It's been several years now, since we first met Mayuko Kita of Kita Shuzo in Shiga, Japan. I first saw her at a sake show in San Francisco, it must have been in 2016, at the Toto Washlet showroom of all places. From there, we met her at another trade show, and we clicked right away – she is a cheerful and warm woman, and the future president of the brewery.
Mayuko visited us at our shop in downtown Oakland in 2018, and in early 2019, Yoko and I took her up on a casual invitation to visit her brewery. We enjoyed Shiga so much – the crisp air, pristine nature, and of course the dreamiest onsen. The town where the brewery is located is called Higashi Ohmi and the town and local foods are phenomenal. On that trip, we helped them make koji, and started planning a sake for Umami Mart together.
Once we moved into our new space in 2019, she visited us and we had a Kita Shuzo sake tasting at then newly opened bar!
Mayuko Kita, future president of Kita Shuzo
Since this event, of course, a lot has happened. The pandemic slowed down our hopes for our Umami Mart sake by Kita Shuzo – there was a lot of back and forth both in email and snail mail about the design of the bottle and of course about the sake itself. These things can't be rushed.
We wanted our flagship sake to be a junmai – sturdy, bold, full of umami. That's who we are! Mayuko understood this about us and made the sake accordingly. We trusted her implicitly.
As usual, Yoko designed the label and I wrote the copy. Everything was accounted for – the paper, the "sash" (should it go up left to right, or right to left?!?), the splashes of red.
It has been unnerving but well worth the wait. In August, we finally received our first shipment of Umami Mart Junmai Sake! We are so proud of this bottle – it's exactly what we envisioned and could not have asked for anything more. The sake itself is wonderful at all temperatures, pairing well with pastas and meats. The umami comes from the koji, which is cultivated for extra time to develop ample kokumi (richness) while retaining a satisfying kire (ending).
To celebrate the launch of our sake, we threw two big parties back to back: one at our bar, and another in Los Angeles. We wanted to make a splash, afterall. Our sake deserves it!
On September 15th, we opened our bar to the public for an Umami Mart Junmai Sake tasting. We drew in a huge crowd, and it ended up as standing room only.
Umami Mart Junmai Sake deserved a summer bouquet.
We served the sake slightly chilled as it was warm that day.
We sold out of our first shipment, but have more bottles coming in October!
Thanks to everyone who came out and helped celebrate our sake!
From there, we headed to Los Angeles on September 20th, where we partied hard at Yojimbo on Fairfax. This is a new eatery that is owned by my good friend James Starr, and where my brother Keisuke aka Casa de Kei is co-chef. We hadn't seen Kei since he left Oakland in April, so we merged our sake launch with their grand opening party as an excuse to get the family back together.
We started off the event with a kagamiwari (sake barrel breaking ceremony), and the sake flowed all night with our junmai. Keisuke made a karaage bento to go with the sake, and the LA Taiko Ensemble were also in the house to play a couple of sets. Many, many friends, old and new, came out. It was a magical evening!
Making a splash with Umami Mart Junmai Sake at Yojimbo in LA!
Nami, nami! The sake flowed.
Like two peas in a pod, the karaage bento and sake was a satisfying pairing.
Matthew and Sarah!
Reunited with Grace!
Making new friends with Lashun from Fukuoka!
Buds, Casa de Kei and Ian
LA Taiko Ensemble
The Brady Bunch on Fairfax Ave.
Long-time friend Jay of Atelier Dion visited us!
We took pre-orders, but walk-ins were also welcome.
Gumi members drove down from San Francisco to join us! Whaaaat?! We love you too!
Yojimbo was bustling indoors as well as out.
LA Taiko Ensemble played two sets, making Yojimbo's presence on Fairfax known.
Don't sleep on Yojimbo (located across the street from Canters)!
Afterparty kanpai with Umami Mart Junmai Sake!
From Yojimbo x Umami Mart: Thank you for coming out LA!
And then, Kayoko told Casa de Kei to whip up a delicious makanai for the staff.
Thank you to everyone who made it out to our sake launch events! Big thank you to the awesome team at Yojimbo for hosting us! And a very special thank you to Mayuko Kita of Kita Shuzo for partnering with us on this sake. We hope there will be more Umami Mart sakes to come!