Joy of Sake @ Torafuku March 3!

February 26th, 2010 Michael 2 comments

Please join us at Torafuku Wednesday March 3, 2010 for another Joy of Sake event. We always love the super sakes available at the Joy of Sake events and this one will be sure to please! We’ll be there and hope to see you too! Please be sure to sign up for the event on our meetup page so we can be sure to keep an eye out for you!

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John Gauntner’s Sake Dictionary iPhone App

January 13th, 2010 Michael No comments

Sake Dictionary I’ve been fortunate enough to work with John Gauntner creating a Sake Dictionary app for the iPhone. This is a quick, easy to use reference tool for those hard-to-remember sake related terms. A combination of lightning fast searching and full dictionary browsing allows you to find the word you are looking for or explore and learn new words.

This is a super tool that will come in handy when you are ordering sake in a restaurant and you can’t recall the difference between a Daiginjo and a Junmai Daiginjo sake.

This has been submitted to Apple for approval and should appear in the app store soon!

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Japanese Onsen

January 11th, 2010 t.lebrun No comments

This will be a non-sake post; rather, a cultural tidbit for those of you lucky enough to go to Japan and experience this part of ancient and modern Japanese culture firsthand.

I have had the pleasure to accompany friends to an onsen. An onsen is a public bath that is sometimes a product of a naturally occurring hot-spring.

Unfortunately, this post won’t include pictures for obvious reasons, but I will describe the G-rated version.

For many people living in Japan, a typical retreat is to head off to a local onsen for a much needed wash, scrub, and dip into very warm water before retiring for the night. It is after one crosses the threshold into the bath that they allow the worries and troubles from work, home, and life to fade away. Hot steam envelopes the body as rules require you to bathe and cleanse the body with soap and water before entering the tubs or pools. Old-style methods of washing in Japan require one to be seated on a stool, use a low-profile bucket and the occasional shower-wand (the kind with the hose attached). Most modern onsens have “stations” where people park themselves to clean. Each station has its own supply of soap, shampoo, and conditioner to be used. After cleansing, the now clean body can be permitted to enter the hot tubs of water for relaxation.

The tubs range in size from small swimming pools to large jacuzzies.  And at their deepest, a full grown adult could sit and their head would still be above water. The hot pools can either be situated outside or inside and they can be constructed out of natural materials or look like modern swimming pools. The indoor versions can sometimes be rather steamy – an almost sweatlodge. The outdoor variety are really special during the wintery months when it’s snowing. During my last trip to Japan I sat in an outdoor pool, alone, in the darkness of night with snow drifting down upon my upper torso. It was a special night for being just in a hot tube in the nude.

Most people who use an onsen are used to the practice and have no problem bathing in a semi-public space surrounded by nude members of the same gender.  Others, maybe not so much. To compare, bathing at an onsen is similar to using a shower facility at a local gym or swimming pool.

Almost all onsens have a fee to enter and use the facilities. These costs go to maintaining the facility and ensuring sanitary conditions for all patrons. Before entering the bathing stations, lockers are provided to store clothes and other articles.  Some, onsens will provide a wash towel free of charge, others will ask you pay a modest fee for a small towel you can keep after your visit as a souvenir (I think you can call it that).

After bathing, soaking, and redressing, some onsens have a room with tatami mats to allow patrons to relax and recover after spending time in the hot pool. Some people will actually take short naps here (it was hard not too when I last went).

One final note (and I suppose sake related), some onsens permit alcohol in the actual pool/tub areas. The last one I traveled to in Hakone did not. You could, however, purchase and enjoy a can of beer afterward, but no alcohol was permitted in the tubs themselves. A word of warning, however… because of the hot water, it is easy to get dizzy from sitting and “relaxing” too long. Drinking alcohol will only exacerbate the symptoms. So, if you do venture into a hot bath and decide to enjoy the onsen with sake, do so with caution.

To sum up, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience becoming clean and relaxing in the cold air coupled with the hot water of the tub. I will definitely return to another onsen upon my next return to Japan in the future. I only wish something similar existed in Western culture. A shower or bath at home just does not cut it.

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Sawanohana and Chikumanishiki

January 9th, 2010 t.lebrun No comments
One of the few interns to participate in the same program as me has been successful in becoming one of the kurabito (brewery staff) at a sake brewery in Saku – a town not too far from Nagano. Greg Newton, a Canadian National, has been a resident of Japan for several years with his initial exposure to the country by way of academic research. He currently works at the brewery much like the experiences of the initial internship earlier this past year. However, the work does not cease after a week like the internship did. He has been busy since mid Autumn, working six days a week assisting the other staff of the brewery; working 10+ hour days. The brewery he belongs to is known as Sawanohana. When compared to other companies producing sake throughout Japan, Sawanohana is a modest mid-sized brewery in size and caters to a more local community. However, interest is currently growing within the company and they are experimenting with international exports to other countries. As with many producers, this particular brewery has a diverse selection of sake produced. Everything including Honjozo type sake, Junmai, Junmai Ginjo, and Junmai Daiginjo sake.  Additionally, they produce shochu and liquers with sake as an ingredient.
The Toji, master brewer, is a man of great pride in his sake production and looks to see his brewery’s continued growth and place in the local community and region of Japan. As part of my visit to see Greg, we were shown around the brewery by the Toji and introduced to some of the staff. Following our tour we had the opportunity to sample the entire product line of sake produced by Sawanohana – a real treat indeed. I purchased a bottle of their Junmai and Junmai Daiginjo to bring back with me. I must confess, purchasing two 700ml bottles of sake so early in my trip has made my jourines all the more difficult – all of my luggage is on my back!
One of the difficulties in touring sake breweries throughout Japan is that prime brewing season is in winter. Saku, of all cities, is incredibly cold during that season. We were too early for the dumping of snow, but the weather certainly had a chill in the air that was certainly difficult to shake. A collegue of mine had the pelasure to go wine tasting in very amicable weather in Argentina earlier this past fall (springtime south of the Equator). So, only diehard fans of nihonshu dare venture into the cold that wraps most of Japan during the production season. And as a bit of history trivia, sake production had originally been limited to the colder, winter months because rice obviously does not grow during that season. Many of the farmers of said rice had little to do during the winter with a bounty of rice crop, and so they turned to sake production. Granted, the cold weather is integral to sake production – some breweries expose their sake storage tanks to the outside air for refrigeration because it is so cold.
The following morning after our visit to see Greg and the brewery he works at, we were shown to another brewery in Saku by the name of Kaisan. Kaisan is a producer of award winning sake with a larger physical presence. Their brewery is about two to three times the size of Sawanohana. The size of their staff is also larger to match. We did not have time to visit with Toji nor take a tour of their facilities – we had a train to catch later that morning bound for Tokyo. I did, however, snag a bottle of their top tier Daiginjo to bring back with me (again with the self-punishment of additional weight on back). Our train ride that morning (and Greg’s car drive that afternoon) were both to head to see friends and (in his case) family for the New Year holiday. This may be a bit late, but to those reading, Happy New Year! Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!
All in all, this was a good trip north of Tokyo for a few days to experience a bit of cold, friends, and sake.

One of the few people to participate in the same internship program as me has been successful in becoming one of the kurabito (brewery staff) at a sake brewery in Saku – a town not too far from Nagano. Greg Newton, a Canadian National, has been a resident of Japan for several years with his initial exposure to the country by way of academic research. He currently works at the brewery much like the experiences of the initial internship earlier this past year. However, the work does not cease after a week like the internship did. He has been busy since mid Autumn, working six days a week assisting the other staff of the brewery; working 10+ hour days. The brewery he belongs to is known as Sawanohana. When compared to other companies producing sake throughout Japan, Sawanohana is a modest mid-sized brewery and caters to a more local community. However, interest is currently growing within the company and they are experimenting with international exports to other countries. As with many producers, this particular brewery has a diverse selection of sake produced. Everything including Honjozo type sake, Junmai, Junmai Ginjo, and Junmai Daiginjo sake.  Additionally, they produce shochu and liquers with sake as an ingredient.

Greg Newton speaks with his Toji

Greg Newton speaks with his Toji

The Toji, master brewer, is a man of great pride in his sake production and looks to see his brewery’s continued growth and place in the local community and region of Japan. As part of my visit to see Greg, we were shown around the brewery by the Toji and introduced to some of the staff. Following our tour we had the opportunity to sample the entire product line of sake produced by Sawanohana – a real treat indeed. I purchased a bottle of their Junmai and Junmai Daiginjo to bring back with me. I must confess, purchasing two 700ml bottles of sake so early in my trip has made my journeys all the more difficult – all of my luggage is on my back!

One of the difficulties in touring sake breweries throughout Japan is that prime brewing season is in winter. Saku, of all cities, is incredibly cold during that season. We were too early for the dumping of snow, but the weather certainly had a chill in the air that was certainly difficult to shake. A collegue of mine had the pelasure to go wine tasting in very amicable weather in Argentina earlier this past fall (springtime south of the Equator). So, only diehard fans of nihonshu dare venture into the cold that wraps most of Japan during the production season. And as a bit of history trivia, sake production had originally been limited to the colder, winter months because rice obviously does not grow during that season. Many of the farmers of said rice had little to do during the winter with a bounty of rice crop, and so they turned to sake production. Granted, the cold weather is integral to sake production – some breweries expose their sake storage tanks to the outside air for refrigeration because it is so cold.

Some of Sawanohanas Brands

Some of Sawanohana's Brands

The following morning after our visit to see Greg and the brewery he works at, we were shown to another brewery in Saku by the name of Chikumanishiki. Chikumanishiki is a producer of award winning sake with a larger physical presence. Their brewery is about two to three times the size of Sawanohana. The size of their staff is also larger to match. We did not have time to visit with Toji nor take a tour of their facilities – we had a train to catch later that morning bound for Tokyo. I did, however, snag a bottle of their top tier Daiginjo to bring back with me (again with the self-punishment of additional weight on back). Our train ride that morning (and Greg’s car drive that afternoon) were both to head to see friends and (in his case) family for the New Year holiday. This may be a bit late, but to those reading, Happy New Year! Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!

All in all, this was a good trip north of Tokyo for a few days to experience a bit of cold, friends, and sake.

Additional photos from the Sawanohana visit.

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Blogging from Japan

January 9th, 2010 t.lebrun No comments
Yokoso from Japan! As a loyal friend to Los Angeles Sake, the sake industry, and the culture of nihonshu I have graciously accepted the invitation to write about my experiences here in Japan on my three week holiday as they relate to sake. At the time of this writing it is currently the halfway point of my travels and we’ve already visited several breweries, both large and small. From these visits we’ve had the pleasure and privilage to enter into the workplaces and halls of sake production, tradition, and culture. Accompanying me has been my trusty camera with which I have attempted to document the production methods and intricacies of the culture to share with you here. If you are so interested, additional pictures of my trip can be found on my flickr photostream (link at bottom of this post).
But to begin, I should probably write a little about who I am and my experience and exposure to sake.
In February of this past year I had the honor of being selected as one of the six initial participants to the Mukune International Sake Brewing Internship. Yasutaka Daimon, the toji (master brewer) and owner of Mukune Tei, opened his worplace for us to experience the process of producing premium sake firsthand. For an entire week we toiled and labored from morning till sunset assisting the staff of the brewery in every facet of production. Our experiences included washing and soaking rice, sprinkling and handeling the koji mould spores, and pressing batches of sake for eventual pasteurization and bottling. From around the globe participants came to share in this experience and take away a better appreciation for the production of sake and the people behind it.
In addition to the internship experience I have been an avid drinker of sake for several years making time for local events and public gatherings as they relate to sake and the culture of Japan. Despite my passion for sake it is not my career. I am currently an aerospace engineer working on designs of liquid propellant rocket engines that will go into the space shuttle replacement called Ares. It sounds glamerous, but in reality, it’s still engineering and if you didn’t like math and science in school, you won’t like this job. At present I am also a graduate student in engineering at the University of Southern California (USC). With an incredibly full schedule I make time for sake and ensure it is shared with as many people who are interested as possible.
I will be blogging for Los Angeles Sake over the next week or so and share as much as I can as it relates to the inner workings of a very old tradition and industry of Japan. If you have a question, please post a comment and I will be answer it as quickly as I can (Japan is 17 hours ahead of Los Angeles). If you have a more personal question or request, an email is provided below.
I hope you can share in the excitement and knowledge of nihonshu as I travel Japan!
- Tyler LeBrun
tyler@tylerlebrun.com

Yokoso from Japan!

As a loyal friend to Los Angeles Sake, the sake industry, and the culture of nihonshu I have graciously accepted the invitation to write about my experiences here in Japan on my three week holiday as they relate to sake. At the time of this writing it is currently the halfway point of my travels and we’ve already visited several breweries, both large and small. From these visits we’ve had the pleasure and privilage to enter into the workplaces and halls of sake production, tradition, and culture. Accompanying me has been my trusty camera with which I have attempted to document the production methods and intricacies of the culture to share with you here. If you are so interested, additional pictures of my trip can be found on my flickr photostream (link at bottom of this post).

But to begin, I should probably write a little about who I am and my experience and exposure to sake.

In February of this past year I had the honor of being selected as one of the six initial participants to the Mukune International Sake Brewing Internship. Yasutaka Daimon, the Toji (master brewer) and owner of Mukune Tei, opened his worplace for us to experience the process of producing premium sake firsthand. For an entire week we toiled and labored from morning till sunset assisting the staff of the brewery in every facet of production. Our experiences included washing and soaking rice, sprinkling and handeling the koji mould spores, and pressing batches of sake for eventual pasteurization and bottling. From around the globe participants came to share in this experience and take away a better appreciation for the production of sake and the people behind it.

In addition to the internship experience I have been an avid drinker of sake for several years making time for local events and public gatherings as they relate to sake and the culture of Japan. Despite my passion for sake it is not my career. I am currently an aerospace engineer working on designs of liquid propellant rocket engines that will go into the space shuttle replacement called Ares. It sounds glamerous, but in reality, it’s still engineering and if you didn’t like math and science in school, you won’t like this job. At present I am also a graduate student in engineering at the University of Southern California (USC). With an incredibly full schedule I make time for sake and ensure it is shared with as many people who are interested as possible.

I will be blogging for Los Angeles Sake over the next week or so and share as much as I can as it relates to the inner workings of a very old tradition and industry of Japan. If you have a question, please post a comment and I will answer it as quickly as I can (Japan is 17 hours ahead of Los Angeles). If you have a more personal question or request, an email is provided below.

I hope you can share in the excitement and knowledge of nihonshu as I travel Japan!

- Tyler LeBrun

tyler [at] tylerlebrun {dot} com

flickr photostream

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Joy of Sake Aftertaste – in Los Angeles for the first time!

July 18th, 2009 Michael 1 comment
Joy of Sake

Joy of Sake

Title: Joy of Sake Aftertaste – in Los Angeles for the first time!
Location: Katana 8439 W. Sunset Blvd West Hollywood, CA 90069
Description: The Joy of Sake is the largest sake tasting outside of Japan, held annually in New York, Honolulu and San Francisco. With almost 300 sake available for tasting, it is an amazing event, and I have been hoping that one day, it would come to Los Angeles. Well, it hasn\’t quite happened yet…but on August 5th, for the first time the producers of the Joy of Sake will be hosting a smaller event at Katana on Sunset. I hope a good showing of sake enthusiasts at this smaller event will turn into an opportunity for Los Angeles to host a Joy of Sake tasting in the near future!

Here is info from the Joy of Sake website:

http://joyofsake.com/

At last, Joy of Sake\’s famous “Aftertaste” events have arrived in Los Angeles. Each tasting is built around a theme, and features entries from the U.S. National Sake Appraisal. Held for the last two years in New York, Honolulu and San Francisco, each event presents a unique opportunity for sake education and enjoyment.

This month\’s Aftertaste looks at how brewers coax fragrances like apple, banana, litchi and anise from just rice, water and yeast. It took sake-makers nearly a century to unlock the secrets of how to make ginjo sakes with floral and fruity aromas.

We\’ll try 37 different sakes, ranging from highly aromatic labels to those whose subtle fragrance is barely discernible. The tasting takes an hour and is followed by sake appetizers and more reflective sake-sipping until 8:00 p.m (check in for the event is at 5:45pm, and the tasting starts promptly at 6pm).

Reservations may be made online through the following link: Aftertaste Online Ticket Purchase by calling Katana at 323-650-8585. All sales are final and attendance is limited to 60 persons.
Start Time: 18:00
Date: 2009-08-05

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Sake Tastings at Kabuki Japanese Restaurants in LA

July 17th, 2009 Michael 1 comment

Title: Sake Tastings at Kabuki Japanese Restaurants in LA
Location: Kabuki Hollywood 1545 N. Vine St. Hollywood, CA 90028
Description: These are not official meetups for the group – but I wanted to spread the word about sake tasting events hosted by Sake Sommelier Yuji Matsumoto at Kabuki restaurants in the LA area next week.

Yuji is a true sake expert, and will be doing sake and food pairings, so it could be a good event.

Cost: 1 Person: $25 Couple: $40 3 or more: $20/person
Contact the restaurant directly to make a reservation. There are 2 seatings each night, (1) 6:30 – 7:30pm; and (2) 8:30 – 9:30pm.

Schedule:
Monday, 7/6/09 – Howard Hughes Center (Westchester)
Tuesday, 7/7/09 – Hollywood
Wednesday, 7/8/09 – Pasadena
Date: 2009-07-06

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Extravaganza for the Senses

July 17th, 2009 Michael 1 comment

Title: Extravaganza for the Senses
Location: Fox Studios 10201 W. Pico Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90064
Description: Join us for an exciting evening of wine, food, music and fun! The Extravaganza for the Senses is a food and wine event to benefit The Saban Free Clinic. Currently in its 12th year, it is one of the largest and most celebrated food and wine events in Los Angeles. It is put on with the help of The Wine House and The New Friends of The Saban Free Clinic.

General Admission Tickets are $100, and include unlimited samples from 7-10pm.
VIP Tickets are $225, and include unlimited samples from 6-10pm, valet parking and access to the VIP Lounge.
$50 of the ticket is tax deductible.

For more information and to purchase a ticket: http://www.thesabanfr…

This year, Scott Silva provides the soundtrack as you mingle beneath the stars. You’ll enjoy sips from MORE THAN 100 WINERIES and samples from 40 of L.A.’s BEST RESTAURANTS. In addition, mystics and henna tattoo artists will be on hand for your entertainment along with other surprises. Be sure to check out the Silent Auction featuring trips, restaurants, spas and other great items and don’t miss complimentary spa treatments provided by El Leon and Raven Spas. You\’ll also be able to watch finalists Debbie Lee, Jamika Pessoa and Jeffrey Saad from Food Network\’s hit show, The Next Food Network Star, as they demonstrate some of their favorite dishes.

Hope to see you there!
Start Time: 07:00 PM
Date: 2009-07-18

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Sake Tasting iPhone App — Coming soon to the App Store

June 18th, 2009 Michael 2 comments
The location of each sake you rate is saved.

The location of each sake you rate is saved.

Sakes I've rated

Sakes I've rated

One of the great things about sake is discovering new ones you really like and sharing them with friends. One of the not-so-great things about sake is trying to remember which ones you liked out of the 30 or so you tried at a sake tasting. Or for that matter, trying to remember much of anything about the sake tasting. It all becomes a blur for me by sake  number 13 or so. What I’m typically left with are scraps of paper with mostly illegible text attempting to describe which sakes I liked and why, more notes jotted on collections of business cards from the brewers, and vague impressions.

To help alleviate some of these problems I’m creating the “Kanpai! Sake Notebook” iPhone app.  A simple app to allow you to easily rate the sakes you try and share them with friends via twitter or email. It even has achievements–can you become a sake master? I’ll post more info soon. For now, here are a couple of screenshots.

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BYOS (Bring Your Own Sake) Tasting at Sushi Central

June 17th, 2009 Michael No comments

Tasting the delicious (and expensive!) Okunomatsu sake

Tasting the delicious (and expensive!) Okunomatsu sake

Title: BYOS (Bring Your Own Sake) Tasting at Sushi Central
Location: Sushi Central
Description: It’s a little last minute, but we hope you will be able to join us for a BYOS (Bring your own sake) tasting happy hour at Sushi Central. All you have to do is bring a 720ml bottle (wine bottle size) of sake, and be ready to eat some great sushi and share your bottle with fellow sake enthusiasts!

I’m very excited to report that we will be tasting my favorite sake, Sakura Muromachi…which is not available in the U.S.! I tried it at the Joy of Sake tasting a few years ago, and it was by far my favorite of the hundred or so sake I tried that night. A big thank you to DC, who we met at our Robata-ya happy hour event a few weeks ago…he was kind enough to bring a bottle back with him from Japan last week.
About Sushi Central:

Review from Metromix – “At Sushi Central, you get an all-inclusive experience—an expert sushi chef/owner, a cozy environment and a menu that appeals to both fanatical raw-fish eaters and timid California roll munchers. But why just eat sushi when you can learn how to prepare it? In addition to catering posh L.A. parties—with in-home sushi bars—Chef Phillip Y…

Sushi Central
3500 Overland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90034

RSVP is required for this event, through http://www.meetup.com/LosAngelesSake/ or via email –  karise at losangelessake.com.

Sign up for the event at http://www.meetup.com/LosAngelesSake/calendar/10658982/.
Start Time: 6:30
Date: 2009-06-19

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