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Let’s Celebrate Hinamatsuri for Grownups!

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One of my favorite Japanese observances is Hinamatsuri, or Girls’ Day. Celebrated each year on March 3rd, this special day is a time for Japanese people to pray for the health and happiness of girls in the hopes that they will grow up gracefully. When I think of Hinamatsuri, images of elaborate displays of dolls, diamond-shaped rice cakes called hishi-mochi, and amazake, a traditional beverage made from fermented rice, immediately come to mind.

Although amazake literally means “sweet sake,” it’s a non-alcoholic beverage. Sake Samurai, Chizuko Niikawa-Helton, wants to expand the tradition of Hinamatsuri by celebrating Girls’ Day with alcohol – a kind of Hinamatsuri for grownups! The founder of Sake Discoveries, a company that introduces Japanese sake brands to the U.S., she selected four different sake brands for me to sample.

My first taste was of Amabuki Junmai Ginjo. This sake is made of strawberry yeast through a secret process that’s protected by the Tokyo University of Agriculture. I enjoyed the juicy texture, and it’s easy to drink. Niikawa-Helton recommends pairing this with prosciutto and other cold meats.

Next I tried Himezen Junmai.“Hime” means “princess,” so it’s the perfect choice for Girls’ Day! I immediately tasted the burst of sweetness, and although the flavor is like ume, there are no plums in this sake.

My favorite of the bunch does have plums, Umeshu by Nanbu Bijin. The mature taste is unlike any plum sake I’ve ever had. The brewery has a special patent to produce this umeshu, which is made from 100% koji rice, giving it a natural sweetness with no added sugar. Its beautiful pink color comes from the skin of locally grown green plums.

Finally, Kodakara Yuzu made by Tatenokawa Brewery. The incredible aroma enhances the bold and citrusy flavor, which lingers on the tongue. You can have this sake chilled, on the rocks, or with club soda, but it’s also surprisingly good served warm.

In fact, all of these sakes are versatile enough to be enjoyed warm, cold, or in a cocktail. While these brands of sake can be described as “feminine,” anyone can enjoy them, especially people who don’t drink a lot of alcohol or aren’t familiar with sake. With this excellent lineup, everyone can enjoy Hinamatsuri for grownups!

—– Reported by Susan Hamaker

Info: www.sakejourneys.com, www.sakediscoveries.com

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Celebrate Hinamatsuri with these four delicious sake brands recommended by Niikawa-Helton.

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These lovely urushi lacquerware and elegant cut glass sake cups are perfect for enjoying Hinamatsuri sake.

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Niikawa-Helton developed a sake cocktail, “Strawberry Feelin”, with warmed Amabuki Junmai Ginjo, strawberry liqueur, and marshmallows. It is available at Juban (207 10th Ave., NYC) for weekend brunch.

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Every Saturday from 11pm-2am, Niikawa-Helton promotes sake culture by serving warm sake at “Sake Caliente” at AZASU (49 Clinton St., NYC).