This year, for the first time ever, we’re bringing you a new way to experience our traditional New Year’s celebration– the VIP Tasting Room at Oshogatsu! This exclusive experience will give guests the opportunity to taste rare, high-end sakes, beer and even a specialty sake cocktail. Read on to hear more about the offerings in this first-ever VIP Tasting Room at Oshogatsu.
When sake was first brewed, over 2,000 years ago, it was served as an offering to the deities, and was revered as a very special and important drink. In those times sake was reserved mostly for the court elite. Today, sake plays an important role in many celebrations, such as weddings and holidays, but is most prominently featured at the New Year, or Oshogatsu.
Some sake traditions include the sipping of o-toso, an herbed sake meant to ward off illness and bring harmony to a family throughout the year, as well as bonenkai (literally “year-forgetting party”) that are held in December to put the worries of the past year behind, and shinnenkai – New Year’s parties where sake is served to ward off bad fortune and bring good tidings for the year to come.
You can see how sake permeates the New Year’s festivities in Japan. That’s why we’re bringing you an enhanced sake experience with the help of sake expert, Midori Roth, and Stacole Fine Wines. Here’s what’s in store at the VIP Tasting Room:
Chokaisan (Junmai Daiginjo)
Midori says: “This is one of the best sellers in this category [ultra premium sake]. It’s beautiful, aromatic and made using flower yeast.”
Takasago Ginga – Divine Droplet (Junmai Daiginjo)
Midori says: “This one has a unique story of filtering done in an igloo made specifically for pressing.”
Tentakajin – Soul of the Sensei (Junmai Daiginjo)
Midori says: “This is one of the most regarded sakes in Japan, made to honor the former brew master who was one of the four “Guardians of the Heavens” of the prestigious Noto Toji Guild.”
A note about sake grades:
Each of the sakes in the VIP Tasting Room is a Junmai Daiginjo – (june-my-die-gen-joe) – or ultra-premium sake. This means that the rice grains used in these sakes have had at least 50% of the original grain polished away. Sakes of this grade are considered the height of sake brewing craft and an embodiment of the brew master’s art. Junami Daiginjo sake is the most labor intensive grade of sake because it requires traditional tools and precise methods in addition to a long, cold fermentation period. Junmai Daiginjo sake is usually light and refined, with delicate, complex, and sophisticated flavors and elegant aromatics.
While beer isn’t as steeped in history and cultural significance as sake, it is still an important and popular drink in Japan. With brands like Sapporo and Kirin, Japan has certainly made a name for itself, but it’s the smaller craft breweries and microbreweries that have really brought Japanese beer to the world stage. These smaller breweries bring the well-known and highly regarded spirit of Japanese craftsmanship to brewing beer and place an emphasis on quality ingredients.
In the VIP Tasting Room you’ll sample three beers by Echigo Beer Co. Ltd. Echigo is Japan’s first microbrewery, and got its start as a small brewpub. Since its founding in 1994, Echigo has taken home top marks like the gold prize at the Millennium Competition in the U.K., the gold prize at the Monde Selection in Belgium (twice!), and second prize at the Australia International Beer Competition. The brewery is located in Niigata prefecture, the rice growing capital of Japan and home to the super-premium Koshihikari rice, short grain rice regarded as the best rice in all of Japan. Using 100% malt and non-genetically-modified beer yeast, Echigo produces a high quality beer.
So, what’s on the menu for the VIP Tasting Room? Glad you asked!
Echigo Koshihikari (gluten free rice beer)
The first craft beer imported from Japan, and the No. 1 selling Japanese craft beer in America, Echigo Koshihikari is the flagship brand of Echigo. This rice lager is gluten-free with 5% alcohol, and the rice is harvested– literally– from the backyard of Echigo Brewery. Though this beer is categorized as dry, the brewery is able to accentuate the underlying naturally sweet flavor from the Koshihikari rice. The beer has a crisp and refreshing flavor, and an exceptionally smooth quality. The sweet aroma of rice and elegant fragrance of hops make it the perfect complement to any Japanese dish, especially sushi.
The first genuine stout brewed in Japan, Echigo Stout is made with 100% malt and goes to- to-toe with authentic Irish stouts. This micro-brewed premium dark beer has a coffee color and a savory aroma, extracted from roasted malt, with a fruity fragrance produced by ale yeast. Echigo Stout is brewed with a blend of seven different types of malts (and more malt than regular beers) which creates depth of flavor and a balance of sweet malt with fresh, bitter hops. While other beers usually take about 28 days, the manufacturing process for Echigo Stout takes roughly 45 to 90 days, giving the stout a mellow quality.
Echigo Red Ale
This premium ale, characterized by its beautiful shade of deep red, is complex and refreshing. It has a refined aroma, and a balance between bitter and sweet, giving it mass appeal, even to those who usually drink light beers. It is brewed using carefully selected Amarillo hops for a pungent citrus nose, a sleek medium body and a noticeable bitterness.
“If a cocktail made with sake is pleasing to the palate, why should tradition stand in the way of progress?” – Hiroaki Aoki, Founder of Benihana.
Some say the sake cocktail began with the saketini, imagined by chef Matsuda San, at the World’s Fair in Queens in 1964. While we can’t say for sure, we do know one thing – sake makes a delicious cocktail! And what better way to blend the traditional Japanese New Year with our own, than hand crafted cocktails mixed with an ultra-premium sake? We’ve enlisted the help of Stacole Fine Wines and one of their favorite mixologists, to come up with a sake cocktail to round out our VIP Tasting Room menu. We aren’t able to reveal this very special drink just yet, but rest assured – it’ll be tasty!
Also in the Tasting Room
In addition to the flavorful samples, VIP Tasting Room guests will hear from sake expert, Midori Roth, on how sake is brewed and have the opportunity to ask any questions they might have. Guests will also receive a goodie bag stocked with Japanese snacks, a pair of tickets to any one of our five Sushi & Stroll evenings, and automatic raffle entry to win a one-year Morikami membership.
All in all, the VIP Tasting Room is a great way to sample and learn more about some of Japan’s most popular beverages, as well as how they fit into the wider celebration of Oshogatsu. Tickets are on sale now ($30 for members, $35 for non-members) and include entrance to the festival. Be sure to get your soon, there are limited quantities available. See you at Oshogatsu, and kanpai (cheers)!