Saké Tasting with JD Kai
Part Two of Two
photos and blogpost by Janice Espa
Another great way to taste Kyoto, and to see more places less frequented by tourists, is by doing a Saké Tour. Jason Davidson of JD Kai Tours is the perfect person for this.
Jason, an American from the state of Minnesota, crossed the Pacific, gradually fell in love with Japan, and has a passion for tea. Studying tea ceremony, led him to learn about rice and saké, he has now found a niche in Kyoto for fellow foreigners interested in discovering another taste of the city he calls home.
Ten years ago, when Jason first moved to Fushimi, an area of Kyoto home to approximately twenty saké breweries, he wasn’t very familiar with the drink. When the opportunity to visit a nihonshu brewery presented itself, he enjoyed every aspect of it: the ambience, the workers, the tastings. That moment sparked his interest in saké, and it was then when he began to understand the importance of nihonshu in Japanese life.
According to Jason, versatility is what makes saké so great. “Whether you are talking about the season, temperature of the saké, type of vessel you are drinking saké in, or the type of food you are drinking it with, I guarantee there is a saké for you.“
Two years ago, Jason started JD Kai as a saké tasting event for Japanese guests. He wanted to create a fun environment where more people could come together to taste and learn about saké, making it informative, but keeping it casual and comfortable. The 9th edition of JD Kai will be hosted in October, 2013. Aside from saké tasting events, Jason launched JD Kai Food and Saké Tasting Tours and Cooking Classes in April of this year. Jason’s main driving force is for visitors to experience something local, real, and traditional. Temple visits and restaurant outings aside, Jason firmly believes that a traveller misses out on many of the singularities that make Kyoto so great.
“The friendships that I have made with the local people in the food and saké industry are something I want to share with everybody. Tasting food and saké is something anybody can enjoy and is a great way to promote multi-cultural friendships”, says Jason.
JD Kai food tours include seven or eight stops to specialty shops where there are multiple tastings. Participants are exposed to a range of Japanese flavours; they meet and greet the shop owners, and learn about produce directly from the source. The sake tasting tour includes a visit to a liquor store that specializes in saké from Fushimi, a visit to a sake museum and brewery, and finally a stop at a family-operated brewery that produces artisanal nihonshu. JD Kai saké tours are run in English, and the size of the tours is of up to ten people. Japanese tourists can be accommodated as well. As for the cooking classes, they are conducted in Japanese with English interpretation, so again, they’re activities and experience open for all participants.
Quickfire Questions with Jason
What do you say to saké newbies?
I always tell people to approach saké with an open mind. A lot of people try to compare it to wine, etc.., but I think it really is better to think of saké as saké. It is a drink all by itself, and a fantastic one at that!
What are you basic tasting tips?
I like to start with a junmaishu (any saké with a milling rate of 60-70%) and work from there. You can then move on to a ginjō (any saké with a milling rate of 50-60%), and then on to daiginjō (any saké with a milling rate of less than 50%).
Would you pair saké with home-made hamburgers or pizza?
Sure, no problem. I might try a kimoto with a juicy hamburger.
How about saké and dessert?
No problem here either. I would try a saké with a dessert. I also like nigori with desserts.
Any final tips or words of wisdom for first time Kyoto visitors?
For the first time visitor to Kyoto, I would recommend seeing a machiya. A machiya is the traditional merchant house of Kyoto. Its construction and ambience embody everything that represents Kyoto. As far as food, the one item that best represents Kyoto is tofu. Leave it to the Kyotoites to take common soybeans and turn them into something as wonderful as tofu. I really recommend the deep-fried tofu. It has to be one of my all-time favourite foods.
Do yourself a favour, and try one (or all) of these experiences when visiting Kyoto. You’ll have fun tasting the city and will be able to submerge yourself in its rich food culture. Kanpai!
JD KAI – Discover Japanese culture through food
For tours and event details: http://jdkai.com/
Janice Espa is a Spanish-Peruvian food enthusiast; an avid traveller and inquisitive taster who explores culture through cuisine. Janice lives in Sydney where she writes and styles food. Her days are spent visiting grower’s markets, checking out restaurants, and shopping at specialty stores to discover goods from every corner of the world.
Feel free to email suggestions and travel tips, or to contact Janice for her own recommendations, whether you’re visiting Peru, trekking South America or doing a road trip along the east coast of Australia.