Black is the New White (May 2019)
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This month, we plan to unveil our very first bar. It will be in the back of our new space at 4027 Broadway in Oakland. Since 2012 we had been in Old Oakland, where we introduced Japanese barware and drinks to the Bay Area. It has always been a dream of Kayoko's and mine to be able to open the bottles we sell in the shop for tastings and events. This is why we chose to move our shop just two miles up the road. Here, we were able to design our dream from scratch. The build out was challenging, to say the least, but we couldn't be happier to see it come to fruition.
For those of you who've been to our original location in Oakland, you know that we like to keep things clean, minimal, and white. This airy feeling has always been a welcome place to work and help customers. In the new space, we continue to keep the retail portion of our store with the signature color palatte we've always worked with: white and birch.
But in our new bar, black is the new white. This is what our designer, Anders Arhoj says of the radical shift:
Whereas the store itself is white, clean, airy and a bright space for the daytime - the Tasting Bar is for the night. A modern interpretation of the tiny back-alley Japanese bars with only a few seats and the whole business happening behind the bar desk. The Tasting Bar is all black, intimate and cozy with discrete lighting and a back wall shelf system that allows the visitors to look, learn and have fun while tasting.
To celebrate black, I've chosen sake that are housed in black bottles. These are pretty to look at, and also serve a function.
Arhoj's sketch of the Umami Mart Bar, inspired by our recent trip to Niigata
There's a lot of thought that goes into bottle color selection by each brewer. Want to see the muroka, showing off its amber hue? Or want to see the cloudiness of your nigori? The choice is clear. A brewer may also choose a bottle color for aesthetic reasons. You may see a clean, crisp ginjo bottle in a blue bottle, or a rustic, earthy junmai in a brown bottle. When picking a sake, let the subtle cues speak to you. In addition to observing the bottle color, feel the label, and read as much as you can on it. Brewers put a lot of time into the design, and chances are you will pick up on a few things about the sake without having to learn how to read kanji.
What are the benefits of bottling in black? Black bottles cut the most UV light, and sake inside is protected from direct and indirect light that affects the appearance and flavor of sake. Bottling in black means that the sake can be stored for longer than clear and light-colored bottles. This is great for sake, which is a fermented beverage that changes with time and exposure to light.
Thank you for being with us to celebrate black. We are thrilled to open the new bar and share the contents of these bottles with you. If you haven't visited us in Oakland before, now is the time - come have a drink with us when we unveil the bar!
LEVEL 1: Introductory Membership (Two 300ml bottles)
Miyanoyuki Junmai Ginjo
Miyazaki Honten (Mie, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Yamada Nishiki 50%, SMV: +3
Marshmallows, mochi, and cotton candy in a bottle - this is the 50% milled Yamada Nishiki rice working. I love this bottle at room temperature, where the mochi rice aroma is highlighted and envelopes your mouth. This creamy brew is best suited for lighter fare like steamed or lightly sauteed greens or sashimi. When asked why he chose the bottle, Inda-san of Miyazaki Honten said, “the first thing we prioritized is to protect our brew, and that’s why we chose to bottle our sake in black. We also chose to print the label directly on the bottle which doesn’t peel off or degrade with time.”
Kiku-Masamune Kimoto Junmai Daiginjo
Kiku-Masamune Brewery (Hyogo, Japan)
Seimaibuai: 50%, SMV: +3.5
Right when you open this bottle, notice a waft of parmesan cheese, which is not out-of-this-world considering this is a kimoto. Kimotos tend to have wildly, earthy and fermented aromas like mushrooms and cheese. The flavor contrasts with the funky aroma - it’s clean with a dry ending. I like that this sake is robust in the nose, but light in flavor, which makes it a great sake for pairing with food - from brie cheese to fried fish. When asked about the bottle and design, the brewer noted that the black bottle blocks UV light and has a classy feel!
LEVEL 2: Premium Membership (Two 720ml bottles)
Katafune Junmai Genshu
Takeda Shuzoten (Niigata, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Koshi Tanrei and Koshi Ibuki 65%, SMV: -4
This is the whole milk of sake – it’s big, buttery, and bursting with the flavor of juicy muscat grapes. Wash your steak or pork belly down with this acidic, lactic sake. Try this on the rocks or cold on a warm summer day and enjoy its fruitiness. According to Takeda-san, the packaging is a celebration of genshu with bright, metallic accents mimicking the style. The black bottle is chosen with the intention to protect it from UV light and preserve the brightness in flavor.
True Vision Yamahai Tokubetsu Junmai Muroka Genshu
Manatsuru Brewery (Fukui, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Gohyakuman-goku 60%, SMV: +3.5
This small batch, tank-strength, uncharcoal-filtered junmai is brewed using local yeast and bottled from a single tank. You will find notes of tart yogurt, mushroom, and earthy honey. Try paired with rich dishes like al pastor, mapo tofu or a charbroiled rack of lamb. Izumi-san of Manatsuru Brewery told us that, “The design of the red circle is the kanji for yamahai, swirling around in a circle – an abstract depiction of the enzymatic conversions happening in the yeast starter during the use of this technique. We use dark, black bottles whenever possible for the added protection from light damage.”