Saturday, March 8, 2014

One Shot of Sake, and I’m Good.

“Are you still drunk?  Call me when you are sober.” 

Maria, my editor replied after she read my article about a drink called Lambanong.  It’s almost four years ago and the aftertaste of that clear drink from the mountains of Quezon still haunts me like a bottle was just emptied.

A fine drink is never about hangovers, and certainly never about unleashing your reckless self.  A fine drink should be able to take you places or take you in a journey within a journey. 

Coming back from a recent trip to Kyoto, Japan and when friends ask me what is my unforgettable moment in Japan; without even thinking about it, I still say it’s how, where, and why I fell in love with another clear drink called Sake. 


Kyoto is one of the regularly visited cities in Japan because of its gardens and temples.  In fact, most of the Zen gardens found in landscaping books are most likely found in Kyoto.

However, four train stations away from the center of Kyoto is a characteristic town called Fushimi.  While describing Fushimi, as clean & quiet town is an understatement since most of the towns in Kyoto are, what’s unique is when coming down from Tanbabashi Station are the bricked sidewalks, pebble-washed streets, and the maple-walled 16th century Sake breweries. 

Maple wood is a deluxe commodity because of its quality and scarcity; and what I fancy about the Maple wood is its texture and grain.  Seeing most of the houses in Fushimi clad in Maple wood that blend so well with its streets, and when touched by the sun creates the most beautiful contrast of colors, I can’t help but be intrigued what’s behind these maple-walled Japanese Sake breweries.

Indeed, “Nothing Beats Brewed”

Notice a Japanese chocolates’ beautiful packaging and a Bento box’s purposeful arrangement. Not only they are aesthetically served, but they also contain so much character, flavor, and history in every bite or shot; and not on missing quality, that’s why in Japan, quality does not come cheap.  I also remember a sign in one of the Sushi restaurants in Tokyo that says “no picture please and be quiet.”  Definitely not an anti-social note, but because Japanese chefs take things seriously and does not want to be disturbed. 

All the details inside a Sake brewery count.  During my visit to Fushimi, we got the chance to visit an old Sake brewery called Gekkeikan.  Gekkeikan Brewery has a long relationship with the town of Fushimi and has pretty much dictated the Maple walls of the town.   

Inside the Gekkeikan Brewery, visitors unconsciously lower their voices, and will naturally walk slowly.  Here people won’t mind your glacial pace, not like in some parts of Japan, walking as fast as a bicycle is highly advisable.  

Once inside and after opening that solid maple door, there’s a strange comfort of feeling calm, especially when entering the pocket gardens of the brewery.  Maybe because of the natural aura of the brewery that tells you that it has been here for more than 400 years already.  The sound the wooden flooring makes, the whistling of the 5-degree Kyoto wind when romancing the pine trees, the sound of the pebbles grappling with each other when walked upon, just simply blends together.

Inside you’ll only hear a Japanese chant they use when brewing Sake.  These chants do not only entertain the Japanese brewers, since they work in long hours, but to make better Sake.  According to some stories, songs in those days were nothing great, but to keep the rhythm and natural flow of Sake brewing in tact.

Sake brewers were not to be disturbed.  During the production months, women were not even allowed to loiter and socialize with the men inside the brewery.  Simply because they don’t want to be distracted.  I guess this is the only place in the world when sometimes women and drink don’t mix.

The brewing and fermenting is complex as well.  Trying to write it down here might not only spill the secrets too much but may also produce errors that are so much unworthy of the drink.  Simply put, after mixing mineral-free water (only from a well or natural source) with rice, it has to be drained, transferred to a steamer called “koshiki”, then put on a pot filled with boiling water.  

During it’s boiling, steam is separated and enters a hole in the “koshiki.”  The rice is now steamed for one hour.  Then this should be ready for fermentation.

Not only the brewing was sacred and pure, but also the choices of the paramount ingredients come to play when brewing.  From the select rice, to the mineral-free water used to mix with yeast during the fermentation, to the kind of baskets the brewers use when storing the Sake; all these are important ingredients when combined with the sacred and old process of brewing Sake, makes the Sake another clear drink to remember. 


I prefer to stay indoors this time.  Cafes and pubs, when in a different country, sometimes is a must to explore as much as you can.  After our time in Fushimi, inside the Gekkeikan brewery, and after buying several bottles of Sake to try, who wants to go out the heated hotel room to put on layers of jackets because of the 4-degree-ish cold temperature in Kyoto?

If steak is best with wine, and beer with pizza, I say Sake is definitely a match with Sushi and Sashimi.  My favorite is the Bizan Super; because of its 25% alcohol content (most Sakes have 18-20%, wine has 10-12%, and beer has 4-9%), it’s smoothness, warmth, and an insanely good match with our choice of Sushi.  Only few and uncounted shots, has left me in talking spree while having to enjoy the cold Japan gust sipping and whistling into the window of our hotel room that night. 

You see, Sake, to my personal experience, did not give me a hangover to ruin the rest of my stay in Kyoto.  Maybe because of the way we socially consumed it; but also finding out how it was made, the environment where it was made, and the great amount of respect for the people who made it.

Now I can say, just one shot, just one shot of Sake, and I’m good.


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