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Take part in a sake festival and sample various brews


To really know sake, it’s important to taste many varieties of sake. Of course, given that there are thousands of varieties, it would take a long time to compare them all by buying each one in turn.


Instead, visit a sake festival. Sake festivals are held in every part of Japan, and at each one, you will have the opportunity to sample many varieties of sake. Even rarely seen sake varieties can be tasted at sampling sessions.


Taking part in sampling sessions
There are sampling sessions held by sake-related organizations in every prefecture of Japan. Other entities that hold sake sampling sessions include event companies and groups representing breweries and sake merchants.


Some of these events are festivals that draw hundreds of thousands of people, while others involve no more than a few dozen enthusiasts. As a first step, it’s probably a good idea to go to the widely-advertised major festivals. It typically costs around ¥3,000 to participate in these events.




Because the purpose is to sample, the amount of sake served at these events is quite small — enough to fill a sake cup. However, the alcohol content of sake is high, so there is quite a lot of alcohol in a single sake cup. Be careful not to drink too much.


At sake festivals, there is a wide range of daiginjō-shu and other types of sake available to sample. If you don’t take care, it’s easy to overindulge.


When you visit a booth, there will be several varieties of sake on display. Each booth will offer different types of sake, with some perhaps focused on sparkling, carbonated sake and others concentrating on ginjō-shu varieties, depending on the policy of the specific brewery.


There are likely to be some booths presenting sake made using the time-honored kimoto or yamahai methods. If you haven’t sampled these varieties before, it’s well worth giving them a try. Kimoto and yamahai varieties are best served warm rather than chilled. It’s a very different taste experience, compared to other types of sake.


To sample every sake on display would be going too far, both in terms of the time required and in terms of alcohol consumption. It makes sense, then, to go with a theme in mind, such as “Visit the booths of sake brands I haven’t tried before” or “Compare the different ginjō-shu varieties on offer.”


Often, the people involved in producing the sake, such as brewery heads and chief brewers, will take part in a sake event. Instead of just tasting the sake samples at a booth, have a chat with the people from the brewery as well. Here are some suggested topics.


• What sort of rice do you use?
• What is the most important thing to you in making sake?
• What kōbo do you use?
• What sort of building is the brewery housed in?


By asking questions like these as you go around, you will get an impression of what each brewer is trying to achieve and how they go about it.


If you like a particular sake, find out where you can buy it. If you would like to see the place where the sake is made, there is no reason why you can’t ask whether the brewery accommodates visitor tours.


At sake festivals, water is provided for the purpose of rinsing sake cups. When you drink a sample, wash your cup before trying the next sake sample.


It is also important to have a drink of water after sampling sake. The term yawaragi mizu refers to water drunk between rounds of sake. Reasons for drinking yawaragi mizu include preventing a hangover and avoiding getting dehydrated.

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