Artisan Sake Maker is a commercial sake brewery that first opened its doors in Granville Island back in 2006 (it says 2007 on their website, but for some reason they have a sign on the door that says 2006). It is the first of its kind in all of Canada, and Masa Shiroki, the owner and sake maker, has won numerous awards since its conception (unfortunately he wasn’t there the day we went).
I’ve walked by Artisan Sake Maker many times during my visits to Granville Island, but the timing has never really worked out for me to sit down and taste their sakes until now.
Even before heading into the shop, I wanted to point out that Artisan Sake Maker is incredibly welcoming in its storefront design. I love how they have menus and articles outside for people just passing by to stop and flip through. They also have a really big board of all their offerings.Masa Shiroki makes his sake in this small studio, and that includes the entire process – from milling to fermentation and to bottling. He even has a little poster on the front door to highlight the fact that Artisan Sake Maker is the first of its kind in Canada. Once you enter, you get a glimpse of some of the equipment used to create premium sake. The majority of the sake offered by Artisan Sake Maker is unfiltered. It is fermented here and bottled by hand. There are quite a number of sake options. It’s interesting to note that all the sake here are not served in the typical Japanese manner – a small little cup. Here, Masa Shiroki aims to demonstrate that quality sake is not something to only be had with sushi and does not need to be served hot. Instead, sake is a type of wine and should be enjoyed like other wines. As such, all the sakes here are contained in wine bottles and served in wine glasses.
Being fairly unfamiliar with how different sakes can taste, I opted for their taste testing option. It is $5 to taste three small glasses of sake. Here are the types of sake that I chose from:
The two very nice ladies working there that day helped me choose three sakes to try: Osake Junmai Sparkling, Osake Junmai Nama, and Osake Junmai Ginjo Nigori Genshu. I’m not a wine connoisseur, so please take the following with a healthy dosage of salt! Oh and after the first three glasses, I actually had three more because they were so good: Fraser Valley Junmai Sake 2012, Osake Junmai Nama Genshu, and Osake Junmai Ginjo Nama Genshu.
Also loved the great weather we had when we visited Granville Island. We sat outside in their make-shift patio to enjoy the sake slowly.
For the Osake Junmai Sparkling, I found that it had a very crisp and light taste. Unlike its description, I didn’t find too much fruitiness to it. The sparkling carbonation was also pretty light and barely noticeable. Having this sake first, it really hit home how different sake can be from the typical sushi-joint sakes I’ve had till now.
In contrast to the Junmai Sparkling, the Junmai Nama really emphasized the fruity notes. Hints of pear and melon made this one a very refreshing sake. It’s also quite light and would probably make a great dessert wine.
This one was highly recommended by one of of the ladies working at Artisan SakeMaker, and I could taste why! This sake was very smooth and not very fruity; it had a very rich rice aroma to it. Unlike the other sakes, you can really see what it looks like for a sake to be unfiltered because of its slight cloudiness. Really liked this one!The Fraser Valley Junmai Sake 2012 was very light. It had nice hints of lychee and went down smoothly, but it was way too light for my liking. Very rich rice flavour for the Osake Junmai Nama Genshu. It was pretty good, fairly smooth and not as strong as I expected it to be considering it is 18% alcohol. This has a more familiar taste, much more like the sake one would normally get in Japanese restaurants. The last one I had was the Osake Junmai Ginjo Genshu. Surprisingly, I liked this one the least. Perhaps it is because the flavour profile of this one is so different from the others. It is supposed to be both lighter and fruitier than the last sake, Osake Junmai Nama Genshu, but for some reason the hints of fruitiness didn’t come out very well. Perhaps it was because the spicy earthiness didn’t contrast with the fruity notes in way that appealed to me. There was a lingering spicy aftertaste that might have followed up very well with hearty and greasy food pairings, but having no food made this one an awkward drink.
You can also read up and learn a lot about sake. It’s a pretty fun and relaxing experience that doesn’t break the bank.
Q doesn’t really drink sake, so she actually had some of their Sake Kasu Raisin Icecream. It’s icecream made from Sake Kasu, which is a byproduct of sake production. In fact, Artisan Sake Maker also has a line of cosmetic/facial products and juices made out of sake kasu! (Q: they also do 2 non-alcoholic fruit drinks with sake kasu!)
The icecream was really good, but only if you enjoy the taste of sake. For someone who doesn’t drink at all, the icecream probably tastes weird. (Q: I thought the ice cream was alright…very strong fermented rice taste. It is not a completely strange taste for me with my Asian background. I can’t imagine how that would taste with chocolate, which is the other flavour that is offered.) I actually had the icecream while also sipping on sake, and man was that some amazing flavour! The ice cream tasted especially good when paired with the fruitier sakes. Delicious!