Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tokushima Sake Festival 2011

De- received some free tickets for a sake festival that took place in Tokushima last weekend (February 26th). Since I have really come to appreciate the subtle differences in taste between sakes (and like to be a lush every once in awhile), me and her headed up to Tokushima at 7:00AM that lovely Saturday morning in order to get there by 9:00 and get an early start on sake taste-testing by 10:00, which is when the doors opened on the main facility. Once the doors opened, we got our cute little sake tasting cups and headed off to try doing a "sake taste-testing contest" before our tongues weren't sharp enough to taste the subtleties.
The contest was set up so that you could try taste-testing four different types of labeled sake from the same company (a local company) first, and then try and guess which type of sake was which from five unlabeled bottles (one was meant to trick you). It was really difficult, and we both only got one right (if you got three right, you got a prize, and all four right was a better prize).

The other awesome thing that the festival allowed was the public viewing/touring of three local breweries (which, according to my friend, is pretty rare and she was REALLY excited about). The process of making sake can take weeks or months, depending on what type of sake is being made, the alcohol content, the degree to which the rice is polished.... it's all really quite confusing and labor intensive, but the end result is yummy so it's worth a short look at.

First, rice is picked and polished down to the appropriate size for the grade of sake that is being made (the more polishing, the finer the sake and the smaller the rice grains are once they are done being polished). Then, the rice is washed (in a very labor intensive process), steamed, and brought to hot rooms where they make koji. Koji, which is a mold that is dusted over the steamed rice, develops over a span of a few days, sitting in the hot room and growing on the steamed rice.

Then the koji rice is transferred to these large vats and mixed with yeast and more steamed rice so that the yeast can grow. The mixture (called a mash) is then transferred to even larger vats and left for days/weeks/months to stew and ferment (all the while being mixed, having water added to it... in general its tended very well). Although I didn't get pictures of them, the next process is pressing, in which the rice and sake is pressed through a machine so that only the liquid is removed and the left-over rice stays in the press. Filtration, pasteurization, and aging of the sake follows this process and ends up on millions of shelves across the world in lovely little bottles.

The coolest part of touring the breweries was being able to taste fresh-pressed sake! One of the breweries (whose sake I liked best of all) had the sweetest fresh-pressed sake I've ever tried, while the other's had quite the bite to it, and I wasn't as much of a fan. After touring the breweries (and receiving gifts for being one of the first 200), we went back to the main hall so we could try some sake! There were 38 breweries present with 38 different types of sake to test, but no, I did not try all of them. Tasting sake is actually a really tiring activity and after testing 15 I was spent. I mostly went around trying the types of sake that were in my favorite category (ones with more "flowery" tastes and a sweeter base). The way you poured sake for yourself was also really neat, and the glass containers looked like fancy, human-sized hamster watering devices (I want one!!!).

Since the festival took place in Tokushima, and was only for Shikoku breweries, we of course had to stop at my De-'s brewery's area and try it in comparison (it stood up very well to the rest, of course!). All in all, the day was very fun, very informative (not terribly drunk), and a little tiring.

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