THE GOCHISO GOURMET: Almost Sake

What is almost saké? Is it cheap saké that you purchased several years ago to use for cooking that has turned a healthy dose of brown? Nope. That’s past saké. Is it pure rice-based Shochu? Not really, that’s more like saké on steroids. What about these Asian inspired martinis that combine flavored vodka and saké? Almost, though you can’t purchase those libations pre-mixed, and must depend upon your favorite mixologist to concoct.

Then it must be pre-bottled saké infused with fruit flavors with a touch of sweetness. Bingo! A little like Asian Bartles & Jaymes. Whoa! Hear me out before you use this column to line your kitty litter box.

Takara Saké

The company had very humble beginnings in the 1840s when Unosuke Yomo started producing mirin (sweet rice wine for cooking) and shochu in Fushimi, Kyoto. In the 1920s, Takara Shuzo Co. Ltd. was established, though it took almost 60 more years before the company started operations in Berkeley. Since the 1980s, Takara Saké USA has introduced a steady stream of products including namazake (unpasteurized saké), premium Ginjo saké, organic namazake, rice fermented vodka (Kissui vodka) and the fruit flavored saké line through their Hana line of saké products. Almost saké.

Hana Flavored Saké

The Hana line of flavored saké includes Fuji Apple, Lychee, Raspberry and Plum. The flavored saké starts as traditional brewed saké but then is blended with fruit flavors to create the flavored saké. They are meant to be chilled and served either as aperitif before dinner, with dinner for specific types of cuisines or after dinner as a delightful liquid dessert. And at about $10 per bottle, you won’t need a king’s ransom to purchase these beverages.

Do I Actually Drink These?

Lycee and raspberry sake, photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Why, yes. They do make refreshing fruit flavored beverages on those hot summer afternoons and because the alcohol content is about the same as imported beer (8 percent), impaired concentration (and driving) isn’t a concern with 1 or 2 glasses. And though these aren’t the first saké I think of when consuming sushi or sashimi, they do occupy a little niche in my own personal list of wine and food pairings. I feel that they are perfect liquid companions to Vietnamese, Thai and spicy Chinese cuisine due to their subtle sweetness and low alcohol level and fruity qualities. The low alcohol content doesn’t magnify the chili pepper burn in spicy cuisine; the fruit flavor complements the flavors of sweet basil, fresh shrimp, fresh spices and coconut milk found in Southeast Asian cuisine; and the subtle sweetness also balances the heat from chili peppers.

These flavored saké can also be used in the kitchen. Instead of using simple fruit juice and sugar to macerate fresh berries, substitute equal portions of these flavored saké: Raspberry for fresh red berries, Lychee for mixed melons and Fuji Apple for fresh stone fruits. Add some chiffonade fresh mint and lemon zest and you have the perfect fruit salad.

Or you could decide to forego food entirely and try one of these libations. Be forewarned that vodka increases the incoherence factor logarithmically so make sure you have a designated driver or better yet, stay at home.

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa and University of California at San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kaneohe, Hawai‘i and can be reached at gochisogourmet@yahoo.com.

Saké Inspired Martinis

1 1/2 ounce litchi flavored vodka

3/4 ounce Hana Lychee saké

Fresh or canned litchi on cocktail skewer

Raspberry Saké Martini

1 1/2 ounce raspberry flavored vodka

3/4 ounce Hana Raspberry Saké

Fresh raspberry on cocktail skewer

Fuji Apple Saké Martini

1 1/2 ounce vodka

3/4 ounce Hana Fuji Apple Saké

Peeled, cubed fresh Fuji apple on cocktail skewer

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