New years libations, Japanese style…

I’m a half breed; Japanese and American who was born and raised in Japan. In Japan, osho-gatsu, or New Years, is the holiday of holidays where families get together to give thanks for the fortunes of the past year, and hope for better fortunes in the new year. As with all big holidays, the occasion is often marked by celebratory toasts and imbibing copious amounts of alcoholic beverages, such as sake (Japanese rice wine, as if you didn’t already know). Although not as diverse as vino, the fruit of the vine, sake does have a variety of “grades” and styles, dependent upon the various factors which contribute to the making of the sake (how polished the rice is, sugar content, etc…). In fact, I would say the sake brewing process is more like the beer brewing process than anything else.

My brother, the sake connoisseur, knows the different variations of sake AND wine very well. I’m more of a alcohol is alcohol type of person and don’t pay as much attention to the whole “fine wine vs. cheap wine” thing. That said, I did notice a very big difference between premium sake (junmai-shu) and the “regular” brand of sake – the premium stuff is much smoother and it ought to be for the price, but don’t let me tell you about my experience – Go try it for yourself at the Tako Grill in Bethesda. The selection of sake at the sake bar is incredible, and the sake menu explains the different grades of sake, as well as the fact that premium sake is almost always served and consumed COLD (something that I, being of Japanese descent, growing up in Japan had NO CLUE about). It is said that the addition of alcohol in the “regular” grade of sake inspired the tradition of heated sake, or hatsukan, to mask the harsh flavor from the added alcohol. Not a sake fan? Don’t limit yourself to the sake bar – the Tako Grill serves some great food as well, in the tradition of a Japanese nomiya (loosely translated into “drinking establishment”). The menu is pretty diverse – we usually go with an assortment of appetizers as our meal, similar to what we would do in a “real” nomiya in Japan. All in all, we’ve been pretty pleased with Tako Grill. Hell, even my kids love going there.

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