Okunomatsu Sake Dinner at Yuwa

Hi Sake Friends,

Hope everyone’s keeping cool during this hot weather we’re having!
I wanted to let you know about a sake dinner that’s coming up in August.

Yuwa Japanese Restaurant (formerly Zest) and Blue Note Wines & Sake are hosting a sake dinner featuring Okunomatsu Sake Brewery from the Tohoku region of Japan. This brewery just won the 2018 IWC (International Wine Challenge) Champion Sake Award, beating out hundreds of sake to win the top prize for their Okunomatsu Adatara Ginjo sake.

This dinner will be the sake premiere for Okunomatsu into BC. There’s so many new and interesting sake coming into our market now, as sake continues to gain fans across the globe.

Representatives from the brewery and Blue Note will be on-hand to share stories about the brewery and help with any questions you might have about sake.

Here is the link to register and info for the kaiseki dinner.

Hope you can make it to this very special event!


Sunday Sake at Well Seasoned


Hi Sake Lovers!

There’s a special event coming up I thought you’d like to know about:

Eat, sip and learn at Well Seasoned!
Taste some amazing food & sake, March 5th at Well Seasoned. Chef Carl Sawatsky,  Toji (Master Sake Brewer) Yoshiaki Kasugai from YK3 Sake Producer Inc, and I will share our love for pairing sake with an emphasis on non-traditional dishes. Guests will learn how to make these delicious meals, enjoy them with YK3 Brewery’s sake and learn some fun facts about Japan’s national drink. Learn the depth & breadth sake has to offer!

Here’s the food lineup and sake pairings:

YK3 Junmai – paired with Pork Belly Miso Ramen
YK3 All-Koji Junmai – paired with Mushroom Risotto with Steak
YK3 Nigori – paired with Bocconcini with Grilled Raddiccio, Proscuitto Hazelnuts and Cherry Balsamic Reduction
YK3 Nama Junmai – paired with Vegetable Fritto Misto with Bagna Cauda Sauce

Sunday, March 5, 2017 6:30-9pm
$80 pp

Here’s the link to sign up for a spot. Seats are limited.


Hope to see you there!


Sake Fest Vancouver


Come for the first ever dedicated sake festival in Vancouver on September 29th! Most of the importers for sake in BC will be in attendance. The Sake Association of BC (SABC) currently represents 12 importers in our market. There will be over 100 sake to sample and many brewery representatives will make the journey from Japan for this special event!

I am honoured to do the trade seminar with my good sake buddy, Miki Ellis! If you are trade and are interested in our sake talk/tasting, please contact the SABC.

Hope to see you there!





Watari Bune Rice Fields: a pilgrimage

DSC01206Watari Bune Rice Fields in Ishioka, Ibaraki

Watari Bune is an heirloom sake rice and father strain to the ‘King of Sake Rice’, Yamada Nishiki (the mother strain is Yamada Ho). The photo above was taken a few days before harvesting in early October. I was fortunate to be invited to view the rice at its peak in Ishioka, Ibaraki Prefecture, about an hour by train from Tokyo. It was my first time to see an actual sake rice field at its heightened glory and it was everything I imagined it to be: absolutely glorious and stunning.

To hear the shimmying of the stalks, the wind rustling through the spaces in between the tall grasses, to know by the following spring, the fields’ contents would transform into one of my all-time favourite sake, standing amidst the rice fields was me (the sake geek that I am), akin to a religious experience.

Sake rice is very different than the table rice you eat. Physically it is much larger in size and has a visible centre starchy core and contains less proteins, compared to table rice (hanmai). Brewers want to get to the grain’s centre for that’s where highly concentrated starches reside, which will, with the help of koji enzymes, turn to glucose for sake yeasts to then convert to alcohol. Because sake rice grains have that characteristic centre starch core, it enables a more precise ability to harvest the starch (via rice milling/polishing), leaving behind more of the fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals residing around the outer regions of each grain.

Why do we want to limit the fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals?  Well for sake making, these extra elements will be additional food for the yeast, apart from the much-needed starch, potentially pushing fermentation to run its course too fast. As well, the extra elements may alter flavour and texture.This might be fine in some cases, but if the intention is to make a higher grade sake which requires a longer, slower fermentation, then controlling the raw material content by using sake rice is one of a myriad of options. Since brewers know well that sake rices’ starches are predictably at the centre of the grain, they can polish the rice to a percentage that eliminates most of the undesired outer elements. And by the way, this is not to say great sake can’t be made with rice not designated ‘sake rice’ (Shuzo kotekimai). No siree, not at all.

Getting back to the methodic yellow and green sway of the Ishioka rice fields, one of Watari Bune’s distinctive characteristics is the long tail that hangs from the string of grains from each stalk (see pic below).

Unused for many decades due to its temperamental cultivation: prone to breakage due to its top-heavy nature and much longer growing season. It wasn’t until 1989 when Takaaki Yamauchi of Huchu Homare Sake Brewery sought to revive the rice strain that once flourished in his hometown area of Ibaraki, after hearing from a local farmer how good the sake made with legendary Watari Bune was. He obtained a handful of Watari Bune seeds from the governmental research office at the ministry of agriculture.  By 1991, he was able to grow and harvest enough rice to produce a tank of sake made from Watari Bune rice.

Due to his efforts in reviving the near-extinct sake rice, many breweries are now rediscovering native rice in their own regions, so that these may once again, be showcased and celebrated as truly local sake.

WSET Level 3 Award in Sake comes to BC!


The newest certification in sake is also sake’s most ambitious. The WSET Level 3 Award in Sake tries to go beyond what other sake courses (in English) offer, by going further in-depth into sake’s raw materials, production methods and processes, as well as creating the WSET’s industry-standard, Systematic Approach to Tasting, specifically for sake.

Nothing can beat going to Japan and visiting real sake breweries, seeing for yourself how sake is made. But if you want a good basis for embarking further into your sake journey, then this course may be the ticket.

I am honoured to teach the first WSET sake course in Vancouver, BC., along with my dear sake colleague, Marcus Pakiser, recent awardee of Sake Samurai, we will teach the course together. Between us, we have over 30 years experience in sake–both of us have made sake commercially so we understand the processes implicitly, and we share a deep appreciation for learning and sharing our sake knowledge.

This will be the first WSET sake certification course in Western Canada. If you’re interested in becoming one of the first in BC to receive the certification and learn from one of only 60 of Sake Samurai in the world, you can find out more via Vinoscenti’s website, or feel free to contact me. Dates for the first certification will be March 11-13, 2016 with exam a week later.

The 3-day  intensive will include a visit to YK3 Sake Brewery, a local producer of sake in Richmond, BC. A real Toji–master sake brewer–runs this brewery. This will help ensure students truly understand how sake is made–a rare opportunity.

Join us for what is sure to be a great sake adventure!











Nihonshu Noel

nihonshu noel 1.jpg

December Greetings!

It has been a crazy year, and through the ups and downs the constant has always been sake! In the current edition of The Bulletin, the monthly magazine published by the Japanese Canadian Citizens Association, I have a few sake gift suggestions.

We are getting more and more interesting sakes into the BC market. Get out there and explore the myriad of flavours and aromas each sake possesses and find what fits your palate.

Some suggestions on where to find sake in Vancouver:

Legacy Liquor Store in the Olympic Village neighbourhood has a dedicated sake fridge. The sake is stored cold and therefore fresher, as it doesn’t degrade as fast.

Kitsilano Wine Cellar on 4th Ave has a great sake selection. If you like the big magnum-sized sake bottles called isshobin (1.8L), Kits has the largest selection in town.

BC Liquor Store – Cambie and 39th – has more sake than most of the government liquor stores. That’s not saying much, but if you don’t want to pay the extra retail markup at private stores, this is one of the few government-run stores with a better-than-the-usual-pathetic selection.

Viti Wine and Lager located in Downtown Vancouver, has some interesting sakes, many of which lie in the fridge. However, last time I was there buying a few sakes, the clerk asked me what I was buying. They had no clue it was sake. I gladly explained what it was and why the sake was so cool. That’s kinda sad and certainly doesn’t help to support sake. Education is the key, but nonetheless their buyer has chosen some nice sakes. If you can find it on your own, then you’re golden.

(Updated) Lulu Island Liquor Store in Richmond (no website) has a very decent selection of sake, and prices are good here. It may seem a bit drab from the strip-mall exterior, but don’t let that detract you from going in–there’s good sake to be found within.

Happy Holidays! I hope you have a wonderful holiday season filled with much sake.







Upcoming: Vancouver’s Largest Sake Tasting Event – October 10th!

Sake Night Thumb 3

Happy Belated Sake Day!  October 1st is Nihonshu no Hi — the official start to the sake brewing season in Japan. There are many events going on this month and we are fortunate to have Western Canada’s largest sake tasting event to coincide with October’s global sake celebrations.

Tonari Gumi’s 14th Sake Tasting Event will be held on October 10th, 2015 from 7:00-9:30pm at the Coast Coal Harbour Hotel. More info can be found on the event’s Facebook page. This fundraising event to help support Tonari Gumi’s social programs for seniors and new immigrants is vital to the organization.

Tickets are $75 per person, in advance until October 9th, and there’s also VIP tickets you can purchase which are $95. VIP’s get a special seminar and exclusive tasting prior to the event start. Go to their FB page for more details.

Along with a huge selection of sakes — 13 importers from the SABC, the Sake Association of BC, will be on-hand to pour and share great stories about their sakes — there will be a ton of nibbles to accompany the array of nihonshu you’ll be able to taste. Well-known local restaurants such as Forage, Octopus’ Garden, Minami and Hapa Izakaya will be preparing delicious appetizers for the event. A silent auction with lots of goodies will be available as well.

Sounds like a fun night and all the money goes to helping a worthy cause. Hope to see you there!

To find more about Tonari Gumi and their programs, please check out their website. They have many events going on year-round, including special food and sake events. I did a great seminar at their new facility back in March and it was a lot of fun. So please go check out their website for other upcoming events.



Ming Pao Feature on Sake


I was fortunate to be featured in last Sunday’s Ming Pao Newspaper in Vancouver. The Ming Pao is one of the largest Chinese daily newspaper chains based in Hong Kong, with overseas outposts at several major Canadian cities.

I recently received my Level 3 Award in Sake by the WSET, one of the world’s largest wine/spirits educators based in London, England, with schools that offer certifications across the globe. Being the first female in Canada to pass the examinations, the newspaper wanted to ask me some key questions about sake. I will be teaching the course as well, and hope to set something up in Vancouver.

I was happy they focused on how sake can be paired with food outside the realm of Japanese. Chinese food, in particular, goes wonderfully with sake. Because sake has so much umami–the 5th flavour/sense–and Chinese food has great amounts of umami–natural or sometimes added (msg)–the two elements match exquisitely.

Ah, Dim sum with a nice junmai ginjo or a sturdy junmai!

Steamed Chicken’s feet, a dim sum standard which I love, pairs nicely with Shichihonyari Gin Fubuki Junmai, a new offering in the BC market. Instead of warm tea, try a warm version of Fuji Takasago Yamahai Junmai Ginjo with dumplings like har gow or sui mai and don’t forget the cheung fun–a steamed rice noodle wrapped in shrimp, beef, or mushroom variations, topped with a light kiss of oil and soy sauce.

The article also talks about how sake goes well with pizza–yes that’s right, pizza!

Sake is extremely versatile and with less than a third of the acidity of wine (some experts say lesser), the ability to match all manner of international foods with sake is endless.

All this talk of sake and food is making me hungry!



Sake Book Review


Please check out my short review of John Gauntner‘s long-titled new book, “Sake Confidential: a beyond-the-basics guide to understanding, tasting, selection & enjoyment” at Eat North.

I also include a recipe for a sake hot toddy, which is the perfect warmer for this chilly fall weather we’re having of late.



Yoshi no Gawa Sake Tasting in Richmond


This Friday, October 17th, you can meet in person, Koji Kawakami, president of Yoshi no Gawa Sake Brewery from Niigata, Japan. He will be making a special appearance at Toku Restaurant in Richmond, BC, pouring some special sakes for customers. The restaurant, located at Lansdowne Mall, will be offering specials upon purchase of a bottle of Yoshi no Gawa to celebrate Kawakami-san’s visit. Above, is a photo of me with Kawakami-san (L) and Patrick Ellis (R), president of Blue Note Wines & Spirits, Canadian importer of Yoshi no Gawa.

Kawakami-san tells me that his brewery was established in 1548, and is the 5th oldest continuously operating sake brewery in Japan. They have never stopped producing in over 460 years! That’s pretty amazing–and something tells me they have a pretty good handle on making sake because of it. Because of its long-standing history, Yoshi no Gawa is also Niigata prefecture’s oldest brewery, so in fact, they are pioneers in this famous sake-producing region.

Kawakami-san will be in attendance starting at 6pm. Please say hello to him and taste some of his lovely sake.