CTbites Invites Recap: Sushi and Sake Tasting w/ Oktopusake, Matsu & Bottlerocket

ellen bowen

The upstairs loft room at Westport’s Matsu Sushi was the scene of the most recent CTbites Invites Sushi and Sake Tasting on Wednesday 11/20.   CTbites Invites is an exclusive feature that offers unique “curated culinary experiences” to CTbites readers, that are both tasty and informative, and this evening was no exception. The twenty-six very spirited attendees enjoyed an evening presented by Matsu Sushi owner, Paul Teoh,  Bottlerocket Wines & Spirit representative Rachel  Halperin, and Chris Dircks, creator of Oktopusake, a new small batch sake made in New Haven currently still in launch mode. 

Each guest was greeted with a signature Blue Saketini, a potent drink made with Vodka, Sake, and Blue Curacao topped with fresh shredded cucumber sticks. 

As the first course of salad with ginger dressing was served, Emma Doody, our own CTbites Wine Contributor, walked us through Sake 101. The event was an exciting learning experience for her as well as the guests.  Although she has extensive wine knowledge, she had little experience with sake previously (save for the occasional round of sake bombing- an uncouth but wildly fun tradition).  In the weeks leading up to the evening at Matsu, she savored the opportunity to research the ins and outs of rice wine. 

Emma started by explaining what makes sake different than wine, beer, and other spirits.  She went on to walk us through the process of making sake, from polishing the rice, to fermentation, to filtration.  Finally, she told us how sakes differ from each other.  Different rices, degrees of polishing, sugar levels, and the addition of brewer’s alcohol can all influence the quality of sake.

As we sipped the first sake… Hakutsuru Junmai Sake, served hot in the traditional porcelain sake cups, our eyes feasted on an assortment plate prepared by Matsu’s team of talented sushi chefs;  Each plate was absolutely a work of art….and featured as it’s centerpiece, Matsu’s Mt. Fuji, a layered tower of crab, mango, tuna, avocado topped with spicy mayo and tobiko, four pieces of the freshest sushi,  octopus sashimi, salmon roe in a cucumber wrap and most amazing,  Uni, or sea urchin.   Owner, Paul Teoh circulated with a carton of quail eggs encouraging the most daring to crack a raw egg on top of the Uni. 

As we savored every bite, our next taste bud experience included the tasting of perhaps the most coveted and purest sake, Ginga Shizuku Divine Droplets, served chilled just to 40 degrees. 

For true sake aficionados, Divine Droplets, is the “Rolls Royce of Sakes”. It is drip-pressed (shizuku), a rarity by itself, and is the only sake in the world drip-pressed in an ice igloo which is rebuilt every year outside the main brewery building in Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island. Priced at $50-60 a bottle, it was smooth, crisp and felt like I was sipping liquid gold.   The difference in the experience was noted by all attendees as we were presented with the next course; an assortment of three rolls including the newly created CTbites roll!  

Of course, my favorite was the CTbites roll…spicy salmon and crunch inside, avocado (CTbites green!) outside topped with a dot of spicy mayo and scallion curl.  Creamy and lightly spicy, the roll should be a new favorite at Matsu Sushi. 

Then it was time to introduce, Chris Dircks, the innovative creator of Oktopusake, a small batch organic sake brewed right in New Haven and not yet available for sale! 

Chris talked with passion about the increasing interest in sake, and his process for creating and introducing Oktopusake to a growing public of knowledgeable sake drinkers.   He explained the four ingredients in simple Junmai sake; Water, Yeast Rice, and Koji (Aspergillius Oryzae-fied Rice) and the eight steps he takes in the filtration process. And we learned that the correct pronunciation is SA-KAY…not SA-KEE. 

Also served chilled, we tasted a very different sake, with a slight fragrance that someone said was perfumey or smelled a bit like bubble gum.  The flavor was more distinctive with almost a woodsy taste, unique and quite good. 

Chris presented us all with samples to take home, wonderfully packaged in a clear bottle with Oktopusake logo and in it’s own burlap bag, and included a soap actually made from the sake producing by products. 

Oktopusake, although not yet available for sale, will hopefully hit the market during the second half of 2014, but for more information and locations you can contact Chris at info@oktopusake.com or follow on Twitter @oktopusake.

As we compared notes and discussed the differences in the sake experience, Matsu Sushi’s servers appeared with a surprise dessert…fried red bean or green tea ice cream topped with whipped cream and a cherry on top.  A fitting finish to a fun, delicious, informative and artistically presented evening. 

And, IF you missed this CTbites Invite…make sure you sign up for special advance notice emails for future CTbites “insider access” events by signing up on our website at http://www.ctbites.com/invites