The buzz about sake
VAIL – Christopher Golub loves the buzz you get from sake.”It’s such a pure beverage. You feel light and lifted when you drink it. You feel ready for more. It doesn’t weigh you down, it leaves you feeling yummy inside,” said the sake sommelier. “It’s a clean, enlightened, beautiful buzz and it never gives you a hangover.” Golub, who began his career in food and wine scrubbing soup bowls at a Long Beach island clam shack in the early ’80s and now owns Denver’s renowned Swimclub 32 sake bar, embodies an air of enlightenment himself. His passion for sake grew out of an unexplained desire to take up Japanese in college. When his teacher took the class out to experience the culture first-hand – at a sake bar – Golub was intrigued. He took it upon himself to go into the world, mostly in Japanese joints tucked away in New York’s Soho and East Village and experiment. “I had to push away the notion that when I started studying it, there wasn’t really much out there. I just started tasting and tasting and tasting. At first, I could only taste its elegance and softness and that’s where my palate stopped. Then I started noticing the subtle nuances. It’s very much like wine in that way.”It wasn’t long before his passion turned into full-fledged career.When he’s not turning guests on to sake at the Swimclub, he’s throwing dinner parties and enjoying the beverage good friends. Today, as part of Taste of Vail, Golub will share his love and expertise at the Vail Mariott Resort & Spa in Lionshead with “A Bridge to Japan: The New World of Sake,” an exclusive tasting of six of the worlds finest sake producers paired with sushi by Blue Tiger.
“I’ll walk people through what the heck sake is, bring it into their minds in a way they can really digest it,” says Golub, promising an in-depth study on how sake is made, what the differences are in grades and how to navigate the sake list at your favorite sushi restaurant. “My position is, let’s talk about this stuff so we can understand it so that when we go to a restaurant or wine bar, we can understand what we like.”White heartThe Japanese beverage, pronounced saw-kay, is made from polished rice, although “not the kind you eat,” Golub says. If sake sippers walk away Saturday having learned only one thing, Golub says, it would be to understand the differences in the three grades of sake. The rice is milled before it is fermented. The more polished the rice, the better the grade. The good starches that give sake its flavor lay at the center of the kernel, where as the proteins, fats and amino acids form the outer layers of the rice. The Japanese have a name for the divine, white center – shinpaku – which means white heart.
The three grades are:- Junmai-shu is the lowest grade, which is made only from rice water and rice mold, known as koji. The kernels are milled down to 70 percent of the original size.- Junmai-ginjo is the middle grade, which is also made from rice water and koji, but includes more labor intensive steps, shooing mechanical millers for hand tools. The kernels are milled to at least 60 percent.- Junmai-diginjo, the highest grade, is made from rice water and koji, includes even more precise labor-intensive steps. The kernels shed at least 50 percent of the rice. The Junmai-diginjo, brewed with only highly polished rice, is the pinnacle of a brewer’s art.”There is an amazing world of artisan sakes out there,” Golub says, which are more popular in the United States than they are in Japan. Perhaps the growing obsession of sushi in America is to credit.”I’ve definitely seen a trend in the last couple years where people are starting to drink more sake and people are starting experiment with higher-end sake,” says Kevin Lawrence, sommelier and wine buyer for Avon Liquors. “If you go out for sushi you go out with your friends and drink sake, you get a taste for it. I think people are just starting to really educate themselves.”
Stepping outTraditionally imbibed with Japanese cuisine, “because things that grow together go well together,” Golub says, sake is stepping out of being just for Japanese food and into other cuisines. In major cities now, sommeliers are adding sakes to their wine lists. Golub recommends trying sake with fresh vegetables such as asparagus or mushrooms, and letting the earthy qualities complement one another. Another tip from Golub: Never heat your sake.”Sake is served best slightly chilled, at 56-58 degrees. When you heat it, you take away the elegance and beauty that generations of families have used to produce it,” Golub says. “It’s like a really good cognac. It takes years to produce it. There’s great romance to it, but more importantly, I love the flavor profile of it. It’s complex in its simplicity. When you taste them all lined up, you really begin to understand. You’re opening your eyes to a whole new world, and I’m looking forward to doing it in Vail.”Taste of SakeTaste of Vail presents a seminar – A bridge to Japan: the new world of Sake, by Christopher Golub, sake sommelier at renowned swimclub 32 sake bar
Included in festival pass12-1:30 p.m. todayVail Mariott Resort & Spa in LionsheadStaff Writer Laura A. Ball can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14641, or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado
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