Pairing Cigars & Alcohol – Kikumasa Junmai Daiginjo Sake

Cigars and alcohol. Two luxury products that go hand in hand, and sometimes even meet on business level. Aging tobacco in whisky, rum, or cognac barrels is a practice several brands do to achieve extra flavour to the wrapper for certain lines. The famous bourbon brand Maker’s Mark has their own cigar, sold in tubes with the signature wax coating. Drew Estate works with Pappy van Winkle and used to make Kahlua cigars. Mombacho used to have the Diplomatico series. General Cigars works with Sazerac, which resulted in Fireball cigars, Weller by Cohiba and collaborations with Buffalo Trace. And there is the Diesel Whisky Row, a collaboration with Rabbit Hole Distilleries. Fratello Cigars also sells craft beer. Most famous are probably the Cuban collaboration between Martell Cognac and Cohiba. Dominique London, the European retailer with more than 20 shops in the UK, Belgium, Switzerland and the Canary Islands takes it one step further. They bought a distillery in Wales and produce whisky, gin, rum, vodka and liquors.

Kikumasa Junmai Daiginjo sake

I know that Japanese liquors are very popular nowadays. Not just the highly rated Japanese whiskies and the gins, but also the traditional Japanese drinks as Sake and Soju have been in high demand and gaining popularity in the last few years. I have to admit, I never paid any attention to these drinks and only had my first Soju recently as a highball in a Japanese restaurant. By mistake, yes, I admit, by mistake. I ordered it as I thought it was a Yuzu tea, but it was actually a Yuzu Soju Highball. But since Sake is also very popular, I decided to order a bottle and see if it would pair nice with cigars.

What is Sake? Sake is a Japanese alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice. It consists of four ingredients: rice, water, yeast, and a mould called koji. The rice has to be Sakamai rice. Koji is carefully distributed over the rice to convert the starches to sugar. This process, along with the different yeasts and the varying quality and minerality of water around Japan, shapes the flavour profile of sake. The different types of sake are categorized by their rice polish ratio (RPR) and the addition of brewer’s alcohol. RPR is indicated by a percentage. For example, if a sake has an RPR of 60 percent, then 40 percent of the rice’s outer layer was polished away.

The categories are: Junmai with no regulation of RPR with added brewer’s alcohol, varies in flavour. Daiginjo has to have at least 50 percent RPR, fruity and light in flavour. Ginjo needs at least 60 percent RPR, slightly fruity in flavour. Then there is Honjozo with 70 percent RPR with added brewer’s alcohol, earthy in flavour. Finally there are two others, not regulated by RPR and these are Futsushu which means “ordinary sake,” the table wine of sake, has no regulations, and Nigori, is a cloudy sake, which has particles of solid rice suspended in the sake, normally served chilled.

And this already leaves me confused as the bottle I have mentions Junmai Daiginjo. But a little research on google teaches me that this is the best of the best category. Daiginjo or Ginjo brewed without additional alcohol is called Junmai Daiginjo or Junmai Ginjo.  The brand is Kikumasa and that’s about what I understand from the label as my knowledge of Japanese is extremely limited. The drink has an ABV of 16%

Neat

So this will be the first time that I drink sake, ever in my life. I decided to use my trusting Glencairn to try this liquor, as the shape is great for tasting booze. The nose is very fragrant, fruity with citrus notes. The acidity is quite high, citrus with fruity notes such as melon and raising. Very pleasant, very crisp and clean. This will go well with a creamy and smooth Connecticut Shade cigar, like the Perdomo 10th Anniversary Champagne.

Sake Grapefruit

Made with sake, grapefruit juice, gin, and a touch of ginger, this elegant sake cocktail is super easy to make and incredibly refreshing. Not to mention, it looks gorgeous! It smells amazing too, like the outdoors. Rosemary is the strongest aroma, with a hint of the nutmeg and grapefruit supported by the botanicals from the Nikka Coffey Gin. Yes, I used Japanese gin of course.

The flavour is more bitter than you would think from the nose. That must be the grapefruit. The grapefruit and the gin overpower the sake, I can only taste a little bit of melon. The ginger gives the cocktail some warmth and a little kick. This cocktail needs an earthy cigar, medium to full bodied.

And now for the Sake Grapefruit recipe (this recipe makes two cocktails):

3 oz or 90ml of Sake
2½ oz or 75ml of Gin

3 oz or 90ml of Grapefruit juice, freshly squeezed
1/8 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger
Splash of sparkling water

Pinch of nutmeg
Fresh rosemary & slice of grapefruit as garnish.
Put the liquids minus the sparkling water, ginger and nutmeg in a shaker with ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into two rocks glasses, add a splash of sparkling water and garnish with the grapefruit slice and the rosemary.

Sake Mojito

A Japanese twist on a Cuban classic, where the white rum is replaced with Sake. But not in the exact same quantities, as Sake is a much milder drink than rum. I have made many mojitos; it is my benchmark cocktail for when I’m writing about white rum here on cigarinspector.com so it should be a good cocktail to compare this Sake Mojito with.

The nose is mostly mint, but that is no surprise as mint is very aromatic while the sake is muted by the ice. I grow my own mint by the way, it’s very simple, you can do it in small pots on the window shell. Great to make your house smell great, and you can use the herb in your cocktails. The cocktail does have all the characteristics of the neat sake, with added sweetness and citrus from the lime. It makes the drink more interesting, and great to pair with a little stronger cigar. Not too strong, but medium to medium full with peppery notes. Something like the PsyKo Seven Nicaragua, some of the Diesel blends or the Don Pepin Blue and/or black.

And now for the Sake Mojito:

5 ounces or 150ml of Sake
1 ounce or 30ml of club soda
6 mint leaves
1 teaspoon of sugar
½ lime, cut into small pieces.

garnish: Mint sprig
Muddle the mint leaves, lime and sugar in a cocktail shaker. Then add the sake and ice and shake shake shake. Strain into a Collins glass filled with ice and top with the club soda and a mint sprig.

Saketini

The Sake martini, or saketini, is a delightful way to enjoy sake, and it can be made with either gin or vodka.  The recipe is very easy to mix up and makes for a wonderful dinner drink. In the saketini, the sake acts like the vermouth of a classic gin martini, bringing in a nuance that only this fermented rice beverage can contribute. But here’s the kicker, I am not a fan of spirit forward cocktails and this is a great example of a spirit forward cocktail.

The nose hides the sake, it’s all juniper and citrus from the gin with some mint. The cocktail itself does show some of the sake, but it is mostly gin with a strong black pepper aftertaste. The mint is just for aroma, as I can’t taste any of it. It’s spicy but that’s probably because the gin is spicy. I would pair this with an earthy cigar, but this is not a cocktail I would ever order.

And now for the Saketini recipe:

2½ ounces or 75ml of Gin
½ ounce or 15ml of Sake
6 mint leaves
Cucumber slice for garnish

Add the liquids in a mixing glass with ice and stir until chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a slice of cucumber.

Inspector X

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