Sharing her love of sake

Sharing her love of sake

Sparkling sake, sake in pink bottles to appeal to women, a sake sommelier might sneer at these permutations of elegant Japanese rice wine, but not Ms Ayuchi Momose.

The 36-year-old, who was in Singapore recently to speak about sake at Oishii Japan, a showcase of the country's food, wine and spirits, takes a pragmatic approach.

She says: "In Japan, younger people don't drink sake because they don't think it's cool. They prefer wine, champagne, whisky and vodka. The sake industry needs to make adjustments to attract the young, to learn what they like.

"Tradition is good, but if it disappears, there is nothing to protect."

Turning people on to sake is her full- time job now. She is based in Hong Kong and runs the 42-seat Sake Bar Ginn in Lan Kwai Fong, which serves sake, shochu, whisky, craft beers and light dishes to go with the drinks.

She also visits sake breweries in Japan every year to look for small producers she can bring to the attention of drinkers, organises sake and food pairing sessions and gives seminars in Hong Kong and abroad to spread the word about the drink.

Yet, Ms Momose, who is from Yokohama and one of three children of a retired civil servant and a retired nurse, started out in the fashion industry.

After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, she worked in a textile company in the city for several years before going into the food and beverage industry.

She says: "When I visited textile factories in Japan, they would take me to restaurants serving local sake and food. I wanted to learn about it."

She started taking sake courses while keeping her day job, taking online courses and travelling home to Japan to take classes.

In 2003, she was certified a sake sommelier by the Sake Service Institute.

Ms Momose, who is single, started hosting tasting sessions in restaurants and gave seminars at Columbia Business School in the Big Apple, before quitting the textile company to work for New York-based restaurateur Bon Yagi.

Not only did she create sake lists for his restaurants and train the staff, she also helped open restaurants for him.

By 2010, she wanted to start something on her own and, having lived in New York for years, wanted to come back to Asia.

She shortlisted three cities she liked: Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore and ended up in Hong Kong. To set up a business in Shanghai, she would need a local partner, and while Singapore is friendly to business, the liquor tax is also high.

Aside from running her bar, which opened in December 2011, she also works on consultancy jobs for restaurant owners, creating sake lists for them.

In helping people pair sake with food, she is guided by two principles - parallel pairing and cross pairing. Parallel pairing is when the food and sake do not distract from each other.

Cross pairing is a little more complex. There is the multiplying effect, where the sake changes the flavour of the food and vice versa, enhancing the positive aspects of both.

In the elimination effect, some types of sake can be used to mitigate the strong taste of mackerel, for example. An acidic sake can be paired with grilled beef, where the fat in the meat tames the drink's acidity.

Those new to sake should also note that because it is hot in Singapore, sake is best kept in the fridge and should be drunk within a year of the bottling date, which is stated on the label.

Ms Momose's eyes are firmly focused on keeping the sake trade alive.

"I would love to open sake bars in other parts of Asia," she says. "And also to teach young people about it and create more sake professionals.

Pair them up

Some sake and food pairing suggestions from Ms Ayuchi Momose:

Chilli crab: For this spicy and creamy dish, a sweet Nigori sake, which is unfiltered and cloudy, tames the heat. The dish can also be paired with a Honjozo sake, to which distilled alcohol has been added. This sake accentuates the spices for those who relish heat.

Peking duck: She recommends a Honjozo sake to neutralise the gamey flavour of the meat. A Junmai sake's acidity cuts the richness of the duck.

Vietnamese spring rolls (goicuon): A Junmai Ginjo, which is light, very clear and slightly sweet, will pair well with these translucent rice paper rolls filled with herbs, rice vermicelli and prawns or pork.

Korean barbecued beef ribs: Cask sake, aged in cedar wood barrels, have a woody, minty taste that is good with charred meats.

Satay with peanut dipping sauce: This spicy and slightly sweet dish would go well with a heavier sake such as Tokubetsu Junmai or Junmai.

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