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From Ancient Methods to Autumnal Rarities: Miki Ellis Schools us on Sake

The Curve is a column dedicated to exploring and feeling out the corners of complex, multi-dimensional, often hierarchical and always completely random subjects. The aim is to inform readers – in progressive, graduating fashion – on everything from gin and poems to cheeseburgers and trees.

For this edition of The Curve, rice wine pro and co-owner of Dachi Restaurant, Miki Ellis, takes us on a quick tour of sake – from beginner through to extra credit:


What would you recommend for someone who has little or no knowledge about sake, but is curious to find out more? For someone new to sake, I recommend starting with a diverse selection to appreciate its stylistic range. Begin with a crisp Honjozo style sake, which is light, dry, and has a rice-like flavour. Next, introduce a Ginjo or Daiginjo sake (which can be Junmai or not), known for its aromatic, layered complexity and delicate fruit notes. Finally, explore a Junmai Kimoto or Yamahai sake, like Tengumai. This variety is full-bodied, rich in umami, and savoury, making it exciting for food pairings. It’s particularly intriguing to pair with robust dishes like pasta with tomato sauce or a big ol’ steak. This progression from a classic, clear style to one with abundant umami offers a unique experience and broadens the understanding of sake pairings beyond the typical sushi accompaniment. That contrast really expands peoples` ideas of what a sake pairing can be.


What about for the person who is already a sake drinker, but would like to expand their palate? Over the last few weeks, hiyaoroshi sake have arrived in Canada. These are seasonal sake released in autumn. They are typically pasteurized once after brewing, then laid through the summer to meld their profiles and develop umami. Look out for the Shichida, Yoshi no Gawa, and Oku no Matsu hiyaoroshi, and taste the fresh flavours of fall in a glass! We’ve had one or two land in the province before, but this is the first time that we’ve seen any of these three bottles. Although the release of the hiyaoroshi sake is a celebration that exists in the industry in Japan, it hasn’t happened here. You would have heard about it if you had done a course on sake, or if you’d done any personal research, but you wouldn’t have got your hands on any to try it. That’s changing. And, price point wise, they are super accessible. The concept is fun, we’re excited. I know a couple of izakayas in town have it; Dachi has it, and we’re loving it paired with roasted parsnips in brown butter, or the rich seared chicken dish that we have on the menu right now.


What would you pour for a person who is already knowledgeable, but wants to take their sake drinking game to the next level? I think the Bodaimoto style of sake is really interesting. Dating back 500 years, it was originally a holy expression being made by the priests in Nara, Japan. About a decade ago, a handful of brewers decided to resurrect the style. I think there are only two or three in our province right now and, flavour profile wise, it’s more challenging. Bodaimoto tend to have a bit more sweetness because of the unique brewing method, and they tend to be naturally more… natural. They are sometimes wild, savoury, and honeyed; sometimes they are super precise. Some expressions begin with a nutty oxidative sherry vibe on the nose; on the palate are honeyed, sweet and thick; and finish funky – the whole experience is a lot! And as cool as this one is for the advanced sake drinker, it’s also a fun tasting for people who don’t know sake at all.


Exploring the World of Japanese Craft Sake by Nancy Matsumoto and Michael Tremblay is a fantastic book that does a great job of blending the storytelling and history of sake (what I find most magical about it) with the technical side. I think it’s a great read for someone new to sake as much as it is engaging for someone more expert. It makes for a great gift too! Lovely pictures, easy to get into, and full of information, without being too dense. Available at Mucker.

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