Kanpai to the Kampai Festival of Sake

There is a Japanese proverb that states “alcohol reveals true feelings”.  After spending an afternoon sipping on Japanese rice wine at the Kampai Festival of Sake, I discovered some true feelings for the drink.

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Sake is a Japanese rice wine made by fermenting rice that has been polished to remove the bran. Unlike wine, in which alcohol is produced by fermenting sugar that is naturally present in grapes, sake is produced by a brewing process, where the starch is converted into sugars before being converted to alcohol.

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Like wine, sake can be served chilled, at room temperature, or heated, depending on the preference of the drinker, the quality of the sake, and the season (warm sake is usually served as a winter warmer much like mulled wine).  It is typically served in a small porcelain bottle called a tokkuri, and sipped from a small porcelain cup called a sakazuki.

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The rice used for brewing sake is called saka mai and differs from eating rice. The grain is larger, stronger, and contains less protein.  Much like the numerous varietals of grapes used in winemaking, there are at least 80 types of sake rice in Japan.  Sake also undergoes a fermenting and maturation process of approximately nine to twelve months.

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As is the case with wine, there are several grades and styles of sake with both complexities and subtleties along with special designation.  Over the course of a few hours I learned not only about the production of Japan’s national beverage, but also the versatility of this clean and elegant drink; from food pairings to cocktail infusions.

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The fifth annual festival which is presented by the Sake Institute of Ontario is the largest sake tasting festival in Canada showcasing over 150 different sakes from Japan, Canada and the U.S. This festival encourages guests to meet and interact with sake vendors and producers and sample top sake products. For a novice such as myself, this festival offered a wonderful introduction to this particular spirit. I sipped on sake that ranged from sweet to bold; chilled to warm and aged to sparkling.   My tasting highlights included:

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  • A floral and sweet, awarding-winning Taiheizan Tenko Junmai Daiginjo from the Asahara Brewery, in Saitama Japan
  • A light tasting and refreshing Sparkling Umeshu from Kodama Brewing in Akita Japan
  • A dry and fragrant Nanbu Bijin Shinpaku Junmai Daiginjo from Nanbu Bijin Sake Brewery in Iwate Japan
  • The Sho Chiku Bai Mio Sparkling Sake, an incredibly light and sweet sake with apple like undertones from Takara Sake in Kyoto Japan
  • The Yuki No Bosha Yamahai Junmai with rich and nutty flavors from Saiya Shuzo in Akita Japan
  • An earthy and almost brandy like Kanbara Bride Of The Fox Junmai Ginjo from Kaetsu Shuzo in Niigata Japan
  • A strong and bold yet slightly tropical Konteki Tears of Dawn from Kizukura in Kyoto Japan
  • From the Sake One Brewery in Oregon, USA a soft, fruity and mildly sweet Moonstone Asian Pear Gingo and a pungent and rich flavored (great for building a cocktail) Moonstone Coconut Lemongrass Ginjo Nigori Genshu
  • A sparkling plum sake with a sweet yet slightly tart taste, the Ume Umeshu from Nakano Shuzo in Aichi Japan
  • A full bodied, earthy and rich Tenzan Heavens Mountains Jizake Gensu from the Tenzan Sake Brewery in Saga Japan
  • A sparkling sake that reminiscent of champagne, the Junmai Daiginjo from the Okunomatsu Sake Brewery in Fukushima Japan
  • A creamy and fruity almost smoothie like strawberry Junmai Nigori from Homare Sake Brewery in Niigata Japan
  • From a little closer to home in Toronto a delightful and fun spin off on a cosmo with the Izumi Sakepolitan from the Ontario Spring Water Company
  • A juicy and refreshing white peach infused sake (great on its own or mixed into a killer cocktail) the Momo Heart of the God Premium White Peach from Kamikokoro in Miyagi Japan; and
  • Yamayuzu Shibori Sake Yuzu Sake an incredible, slightly citrusy yuzu infused sake with a clean finish.  Extremely reminiscent of limoncello but milder.

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Admittedly, I was drawn to the sweet, fruity tasting sake with a little sparkle but thoroughly enjoyed the overall experience.  Each sip brought me closer to a new found appreciation for the drink and I look forward to continued tasting. Kanpai!

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