Every year, when the almond trees are deciding when to blossom, the Nagai team take a rest, research and development trip. This year, the idea was to have some rest and relaxation in Asia. Massages, hot springs, some shopping and really good food. To visit our chef Reina’s family and nothing more… Famous last words!
Nagoya, Osaka and the Awara hot springs were lovely, relaxing holidays. The calm before the storm. All of a sudden, we were caught up in a whirlwind of food, meetings, visits, promises and, a lot of sake! All of it organised and happily orchestrated by our man in Tokyo, Eryu. One of those special people you will never find with a frown on his face or a dour demeanour… a brother from another mother!
When we got to Kyoto, Eryu was not there, but he sent his friend Hasegawa to guide us into the backstreets (and bars and restaurants) of the area known as Gion, home of the Geishas and Maikos! He was a most demanding and generous host, making us enjoy the finest delicacies of Japanese regional cuisine with delicious matching sakes until the wee hours, only to reappear with his bleached hair and crooked smile to cheer us on to another fabulous temple at the crack of the freezing February dawn.
The Golden Temple, seen through a friendly blizzard of perfect snow-flakes, Chinese tourists and green tea clarity, is one of those memories I shall carry with me until my last days and I hope to one day recount to my grandchildren. The encounter of man, the nature of now with what man and nature created ages ago, is one of those folds in the fabric of time and space that remain indelibly engraved in the memory continuum of this humble voyager.
The next morning, with our brains still foggy from the Golden Koy in the lake of the Golden Temple, Eryu finally appeared and took us to our first serious encounter with an ancient, eternal sake master, and so began an initiation into the Sake Society. The honourable Tokubei Masuda, the 16th sake master from the same family with the same name (all first
born males), was a most gracious host and showed us through the whole process with an elegance and unselfconscious class of another level. Each sake bottle a work of art, reflecting creativity and expression. From the shape of the bottle to the intricate label, all pointing to the exquisite, range of flavours, textures and perfumes that each miniature tasting glass announced, as we pretended to know what we were doing.
Amazingly, our preconceptions of what sake was were totally overturned after just a few samples… the dry, fruity, sweet, salty, thick, creamy, bubbly versions were just the tip of the iceberg… Well, we did try about 19 types, on an empty stomach. However, I think I vaguely remember that we did a good job of appreciating the nuances and subtleties of this elixir of eternal tradition.
After this first encounter, we took the world’s fastest train to Tokyo and proceeded to meet the Minister of the Government for the Promotion of Sake in the world, the representatives of the Kimon Akita breweries as well as the Promoter of Tourism, whisky, beer and sake of Hokkaido and other super interesting personalities of the Tokyo sake world. We risked our lives eating Fugu…each serving of potentially deadly blowfish, accompanied by the appropriate sake (some warm, some cold), Eryu, devilishly grinning as usual, our saviour-tormentor.
From these meetings, a continued relationship has evolved and we are now looking forward to presenting the Ibiza gastronomic panorama with a whole range of exquisite, extraordinary and exciting sakes, suitable to accompany sushi, fish, meat and desserts!