Sunday Morning Soliloquy - Musings of an Urbanite: May 2010

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rioja Restaurant Week Dinner at SushiSamba rio in Chicago

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On Tuesday night, I decided to take a trip over to SushiSamba on Wells Street in Chicago to try out the delicious and extremely well priced Rioja Restaurant Week menu. For $35 per person + tax + service, you get 2 courses and 2 wine pairings (see bottom for quantities).

I arrived and was greeted by Harley, the General Manager, and Chef Dan Tucker, AKA @chefCDT. I decided to eat dinner at my favorite spot - the bar. Here's how it went down....

First Course and Fist Wine Pairing
The first wine is the Hacienda Lopez de Haro Crianza 2005 paired with a plate of appetizer tastings. I started with the wine and it did not taste right, I took a second sip and it just did not taste right to me. Finally, not knowing exactly what the wine should taste like, I asked Chef Dan to describe the wine to me so I could take notes. I think my exact words were, "I am not too sure this wine is right for me, can you describe it to me?" Dan took ONE sip and realized that the wine had turned. He spit the wine back into the glass and ordered the bartender to TOSS the bottle and open a new bottle. The moment I took a sip from the second bottle, I realized the difference. I am SO GLAD I said something, otherwise, I would simply think the wine tasted badly - which was not the case.


The glass of GOOD Hacienda was mild bodied, slightly spicy and went quite well with the appetizers. The appetizers consisted of 1 Short Rib Bao, 2 Duck Croquettes and 3 Kobe Beef Gyozas.
  • The Short Rib Bao was great because the bread was only slightly sweet with pickled jalapeno & pickled onions. Delicious.
  • The Duck Croquettes were really hearty, lightly breaded with lots of duck meat. Served on an orange serano chili sauce.
  • The Gyoza (potstickers para tu Americanos) was filled with Kobe Beef, collard greens, shitake mushrooms and a garlic sesame sauce. They were served on a Kaboocha puree. Kaboocha is Japanese pumpkin, I had to ask.

1st course

Second Course With Second Pairing
The wine for the second course Zinio Reserva, 2001. According to the menu, it should be 2005 but Chef Dan informed me that 2001 & 2005 were both exceptional years for Rioja. This wine was more bold than the first, it was bigger and it worked well with the Malbec butter sauce of the skirt steak.

There was a bit of confusion with the second course, for some reason, there were two options. It did not matter to me because I was able to try BOTH the main courses due to the confusion. You, on the other hand, will have to choose from one of the following:
  • The Short Rib, Korean style (similar to Kalbi), thinly sliced pieces of rib meat with a bit of a smokey flavor - an Asian BBQ sauce. Chef Dan explained to me that "Short Ribs" are from the side of the cow where the ribs do not connect, something I had not previously known.
  • The Skirt Steak was prepared to perfection. Served with a Malbec butter sauce, it was delicious and truly worked well with the larger flavors of the wine. The steak is served with Miunza (similar to arugla) and picked shallots.

If you were to ask me, I preferred the skirt steak. Though I liked both dishes, in my opinion, not only did the skirt steak work better with the wine pairing but it also seemed like a bigger bang for the buck!

Skirt Steak

Serving Sizes for the Rioja Restaurant Week Menu...
  • Each wine pour is a 3 oz pour
  • For the appetizers, you receive 1 Short Rib Bao (mini sandwich), 2 Duck Croquettes and 3 Gyozas
  • 5 oz of meat - whether you choose the skirt steak or the short rib

Disclaimer: SushiSamba rio is a client.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Introspective Blogpost on Self Employment

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I am having one of those days, one of those days where I just cannot seem to get anything accomplished. I can see the arms on the clock spinning before my very eyes and I stare defiantly at them and dare them to challenge me. Motivation is not fleeting, it simply never arrived today.

Days like this, I worry about my choices. Working for myself, it is so incredibly easy to get deflated. I question my decisions, I question my sanity. I wonder if I am wasting my time. I even question if what I am doing is even real?

Even as I write this post, my brain is much do I divulge? What do I want to say to people? What is my point? I guess I will start from the basics. The thought process that tinkers around in one's head when they opt for self-employment.

You worry about getting started, the fundamentals of setting everything up - business licenses, insurance, taxes, more insurance, more taxes. You worry about cash flow. And then when you feel like you finally have a grasp on all that (and trust me, it takes a while), then you have to worry about marketing yourself. You have to tell people that you're doing this "thing" that you're doing and you have to tell them confidently.

So you start to work on your marketing materials. You look at the competition, wait, first you must determine the competition. Then you spend hours looking at the backgrounds of numerous businesses and individuals. If you're like me, you ponder... are they smarter than you? Are they better than you? If the answer is "Yes," then you beat yourself up over that. If the answer is "No," again, you beat yourself up again. "Well, if SHE can do it, why can't I?"

Now you start to put together your marketing materials but you cannot afford to hire anyone so you do it yourself. Next, you find yourself an excelling in an area that you never knew anything about two months earlier. You find that you like doing this new thing that you've recently excelled in, so perhaps you incorporate that into your capabilities. Before you know it, your whole business model has shifted.

Now're not sure where you started, you're not sure where you're going, but for somehow, you've convinced some clients to come along for the ride. You secretly think they're crazy for trusting you because you barely trust yourself. You are so dedicated to this "thing," and so afraid of failure, you end up working 10X harder for your clients than what they expected. And give them back 10X more than what they're paying you.

This turns out to be a good thing. You find new confidence in yourself and you are now able to raise your rate. You're still shaky about this but people seem to be responding. You're now making just barely 1/4 of what you'd be making if you were employed by a corporation. Your mother thinks you should just get married. Though you can barely survive off what you're making, it is the happiest you've been in a long time. You feel fulfilled, you feel accomplished, so for a minute, you forget about the minutia.

Don't get too comfortable now. On top of the work you must produce for clients, you have to be your own business manager, you have to be your own promoter, you have always be smiling and you have to always be selling. You cannot swear on Twitter. Don't rock the boat, don't say anything negative or anything that could potentially be misconstrued as negative. You have to network. You have to work out. You have to visit the dentist. You have to pet the cat. All the while... you have to watch the competition.

Just when things are going well, you get that phone call that the client has decided to pull the program. Another client refuses to return your calls and a third client is asking something of you that you know is impossible to deliver. It all seems to be falling apart. You're too scared to be scared. You're not sure what to make of it and then you remember. This day is a day they call Tuesday. You remember that Tuesday only lasts one day and that tomorrow is that day called Wednesday. Wednesday is that day when you'll pick up the pieces and start the madness all over again.

Monday, May 10, 2010

You Should Hire Brendan Tripp!

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I sometimes interview very senior level marketing executives or professional consultants in order to gain insight on their business and learn from them. Hopefully, the people who read my blog will find the information valuable and learn from the experts too. Recently, I had a thought, “What if I interview job seekers.” I wanted to share talented, experienced, available professionals with my friends and colleagues. I hope you'll find this useful.

If you would like to be interviewed, shoot me a message @leyla_a

My first interviewee is Brendan Tripp. I met Brendan at Social Media Club party that took place Chicago Mercantile Exchange last winter. Brendan is somewhat of a fixture on the networking scene in Chicago. He networks 2 nights a week at minimum but never more than 4 nights per week. Brendan never drinks and he comes armed with a stack of business cards.

Brendan’s unemployment has been a slow fade. His former employer was a start-up that slowly died last April. The company was called Simuality and then turned into Liminaty – they were a company focused on virtual reality platform and social media. They were planning an online virtual reality web and television show called Planet’s Best DJ in conjunction with Violator. The whole project sounded pretty cool but unfortunately their funding fell through before they could pull the project together.

Brendan has a long history and I’d like to share it all with you, but before I delve into his arduous background, I want to share Brendan’s goals and his job hunting process with you. If you’re interested in Brendan after that, I encourage you to read on – Brendan is an interesting dude.

Since June of ’09 Brendan has been actively looking for work. I talked to Brendan about his process and how he looks for work, his daily routine.

How do you look for work?
Twitter almost 100%. I follow about 530 people and I try really hard to read every post every day. I spend about 8 hours a day reading Twitter. You can reach Brendan on Twitter here -->> @btripp

Brendan explained that he also scans the job boards on Twitter and gets about 5 – 12 plausible leads a day. Sending out about 5 resumes a day. He recently wrote a blog post on the Job Stalker about who to follow on Twitter for job hunters.

Brendan applies for: Standard PR jobs, web management, content management, writing jobs, social media and jobs in the virtual world.

He writes a blog for ChicagoNow.comThe Job Stalker
He got that job because the former “Job Stalker” was hired by the Tribune Company. To replace the “Job Stalker” ran a contest on the blog and Brendan won the contest.

He sets a goal to read 72 non-fiction books a year. He writes book reviews and publishes them on the web. Initially, he would reach out to publishers but his online reviews have gained enough traffic where they publishers now know who he is and they send the books to him.

Brendan’s Ideal position
Web manager for a PR and Communications business. He also really feels strongly about working for a not for profit or an Association. Being able to write book reviews, he would love to get paid for this.

Getting To Know Brendan Tripp
Brendan’s career was developed in the Food/PR business. The best part of my interview with Brendan was the knowledge I gained about the food industry and the progression of the food industry from the 70s through the 90s. The big business of food and food sciences and how the industry has changed over the decades – in one man’s opinion. Brendan is a bank of information on packaged food history, I think he has a book in him and may not realize it yet.

Brendan’s Childhood
Brendan was born in Chicago, his mother and father were both in the newspaper/pr/advertising business. Brendan’s father died when he was two and his mother went out to NY to work for J. Walter until 1966 until when she was transferred to the Chicago office. Essentially, Brendan Tripp grew up in the story spinner business.

Brendan’s mother was made a VP at J. Walter in 1966 but transferred back to Chicago. According to Brendan, it was “Because there was no way that they were going to make a woman Vice President in the corporate Headquarters in New York.“ The thought of having a female VP in the corporate HQ in New York was out of the question at that time. We're talking real life Mad Men!

Schooling & Early Career
Brendan started at Northwestern University in Evanston but did not finish at Northwestern. While in college, Brendan got involved with the counter culture movement and joined The Foundation Faith of the Millennium. Sounds like something out of a Charlie’s Angels episode to me, a sign of the times in the 70s.

Brendan was spending so much time with the Foundation that he ended up withdrawing from Northwestern and transferring to Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. He obtained his Liberal Arts degree, his concentrations were in Eastern Religion, English and Art.

In college, Brendan was on the radio a lot, he wanted to be a DJ. Upon graduating from college, Brendan sought a position as a DJ - or anything in radio/television but had no luck securing a position in radio/television.

In 1976, Brendan’s mom left J. Walter & started her company, Marian Tripp Communications, Inc. While he was still in college, Brendan spent much of his time working for his mother. Soon after graduating, Brendan joined his mother’s company full time as a publicist and eventually worked his way up to VP. Most of their clients were consumer packaged food and products – all blue chip companies such as Uncle’s Bens, Kraft, Pillsbury, Quaker, Pace Picante Sauce.

Most of the other senior level employees at the agency were Home Economists who created recipes for the newspapers & magazines. Three different sets of press releases were released each month for the newspapers to ensure that two papers in the same city were not running the same article that included the same recipe. Brendan was not a Home Economists so he ended up handling most of their conferences and events; which is how he became a Certified Meeting Planner – CMP. He was managing three major conferences a year, two-day conference with top name presenters where the attendees were food writers. This was important to the agency as it established a strong relationship with the food writers.


Other Cool Projects
Kraft introduced a product called A la Carte Entrees where they used retort pouch – basically the technology used to the meals-ready-to-eat (MRE) in the military. You dropped this pouch into a pot of boiling water and you had your meal. When Brendan wasn’t working on organizing the conferences, his specialty was publicizing products that were more complicated and needed some additional explaining.

Sausage Maker was another product. A seasoning product that one put into beef and made it taste like pork sausage. He also worked on Coffee Velvet – a coffee flavoring. And one of Brendan's absolute favorite products was called Smart Meat – it is a product of Goldberg Foods (the guy who invented Pizza Rolls). SmartMeat was cutter-canner grade beef; completely lean, grass fed never fattened and really environmentally friendly with low cholesterol. They would take primary cuts of cutter-canner grade beef and through a process of vacuum chamber pulling in a flavored margarine-like substance (no cholesterol) and making the very, very lean beef it would tenderize the beef leaving it almost like a cut of Prime Beef.

Marian Tripp Communications, Inc.
Brendan explains that in the 90s, the business started to shift, trends started to take a different direction. “Back in the 60s and 70s, individuals started their careers at companies like Kraft by stirring vats of cheese curd. In the 90s, the consumer packaged goods industry took on a Harvard Model – new MBAs who are more concerned with their career than they are the quality of the product.” The objective was to cheapen the product and grow the profit margin. The MBA would get a promotion upstairs and a younger MBA would start. By the time the third MBA got his hands on the product, the product was no better than a generic. “Brand be-damned”, by the time the product got to the point where it was no longer a leading brand, the MBAs were working upstairs far removed from the brand and it did not matter to them anymore. According to Brendan, some wonderful, classic brands were being slaughtered because of this “Harvard Model”.

I the 90s, the word “measurement” started to become something that every marketer was looking for in their agencies. The agency was up against the MBAs looking for measurement. “How can you measure the success of that program?” I think we’re all very familiar with the term “measurement,” our clients all want us to measure. The problem was, it cost the agency (and the brands) more money to measure the program than it did to run the program. This was around the time his mother decided to end the business.

Getting out of “The Business”
In ’93, Brendan and his wife took a vacation, they drove to Galena and were involved in a terrible car accident. Brendan suffered significant injuries and was air lifted to Rockford. They didn’t know if he was going to live or die. He was out of work for about 5 months. His mother had difficulties running the business without him. Throughout the years, the business had made some wise investments, so they ultimately decided to close the business. When Brendan recovered from his injuries, he did not have a job to go back to.

Without a business to go back to, and a love for writing, Brendan got into the publishing. Brendan used to write a lot of poetry, about 250 poems a year. When he reached 500, he would put the poems together and make a book. He started his own publishing company in ’93 called Eschaton. He quickly learned that no one buys poetry unless they’re at a poetry reading. He likens poetry books to a concert T-shirt. His first effort of trying to sell poetry he bought enough ads to make about 1 million impressions and he sold 1 copy. Breandan decided, “This is not going to work this way.” Brendan eventually developed a line of books for his publishing company, Eschaton, working a number authors. Eschaton’s books were metaphysical, new age, eastern religion books. Brendan spent a total of 10 years in the publishing business.

The Death of Marian Tripp
Brendan’s mother fell ill in the ‘00s and died in 2004. The last days of her life Marian Tripp needed 24/7 care. With what was left of the estate, Brendan and his wife purchased a franchise called “Club-Z In-Home Tutoring.” It was a very good program but they didn’t have the same resources as some of the larger tutoring franchises.

When they purchased the franchise, they were one of 27 registered tutoring programs in Illinois. That following year, No Child Left Behind was passed and that year 290 registered tutoring programs popped up in Illinois. The tutoring business ended up turning into, as Brendan puts it, “selling used cars.” Everyone was trying to get the government money selling one more hours of tutoring. Brendan was managing the marketing for the franchise. They were just not happy with the way the franchise was going so they sold it to another franchisee.

In 2002, Brendan went back to school and took web development and business programming classes at the Chubb Institute. The program was very intense, out of 84 students only 3 made it out. Brendan was one of the 3 men still standing and Brendan got a 4.0. But that was right after the dot com bust and he had trouble even getting an interview.

Around the same time, Brendan had gotten involved with the virtual reality game, Second Life. A website that Brendan frequently visited, was having a get together on Second Life each week. In 2007, the Second Life conference took place in Chicago and Brendan attended. He got on the MacArthur Foundation track for getting not-for-profits involved in Second Life. That was where he met up with the company Simuality.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Sake Fever 2010 in Las Vegas

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On Friday, April 9th, 2010, I was in Las Vegas for a three-day festival of wine, Champagne and sake co-sponsored by UNLV and Southern Wine & Spirits. My main reason for attending was to experience Sake Fever, a poolside event at The Palms featuring 150 premium sakes. I am a sake enthusiast, and being a Chicagoan, I do not get to experience as much sake as I would like. Sake Fever was a perfect way to taste, explore and compare the best sakes from Japan side by side in one lovely space.

Before I go on any further, I want to draw your attention to another post I wrote about sake. I wrote a post entitled Sake 101, for those of you who may want a tidbit of information regarding sake click here & then come on back and read this post.

I was fortunate enough to interview a few Tojis from two different breweries. I interviewed Mr. Sugihara & Mr. Niizawa who are both Toji’s from the Niizawa Shuzo brewery. And Mr. Sato from Sakata Shuzo who makes the Jokigen brands of sake.

My first interview was with Mr. Sugihara, the assistant to master brewer at Niizawa Shuzo in Niyagi Japan.
Mr. Sugihara explained to me that Niizawa Shuzo brewery is responsible for brands such as Atagonomatsu, Hakurakusei, and the notorious Super 9. He explained to me that Super 9 has made appearances amongst the celebrity ranks in the United States but is not yet available for sale in the United States. When Super 9 becomes available in the U.S., it will retail for upwards of $1000.00 a bottle. Mr. Sugihara showed me photos of celebrities handling the bottle of Super 9 backstage at the Grammy’s. It was rumored throughout the event that P. Diddy was a big fan of Super 9.

Sake Fever with Mr. Sugihara

My next interview was with Mr. Niizawa (Mr. Sugihara’s boss), he is the master brewer for Niizawa Shuzo. How did you get involved with sake? How long have you been with the brewery?

Mr. Niizawa was born into a sake family and has always been focused on brewing sake. Mr. Niizawa went to Tokyo Brewing School for college. Mr. Niizawa has been brewing sake for 13 years. Mr. Niizawa worked with other brewers, working on his tasting skills, before working for Niizawa Shuzo. He has a very progressive style of brewing sake. His brewery brews only 10 different types of sake. The Goal of his brewery is to produce sakes that are balanced in terms of aroma, flavor and body.

Mr. Niizawa holding a bottle of Super 9

Niizawa Shuzo brewery has produced sake for 130 years. Historically, their brand was thought of as lower end brand. In order to make it up to the top three brands in Japan, they worked very hard. Instead of trying to rebuild their original brand, they released a completely new brand.

Their first brand is considered more traditional, flagship, everyday sake and the newer brand is considered more of a luxury brand, an experimental sake.

What does Mr. Niizawa drink at home?
When he's fighting with his wife he drinks wine (laughter ensues).
When he drinks his own sake it is an emotional experience for him, therefore, he prefers to drink what others produce. He is very close with the others brewers in Miyagi. It is stressful for him to drink his own sake. He can't help but continually evaluate when he drinks his own sake so he prefers not to drink it at home. It is what work for him.

What's the most popular of your sakes in Japan? Most popular in America? Why do u think they are different?
Junmai ginjo is most popular in Japan. In the United States people tend to drink Tokubetsu Gunmai.

Where do the significant differences lie in the sake category in the U.S. and European countries versus Japan?
Sake in us is more expensive in the United States and Europe than it is in Japan. That's why people in Japan tend to move up to the higher level of sake. The jump to the next level in quality does not cost as much as it would in the United States or Europe.

In Japan, people focus on the quality of the brewery’s Junmai Ginjo. People tend to evaluate the entire success of the brewery on the production/quality of Junmai Ginjo.

I asked about marketing in the United States – particularly the Midwest.
Once you allow people to experience sake with food people will like sake. People who experience Junmai's with food, a quality sake that doesn't break the bank, they will feel it is something they can appreciate. Soon Americans will want to try other sakes like the Junmai Ginjo.

In Japan, there's a saying "Look into your soul to view what is best". At this point in his career, he can see what is good for his sakes. He is trying to make the best product for people.

Tell me about Super 9? Hopes and projected success for Super 9?
The launch of their newest sake polished down to 9%, thus the name, Super 9. The level of polishing the rice used in Super 9 was previously unheard of in the sake industry.

Daiginjo tends to be aromatic, but Mr. Niizawa made Super 9 to taste like pure starch or “Shinpaku”. He thinks this is a transcended experience. He knows not everyone can experience it (due to cost) but he wants people who can afford to experience it, to experience Super 9. Mr. Niizawa went on to explain that due to the process, there is no way to make the product cost less.

What made you think of polishing the rice to a level previously unheard of in your industry?
Most breweries send their rice out to be “polished,” Niizawa’s brewery bought a polishing machine so they could polish their own rice in house. This created the concept of “how low can we go” – the answer for them is 9%. After the purchase of the polishing machine, Mr. Niizawa got it in his head; he could not stop thinking about how low he could polish the sake rice. It was after the purchase of the polishing machine, he had to make Super 9.

He made Super 9 because he wanted people to taste and experience the "pure starch" flavor of the sake.

How do u plan to deal with people who simply buy Super 9 for price point, those who may not be the ones who will appreciate it?

We run that risk and Las Vegas is a funny market (Las Vegas is their biggest market in the U.S.). The packaging for Super 9 is very Western. When you price a particular sake at a certain price point, you know people will buy it who don't know what they're doing. We hope that it will move the other products (Atagonomatsu & Hakurakusei) when they associate Super 9 with the other products. Growing the brand along with the others products within the family of products.

(p.s. I did get to try Super 9 as well as all the other sakes!)

Next was my interview with Mr. Sato of Sakata Shuzo, makes Jokigen brand sakes, including "Sweet Dreams" a Riesling style sake.
A quick side note, Jokigen translates to “happiness” or "euphoria" generally, more specifically, “happiness after drinking”.

The Jokigen label is unique. How did you decide on it?
(Note to readers: the label is unique because most sake has Japanese writing on the label describing the sake, whereas, this bottle has a visual on the label that looks like an aesthetically pleasing grain of rice)

The signature Jokigen label is made with women in mind; female sake drinkers. Men know what they're looking for when it comes to sake and they head straight for what they want. Mr. Sato wanted to produce a sake where people did not have to think of the more complex attributes one may consider when purchasing a sake; such as rice styles and details of production. He wanted to produce a quality product that one could trust simply by the label.

Monica with Mr. Sato

I asked Mr. Sato about Sweet Dreams, their sparkling sake that is likened to a Reisling.
Mr. Sato wanted to develop something people could drink more easily without being serious sake drinkers.

Side note about Sweet Dreams… I am not a “serious” sake drinker but I probably have more experience with sake than most Chicagoans, I thought Sweet Dreams was a lovely sake. It was well balanced, not overly sweet and a great sake for meals or even as an after dinner drink.

Jokigen at times uses table rice instead of sake rice, which is a rarity, so I asked why?
First, affordability. Secondly, they wanted to make a product from rice that is already in the body of the average Japanese person. People already eat table rice all the time, they can metabolize the rice better, the sake is good for their digestion.

Mr. Sato went on to tell me that their brewery uses many types of rice, in fact, they use more types of rice than any other brewery in Japan. Why so many types of rice? I asked. Mr. Sato answered, “Same water, different rice brings out so many types of flavors.” Mr. Sato wants to be able to bring a wide variety of flavors to people.

I asked Mr. Sato what he drinks at home?
Beer! Mr. Sato does not drink any hard liquor - ever. Beer is easier on your body. (In fact, many of the producers told me they do not drink sake at home. Sake is their profession, therefore they choose an alternate beverage when relaxing at home with their wives).

I asked Mr. Sato the positive effects that sake may have on your health?
For women its good for your skin & your uterus.

I asked what the best markets were in US for his brewery
Mr. Sato said Las Vegas was their top market and then New York.

I asked which US market he’d like to penetrate most
Mr. Sato quickly replied, Los Angeles.
(It seems no one is quite interested in penetrating the Chicago market just yet. Hopefully my blog posts will help them change their minds!)

Jokigen and Hakurakusei are currently available in Chicago and distributed through Southern Wine & Spirits of Illinois. Contact K Inoue for more info.

Related Post:
Sake 101

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Sake 101

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A few weeks back, I attended SAKE FEVER in Las Vegas. Before I delve into the more detailed post from Sake Fever, I thought I would start out light. In case you are not too familiar with Sake, I wanted to write a quick post on the basics of Sake - Sake 101 as a prelude to the SAKE FEVER post. For more detailed information regarding Sake check out


Sake 101
Sake is brewed, more like beer, and less like wine, as many may believe. The alcohol content of sake can vary from 15% to 20%, making sake quite potent. Some sake will have added alcohol, or “brewers alcohol,” which will increase the alcohol content and alter the flavor of the sake. Rice and water are the two main components of making sake; the quality of the rice and where the water comes from are important elements of the process and important elements in determining the taste and quality.

Sake is produced from various types of high quality rice. The rice is literally “polished” to remove the proteins and oils from the outer layers and only leave behind the starch. Most rice is polished where 70% of the kernel remains while the finer sakes are polished down to about 40% or even less. From there, the rice soaked, cooked, cultured, it rests, it matures and eventually it is bottled.

Barrels of Sake

Types of Sake
Junmai: Made of rice, water, koji (cultivated mold spores). The rice is polished to 70% and it has a full, solid flavor. *Tokubetsu Junmai: means “special” Junmai it refers to more polished rice or special rice.

Honzo: Exactly same as Junmai but has added alcohol OR brewers alcohol. You can also have Tokubetsu Honzo.

Junmai Ginjo: Brewed with labor-intensive steps, fermented at colder temperatures and for longer periods of time. Light, fruity and refined flavor. Ginjo: Same as Junmai Ginjo but with added brewers alcohol

Junmai Daiginjo: Sub Class of Junmai Ginjo, highly polished, at least 50%. More precise & labor-intensive brewing process. Pinnacle of brewers art. Light, fragrant and complex. Daiginjo: is the same as Junmai Daiginjo but with added brewers alcohol.

The sake brewmaster is a highly regarded position in Japan and his title is Toji. A Toji can only become brewmaster in one of two ways; he must be born into a family of sake producers, or he must be trained by a guild.

I was fortunate enough to interview a few Tojis for this blog post (and my NEXT blog post). I was incredibly nervous prior to meeting the Tojis, I had a false impression that they would be arrogant and chauvinistic – I was proved completely wrong. Each of the Tojis I interviewed were total gentlemen, they were warm, polite and humble. The Tojis made me feel incredibly welcomed and they were happy to share as much information with me as they could. They were respectful of my ignorance of sake brewing and assisted in my learning process. They seemed appreciative that I was interested in their craft.

Read on for more information on Sake Fever in Las Vegas and my interviews with the Tojis!