This is the story of how I accidentally encountered ‘Quality OZEKI Sake’, a.k.a. OZEKI Junmai Sake.
Recently, I’ve been using a lot of sake in my cooking. It adds a sweet, umami rice note to simmered dishes and deglazes frying pans with a delicious waft of aroma. It’s indispensable for a great pork shogayaki.
Sake is mostly known as a drink, of course. But the stuff you can find in the ‘Asian Food’ section (near the mango juice, oyster sauce, ghee, and kimchi ramyeon) is usually not drinkable. In fact, it is probably less a true sake than a seasoning liquid with added salt, vinegar and distilled alcohol. This is no less fine to cook with. In fact, cheap cooking sake was precisely what I was looking for when rushing up and down my local Morrisons last night. To my initial dismay, I found only this bottle, priced at a disheartening £5.
On reflection, the price – combined with the bottle’s 375ml size and cheesy international marketing copy (“¡Kanpai! ¡Salud!”) – should have impressed on me that this was not a seasoning liquid but a beverage.
Although I’ve watched The Birth of Sake on Netflix, I’m no expert on Japan’s national drink. I’ve savoured it warm and chilled in fancy-ish restaurants, and I’ve grimaced while slurping it through a straw after a jet-lagged 3 a.m. Lawson’s raid. I can just about distinguish good sake from bad, but I’m far from being a connoisseur.
I do, however, know just enough Japanese to work out that there was more to this bottle than first appeared. As my brain translated it:
This product has something to do with the OZEKI licence. Using probably high quality ingredients, it is possibly elaborated to a high standard based on OZEKI’s 300-year might be heritage and something else by the OSEKI Sake Brewery USA. Please enjoy tastily either warm or chilled.
(Please send your translation requests by e-mail; my rates are very cheap.)
a household name
Although non-Japanese customers (“Kanpai! Skål!”) are not informed of this, OZEKI is actually a well-established sake producer. The company’s offshoot California brewery, which made this bottle, was founded back in 1979. What’s more, it appears this particular bottle is actually one of OZEKI’s more premium ‘junmai’ offerings. (‘Junmai’ means pure brewed sake, with no distilled alcohol added.) A 750ml bottle retails online and in specialist stores for around £14, which makes my outrageous £5 spend look like a bargain.
so what does it taste like?
Tasting notes are of course highly subjective. But for what it’s worth, this is my honest appraisal.
- On the nose: tinned peaches, bison grass, Danish pastry.
- Light and soft-textured; green melon, strawberry and shiso in the mouth.
- A refreshing, off-dry and mildly warming finish.
Overall, this sake is inoffensive and very easy to drink; I managed to finish the bottle in an evening. It would definitely make a better introductory sake than the back-of-the-postgrad-bar-shelf stuff I was once exposed to. I’m sure, however, there are more complex and interesting drinks out there for the connoisseurs. I’d recommend sipping it chilled, either unaccompanied or with light Japanese dishes or snacks. Anything spicy will definitely overpower it.
Value for money? At £5 for a half-bottle, I might buy it again.