Sake on the rock(s)


For those who live in the sake world microcosm in Tokyo, which includes a significant population of foreign aficionados, “sake and music” often has an electronic sound, the sound of sake samurai Richie Hawtin, well known British techno DJ, who is touring the world to give concerts. Richie is a sake “producer” as well, with his “ENTER.Sake” label. The liquid itself comes from some of the exciting young brewers on the contemporary sake scene, and Richie is introducing the drink in nightclubs and festivals where it is not usually seen.

For me, until recently, “sake and rock” was synonymous with Satoshi Kimijima. Mr. Kimijima is a rock musician outside working hours, and one of my favorite sake retailers in Yokohama and Tokyo (Kimijima-ya) … as well as a distinguished wine sommelier and importer.

And there comes Phoenix sake. The French rock band, “pride and joy of Paris”, as a Japanese music magazine was naming them, were in Tokyo last week for a show, 18 years after their first concert in Japan (Hokkaido) … and their first encounter with nihonshu as well.

In-between, quite a few things happened, and not only a few successful music albums and awards. Christian Mazzalai, guitarist, used to live just across Workshop Issé, the Japanese grocery store and experimental restaurant founded by Kuroda san, who passed away last year. Kuroda san was one of the best sake ambassadors in France, a perfect French speaker, and a true poet …. It seems that soon enough the whole band was exploring the world of sake with “Maître Kuroda” (as the band calls him), and through sake and Japanese folk songs, Japanese culture more generally.


The fruit of this friendship is the Phoenix Sake Project. The first two sake “produced” by the band were released in 2017 … and a few days ago, with the help of their partner Tatenokawa, a 180-year old sake brewery from Yamagata Prefecture. The label is harboring a beautiful rainbow (see picture). I had the opportunity to taste the 2018 version at its launch party at the Trunk hotel in Tokyo on April 25th. It is a fruity Junmai Daiginjo, on the dry side. While the strong impact leaves room to hints of bitterness (quite common for dry sake), it has this amazing capacity of sake to evaporate like pure water as the sake goes through the throat. The Kagami Biraki that took place at Trunk hotel touched me personally. In that ceremony, the band broke the lid of a sake barrel open with hammers. The skirt of the barrel was a direct homage to Mr. Kuroda, who never saw the sake. Interestingly enough, my last conversation with Maître Kuroda was about “Kaze no Mori” and Yoshihiko Yamamoto the young CEO of Yucho Shuzo, whom Kuroda san affectionately called “the bad boy of sake” (my readers know how high I rate Kaze no Mori, and how much I enjoy visiting Yamamoto san). Phoenix sake is most probably sold at Issé in Paris, and can be found in Japan as well … at Kimijimaya of course! (Kimijima san is a partner in the project). I was there the other day to take a picture. The first Phoenix bottle on the left is the Tatenokawa one … and the second Phoenix bottle a “Kaze No Mori” sake, as I should have known! Small world full of coincidences…



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