Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Sipping Sake in Toronto

Our trip to Toronto this summer started out in misery when the air conditioning broke in our train car and by the time we arrived we were cranky, miserable, tired, and very hungry.

Ki's vast sake menu
Hubby and I debated dinner options and when he suggested modern Japanese restaurant Ki for dinner, I threw on some lipstick and off we went.  A soothing setting and pretty food was just what we needed to change our luck and put our weekend back on track, so to speak.

Three of many in our sake tasting
It turned out to be a brilliant choice.  The setting at Ki was chic, the dinner was delicious, the service was skilled, but by far the star of the show was Michael Tremblay.  Michael is Ki's Sake Sommelier.

Hubby is a big fan of sake.  On our last trip to Tokyo, he sampled many and loved a few but it was a mixed blessing. Even though we were being served memorable sake by Japanese experts, because of the language barrier we learned nothing about them.  Sadly, our Japanese is limited to, "do you speak English?", "hello," "goodbye," "it tasted good," "excuse me," and "thank you."

So here was Michael, an English speaking sake sommelier, and he was willing and able to share his vast knowledge with us.   We absorbed both his sake and his expertise like sponges.
Izumi president Ken Valvur

During dinner, hubby sipped things both rare and delicious, all the while discussing  the merits of each.  We've never met anyone as knowledgeable nor as enthusiastic as Michael. This was amazingly good fortune.

When we were about to call it a night, Michael gave us a final sake hot tip:  the Ontario Spring Water Sake Company or "Izumi" in Japanese, was producing some excellent sake out of Toronto's Distillery District, just a kilometre or so from where we were sitting right now. 

Of course the next morning we zipped right over.
A tasting flight

When we arrived at Izumi, President and founder, Ken Valvur was there taking a break between conducting personal tours so he told us about his sake and how it's made.

Izumi started operations in the winter of 2011 but with brilliant foresight, before making his first bottle, Mr Valvur sought the advice of master award winning sake brewmaster, Yoshiko Takahashi of Nagano.  She spent time at Izumi as an advisor, training staff and setting the operation on the right path.  Japan's Miyasaka Brewing Company, who has been brewing sake since the mid-1600's, served as consultants as well.  Such a depth of expertise at the outset could only portend good things.

We hadn't booked a tour in advance so we were content to sit at the tasting bar where hubby sipped his way through a "Tasting Flight" or two, each consisting of three different sakes.

Arabashiri "free run" sake
He described each as different and delicious in subtly different ways but he had a clear favourite:  the Arabashiri #23.  

We learned that the process of making the Arabashiri #23 was different from the rest.  The secret lies in the last step of the sake making process when the mixture of rice and liquid called moromi is placed in a cloth bag. The cloth bag is then placed in a press and pressure is applied to extract the liquid from the rice.

Before the bag is compressed, the liquid that runs freely from the cloth bag beforehand is called arabashiri.

Waste not, want not.  Leftover paste from the sake making process
Perhaps it was the sake talking, but when hubby sampled the Arabashiri #23, he heard notes, not words.  He described the sake in the tasting flights as skilled solo artists but the Arabashiri #23 as a symphony:  sweet, balanced and harmonious.

Naturally, we bought a few bottles to take home and share with friends.

If you'd like to sample or buy Izumi's arabashiri, you should plan your visit to coincide with their pressing days.  It's unpasturized and has a short shelf life so tempus fugit and follow their twitter feed. 
There was something for both of us at Izumi.  Before we left, I poked around the sake cooler and discovered little containers of sake kasu which is the ground, fermented,  boozy rice paste left over from pressing the maromi mixture.  I bought some to take home and play with in the kitchen.

When our weekend began so badly we thought that all was lost.  So Michael and Ken, thank you for resuscitating it with sake.

The tasting bar


Lost in Provence said...

I am glad that I didn't miss this! Definitely sounds like my kind of places. :)

Hannah said...

Despite being a complete lightweight and rarely, if ever, drinking, I've always wanted to learn more about sake and shochu. If only I could find a class or tasting like this locally! Sounds like a good time all around. ;)

Gustia said...

I'll meet you in Tokyo and we can both do some research! While I was at Izumi, I sampled a sorbet made with their Sake Kasu. I think you could definitely have done it justice.

meredith said...

I have never sipped sake. But I'm not ruling it out :)