Let’s talk about…Kimoto

There are positives to cold, snowy weather. Cute down jackets and ear muffs, making snow angels and snowmen and of course, eating ice cream in the hot tub.

In the sake world, cold, snowy weather also means that you have a natural environment suitable for creating certain types of sake. By utilizing the low temperatures, brewers were able to control fermentation so that bad stuff didn’t happen. As a result, they became famous for their tasty sake that didn’t have bacterial contamination and spoilage. These things are not good for sake, in case that wasn’t clear.

In warm climates on the other hand, brewing techniques developed that allowed for clean fermentation despite the challenges that a hotter environment bring. Using warmer temperatures for shorter amounts of time when making the yeast starter created less risk and a cleaner sake.

Many regions within Japan are fondly known as “Yuki Guni”, which translates to Snow Country. These are places where there are lots of snow (duh), usually the warm, fluffy kind, and the locals have adapted to this landscape. In the case of Akita, where Taiheizan is located, many local breweries have taken this backdrop and welcomed it with open arms. Akita style Kimoto sakes were born out of this climate.

A traditional style that developed in the 1600s, Kimoto sakes are made with a yeast starter that don’t have lactic acid added. With most modern sakes, lactic acid is mixed into the starter and the pH drops, which is a safe environment to add sake yeast. Other weird stuff doesn’t get into the mix, making sure that the rest of the fermentation goes smoothly. Before brewers realized all of this and lactic acid was a thing of mystic powers, lactic bacteria in the air had to create lactic acid naturally in the yeast starter. This takes time and in unlucky instances, stuff happened in the mash that messed things up.

Cold snowy weather to the rescue! In places like Akita where the winters are pretty solidly cold, low temperatures keeps a lot of the wild bacterias and yeasts in check, even for Kimoto sakes. The result in a clean fermentation and you get sake. Ta-da.

Akita style Kimoto is also a little different from other Kimoto methods and Taiheizan Brewery was instrumental in spreading these techniques. Kodama san, the brewery president, as well as the Akita Prefectural Sake Association president, tells me proudly that his forefathers taught many brewers in his region.

A key difference in Akita style Kimoto is that while Kimoto yeast starters often used smaller wooden vats called hangiri to physically mash the rice with wooden poles, Akita style puts everything into one place. Because all the ingredients are in the tank at once, the rice soaks up all the water, making the mash very hard. No wooden pole is going to be able to get through it so electric “drills” are used instead.

Kimoto also uses less water because wild organisms love water so limiting the amount makes it safer and cleaner. But this again means a harder consistency…tough times for brewers!

So what do these taste like? Kimoto sakes can be clean as a whistle, aromatic and pretty or downright funky. It all depends on what the brewery is trying to do with this method. It’s not the how but the intention that dictates what we get as a final result.

So next time you pick up a bottle of Kimoto sake, make sure you take the time to think about how much work and effort went into the bottle. Or better yet, just drink it and have a good time.

What About Sparkling Sake?


My inclination to be sassy makes me want to say “What about sparkling sake?” when someone asks me this question.

Of course, I only say it in my head so I don’t become a social recluse but it comes from my frustration with the category, where the sakes can be fresh and beautiful, made with integrity, or strange and disjointed.

All too often, sparkling sake seems too much like a gimmick, where someone pondering the age old issue of “how do we get young people to drink sake?” came out of it the other end with an answer for a pop-drinking, sparkling water loving generation and culture that they weren’t part of. There’s also the notion that the export market will like sparkling sake and use it as a gateway to more serious sake. Not trying to be a Debbie-Downer. I promise.

Quite simply, when a consumer picks up a bottle of sparkling sake, it’s a game of chance.

To counter this perception and lack of consensus in the marketplace, the Japan Awasake Association was formed, who’s mission is to share knowledge and information between brewers making sparkling sake to improve quality and to set a standard for the category. The aim is to place sparkling sake amongst the top sparkling beverages of the world and promote it’s versatility in the marketplace. The association has also created a set of standards that producers must follow in order for the sparkling sake to be certified “Awasake” by the association.

**“Awa” means bubbles, so Awasake is in reference to sparkling sake.**

Awasake designation (from www.awasake.or.jp):

There are 6 requirements that must be met for a sparkling sake to be designated as a Awasake by the association:

1) The only allowable ingredients are rice, rice koji, water.

2) Awa sake must only use domestic rice and must be classified as above “grade 3” quality by agricultural testing. (this is done by the agricultural boards)

3) The bubbles must be from natural carbonation (traditional method)

4) Visually, the sake should be clear and the bubbles after the sake is poured into a glass should be consistent and persistent.

5) The alcohol must be over 10% abv

6) The pressure when the sake is at 20 degrees celsius should be 2.5 bars.

Additionally, the quality should remain consistent for 3 months at room temperature. It must also be pasteurized.

These sakes will have official Awasake stickers on the bottles, making it easier for identification.

I think this standardization is a great step in the right direction for the sparking sake category because it gives clarity to a consumer as to what goes into a certified Awasake. However, I also think there are sparkling sakes that will never be certified Awasake that are fun, easy and can be enjoyed without thinking about it too much.

Here are a couple of great sparkling sakes that don’t have Awasake certification for separate reasons. For the Mizubasho Pure, it’s now certified but as this association is brand new (2016), what’s currently in the market is pre-certification.

Hakkaisan Sparkling Nigori – a slightly cloudy sake that has notes of honeydew, Asian pears and tropical fruits. It’s been carbonated so although it will never be a certified Awasake. Nonetheless, a delicious sparkling sake with lots of potential for pairing potential.






Mizubasho Pure – Nagai brewery was one of the frontiers in making a traditional method sparkling sake. They researched for years how to utilize Champagne techniques in a sake context and was instrumental in forming this association. The Pure is clean with precise bubbles and a great mouthfeel.

Christmas in Japan = KFC?

The holidays is a time of year when family and friends gather around – what else – food. I grew up with roast beef (my favourite) alongside big bowls of white rice and soy sauce at the dinner table on Christmas Eve. Awkward conversations, ever-so drunken uncles and aunts, everyone’s got memories of this time of year: the good, the bad and the ugly. Whatever your story may be, eating and drinking is probably a part of it.

I’ve seen holiday dinners with pierogies, cabbage rolls, sushi and my favourite, KFC. In Japan, turkeys aren’t easy to find. Turkey legs or breasts maybe, but certainly not the whole bird. In the 1970s, Kentucky Fried Chicken found a way to market the Japanese obsession with all things American during the holidays by promoting buckets of KFC fried chicken as a Christmas treat, along with a snowy-white Christmas cake.

You can pre-order these dinners, which now include a bottle of sparkling wine. Maybe it sounds strange but maybe they were onto something; maybe they were a little ahead of the times, as hipster restaurants have sprung up in some of our favourite hipster neighbourhoods around the world serving up fried chicken and grower-Champagne. Whether you’re a Juke Chicken (YVR), Church’s Chicken or KFC fan, here are a few beverages to accompany your crispy, salty drumstick or two:

Kuheiji Eau du Desir 2015 – not quite sparkling but the way this eccentric brewery pasteurizes the sake leaves a little tingle on the palate. Delicious with a salty, not so spicy fried chicken recipe.


Tengumai Yamahai Junmai – brewed using the powers of natural fermentation and without adding lactic acid, this sake is salty, mouth-watering  and food-perfect. Drink slightly chilled for lots of acidity and umami. An easy pick for all things fried.


Hubert Paulet Premier Cru 2005 Rose – a grower Champagne producer who sells half their grapes to Billecart-Salmon, this elegant but nervy rose is made up of mostly Chardonnay, with a splash of Pinot Meunier. Fine bubbles with strawberries and soft herbs on the palate goes great with fried chicken knuckles at dim sum.

My trip to: Canmore Uncorked

On April 12th, I poured wine and sake for 400 people. I was scared. Do you know what 400 people at a wine tasting looks like?

It looks like this:


And this:


Honestly, I though doing a public tasting for 400 people by yourself wasn’t going to be too hard, until I realized that there was 400 people.  So I put on a brave face instead of curling up in a ball and waited for the masses or mean, gnarly, people ready to pounce on me if I didn’t give them what they wanted. What I faced instead were some of the nicest, friendliest, open-minded people I have ever met.

I got questions about sake that were insightful and people were genuinely curious. And no one came to me with a beer, ready to do a sake bomb. Figure that!

It shouldn’t really have been a surprise, considering that they live here: IMG_5273

And that the organizer of the event, Kevin, who owns Crush & Cork in town, is also one of the nicest, curious and passionate people I have come across. Doesn’t hurt that he’s got a kick-ass store (with beautiful new shelves, I might add) with a great sake and wine selection.

Even after 7 years of doing this, it’s always nice to be reminded that there are unexpected markets and people that get good sake and have passion for what they do. It makes it worth traveling to -30 degrees places to do sake dinners in the winter or carrying 30 cases of sake up the stairs for a delivery.  At least in hindsight!

Crush & Cork – Wine, Beer & Spirits – Canmore:

  • 117-1000 7th Avenue
    Canmore, AB T1W 2A7