by Heather Larson | Photo © Artisan Sakemaker
Step inside number 44, Railspur Alley on Granville Island for a tasting unlike any other. Here Vancouver’s artisan sakemaker, Masa Shiroki, works his magic with rice and creates awardwinning, premium sake (pronounced sak-eh). He is one of only four commercial sakemakers across Canada.
“Good sake uses the best water available, the proper rice and the honed skills of a quality sakemaker,” Shiroki says.
He should know what works best, because in the past six years, since he opened his shop in 2007 and started making Osake rice wines, he hasn’t experienced a single spoiled batch.
“I strive for as natural a process as possible with the least intervention,” says Shiroke. “That’s why I don’t use filtration or pasteurization like many sakemakers do.”
Inside the tasting room, Shiroki or one of his staff pours samples into wine glasses, the kind used at all major wine-tasting competitions, to reinforce the idea that people should sip and taste instead of treating the drink like a shot. In the 1970s sake was typically heated, poured into a cup and tossed back in one gulp. Shiroki says it doesn’t enhance the flavor to warm sake. You can serve it either chilled or warmed.
New this year at the tasting counter, Osake Junmai Sake, contains 100-percent British- Columbian-grown organic sake rice, a first for Canada. Shiroki wanted to grow his own sake rice in the Fraser Valley so he’d have control over what went into his rice wine. Although many folks told him he was crazy, he persisted. After traveling to Japan to learn about growing rice, he bought his seeds in the northern region there. The first year produced two acres of rice and the second, 2013, twice that. Shiroki’s goal now is to grow ten acres of the grain.
Three different types of Junmai are available for sale. The most unique is the Sparkling Sake, which contains pear, melon and tropical fruit notes with a hint of licorice. Suggested appetizer pairings include shrimp, cured or smoked salmon, and light cheeses. Printouts for suggested food pairings and tasting notes for all the sakes are available in the store.
Besides producing the best sake and testing the limits of the beverage, Shiroki wanted to have a sustainable business. One way he does that is by reusing the fermented rice paste (sake kasu) that remains after the sake is pressed. He sells sake kasu for culinary use. And, because of its value as an anti-aging moisture-retention agent, Shiroki has developed a line of skin care products he calls Orizée.
Order Artisan Sake and find recipes using Artisan Sake Kasu online at artisansakemaker.dreamhosters.com, or purchase in the tasting room. For information about visiting Vancouver B.C., go to tourismvancouver.com.