From The Emperor’s Cup – Sake Fit for A King
Sake is no doubt one of the most versatile drinks you can find. Not only can they be enjoyed at different temperatures, their flavour profiles also change depending on said temperature. Sake bars usually serve up a variety of cuisines that complement this delicious beverage, and the most prized category of sake is the junmai daiginjo. It is, however, a variety seldom found in Singapore sake bars due to its rarity and price.
A common misconception is that sake is rice wine. Although they do share similarities such as their smooth body and fruity aroma, the two are fundamentally different. Ranging from 13% to 20% in alcohol content, this beverage has been enjoyed by the Japanese for more than 2,500 years.
Sake rice being washed — the washing duration determines the amount of water absorbed by the rice grains / Image Credit: Kitaya
Wine has its origins in fruit fermentation, and sake comes from rice starch in a 2-step fermentation process. Rice starch is converted to sugar, which is then transformed into alcohol through fermentation.
After steaming for about an hour, the cooked rice is cooled manually. Sake production is a labour-intensive process. / Image Credit: Sake International Association
Sake types run from ginjo to genshu, but the one that stands above all else is the junmai daiginjo. This sake is lauded as being of the highest quality akin to the A5 Kobe beef of the sake universe.
What makes the daiginjo so special is its level of rice polishing. 50% of the grain has been polished, removing the outer layers that contain unwanted flavours. What’s left is the inner core shinpaku, which produces a finer, more delicate taste.
Difference between sake rice and food rice / Image Credit: Sake School of America
One particularly outstanding junmai daiginjo is the Born Chogin, and the Emperor’s Seal is a testament to its quality, representing the Emperor’s personal acknowledgment and enjoyment of the beverage. The drink was also gifted to the former US President Barack Obama by former Prime Minister of Japan, Yukio Hatoyama — a symbol of its status in the sake world.
Born Chogin / Image Credit: Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore
In the intricate world of sake, the Nishonshudo, or Sake Meter Value (SMV), is used to define the characteristics of the sake. It measures the density of sake compared to water, and is used to gauge the dryness or sweetness of the sake.
With a sake meter value of +2 (dry-light) and a 16% alcohol content, the Born Chogin is moderately sweet, with notes of ripe melon, banana, pineapple and papaya. The sake’s aroma will also develop hints of honey and caramel after being aged for five years at -8ºC.
Kiss of Fire (Ishikawa) / Image Credit: Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore
Another highly recommended junmai daiginjo is the Kiss of Fire (Ishikawa). With a SMV of +3 and 15% alcohol content, it has a well-balanced sharpness with a firm body, fruity scent, and a refreshing aftertaste. The Kiss of Fire (Ishikawa) pairs well with many types of dishes, and can be served chilled or at room temperature.
Kaiun (Shizuoka) / Image Credit: Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore
If you’re looking to bring a gift to a wedding or a birthday party, Kaiun (Shizuoka) is your perfect choice. “Kaiun” means “to welcome luck” in Japanese, and is often bought as a gift to celebrate the New Year, weddings, and other special occasions in Japan.
Like the Kiss of Fire (Ishikawa), the Kaiun (Shizuoka) has a 15% alcohol content but with a drier taste at a SMV of +5. Made with fresh spring water, the Kaiun (Shizuoka) carries hints of aromatic melon and pineapple tones, and pairs perfectly with fish dishes.
While there are no hard and fast rules to appreciating sake, there are however a few things to note if you wish to enjoy it the Japanese way.
Drinking sake with someone is also about nurturing that relationship, so it is a nice gesture to pour sake for the people you’re with. You can also hold the sake cup close to your nose to take in the aroma, followed by a small sip but don’t swallow it just yet — allow the beverage to linger in your mouth to taste it before swallowing.
Sushi at NAMI Restaurant and Bar / Image Credit: Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore
One of the few ideal foods to pair the Born Chogin with is sushi. The dry sake (sake meter value +2) compliments the rice and fish together, and it is recommended for the beverage to be consumed chilled to fully enjoy the smooth and deep, rich flavours.
Head Chef Akiba / Image Credit: Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore
NAMI also offers a wide selection of sakes, including a curated list of premium sakes not commonly found in Singapore. NAMI’s Head Chef Shigeo Akiba has established good relationships with suppliers from Japan over the years and is able to procure these rare sakes for the restaurant.
Tempura Set and Karaage Chicken from NAMI / Image Credit: Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore
Sushi and sashimi aside, tempura and karaage also pair very well with sake. The sweet tempura complements the refreshing, fruity aroma of the Born Chogin, creating a delightful match of flavours.
Pan-fried Tuna Head with Chef Akiba’s Sweet Soy Sauce / Image Credit: Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore
Other foods that go well with junmai daiginjo are fatty foods. The Pan-fried Tuna Head with Chef Akiba’s Sweet Soy Sauce is highly recommended.
Image Credit: STORM
The Born Chogin is available at NAMI Restaurant and Bar for $500 (360ml), and $1000 for the bottle. While prices are on the steep side, the remarkably complex flavours and royal status makes it all worthwhile.
Left to right – Kiss of Fire (Ishikawa), Kaiun (Shizuoka), Born Chogin (Fukui) / Image Credit: Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore
Alternatively, the Kaiun (Shizuoka) can be savoured at $65 for 360ml and $130 a bottle, and the Kiss of Fire (Ishikawa) at $160 for 360ml and $320 for a bottle. Drink like a king today. Make your restaurant reservation here.
What other delicacies are available at NAMI? Check out the five must-try signature dishes here!