Episode 53 Show Notes
Episode 53. When we first heard about Hannah Kirshner’s new book “Water, Wood and Wild Things,” we knew we had to get her on the show. Not only does the book outline Hannah’s amazing adventure living the in rural town of Yamanaka in Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan, but during her stay there, she interns at Engawa, a destination premium sake bar and then also works a season at Matsuura Shuzo, the local sake brewery. Hannah writes with great insight and sensitivity about her entry into the world of sake from an outsider’s point of view – and this makes it accessible and approachable for all of us who are so interested in Japan and in sake. Now, Shishinosato, the brand of sake made by Matsuura Sake Brewery, where Hannah worked, is not yet available in the States, so we taste some other brands of sake from Ishikawa Prefecture with Hanna. We absolutely enjoyed talking sake with Hannah, but if that weren’t enough, her book also describes her studies of woodturning, hunting, tea ceremony, dance, paper making and other amazing Japanese traditions to bring the rural town of Yamanaka alive for her readers. We hope you enjoy our foray into the world of “Water, Wood and Wild Things!”
Skip to: 00:19
Welcome to the show from John and Timothy
Hannah Kirshner is a writer, artist, and food stylist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Vogue, Saveur, Taste, Food52, Roads & Kingdoms, and Atlas Obscura, among others. She is author of Water, Wood, and Wild Things.
Kirshner grew up on a small farm outside Seattle, and studied painting at the Rhode Island School of Design. She divides her time between Brooklyn and rural Japan.
Hannah Kirshner on Instagram
Hannah Kirshner on Twitter
Taking readers deep into evergreen forests, terraced rice fields, and smoke-filled workshops, Kirshner captures the centuries-old traditions still alive in Yamanaka. Water, Wood, and Wild Things invites readers to see what goes into making a fine bowl, a cup of tea, or a harvest of rice and introduces the masters who dedicate their lives to this work. Part travelogue, part meditation on the meaning of work, and full of her own beautiful drawings and recipes, Kirshner’s refreshing book is an ode to a place and its people, as well as a profound examination of what it means to sustain traditions and find purpose in cultivation and craft.
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Tedorigawa Yamahai Junmai
Rice Type: Gohyakumangoku
Classification: Junmai, Yamahai
Brewery: Yoshida Shuzoten
Brand: Tedorigawa (手取川)
Importer: World Sake Imports
Tengumai Red Label Tokubetsu Junmai
Classification: Tokubetsu Junmai
Rice Type: Gohyakumangoku
Brewery: Shata Shuzo
Importer: Mutual Trading (NY)
This is it! Join us next time for another episode of Sake Revolution!
Episode 53 Transcript
John Puma: 0:21
Hello everybody. And welcome to Sake Revolution. This is America’s first sake podcast. And I’m your host, John Puma from the Sake Notes. Also the administrator over at the internet Sake Discord, as well as Reddit’s R /sake community. Uh, also that guy on the show who not a Sake Samurai in case you haven’t heard.
Timothy Sullivan: 0:42
And I am your host, Timothy Sullivan. I am a Sake Samurai. I’m also a sake educator, as well as the founder of the Urban Sake website. And every week, John and I will be tasting and chatting about all things sake and doing our best to make it fun and easy to understand.
John Puma: 0:58
wonderful. Thank you very much, Tim. Now, I understand that we’ve got, another VIP today.
Timothy Sullivan: 1:05
Yes, we have a fantastic guest.
John Puma: 1:08
This is nice. I like this, uh, this almost like a third chair, rotating chair thing that we’ve got going on. This is very interesting. I like this a lot. Who’s with us today, Tim.
Timothy Sullivan: 1:16
John, not that you and I have run out of things to talk about,
John Puma: 1:19
Timothy Sullivan: 1:20
never, never, but we have a wonderful guest joining us today and author. Today. We’re going to be interviewing Hannah Kershner. Hannah grew up in the Pacific Northwest and went on to become a writer and a food stylist, but more recently on March 23rd, this year, 2021, Hannah published her first book, entitled Water, Wood, and Wild Things. The book outlines, a series of apprenticeships, Hannah took on in the small town of Yamanaka in Ishikawa, Prefecture, Japan. In addition to learning about tea, ceremony, woodworking, hunting, papermaking rice planting, and so many other things. Hannah also did an internship at Engawa, which is a local destination sake bar and at Matsuura Shuzo the town’s only sake brewery. We are so excited to talk to Hannah today about all of this and more. So Hannah, welcome to the show. So good to have you.
Hannah Kirshner: 2:19
thank you for that wonderful introduction.
Timothy Sullivan: 2:22
Yeah. I just finished reading your book and it is absolutely fantastic. I feel you did a really good job communicating a lot of the nuance of Japanese culture.
Hannah Kirshner: 2:34
Yeah. And, and, you know, so much, we read about Japan as about the big cities, and I really wanted to capture the rural life and rural culture too.
John Puma: 2:42
Nice. That is something that I have almost no experience with. I’ve been to Japan plenty of times, but ,I always tend to gravitate towards the big city. I’m a New York guy. I like big cities but I wanna know how you got interested in Japan and sake and how you ended up, how do you end up living over there?
Hannah Kirshner: 2:59
So I grew up in the Pacific Northwest in a small town outside of Seattle, and there’s so much influence of Japanese culture there ,and really Asian many Asian cultures there were Chinese immigrants that came in the 18 hundreds to help build the railroads and, um, with the timber industry. And then after the Chinese exclusion act, a lot of the immigrants started coming from Japan and actually the first regular steamship route between Japan and the U S was to Seattle. So in spite of all of the violence and injustices against Asians and Asian Americans in the U S over the past century and more, Those Asian immigrant cultures have had such an influence on Seattle. And so Japanese culture in particular, I mean, even in spite of the internment of Japanese Americans, During world war II. There’s, there’s so much influence on the food and gardens and architecture. So I really grew up around those things. And it’s hard to say, like when I became interested specifically in Japanese culture, it’s kind of like, I don’t know why, like ice cream, um,
John Puma: 4:13
I think I know how you feel.
Hannah Kirshner: 4:15
gives us those. Yeah. Even, even in my small town there, we could get Udon and yakisoba in the supermarket. But if I have to pick sort of a turning point, I would say like when I was in high school and I was thinking about going to art school and I was spending a lot of time in Kinokuniya bookstore in Seattle and discovered my favorite contemporary artists at the time, which was Aya Takano. And, um, Yoshitomo Nara and I decided, well, if I’m going to study art and these are my favorite contemporary painters, then I better learn Japanese and go there someday.
Timothy Sullivan: 4:49
So you had exposure to Japanese culture early on in your, in your life.
Hannah Kirshner: 4:54
Yeah. Yeah, definitely.
Timothy Sullivan: 4:56
That’s amazing. we read in your book about how you wound up at your first kind of internship that you did. Uh, it’s a internship, a training at a destination sake bar called Engawa and you met a gentleman named Shimoki san and he wound up being ,your. Colleague and your teacher at this sake bar, it’s such a rare experience for a person outside of Japan to have this opportunity. What was your most memorable experience from working at the sake bar? And can you tell us a little bit about your time there?
Hannah Kirshner: 5:36
Sure. So, um, anybody who’s interested to know, the backstory can read in the prologue of water, wood, and wild things about how I ended up shimoki’s bar, which includes living in a bike messenger house in Kyoto, a decade earlier. But the opportunity to go and apprentice in this little tiny sake bar just seemed to me like it would open doors, but I didn’t even really know which ones at that point I was already working as a food stylist and a food writer. And I wanted to write more about Japanese food and food culture. And so that just seemed like this would lead to things that would be really interesting ,and it certainly did it and ended up leading to an entire book but the bar is tiny. Usually Shimoki san works by himself. and his enthusiasm for sake is just incredible he’s just, single-mindedly passionate about sharing sake with as many people as possible, and getting them excited about it too. I think the other thing that was really. Meaningful about that experience is that it drops me right into a community cause a bar is also a community. And so I met all these interesting people, um, wood Turners and lacquer, lacquer ware, craftsmen, and, um, farmers and hunters. So then when I later set out to write the book and I had all these connections and then I sought out people to sort of represent each of the important parts of the culture of Yamanaka
John Puma: 7:14
I’ve never been to a rural sake bar before and also I’m very curious about what makes us want a destination bar kind of heard that word tossed around a lot with regard to Engawa. So I’m just very, very excited and intrigued and curious about this.
Hannah Kirshner: 7:30
Yeah. So I think one way to talk about it is the mix of guests that’s there on any given night that people do come from Tokyo or Osaka specifically to visit Shimoki san’s bar to visit Engawa because. He has such a great collection of sake but really I feel like it’s, it’s his personality. That is the, is the draw and also his collection of cups. So one of the things that he loves to do is pour you the same sake and several different cups to show how much the vessel that you’re drinking from, changes the experience, both how the shape effects, the way the aromas reach your nose. And, also just, just the whole experience part of being in that bar is like you get to drink from a work of art. Often he has an incredible collection of lacquer ware cups, from Yamanaka and, antiques. So that’s really part of it too, but it’s not just, say tourist spot All these local people come there too. So while I was working in the bar, my neighbor in her eighties, his sweet, tiny woman with this bright, bright smile would come in once a week with her money already counted out for a sake a beer and a whiskey. often Shimoki san’s friends would come in after like a soccer game, you have hospitality workers from so-so Yamanaka. Basically it’s a hot spring town in the middle of the mountains. So there not a lot of salary men here. Most people are business owners or artisans or working in hospitality. So you’d have all those people coming into. And, um, the craftsmen that would come in are the best in Yamanaka. So therefore. Some of the best in the world, and they’re just, they’re having a sake you know, sitting next to the little old lady and the tourists from Osaka and Shimoki’s school friends.
Timothy Sullivan: 9:27
I think there’s an atmosphere in that kind of sake bar. That is just magical.
John Puma: 9:32
Timothy Sullivan: 9:35
So I’m curious now, when you went to intern at Engawa, were you planning on writing a book about this experience or did that idea develop over time when you discovered the different artisans working there and got to know them through your Engawa training?
Hannah Kirshner: 9:55
it was a little bit of both. I knew I wanted to write a book, but at that point I was thinking maybe a cookbook. And so I had a couple different ideas. I mean, I had thought about writing a book that was like recipes to go with sake or, You know, various things I thought about, but once I was there, I realized that if I wanted to write about Japanese food, that particularly regional food that I really needed to write about how everything gets to the table or that, that was what I was curious about was like, how was this wooden cup made? Who grew the rice and why did they grow it the way that they did? How is the sake made every single aspect of it? I wanted to explore the stories of how it’s made and who’s making it. And, and I could have decided to go all over Japan, finding different, incredible artisans to feature. Right. But what I really wanted do was show also how all these crafts and practices are interconnected and how they’re part of a culture and a local culture and a community too.
Timothy Sullivan: 11:03
Yeah, that was one of the great things about the book is that, you know, the lady who made the paper popped up when you were doing your gardening a couple chapters later, and, it was wonderful to see the characters reoccurring and, it really helped to feel as a reader, like you were getting to know the town as well. So I think that was a really smart choice. Yeah. And you also did throw some recipes in there as well. So you did in essence, fulfill your cookbook wish, too, right?
Hannah Kirshner: 11:29
yeah, there are recipes because I think food is just so much how for how I see and experience the world. And I wanted to include recipes too, which I mean, you’ll find some of them, a few of them are really, very easy and, the duck and scallion skewers, or the onigiri, the rice balls, or even the karaage, the fried chicken, like anybody could find those ingredients and make those things and get to bring a little tastes of Yamanaka home. But there are also some recipes that are so local that they would be very hard to make somewhere else. If you don’t live near a mountain where there’s wild, wasabi, growing along cold stream beds, that, um, might be a little hard to make, but I feel like they, they still serve a purpose for, um, storytelling. And, it’s the sort of same curiosity about like, how are things made that that drives like the narrative of the chapters too.
Timothy Sullivan: 12:22
Yeah, I love
John Puma: 12:23
so you, got this internship at, Engawa, which. Sounds absolutely amazing. It’s now a bucket list destination for me how did you go, from this wonderful experience to the next, which is, working, as an intern at the local brewery, right?
Hannah Kirshner: 12:39
well, um, the toji and owner Matsuura san said no many times before he eventually said yes. Um,
John Puma: 12:50
so persistence is what you’re
Hannah Kirshner: 12:51
even persistence and patience was how a lot of this got done and, and taking the time to really get to know people and give them a chance to get to know me but, even just to visit his, sakagura, his brewery, Many times I was out with friends and we amend and met him and he would say, Oh, sure. Yeah, come visit my sakagura. And then in the clarity of the sober morning, I would say he would text me or my friend and say, Oh, I’m so sorry. Actually, I can’t have visitors. but eventually he invited me, to harvest some of the rice, part of the rice that he uses is actually grown by one of the guys that works in the kura. And so I got to come help with some of the harvest and then I got to come help with bottling, which I think might’ve been kind of a test cause that’s sort of the most like straightforward manual labor. So I, I came and I did that for one day and then he said, okay, why don’t you come back for the first day of the season? And I was still thinking like, maybe I was just going to be there for a day, but when I showed up, he had a jacket for me with, the sakagura’s, logo on it and the white boots with my name on. Um, and so that outfit made me part of the team and it was clear that I then worked there and I spent the rest of that season, the entire winter working there, basically just like a regular worker. Uh, so I got to have the whole experience of what it was like to make sake there and see the whole process. Not just see it, but take part in it. Yeah.
John Puma: 14:27
Tim, did they give you, white boots with your name on them?
Timothy Sullivan: 14:30
I did get white boots with my name. I worked for one year at Hakkaisan brewery in Niigata. So it was very interesting for me to read your descriptions of the sake production process. And I think you did a really good job of explaining the ins and outs of making sake how sometimes it can be tedious and manual, and sometimes it can be really enchanting and beautiful. And I would like to know from your experience, what was your favorite and least favorite tasks at
Hannah Kirshner: 15:02
okay, I’m going to answer it. And then I want to know, I want to know yours. My favorite, my favorite job was working in the muro Koji room you bring the steamed rice in and, um, we would cover it in blankets essentially. And let it slowly get to an even temperature. That’s cool enough. And then sprinkle the spores of aspergillus already say onto this steamed cooled rice and it’s steamed so it’s sort of like dry it’s, it’s more firm than say, like a bowl of rice that you would eat. And, uh, then you need the spores into the rice. And this is all happening in this warm room, kind of like an incubator for the Koji rice and then over the next few hours. And the next few days it transforms, it becomes fuzzy and sweet and fragrant, and the perfume just keeps changing. So it’ll smell like mushrooms and chestnuts and sometimes even like citrus. And then you have this white fuzzy mat of Koji rice, and the enzymes from that are what transform the starches of rice into sugars for the yeast to ferment into sake But just the Koji by itself has just. It’s just magical to watch that transformation. You also asked about my least favorite job, I would say bottling is probably my least favorite because it’s very repetitive, and not that interesting, it’s more just manual labor, but I had so much of what we did in the kura is actually cleaning and I feel like more than half the work is cleaning, right. Because everything needs to be immaculately clean all the time. And I actually didn’t mind that because it just feels like such an important part of the work too. And there’s so much about, I mean, you alluded to this Timothy, like there’s so much about being in the kura. That is just beautiful. Like, you know, you’re pushing cloths in this like metal vat with a kibo, this long pole to wash it. And there’s like sun streaming in from the window coming through the steam of like steaming the rice. And so even when you’re doing manual labor, there’s so much about the experience that is just simply beautiful.
John Puma: 17:30
I got to say, I’m kind of, I was surprised I had a bet in my head about what the least favorite task was going to be based on my conversations with Tim and sadly, it was not cleaning the press.
Hannah Kirshner: 17:44
Oh, uh, was, is that your least favorite?
Timothy Sullivan: 17:48
For me, I think the Koji room was really the most difficult. It was very, I agree with you. It was very stimulating and complex and there was a lot to learn, but for me it was physically the most uncomfortable because I do not like heat.
Hannah Kirshner: 18:08
it’s very hot.
Timothy Sullivan: 18:09
Yeah. I can tolerate cold for a long period of time, but for, to be in that super hot environment all the time, that was really the most difficult and working over nights too. It was the only department where we had to work overnight. So it was really the most uncomfortable for me was the Koji room. But I actually really liked cleaning the press. I thought that had a beautiful aroma, like the smell was just amazing.
John Puma: 18:33
You see, based on your, based on what you had told me, I, I thought, I thought that cleaned the press sound like the worst thing. So even though it was your favorite thing, I was the thing that I
Hannah Kirshner: 18:42
Wait, so, so what kind of press do they use? Is it a yabuta or is it something different?
Timothy Sullivan: 18:49
Yeah, the brewery has a yabuta and they also have a fune, but I was cleaning out
Hannah Kirshner: 18:56
So what’s F Oh, the fune is okay. Can you describe what the fune is? I’ve I’ve seen that, but I’ve never worked with
Timothy Sullivan: 19:03
Sure. The fune is a rectangular box with a hole at the front bottom. And what you do is you take the mash bags and you lay them in side-by-side and then stack them up inside the box. And then there’s a board that fits just inside the box and using a hydraulic press, you press the board down and squeeze the bags and all the sake comes out the hole at the bottom front. So it’s a way of squeezing that is not as automated as the, yabuta, the automated press.
John Puma: 19:41
What did they have?
Hannah Kirshner: 19:42
So, but I guess, no matter what you’re doing, basically the idea is to, to squish the, Oh, they had, a yabuta, which is, um, yeah, more mechanized. It’s sort of like a big bellows that, you, the, the sake is piped through the top and then squeezed between these panels so that, the liquid pours out clear from, uh, another hose at the bottom. And then when you’re done, you take apart those bellows and in between each segment, there’s like a flat sheet of sake kasu, the sediment of the rice and Koji and a yeast. And, um, Yeah, that part of the brewery at Matsuura Shuzo, she was always called Hokkaido because it’s the coldest part. And then, then the Muno is called Hawaii. Um, because it’s so hot and it, it really is a shock to the system going from like Hawaii to Hokkaido. I have a very embarrassing story that happened in Hawaii, which I will not tell you now because I will just blush too much. And it’s just still really embarrassing to remember, but it is in the book. It is Water Wood and Wild Things. So,
John Puma: 20:49
You guys got to read the book if
Hannah Kirshner: 20:50
but a bit related to being uncomfortably hot.
Timothy Sullivan: 20:54
But I think, I think it’s not a real year living in Japan. If you don’t have a Crip, cripplingly embarrassing story. I think everybody goes through that. There’s something that happens to everybody who lives in Japan. That is just, you just can’t believe it. Um, I do have a question about the brewery president, Mr. Matsuura. One thing that really stayed with me from the chapter about working at the brewery was his descriptions of sake brewing and his analogies that you relate in the book such as, Koji turning rice into fruit, or, when you look at Koji, consider rice to be the planet and Koji can be trees on the planet, or my favorite was that, the fermentation cycle is like a party. Everyone starts out with introductions and is a little bit stiff. And then the party really gets raging. And then at the end, there’s maybe a few, a few stragglers hanging around. Like these ways of describing fermentation were so insightful. And I haven’t heard, other brewers necessarily talk like this. Oh. W can you tell us a little bit about yes. Yes.
Hannah Kirshner: 22:02
He would, I think another one is that he talks about sake being like a, a flower that. First it’s a bud and then it blooms and then it wilts and how it’s beautiful in each phase and how like talking, this is like about the, the finished sake So how it keeps transforming over time.
Timothy Sullivan: 22:23
Speaking of the brewery and Mr. Matsuura, we really wanted to make sure we took some time to taste some of the sake with you. And unfortunately, the Shishinosato, which is the brand name of the brewery where you worked, it’s not available in the United States, is that right?
Hannah Kirshner: 22:43
Yeah. Matsuura-san doesn’t export any of his sake at this point it’s a fairly small sakagura. They do send some bottles to Tokyo and Osaka to a couple of stores and restaurants, and, it’s most important to him to be able to serve the community here. The last chapter of water wood and wild things is about the festival, the annual fall festival. And a lot of his sake is drunk at that time. Yeah, he doesn’t export at this point, but I, um, hope that some folks, when they make it to Japan will be able to try. shishi no sato that the brand that he makes, there’s also so much wonderful sake from Ishikawa. So I know that you guys got some other Ishikawa that you’re going to taste, right.
John Puma: 23:30
that is right. We did I brought the Tedorigawa, Junmai Yamahai, here in the USA, we call this one the silver mountain. Uh, I’m a big fan of this sake. So I’m excited to be drinking it. I haven’t had it in years and, Tim, what do you have today?
Timothy Sullivan: 23:47
I also got a great Ishikawa Sake Ah, this is from a brand called Tengumai it’s their Tokubetsu Junmai Red Label. So it’s also a sock am very happy to revisit. And Hannah, what did you bring from your brewery to taste with us?
Hannah Kirshner: 24:07
I do love both Tengumai and Tedorigawa too, but I’m especially loyal to, Shishi No Sato worked there. And since I am in Yamanaka and this is our Yamanaka sake working in the Sakagura I was often sent home with bottles, like any day that we do bottling, which is the sort of tedious manual labor our reward is that we get to bring home a bottle of sake and also Matsuura san really likes me to taste things and tell him what I think. So he’s always sending me home with things to try. And so I have many, many bottles in my house that do not have labels because when they’re just, you know, for me to bring home and drink it, doesn’t always, bother to put a label on it because you know, it does not necessary except for then I forget what they are. So I have two mystery bottles right now, which I will taste and maybe be able to guess,
Timothy Sullivan: 25:01
Yeah. So you you have a selection and we don’t know what’s in the bottles, but you’re going to taste it. And tell us a little bit about the flavor profiles that you get from Shishi no Sato sake.
Hannah Kirshner: 25:14
One of the things I love about Shishi No Sato is it’s very, very food friendly, Yamanaka has soft water. And, that is really good for making sake That goes well with food. Whereas if you have hard water, it’s a little easier to make something that can really stand alone is like a sipping sake the soft water Matsuura san explains, really great for making, Like a table sake That’s really, his goal is to make sake that is at its best with food and makes food more delicious. Um, and I’m going to drink it out of a cup made by Takahito Nakashima, who is the wood Turner that I write about in Water, Wood and Wild Things. He’s actually the same age as Matsuura san the sake brewer and has made a particular shape of sake cup to suit the local sake So Yamanaka Shiki is this lacquer ware ,it’s turned wooden sake cup and the finish on Yamanaka Shiki, rather than the like opaque, lacquer is often translucent so that you really see the wood grain of the material. And it’s just beautiful and Nakashima san’s cups. They’re like, so simple and elegant and, very, very thin, like he can actually turn woods so thin. It’s like an eggshell the one that I’m drinking from is a little bit sturdier than that, but, it’s just exquisite. So that is definitely part of the experience too. All right. the first mystery bottle I have here, it’s a green bottle. Let’s see, I’m going to pour some into the laquerware a cup
Timothy Sullivan: 27:07
No, these are sakes that you’ve had open.
Hannah Kirshner: 27:09
they’ve been open. So they do not taste as they would when they were, freshly bottled, which may make it even harder to guess what it was.
Timothy Sullivan: 27:18
But I think it speaks to how sturdy they are. Right. And that they pair well with food. They can withstand a little bit of oxygen exposure. That’s really good to know as well
Hannah Kirshner: 27:29
Yeah. And I think that’s like something that, people don’t always realize about sake Like, whereas wine, once you open it, like even the next day, it’s going to be really different. There certainly is wine that will like change and improve over a couple of days. But I feel like, sake can tolerate, or even sometimes benefit from being open for a lot longer than wine, depending on the style and kind of sake
John Puma: 27:51
Um, now for our listeners at home, Hannah is drinking with us at 10:00 AM, time in Japan. So please be patient, uh, as it, you know, again, it is quite, quite early for her.
Hannah Kirshner: 28:02
Yeah. I’m not going to drink a whole cup of sake, but I’m going to taste it and tell you guys what I taste. So I’m smelling it. It’s a little floral and like, it’s the part of spring here where a lot of wild flowers are blooming and the mountains are starting to be really green. And somehow this fragrance like reminds me of the fragrance of the air right now. And that’s something Matsuura san says too, that he wants a sake to be a breath of fresh mountain air for the city. People that drink it in Tokyo.
Timothy Sullivan: 28:31
Oh, I love it. He is a poet. Isn’t he? Like seriously?
Hannah Kirshner: 28:38
I think this might be the chokara because it’s got a little bit of acidity, a little bit of a zip to it, I’ll chokara means super dry, but maybe not. This, this feels a little bit more nuanced. I can taste the sweetness of the Koji. It’s not like a sugary kind of sweetness, but it’s just like just very mild sweetness and a little bit of umami, like reminds me of enoki mushrooms. yeah, this one’s really bright. And it, um, it definitely makes me want to eat. It has that tartness and dryness at the end, that just makes me want to eat something.
Timothy Sullivan: 29:20
What are some of the key traits of the sake that you made there in Ishikawa? And then John and I can taste some, a couple other brands from Ishikwawa, but I’d love to know if you had to describe the overarching flavors or impression that you get from Shishi no Sato, sake how would you describe it to those of us here in the States that can’t get it
Hannah Kirshner: 29:40
Yeah, sure it really is food pairing sake Shishi No Sato in particular, like it’s kind of subtle, it doesn’t have a really super strong character, but that sort of simplicity or understatedness is actually one of the hardest things to achieve and I think it tends to be a little umami. Like I personally am drawn to those more subtle umami kind of flavors, as opposed to say like a Daiginjo that’s very like floral and fruity.
Timothy Sullivan: 30:11
John. And I have a lot of discussions on this show about floral and fruity. Don’t we, john.
John Puma: 30:15
Is a, that is my wheelhouse that’s Tim Timothy’s as well.
Timothy Sullivan: 30:21
Well, thank you for that description Hannah with that in mind, John, why don’t you crack open your sake You have the Tedorigwa now have you, did you venture out of, Yamanaka to visit any breweries in Ishikawa outside of that town
Hannah Kirshner: 30:37
A little bit and I did actually visit Tedorigawa once, but it was right in the middle of their brewing season. So I couldn’t really go inside the brewery much because it’s, as you know, it’s very intense, seasonal work. Did not want to intrude, but I certainly have had an opportunity to taste a lot of their sake at Engawa bar.
John Puma: 30:55
so I have poured the, Tedorigawa. It’s been a very long time since I’ve had this one. I’m very excited to be, uh, able to taste it again. so the seimaibuai on this is 60% and the rice is, gohyakumangoku of course this comes from Ishikawa Prefecture. sake meter value is plus six, so it’s pretty dry and the alcohol percentage is 15.8, right. And that happy little. Normal area for alcohol percentage. I’m getting on the nose like a little bit of sweetness, almost like a honey sweetness. Yeah. Syrup, maybe like maple syrup. This is it’s. The nose is nice. The nose is actually pretty nice. And this is a Yamahai so it’s not, I don’t expect to get a lot on the nose. but then when I sip on it, it is almost a textbook definition of Yamahai of like a yamahai Junmai, if I were to like, look up Yamahai Junmai in a dictionary, this is an, this is what I would expect to see. It’s just, it’s got, all of those flavors that kind of, you know, barely present sweetness of, strong core centerpiece that look really wants food and then it’s a little bit dry on the finish. This is a, this is an eating sake not a sipping sake I want to say he does make wonderful sipping sakes Uh, this one, I think is a little bit more, I’m an accompaniment to a, more of a Hardy meal. how’s your Tengumai
Timothy Sullivan: 32:24
This is theirTokubetsu Junmai and the brewery name is Shata Shuzo. And as all these sakes are, they’re all from Ishikawa today. This has 16% alcohol and it’s also 60% and it’s also gohyakumangoku, just like John. And in addition, it’s also SMV plus six. So there’s a lot of similarities between our sake but mine is not Yamahai, it’s just a regular tokubetsu Junmai. And when I taste it, it’s got. a little bit of an earthy note to it and normally gohyakumangoku is a little bit quieter and airier, but this has a little bit of richness to it and nice rice flavor, very silky on the palate. The texture is really wonderful and just like all the sakes we’ve talked about today, I’d love to pair this with some food it’s begging out for, you know, some yakitori or ramen or something yummy. And it would just, I think pair beautifully with something like that. So really enjoyable. And it’s interesting that both of these that we picked John are both using gohyakumangoku
John Puma: 33:37
I mean, this has so much like umami going on that it almost makes me feel bad. Like, I feel like I’m not doing, I feel awful not having this with food. I’m like doing it a disservice by just sipping on it because there’s so much more it’s like, no, no, no.
Hannah Kirshner: 33:50
My mouth is still tingling from the last sip. Like I really want some like grilled fish with a nice little, so I saw this glaze on it or, um, something, something kind of fatty would be nice but I’m curious. When you guys taste do you talk about the Polish percentage and the alcohol percentage and all these things? Like how much do you feel that that actually tells you about how a sake is going to taste?
John Puma: 34:17
I love that question and I think that Tim and I might have slightly different answers to this. So
Timothy Sullivan: 34:27
I also love that question. I’ve been studying sake for 15 years. And when I first started having these stats and rice milling numbers and rice strains, I viewed them like a handle to hold onto something, to get a handle on the sake And I don’t think they should be the end, all be all of how the sake should taste, or you have to live and die by these statistics and numbers related to the sake But for people who are just getting into sake I find that they offer a really great way to take a safe step, to understanding. And I use them as a way to help people get a handle on what a sake could be all about.
John Puma: 35:12
Mm, well as a sake educator, uh, I think that’s a perfect answer for you. Uh, um, and I would have expected nothing less than a perfect answer, however, uh, for me, yeah, it’s, it is as somebody who’s mostly drinking sake for myself, unless I’m, picking out sake for the show. I don’t focus on it that much. Uh, I like to know it because it’s something that I used to look at when I was new at drinking sake It was something that it was my handle to hold onto as Tim described. But these days it doesn’t really have the impact on flavor that I thought it would when I was first getting into this.
Hannah Kirshner: 35:55
Yeah. I feel like the difference, the differences among sake can be so subtle and so much has to do with like how it’s made and also the water. And, and then the process of the sakagura that, um, and maybe this is just me as like more of like a writer and a drinker and not. Uh, an expert in sake and like a technical sense. Like, I don’t find those things very interesting or useful. I mean, interesting in the sense of like, yes, I’m always interested in like, how, how is something made, right? That’s that, that curiosity really drives me. But as, choosing what to drink, I don’t know to me the best way is just tasting things and finding out what it tastes like. And, um, and then just trusting my palate.
John Puma: 36:43
I think if there’s a thing that I look for, it might be the overall classification. And that’s just because a lot of the times producers will, regardless of Polish percentage and all this other, you know, all the other stats will sometimes when they’re trying to make a ginjo, they’re going to go for a particular, style with that. And so I might gravitate towards that because I like that style. It’s less about, Oh, I need, I, you know, it’s just rice milling or bust
Hannah Kirshner: 37:12
Timothy Sullivan: 37:15
Well, Hannah, we want to thank you so much for joining us. It was an absolute pleasure to talk to you and congratulations on your book. It’s really fantastic!
Hannah Kirshner: 37:24
Thank you. Thank you for reading it. And thanks for chatting today. This was really fun.
John Puma: 37:28
So, where can our fans on the internet find you?
Hannah Kirshner: 37:33
Okay. I am on Twitter and Instagram as atsweetsnbitters. Sweets, the letter “N” bitters, and my website is just HannahKirschner.com. And you can find updates there on the book on Water, Wood and Wild Things and, uh, events related to the book where to buy it.
Timothy Sullivan: 37:54
Thank you so much for joining us. It was a pleasure to talk to you, and we also want to thank our listeners for tuning in as well. We really do hope that you’re enjoying our show. One way that you can really show your support for Sake Revolution would be to get on Apple podcasts and leave us a written review. It’s a great way for us to get the word out about our show.
John Puma: 38:15
And after you’re done leaving your review at Apple podcasts, please go in and tell a friend, somebody you trust someone that you trust with very good podcasting, and get them to subscribe. And then while you’re at it, you should subscribe. And then every week when we put up a new one of these episodes, it’ll show up magically on your device of choice. And you guys know how this ends. You won’t miss a single episode.
Timothy Sullivan: 38:36
And as always to learn more about any of the topics or sakes we talked about in today’s episode and to get links to Hannah’s amazing book, be sure to visit our website, SakeRevolution.com and check out the detailed show notes.
John Puma: 38:50
And if you have a sake question that you need answered, we want to hear from you reach out to us. The email address as always is [email protected]. So until next time, please remember to keep drinking sake. Kanpai