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Umami Mart has two connections to Hakkaisan. It was the first sake brewery that Kayoko and I visited in Japan back in 2011 when we went with a group of chefs and artists from the Bay Area as part of a collective called Open Harvest. You can read about our brewery visit here. And then we went there again this year and checked out their eco-friendly snow fridge.

Our second connection is to Tim Sullivan, the brand ambassador for Hakkaisan. Kayoko met him way back in 2008 when she was living in New York. She attended a sake seminar at the Astor Centor that Tim was teaching, which Kayoko diligently blogged about on Umami Mart. Talk about throwback! They later became blog buddies. Tim has been running the blog Urban Sake since 2005. It is an incredible resource for sake, where users can submit their own reviews amongst Tim's own plethora of reviews. At Urban Sake, almost every sake that is available in the U.S. is chronicled. Sake fans who use the internet undoubtably use Urban Sake to get lots of valuable information. Tim was working at a 9-5 back in 2008 and never thought that his love for sake would turn into a career. And look at all of us now! Umami Mart is all grown up with its own retail store and Tim is the brand ambassador for Hakkaisan! Dreams do come true.

Tim was planning to be in town already for the first weekend of August for Sake Summit, San Francisco's big sake extravaganza in Union Square. So we lured Tim to our side of the bay to have him host a lecture and tasting. We partnered with Alchemy Bottle Shop on Grand Avenue and held the class on their second floor.

It was a hot Friday afternoon, but not to worry, Alchemy has air conditioning!

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We served the Sparkling Nigori Hakkaisan in our Petal Coupes as people filed into the room.

Tim had a powerpoint ready for some Sake 101. He described Niigata Prefecture and how its climate and water defines their sake. He told us what sake is NOT: wine, beer or spirit -- and gave us the 411 on how it is actually defined (a category all its own!). He also took us through sake types and how they differ. So much of the magic takes place in sake production, so Tim also took us through how sake is made.

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We then tried the refreshingly delicate Hakkaisan Ginjo, the clean but authoritative Hakkaisan Tokubetsu Junmai and the fuller bodied yet silky Hakkaisan Tokubetsu Honjozo (cold and hot).

It was important to try at least one of the sakes both cold and warm to taste how sake changes with temperature. The consensus? Pretty much split down the middle, half of the class enjoyed the Honjozo cold, while the other half liked it slightly warmed. The great thing about sake is that there are no rules.

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We also tried some special kijoshu or aged dessert sake. It was much sweeter than the other and tasted a little bit like a sherry.

And then we were in for the treat as Tim brought the "Presidential Sake" aka the daiginjo sake that only the president of Hakkaisan can give away as gifts. Tim received one bottle from the president and was kind enough to share it with us that evening.

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This was our first sake event since launching Sake Gumi, our monthly sake subscription club, and it was great to see a handful of members enjoying the class. It was also great to create yet another connection to Hakkaisan. Thanks for coming to Oakland Tim!

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And yes, stop by Umami Mart or Alchemy Bottle Shop, both in Oakland, for a range of Hakkaisan sakes. Kanpai!