhere are links to all kinds of peripherally related information about sake and other alcoholic beverages. Definitely worth a few hours of surfing time.
Of particular note is a page by Izumibashi Shuzo, a brewer in Kanagawa, whose page is posted in a whopping 12 languages. Decent content, too. The list is a few years old, and newer links are given in the "new links" section, which was last updated Nov. 1.
Alas, some things have fallen through the cracks, and there are understandably some brewery sites that are not listed. One such site that is worth a visit is that of Umenoyado in Nara (www.umeno yado.com).
The nicely designed site has much of the standard information brewers provide, and a bit more. There is a gallery of photographs of Nara Prefecture by an award-winning photographer, the late Taikichi Irie. Umenoyado is also the brewery where Philip Harper works. Harper is the only non-Japanese kurabito (brewery worker) in Japan. He is also the author of "The Insiders Guide to Sake," published by Kodansha. He is an excellent writer, and some of his essays can be read online at the English-language version of the site.
Their sake is great, too. Although many brewery home pages maintain English versions, you have to hunt and peck a bit to find them. For fully English sites, see the informative Joy of Sake page (www.joyofsake.com) for basic information and great visuals. Information provided by the Sake Association of America is available at www.sakeusa.com/sake/index.html. SAA is a group of 10 brewers -- seven in the U.S. and three other large exporters. This main page has information on the member breweries, and sake in general.
Of course, you could go to Sake World (www.sake-world.com), which is my own Web site. There, I have listed quite a bit of information on sake, from brewing to definitions of terms. There are lists (admittedly biased) of my top 200 sake selections, information on upcoming sake events and FAQs. Setting humility aside for just a moment, it is a fairly comprehensive and informative site.
One topic not often discussed in this column is sake brewing at home. It can be done, and there is plenty of information on the Web about it. Detailed instructions for brewing an unfiltered style of sake called doburoku can be found at hbd.org/brewery/library/sake_ MH0796.html. Created by Mutsuo Hoshido, the page is quite easy to follow. U.S. beer writer Fred Eckhardt has written a book on sake home-brewing, titled "Sake." The method is explained and the day-to-day process described in detail on Rich Webb's Guide to Sake Production (home1.gte.net/richwebb/sakeprod.htm), including a Q&A session between him and other homebrewers. Extremely informative.
Also be sure to check out the first-ever dissertation in English on sake brewing. At hbd.org/brewery/library/chmsk_RA.html you will find the manuscript of "The Chemistry of Sake Brewing," written by R.W. Atkinson of the University of Tokyo, way back in 1881.
The text examines in-depth koji making and the brewing process overall. It is very technical, with tables and charts and illustrations of sake brewing in the 19th century. The book is currently available in HTML, Postscript and Adobe Acrobat (PDF) formats. Worth the download for sure.
Shopping for sake is yet another world. There are many sites in Japan now carrying a good line of sake that can be shipped to you. In fact, you can order directly from many brewers' home pages. You will, however, need to read and order in Japanese.
There is, however, one site where you can order sake, pay by credit card and have it shipped to your door anywhere in Japan -- all in English. That site is eSake.com, at www.esake.com. This site not only sells sake online, but also provides in-depth information on sake brewing and sake culture, with excellent content and graphics. There is a detailed introduction of each of the brewers whose sake is offered, with flavor-profile descriptions, and user-friendly "quick order" assisted selections. (For the record, I am involved in the eSake.com venture, and the site is linked to my own.) It is sure to make it easier for English speakers to learn more about sake while in Japan.
Since the Internet never sits still, all of this is subject to more or less instant change, if not growth. Get a nice fast connection, a slightly chilled glass of sake and surf away.
Sign up for a free e-mail newsletter and wade through oodles of information about sake at www.sake-world.com. Also, to be put on a contact list for information on sake-related tours, events, and seminars, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or fax your name and address to (03) 3460-8233.
Suwaizumi "Otori" (Tottori Prefecture)
Otori is a relatively popular daiginjo that is fortunately fairly easy to find around town. It packs a prominent, wonderfully rich nose with an almost buttery essence deep in the background. Excellent smooth ricelike richness to the flavor with a touch of strawberries in the recesses and suffused with light, flowing nature.
Overall, the sake is not as sweet as the -4.5 nihonshu-do would indicate, buffered obviously by the high acidity. Otori is available in both junmai and nonjunmai versions, with the nonjunmai above being a bit lighter and more fragrant.