Now Cork & Flame

Sake and Sushi Tasting

(Reprinted with permission from

Sake Master Koji Aoto watches chef Spencer Shadden prepare a sushi roll

Sake Master Koji Aoto watches chef Spencer Shadden prepare a sushi roll

Event: Only two certified Sake Masters live on the East Coast; one in New York and the other in Atlanta. Sake Master Koji Aoto, of Atlanta, spent Saturday afternoon showing tasters at the Vineyard Wine Market how Sakes can differ just as grape wines do. If you don’t know anything about Sake then spend 5 minutes with Koji Aoto and you’ll have one of those a-ha moments just like when you first realized there was more to wine than White Zinfandel.


To finish the experience chef Spencer Shadden, of Events 2020, was on hand preparing fresh sushi to pair with Sake or just for nibbling. Considering the $10 price for tasters it was well worth the cost.
Just what is Sake? Sake is a beverage fermented from Sake rice, combined with Koji Mold, yeast and water. It goes through a double fermenting process.
The good news about Sake is it contains no wheat; no barley therefore it is Gluten-free, contains no sulfites and has one-third the acidity of wine.
Master Aoto said that there are 4 grades of sake with the difference in the grades being based on how much the rice grains are polished. The finer the polish the finer the grade of sake. It also becomes more friuty and smoother.

Regular grade is full bodied and has the most character. The Sake Rice is polished down to 70%.

Next is Tokubetsu/Honjyozo or Special Premium Grade. That is polished down to 60%. It is smoother and more floral.

Then comes Ginjyo or Super Premium. It is smooth, light-bodied and has fruity aromas. It is polished down to 55%.
Last is Dai Ginyko, Ultra Premium which is light-bodied, highly fragrant, elegant and smooth.

One taster, who was of Japanese descent, said she often got what is best described as a hangover after drinking Japanese Sake. Aoto said that after World World II Japan faced great shortages of just about everything including Sake Rice. So they learned to use other carbohydrates and starches to produce alcoholic drinks that taste like Sake or extend the Sake Rice they did have. He said the Sake made from 100% rice doesn’t not cause those headaches.
Another belief, that is very American, is that Sake should be served warm or hot is not necessary true. Many Sakes, including the popular fruit flavored Sakes are best served colder. On Saturday, many of the Sakes were served after being chilled on ice.
The first three where traditional Sakes that differ in their grade or method of production. After that the remaining are popular flavored Sakes.
He said that the younger generation in Japan have been influenced by other forms of alcohol like wine and liquor and have not developed a taste for Sake like the older generations. An example of the Sake they tend to like is the Hoshi Usagi Star Rabbit Sparkling Sake which is sweeter and has a plum like flavor.
The first sake presented, Koji Sake, is a regular Sake, which is actually produced in California. This Sake can be served warm, hot, cold or room temperature. It can also be used to create sauces. Being a regular Sake the grain is not polished as was the second Sake presented, Kikusui Funaguchi Sake, which is the third level of quality.

The Ultra Premium Dassai Jyunmai Dai Ginjyo Sake was the third Sake presented. Its floral fragance and taste reminded me of licorice. It, according to the Sake Master’s “Sake 101” handout sheet, this grade of Sake should be served cold as well as the Ginjyo grade.

And some other general things his pointed out was that Sake does not age well liek wines. Once opened store it with a tight lid and in the fringe. It will last at most 3 weeks. If possible you should transfer it to a smaller bottle to reduce oxidation. But he added after it goes flat you can “put it in the bath and soak your skin. It makes it very smooth.”

The rest of the Sakes presented were sparkling, flavored or unfiltered (Nigori). All are best served cold. The Homare Junmai Yuzu Sake is made with Yuzu juice. Yuzu is an orange that looks like a large lemon. The flavor of this Sake is tangerine like and very refreshing.

The last Sake was the Crazy Milk Nigori which is an unfiltered Sake. Bits of rice must will settle to the bottom of the bottle and needs to be stirred up before serving. It takes on a milky look and is creamier and sweeter than regular Sake.

The sushi was of course the other half o the presentation and chef Spencer Shadden made sushi roll making look easy. And even easier was easting it.
Where: Vineyard Wine Market (map), 4414 Evans to Lock Road, Evans, GA. (706) 922-9463

When: Saturday, May 28, 2011, 1-6pm
Cost: $10

Here is the Quick List of the wines to be presented (click on a wine to see more):

  1. Koji Sake
  2. Kikusui Junmai Ginjyo Sake
  3. Dassai Jyunmai Dai Ginjyo Sake
  4. Sessu Otokoyama Sake
  5. Kikusui Funaguchi Sake
  6. Homare Junmai Yuzu Sake
  7. Hoshi Usagi Star Rabbit Sparkling Sake
  8. Crazy Milk Nigori Sake

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Here are the detailed wine notes:
Koji Sake
What: Savannah Distributing Company is proud to introduce one of its long – awaited original products, “Koji Sake” developed especially to match the Southern climate. Georgia’s own Sake guru, Koji Aoto, whose name is coincidentally the same as one of the four main ingredients in Sake “koji,” an enzyme – has always wanted more people to experience and enjoy Sake.
With collaboration of one of the most prominent Sakeries, this product was born to enjoy whether it is warm, cold, or even as a mixed drink base, such as Sake Margarita, Sake Manhattan, Saketini, etc. You can also use “Koji Sake” for cooking, substituting white cooking wine as your secret ingredient.
By simplifying the packaging cost, Savannah Distributing Company can now provide you with good quality Sake at lower pricing, compared to the same grade Sake now available at the market.
There is also an advantage of easy-to-store packaging, as opposed to the usual glass-bottled packaging that takes much more space and has to be stored in a certain way. With its box-shaped packaging, you can now easily stack and store your Sake horizontally.
[The simple but elegant label is written by one of the Japanese Calligraphy masters, Michiko Aoto, who is also the Mother of our Sake guru.]–From Koji Aoto’s Website
From: Calfornia
Distillery: Koji

Kikusui Junmai Ginjyo Sake
What: Special brew using 100% highly-polished Gohyakumangoku sake rice, which is fermented over a long period of time at a low temperature. You can enjoy the fragrance and rich savor special to Kikusui’s pure rice sake, as well as its lightness and smoothness. Elegance is its strongest sales feature.–From their Website
From: Japan
Distillery: Kikusui Brewing

Dassai Jyunmai Dai Ginjyo Sake
What: Dassai “50” is a premium junmai daiginjo sake, made from only rice milled down to 50%, water and koji mold. Clean, soft and very subtle, the balanced aromas and a mild sweetness envelop the senses making Dassai enjoyable on its own, or with a meal of refined cuisine.

A centrifuge machine used for separating completed sake from the lees. Asahi Shuzo was the first company in Japan to use such a machine.–From their Website
From: Japan
Distillery: Asahi-Shuzo
– Dassai sake is created using a careful combination of tradition and cutting edge technology. Our brewery is a medley of ancient tools and innovative equipment. We have come to use what works, and leave what does not, choosing what our experience dictates is best from both the old world and the new.

In short, Dassai Sake is all about quality, and not quantity, both in how we brew it, as well as in how we hope you enjoy it.

We start with top quality rice, easily the best rice for sake brewing, Yamada Nishiki. We then mill away the outer portion, grinding away the outer half or more of each grain before brewing. Why this extravagance? Because this takes advantage of just what is so special about Yamada Nishiki.


The outer part of proper sake rice is where all the fat and protein resides,with the precious fermentable starches resting safely in the center of the grain. Milling away more and more of the outer part of the grains removes the fat and protein, leaving only the starch behind, leading to the elegant flavor profile that is Dassai sake. Extravagant? Perhaps. Worth it?In light of our pursuit of the best sake we can brew, absolutely. This specially prepared rice is then brewed by our young, enthusiastic brewers using clear, clean local water in the isolated, pristine environment of the mountains of Yamaguchi Prefecture, on the southern tip of Honshu, the largest of Japan’s four main islands. The result is sake with an identity; delicate, refined and graceful.

At Asahi Shuzo, we brew only premium junmai ginjo and junmai daiginjo sake. There are but a few breweries in all of Japan that focus all effort on making only top grade sake. Our commitment to this defines every aspect of our brewery’s existence.

Sessu Otokoyama Sake
What: Sesshu Otokoyama is brewed in Itami, the birthplace of sake. It is produced from carefully selected rice and water. It is pleasant and deliciously dry. It’s super dry and light. Mellow, Balanced, Rice-Forward, Smooth & Clean Finish. Best Served chilled and may also be served on ice. It is a Tokubetsu Junmai quality sake.
From: Itami, Japan
Distillery: Otokoyama

Kikusui Funaguchi Sake
What: “Funaguchi” is a truly fresh sake which is not subjected to either pasteurization or blending.
Since the draft sake is delicate, we had to solve various problems before we could commercialize it.
With our technology developed through the tradition and the enthusiasm for brewing, we strenuously solved each problem, and after trial and error, we were at last able to commercialize the draft sake in 1972. Funaguchi has an alcohol content of 19% which is slightly higher compared with the average sake.
Being rich yet light in taste, Funaguchi presents slightly different mature tastes as it deepens its maturation in a can, fresh our of the brewery, six months later, and one year later.
Since it was placed in the market in convenient aluminum cans, Funaguchi has been constantly popular and it now has many fans throughout Japan.–From their Website (this Sake was served from an aluminum can).
From: Japan
Distillery: Kikusui Brewing

Homare Junmai Yuzu Sake
What: The pungent aroma and crisp flavor of yuzu with the sweetness of junmai sake stimulates your appetite.
From: Japan
Distillery: Homare Shuzo, LTD

Hoshi Usagi Star Rabbit Sparkling Sake
What: This sake producer was established in 1863. The texture is light and crisp sparkling. The aroma is blueberry. It is best served chilled and as an aperitif.
From: Japan
Distillery: Umenoyado Shuzo Co. (imported by Banza Beverage)

Crazy Milk Nigori Sake
What: Unfiltered: Milky white with a slightly earthy-brown rice tint. Very earthy nose reminiscent of fresh hay or cut grass. Sweet and rich on the palate with good balance and medium body. Tons of complexity on the palate. Nice rich sugar along with notes of earthy rice grain, licorice, and almonds.
From: Japan
Distillery: Oimatsu Shuzo Co., Ltd

One comment

  1. anna stamper /

    is this a free event?