Impromptu Sake Event
I want to take this blog post to acknowledge and thank Islander Sake of Honolulu, Hawaii.
This was a fun story for me to live. So I hope you enjoy reading about it.
Last month, a friend shared two kinds of Junmai Ginjo made by Islander with me. You may have seen the post on Instagram. She wanted my honest opinion and feedback. I had never heard of the Sake brewery on Oahu, so I was happy to try something new.
Since we are all stuck at home, I tried pairing them with home cooking. For the Calrose, slightly cloudy (Usunigori), I tried it with Taiwanese spicy cucumbers and Chinese 5-spice fried Chicken. The quality of the Sake was on par with others brewed in the United States, and the pairing worked well, adding the mild sweetness and higher acidity to the oily, savory food helped balance out the meal, and the cloudy, milkier texture of the Sake helped to cut the heat from all the spices.
For the other Sake, made with Kitashizuku rice imported from Hokkaido, I wanted something mild and less greasy that wouldn't fight with the Sake. I went with Nabe (pronounced "Nah, Bae." meaning "hot pot"). This too was a decent pairing, but the Sake had more acidity
then I was expecting and lacked body.
While these were not the best Sake ever, they were as good as any other Sake brewed outside Japan. I want to stress here that I enjoyed both Sake. But it is important to represent them accurately, and there are several interesting factors in this story...
Between trying these, I found out that there was someone helping the brewery visiting Long Beach, and our mutual friend wanted us to meet. We met outside and talked over coffee. Before we left, I was surprised (again) to receive three more kinds of Sake from Islander. One, a Junmai Daiginjo, Nama (pronounced "Nah, Ma." meaning "unpasteurized") had been brought over with ice packs, and the other two were brewed with Lilikoi (passionfruit) and Pineapple!
Now being in possession of five Sake from one brewery, I decided it would only be right to organize a tasting with other Sake Sommeliers. I wasn't sure if we could manage it, but after some texts, we figured out how to split the bottles into 2 oz. samples, and distribute them to share over a Zoom call. While coordinating, someone asked if we could invite Islander Sake to join us. Why not try, right? Incredibly, generously, and with very little notice, they were able to make it work!
This was not everyone, and Tama Hirose, in charge of sales for Islander, shared a screen with Chiaki Takahashi, the founder and head brewer (meaning they are indeed woman-owned and brewed!), pictured above. Also in attendance were Paul from Nankai Shochu, James from Nova Brewing Co., and Sachiko from Tipsy Sake
Chiaki introduced herself, Islander Sake, and stayed to chat and answer all of our many, deeply nerdy, Sake questions. In addition to making great Sake from her home in Honolulu, her dream is to create a Sake research center on Oahu for aspiring brewers to learn the traditions and techniques for proper Sake brewing. Over the last three years, she has had to overcome many challenges, only to finally open their doors to the public this March... days before the Coronavirus shutdown. Her personal history is a fascinating story of relentlessly pursuing her goals and passions, so I have no doubt she will ultimately succeed.
Also worth mentioning, she acknowledged all of my feedback regarding the body and balance of the first two Junmai Ginjo, and went above and beyond in explaining the challenges (and unique opportunities) of brewing in the tropical climate of Hawaii, availability of Japanese rice and yeast strains outside of Japan, and her intentions and strategies moving forward. In doing so, I think everyone was blown away by how unquestionably deep her knowledge and understanding of Sake-making goes. The Nama Junmai Daiginjo we tasted was an excellent, semi-sweet, well-balanced Sake with a clear finish, classic Ginjo aroma, and more body. The fruited Sake tasted like a still (uncarbonated) Chu-hi - the original, Japanese, "hard seltzer" that is already starting to make it's way to the states. More on that topic another time.