Monday, October 28, 2019

All About Sake

We spent our second day in Hakone visiting a local sake brewery; then later on, a dinner at our hotel specially crafted for us to pair with a few bottles produced there. Hakone area, or to a wider extent, Kanagawa Prefecture, was probably not the most prolific sake producing area in Japan, but with the water coming from the nearby Tanzawa Mountain long considered one of the best underground water source in the region, there are a number of decent breweries around. (Of course it won’t hurt by its proximity to the capital and the local demand from the popular travel destination of Hakone nearby)

Anyway, early in the morning after our breakfast at Hiramatsu Resort, a car was arranged to take us to Inoue Shuzo about an hour away. At the brewery we were hosted by George, whose uncle now handled the everyday operation of this family business, now over 200 years old and in its sixth generation. Late September was probably the quietest month in terms of the brewery’s operation, with the new brewing cycle won’t start until a month later after the new crop of rice was harvested and the weather has cooled down to allow optimal temperature for fermentation. Nonetheless, George walked us through sake making process from how the rice was steamed, koji was cultivated in the special room as a main component for the yeast starter, then went through the cycles of fermentation in large tanks in the cool warehouse. Finally near spring time the sake was pressed, pasteurized and bottled.

We finished our tour at the tasting room where we got to try a few of the bottles produced at the brewery. Their top of the line Hakoneyama Junmai Daiginjo was no doubt great, made with 100% yamadanishiki rice and with dry and balanced flavor, but I was even more interested in a couple of their bottles made with rice grown locally which reflect the true characters of terroir. The Yumetakeo Junmai was made using the new breed of “gin no sato” rice grown locally in the town and milled to 70%. I think it has more body to it with good acidity and reckon it worked brilliant with food (preferably local dishes).

In the same evening Chef Kenjiro prepared for us a special menu paired with some of the bottles from the brewery, still in the same style of combining Italian cooking and local ingredients and elements of washoku. We began with the trio of canapes similar to the previous night but this time it’s sausage made using Atami wild boar meat and the seasonal tanbaguri chestnuts (served with tapenade sauce), tomatoes and gougere (made with 3 types of cheeses). That’s followed by pheasant meatballs served in a leek broth (in a heated earthenware casserole) plus risotto mixed with cheese and jinenjo (the local wild mountain yam)

The pasta course was then served, and this time it’s matsutake mushrooms and seared anago with spaghetti in a creamy sauce – I love this unusual combinations and the contrast of creamy and earthy flavors. The fish was said to be delivered fresh from the nearby Ito Bay – it’s steamed Kinmedai (goldeneye snapper) served with a dab of miso and a small slice of bottarga. I love the addition of plum in the sauce for the sweet and acidic taste.

Our main course was Nanatani Duck from Kyoto, with breast, thigh and heart seared on a skewer with gingko and served with poached daikon wrapped with bacons topped with a seared foie gras with the perfect crust. I like all the contrasting tastes and textures. We were impressed with the cheese course too – we wouldn’t necessarily describe ourselves as cheese snob but they did have a good selection to satisfy our palate and the staff was super knowledgeable to give us recommendations. At the end it’s the dessert of caramel mousse served in a milk chocolate sphere and marinated pear icecream, plus the petit fours of matcha dacquoise, financier and chocolate.

I love the all sake pairing that went very well with the dishes, with the bottles coming from Inoue Shuzo. We started our evening with a sparkling sake made using Methode Champenoise (light and refreshing), followed by the Hakoneyama Junmai Daiginjo, then the Junmai Ginjo. Both differed by the milling ratio and also the rice used. The Junmai daiginjo came with more delicate flavor which worked well with the lighter peasant meatball stew, while the Junmai ginjo with a more distinct banana taste worked well with the slightly heavier fish course. I thought it would be a challenge to find something to go with the duck, but I like the namazake (unpasteurized sake) being poured. Slightly richer with a lower milling ratio and higher alcohol content (it’s bottled unfiltered), it does has the body to stand up again the rich meat course.

(Dinner and stay was hosted by the PR team of Hiramatsu Hotels & Resorts. Opinion my own. More photos can be found here:

When? September 28 2019
Where? Hiramatsu Resort Sengokuhara, 1245-337 Sengokuhara, Hakone, Ashigarashimo-gun, Kanagawa, Japan
Menu Highlights?
Roasted Kyoto Nanatani duck, daikon and foie gras
(All from Inoue Shuzo, Kanagawa Prefecture 神奈川県 井上酒造)
Hakoneyama “Sweet Heart” Sparkling Junmai Sake  箱根山 スウィート・ハート 発泡純米酒
Hakoneyama Junmai Daiginjo 箱根山 純米大吟醸
Hakoneyama Junmai Ginjo 箱根山 純米吟醸
Senmeijo Muroka Junmai Namazake  仙鳴郷 無濾過純米生酒 
Inoue Shuzo:
Hiramatsu Resort Sengokuhara:

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