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There are two orders of business for today: the very first Chambers Street sake dinner hosted at Racines, with a no-holds-bared, blockbuster tasting menu from the hands of Chef Paul Leibrandt, as well as a selection of some of our favorite seasonal autumn releases from Japan. This year we've taken a deep dive into the world of sake, eager to learn and explore more, and we hope you'll join us and find something to pique your interests and palates below.
Japanese cuisine and culture centers around seasonality, and hiya-oroshi sake is a prime example of that. A style historically developed in the early Edo Period (1604 to 1868), this sake was only pasteurized once and held in large tanks over the warmer summer months. Brewers were hesitant to ship in the summer due to the enzymes and lactic bacteria that are present in the sake having the potential to "awaken" when exposed to higher temperatures. When fall came around and temperatures dropped, it was safe enough for the liquid to travel without the need for a second pasteurization. This style of sake became known as hiya-oroshi, and over the centuries gained in popularity. While it is not legally defined, this term is widely used by many breweries all over Japan, and is one of the most anticipated releases of the year.
Hiya-oroshi is typified by its lively character, but also the earthy and savory qualities that creep in during its "maturation" period. Because it is only pasteurized once it retains a bit of the vivacity of nama (unpasteurized) sake, yet in every hiya-oroshi I also find the notes of autumn, of dried leaves carried by a brisk wind. Though widely available in Japan, there is still not that much hiya-oroshi that makes its way over to the United States. Today we've gathered three of our favorites, from different regions and each displaying their own nuances and expressions of the style. Kanpai! Oskar Kostecki
This richer and more rustic hiya-oroshi is produced at the small brewery Tomita Shuzo, in Shiga Prefecture. Tomita Shuzo is one of the oldest breweries still in operation, and while it has been a local favorite for centuries, the past few decades have seen this tiny kura garner an international reputation. Fuller-bodied and more savory than the Masumi, this is a textured sake, with layers of dried flowers, dried leaves, chestnut, lemon oil, and a hint of cracked black pepper on the finish. Balancing out the richer texture and earthier qualities with bright acidity, this hiya-oroshi is a beautiful example of the powerful and old-school sake being made at this historic brewery. Oskar Kostecki
We're extremely excited to be hosting our very first sake dinner at Racines, pairing a wonderful array of Japan's national beverage with the elegant and delicious food of Chef Paul Liebrandt. Chef Paul will create a unique 5-course tasting menu, and we'll have two sake per course, exploring both the diversity of the category, as well as the myriad pairing combinations. The inimitable Monica Samuels, one of the USA's premier sake gurus, will be on hand to answer all questions and the indomitable Pascaline Lepeltier MS and myself will be available to guide you through the tasting course. We'll be pouring sake from all over Japan, and exploring a wide variety of styles and production techniques, and the daring food and beverage pairings are sure to surprise and (hopefully) thrill. A perfect evening for both the sake connoisseur and someone just stoking their interest! Oskar Kostecki
This is an incredibly easy-drinking hiya-oroshi! Notes of steamed rice, yellow blossom, cucumber water and honeydew melon intermingle with earthier tones of mushroom and dried flowers, with a slight lactic, yogurt-y presence. This hiya-oroshi is the lightest of the three, and is a great introduction to the style. Kikusui is produced in Niigata Prefecture, and the brewery has been in operation since the 1880s. Oskar Kostecki
Masumi, the premium brand from Miyasaka Shuzo in Nagano, makes one of our favorite hiya-oroshi styles. On the nose, among the more forward notes of steamed rice, melon, citrus rind, and underripe mango is a savory undercurrent of sesame paste, hazelnuts, cream and a faint whiff of pine, moss, and crushed leaves. As the sake warms up to room temperature, the savory characteristics become even more prominent, it gains in weight and mouthfeel, and a hint of caramel and honey creeps in. Enjoy with fall vegetable dishes, mushrooms, a roast chicken, or as a wonderful accompaniment to Thanksgiving dinner. Oskar Kostecki