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Sake: Cold or Hot, Sip or Shot?

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I’ve actually tasted the sake from Artisan Sake Maker before. On more than one occasion, in more than one Japanese izakaya bar. I even knew it came from Granville Island and, yah, I thought that was cool. But, their bottles of Osake sit unsuspectingly amongst many sakes behind the bar, so it’s hard to say how one might come upon this particular sake and when they might choose to drink it again. But, this week, I ventured to Granville Island to speak with Misako, Supervisor at Artisan Sake Maker, and was inspired to share their story…

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Artisan Sake Maker opened in Railspur Alley on Granville Island in 2007 and began producing fresh sake in small batches. Owner and master sake maker, Masa Shiroki, is largely passionate about pioneering the sake culture in Vancouver and in Canada.  Their brand name product, “Osake” is widely regarded as “Canada’s first locally produced fresh premium sake,” but that’s hardly what makes them unique.

If you take a look at the photo below, each of their Osake products begin with the name “Junmai Nama.” Junmai means “pure rice,” and nama means “unpasteurized.” Yet, almost all sake produced in Japan is pasteurized, so nama is not the norm. Pasteurization is a method of extending a sake’s shelf life through a heating and cooling process. By choosing to create a nama product, Artisan Sake Maker’s Osake line is more aromatic, balanced, and must be kept in the fridge.

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If you stroll through Railspur Alley, you’d never know that the quaint space at Artisan Sake Maker is home to their entire production facility which includes two, 1000L tanks. Unlike traditional Japanese sake makers who produce once per year, this Granville Island shop produces sake year-round to correspond with the seasons. Summer, Misako told me, is not ideal conditions for the yeast, so no production is done in the warm weather.

Time flew as I chatted with Misako – there was so much to learn about the production of Osake, and so many moments of surprise. Not only is all the milling, steaming, koji making, pressing, and bottling, done on site by a handful of people, but Masa is also the owner of a sake rice field in Abbotsford, from which they grow their own rice!

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Eyebrows raised in absolute awe, I decided that this was the moment to ask an expert all the sake questions that we are all too scared to ask:

J: Hot vs. Cold? If red wine pairs with red meat, what do I eat and how do I ask for my sake?
M: There are no rules! Unlike wine, how you drink your sake is up to you.

J: Sake is served in a small, shot-sized glass…Do I drink it all at once or sip it with my meal?
M: There are no rules! There is less alcohol content than something like vodka so people often like to sip their sake slowly and enjoy it through their meal.

J: How long does the the whole sake-making process take?
M: 2 months.

J: What is the difference between sake rice and normal rice?
M: Sake rice is a longer grain and has more starch.

“So, Misako,” I finally asked, “What is your favourite food to enjoy with Osake?” With a smile she responded that while she loves seafood, sushi and sashimi, her favourite pairing is actually CHEESE! And who would’ve thunk that she would call out the very same choices from our Granville Island Market Tour tastings at Benton Brothers in the Public Market? And of course, she gave a honourable mention to pairing Osake with fresh oysters, to which I can attest!

We continue to uncover incredible stories at Granville Island and we are so privileged to provide humble exposure to these amazing people and their innovative ideas. If you’d like to learn something new, see something fascinating and taste something world-renowned (see below: sake on tap), take a moment to pop by Artisan Sake Maker! I did, and I’ll be back again soon!

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Joyce Chua

About Joyce Chua

I’m fascinated by food and its impact on culture, especially in an increasingly globalized world. I love how Vancouver’s multicultural food scene opens doors to history, culture, and understanding. Here’s to a life of eating and learning!

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