An Interview with... Dine Relax

We talk Sake with Robin Sola, founder of Sorakami

You may have seen our recent feature on Sorakami, the new Sake subscription service that offers the latest craft Sakes.

We wanted to find out more on how founder Robin Sola discovered his love for Sake and what made him decide to turn it into a business and why Sake could be your next favourite tipple.

Tell us about your background and how you discovered Sake?

My name is Robin Sola, and I am the founder of Sorakami. I was born and raised in France. My background is a little unusual. After a slight colour-blindness condition put an end to my airline pilot career, I moved to Tokyo, Japan, to study economics at University. There, my friends took me on a tour of a small Sake brewery near Kyoto, and it is where I discovered the true face of Sake. I’ve always been into my wines, but I realised I knew nothing about Japanese Sake. It was a real eye-opening moment for me, but also the beginning of a long love story. That’s when I started educating myself about the drink to the point where I became a certified International Sake Sommelier or “kikisake-shi” in Japanese.

How did your idea for Sorakami take shape?

I moved to the UK for work in 2015, and I quickly started missing Japanese food and especially Sake. I’ve found it hard to find shops stocking good bottles, especially outside London, and selecting a good Sake online wasn’t straightforward either. Sake can be very difficult to approach and understand. For example, most labels are still written in Japanese (although they are absolutely gorgeous, in my opinion).

That’s how Sorakami came about. I wanted to make premium Japanese Sake simple, fun and available to anyone in the UK. Every month, we deliver to your door a sommelier-curated bottle with tasting notes as well as our magazine to explore the exciting new world of Sake.

What is the difference between a mass-produced and craft Sake?

While Sake has a history of over 1,000 years, the premium Sake that we love today is a relatively new thing, only about 50 years old. This is due to the recent development in brewing techniques and technology. Non-premium Sake (Table Sake) actually makes around 80% of the entire Sake market. Here at Sorakami, we focus on the other 20%.

The two main factors that determine the grade of Sake (i.e. premium or not premium) are:

Polishing Ratio: How much of the rice grain is milled away before the brewing process. The rice must be polished to remove the undesirable outer layer that would create off flavours. The more polished, the more premium and expensive the Sake becomes.

The Brewers: The most critical contribution to the quality, style and flavour of a Sake is the savoir-faire of the “toji”, master brewer. Sake is much more complicated to make than wine. Grapes will ferment the right way without much intervention. However, in Sake making, the rice must be polished, saccharified with koji and then enter the complex and unique process of multiple parallel fermentation. A great team under great leadership is a must to make premium Sake.

Can you give us your top tips on how to sample Sake?

Just like wine, there is a lot of different Sake out there. I would recommend you try as many different kinds as possible so that you can find your favourite.

Here is a general guide to help you start. Use it next time you are at a Japanese restaurant or Sake shop.

Order “junmai” Sake if you are looking for a full-bodied and rich Sake. Junmai Sakes are also excellent warm, perfect for winter! Order “ginjo” Sake for a more aromatic and refreshing drinking experience. Finally, you can try the ultra-premium category of Sake called “daiginjo”. Flavour and aroma profiles tend to be fuller than with ginjos, and exceptional labels display both complexity and finesse.

Ginjo and daiginjo types are better enjoyed chilled in a white wine glass.

What are the biggest misconceptions that people have when it comes to Sake?

In my opinion, the four biggest misconceptions are.

1 – Sake is a strong spirit – Wrong! Sake is a fermented beverage with an average ABV of 15%. We could actually say that Sake is made like a beer (almost) but drunk like a wine.

2 – Sake is drunk in a small cup and warm – Wrong! The premium and more aromatic ginjo and daiginjo types are better enjoyed chilled in a wine glass.

3 – Sake gives you horrible hangovers – Wrong! Just like any other alcohol, top-shelf bottles are the way to go for a hangover-free next day morning. Sake is a very natural product and contains no sulphites, preservatives or other added chemicals, which makes it easy for our body to process it.

4 – You should only have Sake with Japenese food – Wrong again! One of the unique attributes of the drink is that it is full of umami. For those who do not know what umami is, it is the fifth basic taste or savoury taste (sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami). Because of that umami component, Sake matches beautifully with dishes such as seafood salads, olives, caviar but also cheese-heavy pizzas and burgers! While wine matches with food, Sake amplify the flavour of food.

Is Sake the new Gin?

The world of Sake is vast, sophisticated, and with a rich history of its own. I believe Sake belongs in its very own category alongside wine, beer and spirits. We are only just starting to appreciate its beauty here in the UK. As we increasingly do so, Sake will naturally take its very own special place in our fridge and cellar right next to gin.

 What is your favourite Sake of the moment??

It is an incredibly difficult question to answer with so many delicious Sake out there! Still, in my opinion, the “OKA” ginjo from the Dewazakura Brewery is an excellent Sake for people new to the drink. It is a delicate and floral Sake with a touch of pear and melon. It is absolutely gorgeous when served well chilled. Go grab a bottle on our website and see for yourself!

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