Momokawa Diamond
Photo: Momokawa from SakéOne, Oregon-made sake.

I first tasted sake, like most Americans, in Japanese restaurants which served standard Japanese restaurant sake. I drank it, as they served it to me, partially boiled to death and I thought it grand. After those early sake experiences in college, I lived in Japan on two separate occasions, most recently from 2005 to 2008. I had a chance to educate my palate a bit.

The great stuff, Japanese artisan-made sake, inspires a delightful awe and a reverence for craft. That frank delight in the drink is reflected in the missionary work of people like John Gauntner (see Sake World), Beau Timkin at True Sake, and in some of the blogs I list at the left of this page, Tokyofoodcast and Jumanai Djimi Django, among others. The great sakes can encompass a wide range of styles and flavors, but they all are exciting, thought-provoking, and create good cheer.

I had previously written here about how expensive sake is in the United States, compared with prices in Japan. I knew there were American-made sakes that were much less expensive. So I bought a bottle of this $12 Momokawa with a touch of hope. Would I find a delicious inexpensive sake? Can they make good sake in America?

For me, the Diamond was a startling disappointment. The nose was a bit gluey with some fruit, like funky cantaloupe. This got me excited at first because a cantaloupe nose is something that does appear in many great sakes. But then the texture on the palate was flat, with no brightness or complexity (and it didn’t improve on subsequent tastings). It disappears off the tongue with a note of sweet and sour alcohol. It has the body and underpinnings of good sake, such that one can tell it was made with love and some craft. I just don’t think it’s the best expression of what sake can be.

A comment from Greg Lorenz, the SakéOne brewer, makes me wonder if my expecting a Japanese style in American sake is skewing my tasting:

“We represent the American taste bud,” said Greg Lorenz, who is responsible for the production of the sake. He studied sake brewing with SakéOne’s Japanese business partner, Momokawa Brewing, but uses his own inventive style to produce American sake.

“I grew up on burgers and fries, not sushi and rice, so we’re going to make choices that seem appropriate based on our background,” he said.

I’m going to have to taste more. I’ll try more SakéOne products, in particular the g-sake and the Momokawa Silver. Perhaps make a trip out to Minnesota to see a friend and to try moto-i, the sake brewery-restaurant. I’ll take recommendations…

ETA: See the post on the second tasting of Momokawa Diamond and a new tasting of Momokawa Silver thanks to SakéOne.