Philip Harper at Binocho

Philip Harper’s tasting at Bincho

10/08/09 20:58 Filed in: Sake

BSA Event, June 12th, 2009

One of sake’s greatest pleasures – and strengths – is that it can be served happily at a wide range of temperatures. I think the ideal drinking venue is one where people think about serving temperature for me – or allow me to play around by myself. At our event this time, we served a range of sakes simultaneously at three different temperature ranges, an ambitious project requiring a high level of organization – provided this time with light footwork and gracious service by the team at Bincho restaurant in Soho. My heartfelt thanks to them, to the guests who made the time to come, the kind people who supplied sake, and the BSA staff who organized the event, particularly, this time, Sarah Wedgebury.

We started with a classic ginjō sake, low in acidity, high on fragrance. Orthodoxy is to serve such products lightly chilled, and everyone agreed that the floral accents of Yamagata brewery Dewazakura’s Ōka showed their finery best cold, though my impression was that there were no complaints about the sake in the higher temperature ranges, either. I was happy at this earlier stage to receive the comment that the warm version felt “comforting”, since this was one impression I was keen to have people take away with them. I have said and written many times that the pleasure of drinking warm sake has an extra physical dimension compared to other gourmet pursuits – like sinking a weary body into a warm bath from the inside out.

Second up was a ginjō in the nama chozō vein by Hakushika (“White Deer”). One of Japan’s biggest breweries, it is also pretty old, even by sake brewery standards, having been in business in the brewing centre of Nishinomiya since just before the Great Fire of London. Information on the label particularly recommends a range of serving temperatures from cold (or even on ice) up to room temperature. Opinion was fairly united that this sake drank best colder. Though some sake has a very wide strike zone, temperature wise, some has a clear, narrow comfort zone: to judge by reactions, this is one.

Third in was a junmai (pure rice) sake called Tamaki. Junmai sake tends to higher acidity, and much is made to be drunk warm. In the cold serving, the bitter and astringent elements were prominent, but joined by blossoming notes of sweetness and umami flavour as the serving temperature rose. Floral ginjō-style aromatics are rarely aimed for when brewing in this style, and those of the guests less familiar with sake were surprised at the great difference in direction after starting in the ginjō zone. I mentioned that some people think of sake fans in two camps – the lovers of the light and flowery, epitomized by dai-ginjō, and the devotees of the earthier, funkier pleasures concentrated in the field of pure rice sake and traditional styles like yamahai and kimoto. It was clear that some of the guests had already decided where their sympathies lay!

Next up was one of my own efforts, a completely unfiltered, unpasteurized, undiluted, junmai ginjō called Wakuwaku, a word indicating a state of expectant excitement (like the period before sake is pressed). This type of sake is rather difficult to handle, and so rare overseas. We changed the rules a little here by serving one of the portions over ice. This is a favourite way of drinking sake (especially on hot days), and I urged everyone to enjoy the kaleidoscopic effects which result from the combination of shifting temperature and level of alcohol as the ice melts and mingles with the sake. We didn’t take a formal count, but my impression was that Wakawaku had the best reception of the evening.

Last up was another by me, a year-old yamahai (a laborious traditional brewing method, also used in making the Tamaki sake mentioned above). It is a big, bold sake with by far the highest levels of acidity and amino acids of the evening. I like it best at room temperature or warmed myself, but there were people there who were more than happy with it cold, too. About which I have no complaints, whatsoever.

Thanks again to everyone!

Philip Harper


Tamaki Tachikawa of Tachikawa Sake and Asami Tasaka of World Sake Imports try the introductory sparkling nigori sake, Mizubasho from Nagai Sake Inc. This was kindly donated by Bincho.

all photos courtesy Christine Booth


Jancis Robinson and Philip Harper


President Shirley Booth takes notes


Anthony Rose savouring the Tamagawa sake


Member Ivan Hallworth

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