Browsing London Sake’s expansive range, it’s all too easy to get overwhelmed by choice. Sometimes, even for an experienced nihonshu connoisseur, the best approach is simply to choose a bottle with a beautifully, striking label and hope that the contents measure up. This tactic (which has generally served me well with both unfamiliar sake and craft beer purchases in the past) goes a way to explaining how I ended up in the possession of Tamagawa’s 2019 ‘Red Label’ Heirloom Yamahai Genshu.
How one man turned his trials into triumphs: The Story of Carl Rosa
By Kristine Ohkubo
“What if we viewed life’s challenges as tools that can actually help us prosper?” That is the question asked by Carl Rosa, the founder of the Sushi Club of Houston and several other highly successful businesses which promote Japanese cuisine and culture in the United States. It is a question which gives us pause to think, and also effectively encapsulates Carl’s own personal experiences beginning with the tragedy which struck his family in 2005.
Inspired by his incredible knowledge and love of Japan, I recently interviewed Carl to learn more about what fuels his passion and dedication to promote Japanese culture through carefully cultivated culinary experiences.
I first encountered Morikuni Sake Brewery Co. Ltd (increasingly referred to as Shodoshima Shuzo) via their Hachi Hachi 88 junmai. Using local Oseto rice polished down to just 88%, the golden-coloured thick and nutty brew certainly grabbed my attention as one of the most unique junmai classification sake I’d experienced, and left me longing to try more of the small and very young (established 2005) company’s offerings.
I am delighted to say that tonight I achieved just that, finally getting my hands on each of the beautifully presented 300ml bottles of the Shodashima No Kagayaki range daiginjo and junmai daiginjo (stylised as ‘daiginjyo’ on the labels) via Ukiyo Republic’s online Japanese sake store.
As a long-time enthusiastic craft beer drinker, one of my must-visit locations in Tokyo was Hitachino Brewing Lab, in the Akihabara district. Whilst I certainly spent a fair amount of time getting well acquainted with all manner of styles from the Hitachino Nest Beer range in the hip bar, I walked away completely oblivious to the fact that Kiuchi started life (and continues) as a sake brewery.
It was actually not until I was back in the UK and looking to order some of my new favourite Nest Beers to enjoy at home that I stumbled across Kiuchi’s nihonshu range.
For this gaijin, the great enigma of Japan has long been how its people can so readily adopt so much from others and yet remain unmistakably Japanese in spirit. Americans may be pragmatic enough to adopt things foreign, but they do so only reluctantly and with a sense of defeat.
Not so the Japanese. They readily embrace things foreign with not the least embarrassment or sense of loss. It all seems more graceful and reasonable than my own country’s way. Not only is it more graceful, but it somehow enables the Japanese to put their own unique stamp on what not too long before was entirely foreign.
This is a wonder to me, and no doubt feeds my never-ending interest in Japan and its culture, modern and ancient. Over the years of living in and visiting Japan, questioning and reading, I have failed to fully understand, though at times I have had glimpses of how the process works, and often in the strangest of places.
Japan has a fascinating and multifaceted culture. It is a culture that is steeped in traditions dating back thousands of years and at the same time in a constant state of rapid flux, with continually shifting fads, fashions, and technological developments. Yet, at times it seems that the more Japan evolves, the more it remains the same. Many of Japan’s traditional arts embody these characteristics as well and reflect the mutable society we have so often observed.
As the only affordable sake brewery currently operating in the UK, all eyes are indeed on Kanpai. Yet, the Peckham-based business have much more to recommend them than simple default. Sake enthusiasts Lucy and Tom Wilson opened the trendy microbrewery in 2017, and quickly won the respect of other aficionados across the country, and most impressively of all, from industry operatives and experts back in Japan.
Covered several times already in Yamato Magazine (along with several gushing pieces in the national press), there’s no need for another extensive history here. It’s enough to say that all of the praise is deserved and that Kanpai are in no small part responsible for the ever-increasing interest in sake across Britain.
Watanabe Sake Brewery’s decision to take on Cody Brailsford as assistant-head brewer is famous throughout the world of nihonshu. The enthusiastic American rose through the ranks from apprentice to assistant head brewer, determined to share the joys of beautifully crafted Japanese sake with the Western world, presented in a way it could easily relate to.
The Hourai Cody’s Sake range has undeniably achieved that, its catchy names (see Cody’s Ninja Junmai) and trendy bottles stand out against a sometimes-impenetrable wall of kanji and tradition in sake lists. And whilst Cody is admittedly still a way off from his ultimate goal of having the US President drink his sake, it certainly doesn’t seem impossible, considering the ever-growing reputation of him and his produce.
Whilst its reputation as a renowned and celebrated craft beer brewery is undisputable, what exactly Mikkeller has to do with Japan or its culture that would warrant a spot in this magazine is somewhat less obvious… at least at first.
It’s easy to brand Takara Shuzo Co. Ltd as nothing more than an offshoot of the Takara Group (Japan’s leading corporation for alcohol-related business and biotechnology) and all the negative connotations that can come with multinational mass-production. Yet, the brewery, based in the Nada ward of Kobe (one of Japan’s major nihonshu producing regions), have skilfully blended the best parts of traditional sake-making methods and the advantages of modern technology, to create beautiful, authentic, contemporary sake.