My wife and some of her former co-workers occasionally get together for lunch at a Japanese restaurant called Kabuki located here in Arizona. Having enjoyed the food at their Tempe Marketplace location, it was she who first suggested I try this establishment. Always up for an “eating-out-date” with the fetching Mrs. Wine Guy, I, of course, took her up on the suggestion.
Kabuki is a regional chain with locations in California, Nevada and Arizona. It derives its name from a form of traveling Japanese theater that developed during the 17th century Edo period (Edo was the name then of the Japanese capitol). Kabuki was performed essentially for villagers and commoners as opposed to the ruling class. Given the restaurant’s goal of providing quality food in a family-friendly and value-oriented atmosphere, I can understand and applaud the choice of name.
|Kabuki Drink Menu|
Worthy of applause, as well, is the manner in which they handled their selections of Sake and Shochu on their drink menu. It is one of the better list presentations I’ve seen and goes a long way to ease the trepidation that I’m sure many feel when trying to order these beverages at a restaurant.
A quick recap of these two beverages for readers who may not be familiar with them:
Sake is a double fermented rice beverage where the starch in the rice is fermented into sugar and the sugar is fermented into alcohol. It is often referred to as “rice-wine” but it is not a wine despite the fact that sake, not unlike wine, can present many subtle nuances of flavor. Its alcohol content approximates that of wine and that may further contribute to the misnomer. Shochu is a distilled beverage common to both Korea and Japan. It is most often made from grain, including rice, buckwheat and barley. It can also be made with sweet potatoes and even chestnuts. As a distilled beverage, it’s alcoholic content can run from 25 to 40%. If Sake can be mis-characterized as the “wine” of Japan, then Shochu would be mis-characterized as the “scotch” of Japan. It is sometimes even aged in wood similar to Scotch.
The impressive part of the Kabuki listing is neither the length nor the depth of the listing. Although a nice selection, there are just 18 Sake and only 2 Shochu available. What IS impressive is the well written profile descriptions and pairing suggestions that even the most neophyte sake drinker can follow appreciate. For the better-informed aficionado, the listing also appropriately includes the grade of the sake as well as its prefecture of origin.
The final piece of information is applicable to all. It is the Nihonshu-Do number assigned to each Sake. The menu describes the Nihonshu-Do as a Sweet-Dry scale and although, that is the most practical application of that number, it is not entirely an accurate description of the number’s meaning. The Nihonshu-Do number is derived from the hygrometer reading of the specific gravity of the beverage. For those of you who remember high school physics, this compares the viscosity of the beverage to water with a 0 reading meaning the beverage’s density is on a par with pure water.
The practical side of the information, however, does highly relate to sweetness and dryness. The negative numbers do tend to reflect increasing sweetness as they go higher. The positive numbers tend to reflect increasing dryness as they go higher. Some manufacturers have taken to placing these numbers on the bottles and refer to them as Sake-Meter-Value (SMV). The SMV can serve you well in helping to determine if particular Sake will fit your palate.
More sophisticated Sake drinkers will also understand that acidity, alcohol content and even serving temperature will impact the sweet-dry perception of individual sake but the SMV is certainly a measurable standard reference that serves well as a good taste guideline.
If you want to learn more about Sake and Shochu, I heartily recommend logging on to John Gauntner’s excellent educational website www.sake-world.com. I also recommend subscribing to his newsletter. It’s an excellent and informative on-going resource.
Kudos to Kabuki for utilizing these numbers and for making a drink menu that makes it easier to enjoy great sake with your Japanese dinner. The next time you’re dining oriental, take time to try Sake.