July 25

beginner’s sake tasting for 20 bucks.

Writing a blog like this you could easily price some people out of the experience; it would be simple to pair some $30/Lb steaks with an $80 bottle of Sake and have a really great time doing it! Although I am not excluding such exercises, I also wanted to include some experiences at a much lower cost for those on a budget, or simply for those who need a much less risky beginning experience.

In Japan Sake and other alcoholic drinks are usually enjoyed with a selection of small foods or snacks that match very well to the alcohol in question. These snacks called otsumami (おつまみ) can be anything from skewers of grilled meats and seafood to pickles, cheese, nuts, rice crackers, dried squid jerky and even salt preserved fish innards. It is quite common when going to a friend’s house to drink to not only pick up some Sake or beer but to also buy a small selection of these snacks to share. Japanese convenience stores will often have a separate section of these foods right near the alcohol – now that is convenient! This cultural norm is not that different from sitting down with some friends to enjoy a few drinks with chips and salsa, peanuts and pretzels.

Taking this delightful tradition to heart I went to my local Trader Joe’s today and picked up a bottle of Trader Joe-san’s Junmai Ginjo Sake ($9.99) which is brewed in Japan by Oimatsu Shuzo, all and all not a bad Sake for the price. I also picked up three otsumami to go with my sake – the total was a wallet friendly twenty dollars and change.
The Sake was served chilled and was a clean, slightly fruity junmai with finishing notes of warming alcohol and rice. For my three snacks I chose: Sweet and Spicy Buffalo Jerky, Savory Mini Edamame Rice Crackers and Dark Chocolate Covered Ginger. Here is how everything went together:
Sweet and Spicy Buffalo Jerky – The sweetness of this jerky really brought out the rice and sweeter Sake notes with warming alcohol bringing a delightful earthy meatiness out in the jerky. The jerky’s spice however, was completely lost.
Savory Mini Edamame Rice Crackers – Not as complex as the jerky, the ample salt and green earthy notes of this soybean cracker did a great job of amplifying the rice and slight apple notes in the Sake.
Dark Chocolate Covered Ginger – These highly addictive little nuggets bring a spicy ginger heat and some gritty cocoa notes to the party. Combined with the Sake, the ginger did a good job of coaxing the apple and pear notes out of the Sake and the combination of candied ginger and Sake created a delightful finish of coconut and warming rice alcohol.

This was a fun shopping trip that was definitely worth the twenty bucks. The Sake is good for its low price and although it hits only some of the notes of the more premium brands, what notes it does hit it does well. Combine this with 3 ample snacks and you have a low cost Sake tasting that has a lot of variation given Trader Joe’s ridiculous selection of low cost delicious foods.

** Please note that Massachusetts law limits the number of grocery stores in a chain that can sell alcohol – you can only buy beer and wine at the Trader Joe’s on Beacon St in Brookline, Memorial Drive in Cambridge and Rt 9 in Framingham.**