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You are what you drink?

At the November Mitsuya benkyokai, Takase-sensei tried out a new tasting method on the group. He placed four glasses of sake in front of us and told us to guess what each of these four 720 ml bottles were priced at. Guessing grades is always a fun game, but price? Gee, I don’t know.

All of a sudden, the roomful of 26 people got really quiet and I felt a change in the air. Usually, at the benkyokai, we sit through
a 90-minute lecture, followed by a talk from a featured kura or brewer of the month, then finally a big tasting session with anywhere from 5 to 10 different sake from that kura. Benkyokai members are mostly what I call nihonshu otaku– they just love sake and know so much about it from years of these lectures and training. At this session, we spent an hour-and-a-half on blind tasting and comments from the group.

blind tasting

I picked up the four glasses one after another, just to go with aroma, then wrote down:

  1. ginjyo aroma – 2nd most expensive of the 4
  2. junmai– 3rd most expensive one
  3. bubble gum – most expensive
  4. alcohol – least expensive

When I tasted the set, I reversed glasses 1 and 3. The first one was rather quiet and did not have a distinctive personality to stand out, less aroma, very clean, a type that goes well with meals and I thought this was a tricky one – yes, I thought of those tricky Shizuoka sake from Robert-Gilles. As for the third one, I said straight forward ginjyo or daiginjo, nice balance. I liked the 3rd one the most, followed by the 2nd one.

Price? This is what I jotted down after the tasting:

  1. 1,600 yen – 1,800 yen
  2. 1,200 yen
  3. 1,500 yen
  4. 1,000 yen

I peeked over my left shoulder at this veteran sake connoisseur and was relieved to see not like me, she said 3 as most expensive and 1 as second, but other than that, we were pretty much in sync as far as the price range. I said, “We are in the same range.” “This is the range I drink usually.” she said. “Me, too.”

OK, I have a confession to make. When I buy a bottle of 720 ml sake, I never go over 1,500 yen. Therefore, daiginjo bottles we have at home are gifts from friends and family. On very, very rare occasions, Te-chan buys bottles over 1,500 yen, but that’s pretty special.

Then the reality check kicked in. Takase-sensei said to the group, “One hint–There’s a 2,500 yen price gap between the most and least expensive.” “Eeeeeeee!” The whole group gasped and tried to talk with one another to confirm their beliefs, doubts, or whatever they had in mind.

So, the verdict?

  1. Hagi-no-tsuyu Junmai Ginjo 1,680 yen
  2. Kaiun Junmai Hiyaoroshi 1,365 yen
  3. Tenjyu Chokai Daiginjo 3,570 yen
  4. Secchubai Futsushu 1,045 yen

When I read what I had written down, I guessed the grades OK, but I never would have guessed the daiginjo price range right. It simply did not register with me because I never buy that grade myself or rarely drink it. This price conscious self-claimed sake enthusiast came to an obvious realization: I have to buy and drink a more expensive and greater variety of sake! Especially, it hit me hard when I heard other people make comments like:
“This one just tasted like daiginjo from Shizuoka kura we always have with dinner”.
“I guessed 4th one is Secchubai, because it had such familiar taste I always had from my younger days”.

I thought I have been drinking fair amount of sake, but man, it’s never enough.

My version…
my version

And the answer


8 Responses to “You are what you drink?”

  1. Too bad I missed this one! Actually, it is always a loss when I can’t make it to benkyoukai, but this one sounded pretty fun. Takase-sensei’s lectures are always informative, but this sounds like it was an interesting change of pace.

    Guessing by price really puts people on the spot, but in a fun way. I can imagine the shock when Sensei announced the price differential between the top and bottom of the rankings. From your story, I guess that this tasting really drew out people’s own tastes and perspectives. We’ve talked about how we are all getting trained to a “Mitsuya palate”, but this seemed to encourage more discussion of what people have at home or elsewhere.

    Oh well, maybe next time….

    Posted by Te-chan | December 27, 2007, 10:07 am
  2. Love your new format!

    Here’s to a wonderful 2008!

    Posted by Jocelyn | December 30, 2007, 9:37 am
  3. Hey guys,

    Hope you had a merry Christmas! Looking forward to toasting with you in the new year. Yoi o-toshi wo!

    Take care and talk soon,

    Posted by Melinda | December 30, 2007, 10:48 am
  4. Wow! I just discovered your blog — MOST EXCELLENT! Thanks so much.

    I am working on some interviews with sake brewers in Fushimi for my blog, kyotofoodie.

    I hope I have some good Kyoto sake insights and info for everyone. Right now though I am studying up on saccrification, etc.

    Again, thanks for making this great content available!


    Posted by Peko Peko | January 4, 2008, 12:53 pm
  5. Hi Jocelyn, Happy New Year! I wish we have a lot of sake opportunities this year!

    Posted by Et-chan | January 7, 2008, 9:09 pm
  6. Hi Melinda, I’m still thinking about those wonderful food. Thanks again for the wonderful new year’s day.

    Posted by Et-chan | January 7, 2008, 9:11 pm
  7. Hi Peko, Thank you for your comment and I look forward to reading about Kyoto sake on your blog. Wow, you are really studying up sake!

    Posted by Et-chan | January 7, 2008, 9:26 pm
  8. Hey there!

    Have a great time at the meetup tonight. I’m so sorry, but I won’t be able to make it. The wine party was last night, but tonight I have a meeting with my boss. Gomen ne!!!

    But I did ask Philip to send a bottle of the bubbly to you. Actually, I just figured that you might want one so I went ahead and asked him yesterday morning.

    Take care and talk soon,

    PS – Have a good trip!

    Posted by Melinda | January 11, 2008, 10:51 am

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