Strange Sake Series Part 2 – Flavoured Sake
As we were in Japan during sakura season, one of the most popular sake specialties featured in shops was sakura flavored in pink bottles. The one I bought was a small bottle which looked rather feminine with the box decorated with a geisha under a heart shower of heart-shaped cherry blossom petals.
Opening the decorative box, the sake inside somewhat resembled a pink perfume bottle, with an actual cherry blossom floating in the sake. So how did it actually taste? Pretty much as you’d likely expect – of sweet cherry! I’d say it was worth trying once during sakura season, but not something I’d look to drink again. And, yes, you can eat the flower once you’re done with the sake.
Having gone to a formal tea ceremony outside of Tokyo and an educational one in Kyoto, we enjoyed plenty of Japan’s favourite non-alcoholic beverage, green tea, as well. So, when I saw a bottle of green tea sake, I had to give it a try! Given the English on the box, the sake is likely targeted at foreign tourists, especially those visiting Kyoto, as the sake is proudly from Uji in the south. Just it was no surprise to see the cherry blossom bottle be pink, the green tea bottle was (surprise!) green.
While the sakura sake was light and sweet, the matcha green tea sake was rich and heavier. It was sweet as well, but the matcha powder residue remained thick at the bottom of the bottle. I’d say it wasn’t a particularly good mix, especially for someone looking for a refreshing beverage. After finishing the bottle, I was ready for a chaser of traditional sake!
Looking for something refreshing, I reached for yet another special sake I picked up from Nada, a Yuzu Biyori. Unfortunately, this was just as rich and sweet at the matcha green tea – good in one small shot to cleanse the palate perhaps, but otherwise undrinkable unless mixed with something, perhaps as part of a cocktail. It was definitely fresh and full of lemon, but perhaps too much so to consume on its own.
Across all three of the flavored sakes I recently tried, it quickly became clear that they were likely better incorporated into cocktails instead of drunken on their own. As combinations of flavours to begin with, each of these sakes would make the home bartender’s life easier in inventing new cocktails.
Finally, more mainstream, we recently found a new and very non-Japanese approach to sake packaging that was “strange” in that it really contrasted to everything else on the sake shop aisle. Konishi has come up with two specially packaged sakes specifically targeted to pair with particular dishes. I tried the one meant to pair with nuts, but they had another that was for drinking with cheese.
After all the strong tasting flavours bursting on my tastebuds earlier, the elegant sweet taste of the Konishi was a welcome treat. I’ll be interested to see if any other sake makers look to adopt a similar gaijin sake for “dummies” packaging approach to take the guesswork out of selecting a sake, especially when pairing it with food like wine. I must say as a consumer, it’s exciting to see Shirayuki Brewers, with more than 450 years of history, doing something so innovative!