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Where to find the world’s best sake

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(CNN)“No moon, no blossom. Just me drinking sake, totally alone.”

This melancholy haiku was penned by Japanese poet Matsuo Basho in 1689, shortly before he set off on a 1,200-mile journey through Tohoku, Japan’s vast northeast that reaches up to Hokkaido.
The trip is remembered in his celebrated travelog, “The Narrow Road to the North,” a classic of Japanese literature.
    A modern riff on the bard’s journey might take in the region’s hundreds of sake breweries — many of which are producing some of the best sake in Japan.
    Whether a sake tour will lead to inscribing timeless haikus is another matter.

    Award-winning sake

    The Tohoku region, led by sake brewers from Fukushima Prefecture, has been piling up gold medals at the Annual Japan Sake Awards for a number of years.
    “Tohoku has the highest reputation for sake in the country amongst people in the industry,” says John Gauntner, a sake expert and author of numerous books on Japan’s national drink, including “Sake Confidential.”
    At the annual sake award ceremony, convened by Japan’s National Research Institute of Brewing, hundreds of sake brands from breweries throughout Japan are rated and judged.
    For 2016, judges awarded breweries from Tohoku’s six prefectures a total of 147 gold medals out of a national total of 297.
    Melinda Joe, a Tokyo-based journalist and a sake judge and panel member at the International Wine Challenge — a separate sake-tasting competition — says that sake from Tohoku is characterized for having a light, clean and elegant style.
    “Tohoku sake has a little more voluptuousness — a little more to give,” says Joe.

    The

    Remote Senkin Shuzo, a family-owned brewery in Iwate, has been making sake since 1854.
    Yuri Yaegashi, one half of the current ninth-generation owners, recommends a brewery visit to the limestone-rich area in early summer or fall.
    While Ryusen Yaezakura is Senkin Shuzo’s award-winning sake, Yaegashi also recommends Mori no Takara, made with matsutake mushrooms, a local delicacy grown in Iwaizumi.
    “Matustake are very special mushrooms for Japanese that evoke nostalgia,” says Yaegashi. However, the aroma can be a little challenging.
    “Some people said it smells like socks,” adds Yaegashi.
    Further north, Takashimizu Brewery in Akita also welcomes visitors.
    Its award-winning Takashimzu sake brewed at its Goshono brewery strikes a balance by offering both a gentle fragrance and a refined taste, according to Yukiko Takahashi of Takashimizu.
    “It’s the type of sake that can accompany almost any meal, owing to its delicate but refined character,” Takahashi adds.

    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/20/foodanddrink/japan-tohoku-best-sake/index.html

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