A first-of-its-kind collaboration with the Hakugakusen brand, this unique sake is brewed using wine yeast to offer qualities not traditionally associated with the popular beverage

Whether it’s in designing some of the most creative cocktails to have on their own or with dinner, or producing their own limited-edition Sons of Tippling gin, lauded restaurant and bar Tippling Club has always been invested in serving the right tipple. Even before the cocktail appetiser became a trendy novelty, the restaurant’s cleverly tailored drinks menu has been an integral part of its inimitable take on modern gastronomy, led by its famously forward-thinking chef-owner Ryan Clift.

Clift’s latest collaboration is no less provocative, a special bottling of Junmai Ginjo Hakugakusen Wine Cell sake, which is also a fitting nod to his soon-to-open six-seater Japanese-inspired restaurant concept called Mahoroba (which means “dreamland” in  ancient Japanese), located above the current restaurant. It’s slated to open before the end of the year.

Imported by specialist distributors Mead Asia, the Tippling Sake also represents an opportunity Clift feels especially honoured to have. The sake is in itself a rare variety made using wine yeast by one of the oldest yet most innovative brewers.

Led by Takeshi Yasumoto, the 47th generation sake brewer of the family-owned Yasumoto Sake Brewery in Fukui, Japan, that was founded in 1853 and which is also behind the Hakugakusen brand, the brewery is operated by only four people—Yasumoto, who is also chief brewer, and three staff.

“Again, this is not something you can just go and do—you have to be invited,” Clift tells us at a recent tasting of the sake. “And the fact that it is Yasumoto’s first collaboration with a restaurant, it’s a big deal.

“His (brewery) is a few hundred years old … and I’m grateful to Yasumoto for allowing me to do this with him.”

Succeeding Tradition

The Tippling Sake is brewed using traditional brewing methods married with modern data management to achieve its ideal flavour and fragrance. The main difference is the use of wine yeast in place of the two original Hakugakusen strains of sake yeast, explains Yasumoto. This wine yeast, he adds, is similar to the yeast used to make Japanese wines in the Yamanashi Prefecture.

Another creative expression is a sake that’s been aged in Mizunara oak for eight months. It is aging for another year in the bottle and will only be ready in November.

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“We wanted to create something different while keeping the tradition of making sake,” he shares about his decision to use wine yeast, adding that while he enjoys such challenges, he also hopes that the success of these new sake varieties will help sustain the family business, and inspire the next generation of sake makers.

Production is, expectedly small, only 600 bottles of the Tippling Sake have been produced for the restaurant this year. It is offered on Tippling Club’s current menu and will also be available alongside an extensive sake menu for the Mahoroba concept.

The selection will no doubt complement Clift’s new dishes, dishes like a fermented matsutake handroll. The mushroom is first fermented in yuzu juice, then dipped in an algae batter, he explains. It’s served with an “algae mayonnaise” and  finished with a little mountain caviar (tonburi) from Yamanashi that’s infused with fresh shisho juice.

Best With Food

Yasumoto adds that he also found inspiration in characteristics like fruity notes wine yeast can provide that traditional sake yeast cannot, emphasising how the Tippling Sake is “lighter” than most sake varieties—even lower in alcohol by around two to three per cent. The fermentation process with wine yeast is also slower. What would normally take 30 days to happen using sake yeast, now can take up to 40 weeks.

These and the sake's distinct aromatics and even some acidity are aspects that help it pair well with most foods, including western cuisines. Yasumoto thinks it goes especially well with beef, but is not ruling out the possibility of it going well with slightly sweet and spicy foods, even Indian cuisine.

As a sort of preview to the menu for Mahoroba, Clift has created a new dish to pair with the sake, one that stars the Japanese butterfish (or medai). The fillet, he explains, is rolled into the shape of the rice for sushi and poached it in a stock. “We then slice it to the required thickness and wrap it in nori, as you would sushi,” Clift explains. “We then fill it with puffed freeze-dried rice and finish it with icefish, fresh truffle and shiso; we also made a stock out of fish bones, chicken, bonito and shiso to go with the dish.” The dish looks like a plating of two pieces of sushi in a bit of broth but it’s all fish.

“At Tippling, we also serve sake by the glass. And the Tippling Sake will be available both by the glass and by the bottle,” Clift confirms. “It will in fact feature as the first drink on the new tasting menus.”

Tippling Club

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