It's the summertime, and I always look forward to having grilled foods this time of year. From St. Louis BBQ to yakitori draped in tare (sweet and salty soy sauce), the smell of charred meats and vegetables make me giddy with anticipation.
Shishito, shiitake, and asparagus skewers was delicious with the light Level 1 sake "Fragrant Water" Housui Tokubetsu Junmai
For yakitori, I usually default to pairing with a junmai. Big junmai flavors with bold grilled foods are a no brainer! But I wanted more proof as to why this pairing works so well.
What does this match really mean? I've translated the chart (on the left) produced by researchers showing how yakitori and sake (in this case Tamanohikari 94) hit all the five flavors in a balanced pentagonal shape. You can see that each make up for where the other lacks – the yakitori provides the salt, while the sake provides acid and bitterness. Both contain sweetness and umami. With this scientific proof, I can now eat yakitori and sake with a sound mind.
The line up of sakes this month makes me want to go to an izakaya or host a backyard grilling party – all the sakes evoke a convivial spirit and are excellent warm.
This month's Level 2 bottle Hojo Biden "Pastoral Beauty" Yamahai Junmai warmed up
We will be posting recipes for tare and yakitori on our blog, please check them out and try your hand at making yakitori this summer! We also recommend trying these sakes with sweet and salty BBQ sauce.
Yoko, Co-Founder and Kikizakeshi
“Fragrant Water” Housui Tokubetsu Junmai
Housui Brewing Co. (Tokushima, Japan)
Seimaibuai: 60% Yamada Nishiki, SMV +7.5, Acidity 1.4
This junmai has notes of savory celery, umami-rich rice, and tart citrus peel. With an overall, easy-to-drink vibe accented with a hint of acidity, it’s a perfect pairing for yakitori chicken skin, cartilage, and liver draped in tare (sweet and salty soy sauce). The brewery’s director Yasuo Baba also recommends skewered and grilled white onions and sardines with salt. This junmai is tokubetsu (special) because they use Yamada Nishiki rice from Hyogo (famous for making daiginjo) that has been polished to 60%. Try this sake at room temperature or lukewarm.
Making koji at Housui Brewing in Tokushima Prefecture. Photo courtesy of the brewery.
Tamanohikari 94 Junmai Ginjo
Tamanohikari Sake Brewery Co., Ltd. (Kyoto, Japan)
Seimaibuai: 60% Gohyaku Mangoku + Yamada Nishiki, SMV: +1.5, Acidity 1.8
The name 94 is pronounced ku-shi in Japanese which also means skewer. The name drives the point home that this is a sake specifically made to pair with yakitori. This sake has accentuated acidity, a hint of bitterness, and solid umami to complement the sweet and salty flavors of yakitori. I loved the aroma of toasted grain and honey on the nose that develops on the palatte to be chewy and rustic. This sake begs to be warmed up! Get a stick of skewered chicken thigh with tare, or with an order of burnt ends from Pappy’s Smokehouse in St. Louis. Find the char mark on the chicken piece second from the bottom on the label in the shape of the Japanese archipelago!
Akabu Shuzo (Iwate, Japan)
Seimaibuai: 60% Ginginga, SMV + Acidity undisclosed
Akabu Shuzo is guided by their motto Creating a New History, improving upon craftmanship and technology to make better sake. This junmai is curious as it has an aroma more akin to a junmai ginjo – with a bouquet of nectarine, meyer lemon, and peaches. The taste is also delicate for a junmai with citrus flavors and freshly steamed rice. The folks at Akabu love to drink their junmai chilled with negima and tsukune. We also loved this with green beans in gomadare sesame sauce. Fun fact: the label depicts a red samurai, designed by an employee at the brewery. Warm it up to bring out velvety caramel flavors!
Akabu kurabito (brewery workers) transferring rice to vats
Akabu Junmai by rice fields at the brewery. Akabu photos courtesy of the brewery.
Hojo Biden “Pastoral Beauty” Yamahai Junmai
Mii No Kotobuki (Fukuoka, Japan)
Seimaibuai: 70% Fukuoka Itoshima Yamada Nishiki, SMV +0, Acidity 1.6
Enjoy the golden hue of this yamahai junmai from Kurume City, which has the largest number of yakitori restaurants in Japan per 10,000 people. “I’m always eating yakitori!” says Toji Masatsugu Inoue, “This sake goes particularly well with grilled chicken liver, thighs and fresh avocado.” We love the raisin and honeysuckle aromas of this sake, in addition to its rich flavors of walnut, grape, and yogurt. Inoue adds that, “The rich taste of succinic acid in this sake marries well with tare. Enjoy chilled or warm.
Mii No Kotobuki's Toji, Inoue-san. Photo courtesy of the brewery.