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Day 13

Kyoto - Sake appreciation course

sunny 11 °C
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Spent the day sorting stuff out and getting a few things organised for the week ahead. We also didn't want to cram too much into today as we knew it would be a lateish kind of night. We popped over to Kyoto station and sorted out tickets to get us to Gifu-Hashima tomorrow but that was about it.

I'd booked us on a 3 hour sake appreciation course as I certainly knew that I liked some sake, but had no clue why or really any idea about it at all. Well we definitely know a lot more now! We get a cab out to the meeting place as the guides have said it can be tricky to get to. We're met by two guides - Kotaro (who is a sake sommelier) and Momoko (who used to work in a brewery). The tour starts at 3 and will finish around 6.

We are expertly guided through a sake museum with laminated A3 cards explaining all the different information and processes clearly in English. We learn why Kyoto was the Japanese sake capital. We learn why it should be called nihonshu but only if it is produced in Japan. Sake, in Japanese, is simply alcohol. O sake, using the honorific, specifies japanese alcohol, but it could just as easily be whiskey. Nihonshu is specifically sake or rice wine. Now underneath the umbrella term of Nihonshu there are a number of varietals. And everything matters. The water, the rice, the rice polish level, the process. It's overwhelming.

Every year, at the beginning of the sake season (when the weather starts to cool down), a ball made of cedar leaves is hoisted above the door of the brewery. It is left up there for the entire brewing year. When first put up there, it is naturally a ball of green, but over time the leaves die and naturally change colour - an homage to the passing of the seasons and the time.

We're taught about aroma, and acidity, and the kanji that represents the kind of sake rice (Yamadanishiki). It's an endless list of information to remember and thankfully they're going to send us a PDF of it all. At the end of the tour we get to taste the local ground water (much better than the bore water at the farm dad!) in the sake cups we've been given as a gift. We then move inside to try out three of the varietals the brewery has on offer.

Time is then spent in the gift shop before we shuffle down the street to a back room of a small bar/restaurant. We have 7 varietals placed in front of us with a serious looking tasting sheet. Kotaro teaches us even more and tells us what to look for in each glass. It's amazing! Snack foods are then brought out to us and we are told which sake to pair with which food and why.

My favourite so far has been a dry 25 year old sake. We are told that we westerners eat and drink differently to the Japanese. We'll have a drink and then something to eat, then a drink again. Whereas the Japanese will put food and alcohol in their mouth together to create a new flavour. With that being said, Kotaro asks us to put a piece of cream cheese in our mouth, take a mouthful of the aged nihonshu and chew. OMG. Seriously. OMG. It was so good I bought 4 bottles to bring home with me! And it's cheap! A 25 year old aged nihonshu is about $40 a bottle aud. These are small 390ml bottles so only cost 1,700 yen each. Bargain!

As everything starts to come to an end it's about 6.30 and we ask Momoko where to eat. She directs us to Fushimi Sakagura Koji. It's a food hall with 120 local sakes! We are once more the only Westerners wandering around the streets in the dark and as luck would have it, we take a wrong turn and end up at a local little shrine. Bow out, sorry gods, and around the correct corner and we find the koji. Wow. No English is spoken by anyone around but it doesn't matter. Em and I choose a little restaurant tucked into the corner. I end up ordering karaage chicken and rice, Em orders mapo tofu and somehow also orders dumplings (chinese style). I choose a sake and the waiter/chef points and says amaidesu. Ah, sweet. Kekko desu - no thanks. Point to the next one - dry he says. Done!

The food comes and is delicious. The chicken is not at all greasy and Em thoroughly enjoys hers as well. The dumplings come out and they look like pork possibly but we're not sure. The guys are having a hard time with a leaking sink so I leave it until they are not as busy and I sumimasen. Kore wa toriniku desuka? Is this chicken? Ie - pork. Tragedy averted and Em has to eat all 4.

Dinner done, all of about 35 AUD and we're off to find a cab home. Easy done and we're swiftly driven home by a chirpy cab driver who asked where we were from. Ōsutoraria . He excitedly says G'day with the thickest most adorable Japanese accent. He and I chatted a bit as we drove home and had a lovely time.

Most people we've found are delightful. Cab drivers are generally cagey but a well spoken arigato gozaimasu tends to get you in their good books.

We're home and it's been a long day. Tomorrow we catch an early shinkansen to Gifu-Hashima for Em to do her samurai knife making experience and we're tired and excited in equal measures. Lights are off early in preparation for the day ahead.


Posted by nattybats 10:13 Archived in Japan

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Sounds like an amazing experience. Liberal quantities of alcohol. Can see you having to buy more cases :-}

by greynomadm

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