• Hinomaru Jozo Sake Tasting at The Sparrows Restaurant, Manchester

    Sake tasting with Kasia at the Sparrows

    John was very kindly invited along to a supplier tasting dinner at The Sparrows. This little restaurant, which seats at most 12 diners, is tucked away on Mirabel Street, under the railway arches opposite Manchester Arena. It is a hidden gem, specialising in pasta and ‘Spätzle,’ a type of pasta that forms the base of many dishes in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Alsace, Moselle and South Tyrol. Everything is produced fresh every day, hand-made and shaped. Owner, Kasia is also a specialist importer and distributor of fine Japanese Sake.

    We were treated to a guided tasting of some of Brewery Hinomaru Jozo’s range led by their Toji Mr Ryoji Takahashi. His ethos is to produce enjoyable, high quality Sake made traditionally, yet at affordable prices. The brewery was founded in the 17th century, and is based in Akita, one of the most remote and snowy regions of Japan! The area is famed for its pure mountain waters, important for producing the very best Sake.

    Burrata with grilled zucchini pesto, paired with ‘Mansaku no Hana’ Junmai Daiginjo.

    This crisp, elegant Sake had a lot of flavour thanks to a continuation in brewing, with a slow bottle maturation at low temperature over a year in the cellars. It had a gentle sweetness that paired superbly with the creamy, rich Burrata.

    Beef Carpaccio with rocket and shaved parmesan, paired with ‘Mansaku no Hana’ Junmai Ginjo.

    The floral, vegetal nose accompanied the helped emphasise the peppery, earthy taste of the rocket. A clean, crisp acidity went well with the delicately sliced, tender beef.

    Lobster Ravioli with bisque and caviar paired with ‘Umakara Mansaku’ Tokubetsu Junmai.

    Lobster Ravioli with bisque and caviar paired with ‘Umakara Mansaku’ Tokubetsu Junmai.

    A very grand, full flavoured dish paired with a humbler offering. The delicate sweetness of lobster combined with the umami savoury tang of the Sake made you appreciate both much more.  

    Spätzle with cinnamon and brown sugar, paired with ‘Hyakunenmae Mansaku no Hana’ Kimoto Junmai.

    Probably the most fascinating pairing of the evening. This super rare, well-aged Sake was sweeter than the rest, and had an almost dessert wine likeness about it. Dried fruit and orange blossom delighted with the sweet, warming spice of the cinnamon.

    Spätzle with cinnamon and brown sugar, paired with ‘Hyakunenmae Mansaku no Hana’ Kimoto Junmai.

    ​Interested in finding out more about Sake?

    ​Check out our Introduction to Sake courses in Manchester. A 2 hour guided tasting of 5 premium styles of Sake, led by a Certified Sake Sommelier. Includes a certificate of participation at the end. Makes a great gift for lovers of Japanese food, culture and Sake

  • Northern Wine School Gift Guide

    ​Welcome to The Northern Wine School Gift Guide! Now that Black Friday and Cyber Monday are done and dusted & you still haven't got those important presents for special people? We have some inspiration for you. Here are some ideas we've gathered together to make buying for your loved ones so much easier.

    Experiences are remembered long after The Festivities are over.

    Manchester Wine Tasting Gifts

    Gift Ideas for Wine Lovers

    Great for budding wine enthusiasts to start them out on their wine tasting journey. One of our most popular gift ideas and a sure fire winner.

    ​The classic match made in heaven What could be a better gift for wine and cheese lovers? There are several versions of this delicious event for them to choose from-all using the same voucher!

    ​Super treat for steak and red wine lovers. Rounded off with a cheese board in Malmaison's private dining room-The Ember Lounge.

    ​The ultimate wine tasting, 10 fantastic wines with three delicious courses. Followed by tea and coffee in Malmaison's private dining room. An indulgent day learning about wine and food matching.

    Gift Ideas for Gin Lovers

    ​The drink of the moment! A chance to taste six craft gins and experiment with mixers, botanicals and garnishes. Always a lively fun evening.

    ​New for 2019 we've added a taste of luxury to our famous gin tasting by including a delicious afternoon tea at Malmaison. An indulgent treat for gin lovers!

    Gift​ Idea-Let Them Choose

    ​This option offers the choice of a wide range of events. Currently these include:

    • All wine and cheese options
    • Gin Tastings
    • Whisky Tasting
    • Charcuterie and Wine Tasting

    In fact any £30 event from our calendar

  • Introductory Sake Professional Course-First in North West

    Congratulations to our first Sake Sommelier Association Students!

    Congratulations to the first ever Sake Sommelier Association graduates in Manchester. John Callow DipWSET, owner and Lead Educator, recently held the launch in The Rain Bar Boardroom on the 6th October. Northern Wine School is the first Approved Programme Provider to teach them in the UK, outside of London. The next course is on March 8th. 2019. See details for our Sake courses and tastings in Manchester.

    You can see more about The Sake Sommelier Association and its work by visiting their website.

    Sake is a growing segment of the alcoholic drinks market in the UK, and the availability of different breweries and styles has never been better. Capitalising on consumers looking for something a bit different, and with an eye to heritage and quality.

    Increasingly, prestigious wine merchants and upmarket department stores like Selfridges, Harrods, Fortnum and Mason and Harvey Nichols are stocking an ever growing range. More than just Japanese restaurants are adding Sake to their lists as well.

    The Sake Sommelier Association aim to promote the history, culture and traditions of this wonderful and diverse beverage around the world. They want to show that it can match the complexities of fine wines and spirits, yet is much more versatile with a wide range of cuisines from different cultures.

    Sake Sommelier Association-Introduction to Sake, Manchester

    Sake Sommelier Association-Introduction to Sake, Manchester

  • Sake Sommelier Course for Manchester


    John Attends Sake Sommelier Association Certified Course

    John was invited to go down to London to attend the Sake Sommelier Association’s Certified Sommelier course. He had some knowledge of the drink having tasted it before, with an idea about how it was made and its history. He soon became fascinated. Sake has a very rich history and is produced in a unique way to other alcoholic beverages. It has an amazing ability to pair with a whole range of foods from different cultures. Here’s what John learned on this intensive  course.

    Sake Bottles Manchester

    Sake bottles come in a wide range of imaginative shapes, sizes and colours. A marketer's dream!

    What is Sake?

    Sake is an alcoholic drink, made from special varieties of rice fermented with, spring water and ‘Koji’ (a special type of mould).

    There are a lot of misconceptions, one of which is that it is fortified or very strong like a spirit. Sake is neither of those. Although it naturally reaches the highest percentage alcohol of any fermented beverage at 20%, the majority sold range between 12 and 18%. This puts it within the strength of many table wines.

    Another is that it must be served warm. Although fuller bodied styles can be appreciated warm, Sake can be enjoyed at a whole range of temperatures- warm, room and chilled. In fact, some of the finest and most delicate styles are best served lightly chilled.

    It is a very versatile drink and should be served to the guest’s preferences. It is also delightful as a base in a range of cocktails, thanks to its lack of tannin, harsh acidity and bitterness.

    Sake Items

    Sake related Items. Far left: Serving vessels. Top middle: Rice varieties used. Right: Sake barrel and the various grades of polished rice. The smallest had only 19% of the grains left!

    History of Sake

    Sake as we know it today, is surprisingly recent compared to wine. It is only in the last 600 years or so that it has been widely produced and consumed by everyone.

    Cultivation of rice arrived in Japan around 300AD, imported from China. Up until around the 12th century, it was the preserve of Gods and the Imperial court only. ‘Kuchikami No Sake,’ or ‘Mouth Chewing Sake’ was rather disgustingly produced by first partially chewing the rice and coating it in saliva. It was later discovered that the enzyme, Amylase, began the breakdown of starch in the rice to sugar. This stage is needed before steamed Sake rice can be fermented. The ‘Koji’ mould performs this today, through ‘Multiple, Parallel Fermentation’ with the yeast.

    From the 12th Century onwards, monasteries started producing it to raise funds. The Shogunates realised the potential for revenue- permitting its production if taxes were paid.

    In the 15th and 16th centuries, more detailed records were kept. Interestingly, this included a reference to gently heating the Sake to prolong its life- a form of Pasteurisation, some 300 years before Pasteur documented it in his scientific papers! They also reveal the practice of polishing and pre-soaking the rice to obtain a higher quality drink.

    In the last 120 years, brewing practices became much more consistent, methodical and hygienic, thanks to the work of the National Institute of Brewing Research- who distribute specific cultured yeast strains for Sake fermentation. Unlike in wine making, wild yeasts are generally not relied on by most Sake makers, as they are considered too unreliable and prone to encouraging undesirable organisms and off flavours. 

    Finally, in 1989, the classification system for Sake underwent a major restructure- culminating in 2012 with a simplification of labelling terms. A few of these have legal obligations to do with the minimum amount of polishing the rice has to undergo.

    Sake Tasting Spoons

    Sake 'Taste Test.' A few drops of the natural aromas are placed on each spoon 

    Tasting Sake

    The flavours are best evaluated on the palate, rather than the nose with Sake.

    We discovered the wide diversity of flavour groups that can be found in this wonderful drink, through the clever use of the ‘spoon taste test.’ This involved drops of natural flavourings from numbered vials being placed on the spoon sets. We then had to guess what we thought the flavour was. Depending on the style, it is various aromas like flowers, fruits and savoury things like honey, mushroom and grains.

    The styles from more polished rice like Ginjo and Daiginjo are more delicate, floral and fruity, while fuller bodied ones like Futsu-shu and Honjozo tend to be more cereal and savoury in character.

    Sake and Food

    Sake and food

    Reading Sake labels

    Except for a small number of details in English for export markets, the often very beautifully artistic bottle labels featured a whole host of intimidating Japanese characters, or ‘Kanji.’ Where to look for that vital information on style and what to expect from the taste?

    The SSA came up with an ingenious solution- ‘Kanji Characters.’ Pictures of humorous fictitious people doing various activities were made up around the shape of each of the Kanji. This was an effective way of remembering! For example, ‘baby Jun plays with string,’ ‘Mai favourite is rice!’  Jun-Mai.

    Sake on Ice

    Sake on ice

    Serving from the Sake Barrel

    Serving from the Sake Barrel

    Proper storage, service and Sake advice for newcomers

    Sake is one of the most versatile drinks when it comes to how to serve it as well. It is a very forgiving beverage, and its nuances can be enjoyed warm or chilled. However, we discovered it was important not to serve it too hot. Once above sixty degrees Celsius, the alcohol vapours begin to dominate. Ginjos, Daiginjos and sparkling Sakes are best enjoyed lightly chilled like a white wine, as this brings out their aromas.

    However, all the Sakes we tasted were enjoyable at room temperature- so it is important to not worry too much and take note of your guests’ preferences.  When introducing interested guests to Sake, we learned the simplest way, was to establish their preferences when it came to wines or spirits they were familiar with. Then we compared their preferences to the characteristics of each style of Sake.  This avoided complicated explanations and ‘pushing’ our own likes and dislikes (or even worse, sales targets!) on guests. Potentially, this could put them off choosing it in future!

    Sake with Meal

    Sake with a Meal- The drink is served by the person to your right. The bottle is meant to always be in contact with the glass when pouring. It is apparently bad luck not to touch the two!

    Food and Sake matching

    Sake is very amenable to a wide range of foods, thanks to its desirable characteristics of being low in bitterness and harsh acidity like many wines and spirits. The key to matching with food is the different styles. Fuller bodied ones like Honjozo and Futsu-shu are higher in amino acids and pair very well with ‘Umami’ rich savoury, full flavoured dishes. The lighter, more delicate and fruity Ginjo and Daiginjo Sakes make excellent aperitifs and accompaniments to more delicate foods.

    Most importantly of all, we experienced and described a whole host of culinary pairings from many cultures. Sake is great with Japanese and Asian cuisine but does not have to be confined to it! There were examples that went well with everything from French stews, to steak and fish and chips. (The sparkling Sake, with its bubbles and slightly higher acidity, was not dissimilar to a good bottle of fizz!).

    John Callow of Northern Wine School, Certified Sake Sommelier

    John Callow of Northern Wine School, Certified Sake Sommelier

    The exam and graduation ceremony

    The exam was 45 minutes long, and involved multiple choice, short answer questions and a blind tasting of one Sake. It was quite a scary and daunting prospect, having had such a packed week and learning many terms in an unfamiliar language.

    The coffee break after while they marked the papers was very tense. Fortunately, everyone passed, and we could enjoy the ceremony afterwards. The person with the highest score had the honour of ‘breaking’ the sake barrel and serving everyone from it. The seal apparently symbolised a mirror, which far from bad luck, was meant to signify an new beginning or chapter in something. It is brought out for weddings, birthday and business milestones. Afterwards we all enjoyed a selection of special Sakes and even got to try some plum wine, Japanese Whisky and Baiju!

    Kanpai - Cheers

    Kanpai - Cheers!