Episode 102 Show Notes
Episode 102. Who needs a vacation?! If you’re having visions of swaying palm trees and ocean sunsets, this episode may be just what the doctor ordered! This week, we live vicariously through John’s recent trip to Hawaii and his visit to Islander Sake Brewery, makers of Hawaii’s only local sake. John wouldn’t leave us high and dry, so we also get to taste a fruity and zippy Kitashizuku Junmai Ginjo sake from Islander, hand carried by John from Hawaii for this episode. It’s a rare treat that gets us musing about terroir in sake and exploring a bit of the fascinating and century-old history of sake in Hawaii. Join us as we explore the true spirit of aloha together! #SakeRevolution
Skip to: 00:19
Welcome to the show from John and Timothy
Skip to: 03:55
Islander Sake Brewery makes premium handcrafted sake, carefully produced in small batches, using the same methods as the highest quality daiginjo sake made in Japan. Islander Sake Brewery is a small sakagura that will be brewing sake on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi. We were previously located in Kaka’ako, Oahu but decided to expand, and move closer to an abundant source of pure natural water, which is essential for making great tasting, high quality sake.
Islander Kitashizuku Junmai Ginjo
Brewery: Islander Sake Brewery
Classification: Junmai Ginjo, Muroka, Nama
Rice Milling: 60%
Rice Type: Kitanishiki
Distributor: World Sake Imports
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Episode 102 Transcript
John Puma: 0:23
Hello everybody. And welcome to Sake Revolution. This is America’s first sake podcast, and I am your host, John Puma, over at the Sake Notes. Also the administrator at the Internet sake discord. You should go there right now, right now and join us.
Timothy Sullivan: 0:44
And I’m your host? Timothy Sullivan. I’m a Sake Samurai, sake educator, as well as the founder of the Urban Sake website and every week John and I will be here tasting and chatting about all things, sake and doing our best to make it fun and easy to understand.
John Puma: 1:01
Ah, Tim, how you doing
Timothy Sullivan: 1:03
today? doing good, but you know, I’ve been a little tired and I really feel like I need a vacation. Do you, do you even remember your last vacation? I can’t.
John Puma: 1:18
Well, I, I do. Um, yeah. When, when was the last time you went on vacation?
Timothy Sullivan: 1:24
I think it was Thanksgiving. I went to Nantucket and it was freezing cold. It couldn’t have been more off season. So it wasn’t what I would consider. Like, I think of more tropical breezes when I think of vacation.
John Puma: 1:41
well, sir, uh, I, around the same time, it was a mid November. I went down to Hawaii. Or is it over to Hawaii? It’s over and down. Um, and unlike your trip to Nantucket the weather, it was beautiful. It was wonderful.
Timothy Sullivan: 1:59
rub it in, rub it in.
John Puma: 2:00
a great time. Um, but yeah, it was a really quiet, uh, relaxing time. I think we talked about it a little
Timothy Sullivan: 2:08
Yeah, but what, what made you pick Hawaii? Like why did you go there? It’s really far away.
John Puma: 2:14
Well, you know, I can’t go to Japan, Tim,
Timothy Sullivan: 2:16
That makes sense. Yeah,
John Puma: 2:17
I went as far as I could in that direction. And just said, all right, this is, as far as I can go, I’m going to stop there. Uh that’s um, but seriously, uh, we went there for a couple of reasons. One, you know, we felt that, like, we never did a tropical thing before, too. Obviously we can’t go to Japan. Um, and three, the island of Oahu has a very strong Japanese presence or so we were told, and then we got there. It turned out to be very true. And so we got to experience a lot of Japanese culture. While experiencing a tropical vacation while still being in the United States. It was a little, a little surreal in a lot of ways. It was a lot of fun though.
Timothy Sullivan: 2:59
I I’ve only been to Hawaii. One time I went for work. And the thing that I took away from my trip to Hawaii is that all those things about Hawaiian culture, like the music and wearing Hawaiian shirts and all that stuff, I thought maybe it’s like a little bit just in the movies and it’s not really like that when you get there. But no, like I got into a cab to go from the airport to my hotel and my cab driver was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and playing Hawaiian music. And I. Wow. It’s really like this here. So it was, it was a pleasant culture shock for me.
John Puma: 3:32
Nice. Now, did you, did you go native and, and, and wear a Hawaiian shirt while you were there? No.
Timothy Sullivan: 3:39
have the gumption to do
John Puma: 3:41
Timothy Sullivan: 3:44
Oh, I bet.
John Puma: 3:45
Uh, yeah, I, and it wasn’t like, it wasn’t like, I was like, I’m dying to wear Hawaiian shirts. It’s just that, that, that, that my wife was dying to see me wear Hawaiian shirts. She just bought me like six.
Timothy Sullivan: 3:54
There you go.
John Puma: 3:55
so, so I did wear the Hawaiian shirt down there. It was honestly, you put on that shirt, you kind of relax. It happened. You can’t help it. You, you automatically, your stress levels reduce. Uh, it’s like a, you got a buff. It’s very nice. And yeah, like I mentioned that we did have a lot of sake while we were there, which was a very refreshing, uh, idea, to be in a tropical place in that and having a lot of sake. And one of the things we did was we visited the local sake, a brewery.
Timothy Sullivan: 4:30
John Puma: 4:32
It was nice to, it’s nice to find out that there was a local sake aviary, uh, over in Hawaii and, this place, um, Islander sake actually opened up kind of during the pandemic. Not, not the best time. I want to say to open up your, your sake brewery, but they did, they opened up in, uh, in March of 2020. So just when the going was getting good.
Timothy Sullivan: 4:53
Oh my gosh.
John Puma: 4:55
Yeah, I think that’s what we were about. Like shutting things down in New York. Um, so you might immediately, you’re like, oh my God, this business opened up at the very beginning of the pandemic. You know, that that’s going to be terrible for them. I hope they can survive. And they, they did survive and they thrive. They did really, really well. It’s a, very, very small establishment, a very small. Uh, place. And, you know, looking around only takes a few minutes. and then we sat down with the, owner who is also the toji, who was also the cook for their onsite omakase. and she brought us through the, uh, the different sakes that she makes over there. her name is. Chiaki Takahashi and that’s I mentioned owner toji cook also doctor. she has a doctor. She has a PhD in medical science.
Timothy Sullivan: 5:51
John Puma: 5:52
Yeah. But she’s like a Renaissance woman. Crazy. Um, and she actually started. As a medical researcher to be like getting into, um, researching stress induced diseases.
Timothy Sullivan: 6:08
I think I got one of those. just kidding.
John Puma: 6:11
That’s, what’s why you need to go on vacation.
Timothy Sullivan: 6:15
John Puma: 6:15
Um, yeah. And so, and the story goes that that one day she was very tired and stressed. She tried some sake to escape her own stress
Timothy Sullivan: 6:23
John Puma: 6:24
and it was like, wait a minute, I’m going to change my job. From stress disease to liquor research.
Timothy Sullivan: 6:32
Oh my God. I love this woman.
John Puma: 6:34
Yeah. And so she became a researcher for the national research Institute of brewing and
Timothy Sullivan: 6:39
Oh my God. That’s amazing.
John Puma: 6:42
Yeah. She did that for four years and then took it. And then during that time, like kind of went to, uh, went to Hawaii a bunch and kind of fell in love with Hawaii.
Timothy Sullivan: 6:51
As one does.
John Puma: 6:53
I was like, I’m going to yeah. And, and came over here and open a sake brewery. And yeah. Now, uh, my understanding and I’m, I’m a little less knowledgeable about this. My understanding is that this was not the first sake it’s ever existed in Hawaii.
Timothy Sullivan: 7:09
Well, I know a little bit about the history of sake in Hawaii, and it is much longer than you would think.
John Puma: 7:18
Timothy Sullivan: 7:18
I know no one, I don’t know if it’s exactly determined where the very first sake brewery was on U.S. Soil. Some people say California, but we know the first sake brewery in Hawaii was the Honolulu sake brewery, which opened in 1908 and closed
John Puma: 7:40
Wait, I’m sorry,
Timothy Sullivan: 7:42
John Puma: 7:42
Timothy Sullivan: 7:46
and closed 81 years later in 1989.
John Puma: 7:52
Oh, wow. Look at you. Look at it. We’re dropping these, uh, dropping this, this knowledge.
Timothy Sullivan: 7:58
All right. So the amazing thing about Honolulu sake brewery was that it survived not only prohibition, but also the Japanese internments of world war two. And that. The federal government outlawed sake brewing in Hawaii in December, 1941. So like three weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. So that put the kibosh on sake making. And I read that this sake brewery survived by making soy sauce.
John Puma: 8:29
Timothy Sullivan: 8:29
Yeah. Yeah. And another thing is they pioneered cold sake brewing because of the tropical conditions in Hawaii, back in the early 19 hundreds, they needed to find a way to keep the fermentations going. So it’s a really interesting company. And the brand that they had for all those years was Takara masamune.
John Puma: 8:49
Takara masamune. That was a very Japanese sounding brand.
Timothy Sullivan: 8:53
I think there were a lot of Japanese people working in Hawaii.
John Puma: 8:57
Timothy Sullivan: 8:58
And there was demand for sake through the people who left Japan came to Hawaii to work in the sugar cane fields and things like that. And, uh, takara masamune was produced locally and popular for quite awhile, but it did close down completely in 1989. And until Islander came along, there was no sake being brewed in Hawaii.
John Puma: 9:21
Huh? So, uh, so they, they, went under in 1989. They just missed like the sake boom on, by
Timothy Sullivan: 9:28
John Puma: 9:28
just a couple of more like 10, 15, more years. And they would have been like, you know, in the heart of when, when sake started heating up in America. Um, but I’m glad that Islander came along and picked up the, uh, picked up the Baton as it.
Timothy Sullivan: 9:44
Yeah. So you said it was a very small brewery, right?
John Puma: 9:47
Yes, it was very, very small. Um, it is probably the second smallest brewery I have ever been to the first being Kato sake works in Bushwick, we had a Shinobu Kato on the show and he can, he talked about how tiny the brewery is. But he’s, he’s moving to a larger facility and, and yeah, got those getting upgrade and Islander is getting an upgrade as well. So, you know, I like these like breweries that come along and they prove themselves out making this like, you know, really small batch, small facility, uh, set up. And then when the business is supporting them, they grow and, and produce more sake. I think that’s a really good way to do it. Good business sense,
Timothy Sullivan: 10:32
Yeah. So if I understand correctly, they opened the Islander brewery in Oahu, and then it is closed right now. And they’re building a new brewery on the big island.
John Puma: 10:46
That’s right, right. But they did open up a restaurant. In Oahu to kind of maintain a presence in there, you know, the home island, you know, where this whole thing began. Um, and so rich, a restaurant called, uh, uh, Hanalei and it’s, uh, so Islander became really well known for their food. Like their Omakase. Was really very popular and it was really hard to book a reservation to, to get there because it was very, very, very popular and people would, would go there, um, and, uh, enjoy the food. And it was a sake pairing with the, with the food. And so Hanalei is a way for them to maintain that business in Oahu and keep their stake in the ground as like, this is where we started.
Timothy Sullivan: 11:37
John Puma: 11:38
Timothy Sullivan: 11:39
And that’s like a sushi place.
John Puma: 11:42
um, yeah. Uh, the it’s a, it’s an omakase sushi place.
Timothy Sullivan: 11:45
John Puma: 11:47
Yeah, they are moving over and, uh, into a larger facility. Uh, I think that on the big island, like also it’s easier to get larger facility over there. Less expensive.
Timothy Sullivan: 11:57
Well, I do have to ask you, if you went to the brewery, you went to the taproom. Did you get to try the sake? what was your impression?
John Puma: 12:10
Um, I really, really liked it. so one thing that separates Islander from a lot of other breweries and one particular bottle specifically is that they were getting rice from Japan.
Timothy Sullivan: 12:27
Oh, that is not common
John Puma: 12:29
no, no. It’s usually it’s pretty cost prohibitive to ship rice over, but. They were shipping a rice from Hokkaido, uh, Kitashizuku rice, which is kind of the third Hokkaido rice, right? Um, interestingly, uh, bred to survive very cold conditions. So naturally they ship it to Hawaii. Um, but yeah, she also had, uh, she also had calrose that she was using. She had a California Yamana nishiki, and she did not have it at the time, but in the past she had done omachi from Okayama.
Timothy Sullivan: 13:12
Well, you know, if you think about where Hawaii is situated, they’re not growing sake rice there now. So if you ship it from California or you ship it from Hokkaido, it’s kind of almost
John Puma: 13:23
equidistant. Yeah. That’s a really good point, actually, yeah, so we, we did taste through the whole lineup of what she had at the time, most of it was, uh, Junmai Ginjo, Junmai Daiginjo. Uh, she also had a couple of like fruit infused is I think we only, we tasted one of the fruit and few sake as the pineapple. Uh, it was, uh, it was nice. It was a little, little funky, um,
Timothy Sullivan: 13:46
that, that is. I think what you would expect from a Hawaii. If you said Hawaii fruit infused question mark, I would say, Hmm, could it be pineapple?
John Puma: 13:57
good at they maybe. And the fun part is, and we talk about this on the show a lot, is that oftentimes when a sake brewery in Japan does a fruit infused. sake they’re using like the local prefecture fruit. So it really makes sense that she’s using the pineapple from Hawaii, which is, you know, I think if there’s any fruit that they’re known for, that’s gonna be it. Uh, well, yeah. and so we did, uh, after we were done with our tasting, we did leave there with a few bottles. And I know Tim, if you, uh, If you go ahead and open up your, open up your little fridge there.
Timothy Sullivan: 14:39
John Puma: 14:42
yes, yes, yes. I brought back the, uh, Kitashizuku Junmai Ginjo for us to taste and talk about.
Timothy Sullivan: 14:50
So this is hand carried from John Puma
John Puma: 14:52
yes, this was, I put this in my luggage in my hand and brought it all the way back. And it’s been in the refrigerator.
Timothy Sullivan: 15:00
Wow. This is a special treat. Thank you so much for doing that. And do you want.
John Puma: 15:04
Timothy Sullivan: 15:06
Do you want to give us the stats for this? Kitashizuku Junmai Ginjo,
John Puma: 15:10
Certainly. So, as I mentioned, this is the Islander sake Kitashizuku Junmai Ginjo the rice of course is a Kitashizuku, Kitashizuku, as I mentioned earlier, is, uh, the third Hokkaido rice. And it is actually a cross-breed of, omachi, And, um, Hoshinoyume, which is then crossbred with Ginpu, which is another Hokkaido rice. So it’s kind of a, you got to take these two and you make one and they take the other one, you mix them and then you get this one, that’s Kitashizuku. And it is a, the notes on it. Generally say that it’s, it’s kind of, it makes a large Shinpaku, which is always a desire of a, of a, of a sake rice maker. And Very low quote-unquote contaminants. So leads to a very clean flavor. and the polishing ratio of that Kito Shusaku is 60%.
Timothy Sullivan: 16:06
Sounds good to me.
John Puma: 16:07
yeah. I didn’t know exactly what yeast she used on this one, but she generally uses the number seven and number nine. it would be probably one of those two, the alcohol content of the sake is 15 and a half. The acidity is 2.6. It is you that’s high. And but, but, but wait, there’s more, the, the sake meter value that gauge of dry to sweet based on the density of the liquid at when compared to water is minus seven, Tim. And I think we talk about when you, when you get farther away from zero things, get a little more interesting things, get a little more impactful. And I think that combined with the 2.6 of the acidity is going to be an interesting, interesting sake. She does not do charcoal filtration. So this is a Muroka and this is also a Nama. So it was very important. I’ve kept this cold. Okay. So. Tim, if you would be so kind as to grab your sample.
Timothy Sullivan: 17:09
I got it.
John Puma: 17:10
All right, let me get mine opened up. So islander uses these very thin, very tall bottles. They remind me a little bit like a riesling bottles. I don’t know if you’re familiar and they have these, like the, the, the cork is actually a piece of glass with like a rubber rubberized interior. And it’s, it’s very, uh, kind of right. Fancy looking. I like that.
Timothy Sullivan: 17:45
It sounds like a very unique bottle. Well, we’ll have a picture of that in the show notes for
John Puma: 17:49
Absolutely. And we’ve also got a picture of. In front of the brewery. Uh, I am not wearing a Hawaiian shirt, sorry,
Timothy Sullivan: 17:57
John Puma: 17:58
But I’m wearing shorts, which is a rare treat.
Timothy Sullivan: 18:00
Okay. I’m sure the traffic to the website is going to spike.
John Puma: 18:06
oh my goodness. Forget it. You have to pay extra for this one. All right. So we’ve got that in the glass. Uh, Tim going to hold it up. It looks, you know, this is so. Not completely transparent, right?
Timothy Sullivan: 18:23
Yeah, there’s, there’s a very fine haze in here and it has just a hint of a yellowish color. Doesn’t it? Yeah. Um,
John Puma: 18:33
What’d you think of?
Timothy Sullivan: 18:35
John Puma: 18:38
Timothy Sullivan: 18:38
and it smells like something that’s going to have a high acidity. Like it smells like an acidic fruit.
John Puma: 18:43
Timothy Sullivan: 18:45
I don’t know if it’s just my response to all our talk about pineapple before, but it smells a little bit like pineapple to me
John Puma: 18:54
a tiny bit. There’s a, there is some tropical fruit there’s definitely, you know, pineapple is being favored in that tropical fruit profile. I think me it’s maybe that was a goal of hers.
Timothy Sullivan: 19:07
John Puma: 19:08
I’m putting this together.
Timothy Sullivan: 19:10
and I’m also smelling a little bit of like banana peel, a little bit of banana aroma.
John Puma: 19:16
Yeah. Um, yes, definitely in, or there’s something else in there. I think just like you mentioned, the bandit has banana peel. I’m getting a little more whole cloth banana. All right. Well, let’s have a sip.
Timothy Sullivan: 19:34
Hmm. So does this tastes like what you remember from the taproom?
John Puma: 19:40
I feel like the acidity is a touch higher than it was when I originally got it. Um, you know, bare in mind that, so this is a nama. And despite my best efforts, time is still, uh, still our enemy. And I did purchase this back in, November. And I do think the acidity is a touch higher, but a lot of the personality of the sake that I remember is still, uh, it still, what I’m tasting right now.
Timothy Sullivan: 20:06
I agree with you that the acidity is really prominent. Like that 2.6. Tastes that coming through.
John Puma: 20:15
yes, and if I do let it linger on my palate, kind of like what, when you first put in your mouth, you get that acidity hit. If you let it linger, the fruit really starts to come through. It’s kind of like hiding behind the acidity right now. That that’s a lot more of what this sake. I tasted like a while back.
Timothy Sullivan: 20:35
Yeah. Now that I’m studying it a little bit, I really feel like the, the fruits feel concentrated. And I’m thinking of, you know, when you get a thing of canned pineapple and there’s that syrup in there, like that syrup that comes with canned pineapple, it’s sweet and rich and full. And when this kind of I’d let this linger on my palate, I get that. Pineappley syrup. Kind of taste, but the acidity is high,
John Puma: 21:06
Timothy Sullivan: 21:07
so it doesn’t taste overly sweet.
John Puma: 21:10
Yeah. I think like 2.6 and then, you know, minus seven is an very interesting. Combination a little bit, a little bit more, a little bit funky or crazy style, maybe, interestingly though, this was not Myshell’s. Favorite. One of the sakes we hers was the Yamadanishiki Junmai Daiginjo. Which you’d think would be mine. Right? You would think that that would be the one that I fell in love with, but I actually really enjoyed this one the most. And you know, I like that. I like that little acidity spike. And I really like the concentrated fruit with that richness that you talked about. It’s really nice. I like the sip on this. And uh, I think this goes really well with food as well. It’s really nice
Timothy Sullivan: 22:01
Yeah. You know, what this makes me think about is really terroir in sake. We’ve talked about this a few times on the show, like the sense of place in the sake. Can you taste is this representative of where it comes from through the taste? And I think this is an interesting example to kind of bring up that discussion again, if you know, it comes from Hawaii and I’m kind of picturing myself on the beach. In my Hawaiian shirt, relaxing with a wine glass of this, watching the sunset and seeing the Palm trees sway. You know, you really get a sense of how this puzzle piece fits into that scene. Like this tastes like it could come from the Hawaii. You described it. It’s it really has that sense to it. Am I crazy?
John Puma: 22:55
Probably not. Um, and the funny thing is that like the. In, in Oahu, at least maitais are like water. They were very easy to get. And so you’re exposed to high acidity drinks constantly.
Timothy Sullivan: 23:12
John Puma: 23:14
And this kind of comes in a little subtle in comparison.
Timothy Sullivan: 23:16
John Puma: 23:17
When you think about, I think about a Mai Tai, it’s really intense. Um, so yeah, it might’ve also been influencing me a little. Uh, but yeah, I do really like their sake. I really like what they’re doing. It’s one of those things where, uh, you know, I’m, I’m when I tasted it I’m I am, I immediately wonder where it’s from and I think what prefecture is it from? You know, it’s very, uh, I think that’s, I think it’s nice when someone come along and make sake on U.S. Soil that you can easily mistake for Japanese. sake.
Timothy Sullivan: 23:51
I, I do think that question of sense of place, and that makes me think about like the stuff that’s being made in Brooklyn and how that reflects what we might eat it with, where we might be drinking it. The water it’s made with. And I can imagine the folks at Islander are just immersed in their environment, their water, their food culture. And even though they’ve come from Japan, they’re in Hawaii because they fell in love with that environment. And they’re crafting a sake that fits that really well. So it’s interesting to taste this and do you know if they’re distributing outside of Hawaii? Um,
John Puma: 24:34
Um, they are working on it. My understanding is that they have a working relationship with world sake imports who are based in Oahu. And, um, I know that they had brought up, uh, some things to New York to show around to the stores and restaurants here. But I don’t know if the actual, uh, the actual distribution has begun as of yet
Timothy Sullivan: 25:00
John Puma: 25:02
TBD. Or perhaps coming soon,
Timothy Sullivan: 25:07
But I think if you live in Hawaii, you can get this probably at the taproom or you could probably get this online pretty
John Puma: 25:14
you can get this at local liquor stores in, at some local liquor stores in Hawaii. And usually they sell it at the Sake Shop in Oahu as well. So definitely for all of your sake needs in of please stop at the Sake Shop. It’s a wonderful place. Um, we to need to get me to get Nadine a little, a little shout out. Um, and yeah, there are some other, I believe they, they do sell them in a couple of other shops in the vicinity.
Timothy Sullivan: 25:40
that’s great. Wow. Well, John, I do have to say thank you because this drinking this island or sake has been like a mini vacation in a glass. I didn’t get the, Mai tai. I didn’t get the beach, but this is pretty darn close in my book. Thank you for bringing this from Hawaii for us to taste. It was a real treat.
John Puma: 26:00
Oh, no problem. My pleasure. I love sharing a fun sake with people and specifically with you. So, uh, this was a lot of, this is great to do.
Timothy Sullivan: 26:09
Yeah. Well, I hope our listeners enjoyed hearing about this Hawaii sake, and hopefully we’ll be seeing more of it in the future.
John Puma: 26:15
Timothy Sullivan: 26:17
And I do want to thank our listeners so much for tuning in. We really do hope that you’re enjoying our show. If you would like to show your support for Sake Revolution, the best way you can support us now is to join our community on patreon. We are listener supported show and all the support we receive from our Patrons, goes to helping us host, edit and produce a podcast for you each and every week.
John Puma: 26:42
If you would like to learn more about our patreon, please visit Patreon.com/SakeRevolution. Or you can go to our site SakeRevolution.com, but you don’t have to stop there. There are other ways to support our show, such as leaving a review. On your podcast platform of choice that gets the word out about the show. It really gets this show into more ears, which is kind of the secret sauce to doing a podcast. Uh, you can just do it more directly. Just tell your friends, tell your family, tell them, you know, maybe they should go to Hawaii on vacation. And that there’s also a Sake Brewery there.
Timothy Sullivan: 27:21
And as always, if you would like to learn more about the topics or the individual sakes that we tasted on this or any of our episodes, be sure to visit our website SakeRevolution.com for the show notes and a written transcript for each and every episode.
John Puma: 27:36
And if you’d like to reach out to us directly, have a prepared, a few options for. You do the old fashioned way and email us at [email protected] or you can DM us on social media. That would be Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Uh, on Instagram, we are @SakeRevolutionPod, everywhere else. We are just @SakeRevolution. So on until next time, please grab a glass, raise your, Maitai. I mean, raise your sake. Ah, please remember to keep drinking sake and Kanpai.