The Japanese sake industry has been built on centuries of tradition, yet outside of Japan, nihonshu is a niche drink that many westerners are unfamiliar with. I’ve found learning about sake to be a fascinating experience, and it was that curiosity that inspired me to take part in the sake masterclass evening at Peter Street Kitchen in Manchester. With the opportunity to try several different blends of nihonshu, it’s safe to say I felt like a kid in a candy store.
Nihonshu variety is the spice of life
The evening began with a handy introduction from the bartender about a brief history of nihonshu and how it had found its way to the west. From there, it was a steady descent into a rabbit hole filled with some of the most delightful tasting sake I’ve tried so far.
First on the list was a glass of Mio sparkling sake that I found to be extremely light and delicate on the palate. Fruitiness lingered on the nose, while notes of vanilla, blackberry and banana came through in the taste. While sparkling sake is a relatively modern type of nihonshu, I’ve found it to be among my favourites. The Mio paired well with a bowl of spicy edamame beans, bringing out a pleasant contrast of sweetness and heat.
The next sake I tried was a floral bottle of junmai daiginjo nizawa atago no sakura. Compared to the Mio, this bottle had an even fruitier profile. I detected notes of persimmon, blueberry and mango. The Nizawa had a refreshing acidity that cleared my palate and helped in the preparation of the next bottle.
Drinking in pursuit of umami
The third sake to be served up was a bottle of Akashi-Tai tokubetsu honjozo. This kind of sake couldn’t have been more different to the junmai daiginjo. The honjozo had a powerful heat that gathered at the back of the throat and left behind a pleasant burn. Undercurrents of chestnut and butter created a savoury taste. When paired with a plate of nachos topped with wagyu beef, this sake unleashed umami heaven on my taste buds.
After the honjozo came another savoury sake called Genbei-san no onikoroshi. Served warm in a ceramic choko cup, this sake was as full-bodied and bawdy as the demon that adorned the label on the bottle. The warmth of the drink released notes of vanilla, honey and cream that became bigger and brighter as time went on. I paired the Genbei-san no onikoroshi with deep fried tempura dipped in wasabi and mayo sauce. By this stage, the umami scale was at breaking point.
Dessert in a glass
The fifth nihonshu to be recommended was yuzu nakajima shiroku. I found this drink to be one of the most interesting types of sake of the night because of its flavour profile. Falling into the category of a dessert sake, the nakajima shiroku brought out a strong lemon taste that reminded me of limoncello. The syrupy texture left behind an ice cream like aftertaste that I wasn’t expecting.
The most unusual sake, Akashi-Tai shiraume ginjo umeshu, was saved for last. Another type of dessert nihonshu, the shiraume umeshu had a mouth-watering plum taste that that became sweeter and sweeter with every sip. It was accompanied by notes of raisin and marzipan and I imagined I was biting into a Christmas pudding. The festive flavours, combined with the smoothness of the drink, made the shiraume umeshu my favourite sake of the night.
The final drink to be tasted was a special cocktail called a sake Bellini. A mixture of white peach puree and Mio sparkling sake, this cocktail was an attractive drink from start to finish. The golden liquid contrasted beautifully with the purple flower floating on the surface. In comparison to the hard sweetness of the shiraume umeshu, the cocktail was softer and lighter.
Participating in the Peter Street Kitchen sake masterclass deepened my appreciation for nihonshu. The bartender was knowledgeable and attentive, while the drinks were creative and memorable. Based on the experience, I would recommend booking onto the sake masterclass at Peter Street Kitchen. You’ll learn more about the Japanese alcohol industry and have a blast doing it.
For more information about the course and the drink menu, check out https://www.peterstreetkitchen.co.uk.