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Friday, June 18, 2010


Premium sake tasting is back in Tokyo

Good news for anyone with an interest in Japan's traditional tipple: The Ginjo Bar is up and running again for the summer. This annual event is organized by the Nippon Ginjo Kyokai, a loose affiliation of kura (sake breweries) around the country that specialize in premium sake, most of it prepared in small batches with a high degree of hands-on artisan care.

News photo
Taste and try: This summer's Ginjo Bar sake-tasting event takes place on Saturdays and Sundays through August. ROBBIE SWINNERTON PHOTO

Over the past 11 years, it has been held on and off at various venues around town, including, most recently, a stark basement room in the bowels of Tokyo Station. This time, though, it's in a much more pleasant setting — the excellent specialist sake bar Kuri in Shinbashi, which (coincidentally and most conveniently) is in the building right next door to the ever-welcoming izakaya Nozaki Sakaten.

Every weekend between June and the end of August, Kuri — an offshoot of the sophisticated little bar of the same name in Ginza (and of a reputed sake retailer, Kurihara in Moto-Azabu) — will be stacking up its chairs and turning into the classiest tachi-nomi standing bar in town. Manager Teppei Takeuchi will still be behind the counter, but instead of drawing from his own cellar of fine nihonshu the sake will be supplied by the brewers themselves.

In all, 56 kura are taking part, split into four groups of 14, presented over three weekends. Each kura is supplying up to three different brews, ranging in price from ¥200 to ¥400 per 45 ml shot. Some of the standout names right now are Tedorigawa, Kaiun and Kudokijozu (from Ishikawa, Shizuoka and Yamagata prefectures respectively).

Primarily, this is a tasting event, a chance to discover new brands rarely available elsewhere or to sample limited-edition brews from kura with a greater presence in the city. But it's also an opportunity to socialize with like-minded sake-lovers, and the brewers themselves are often in attendance.

A couple of caveats: It's all standing, with no seats at all. And there's only a limited menu of snacks (all ¥300), many of which are traditional sake nibbles such as shiokara (fermented squid innards). The tastiest item, and the only one served hot, is the dashi-maki tamago — small but tasty Japanese-style omelets rustled up by Takeuchi when he's not too busy dispensing drinks. When you feel the need for greater sustenance, just go next door to Nozaki.

The Ginjo Bar is being held (weekends only) at Kuri, Sakurai Bldg. 2F, 3-19-4 Shinbashi, Minato-ku; (03) 3438-3375; www7a.biglobe.ne.jp/~kurisake. For more information, visit www.ginjyoshu.jp/event/10bar/index.php

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