Shimada Shoten 島田商店 is a Saké store in Osaka, offering a wide selection of Saké from 1,600 breweries across Japan, from top-grade Daiginjo to seasonal distilled brews and aged Saké. What makes this store memorable is its Speakeasy-style Saké tasting. This is an underground drinking experience that won’t burn a hole in your pocket!
Shimada Shoten is a 7-minute walk from Azawa station. Tucked in a nondescript lane in Nishi Ward, you will find yourself relying heavily on Google Maps to find this unassuming store.
When you arrive, tell the store manager that you want “Saké tasting”, and you’d be whisked down to a dimly lit underground cellar that contains more than a hundred varieties of Saké to choose from. The tasting space has three tables, which can accommodate 20 patrons comfortably at a go.
Despite arriving late on a Friday evening with 30 minutes to spare before closing, I managed to sample a few glasses of Saké and the specialty shukō (bar appetisers). Although I could only taste opened bottles, there were at least 20 different types of Saké for me to try, all tucked in a cold room at the back.
The store manager asked for my Saké preferences – dry or sweet, and how many types I would like to try. Each glass of sake costs only ¥220, regardless of its quality or type. I had to exercise due restraint and settled on 6 glasses, with a mix of dry and sweet ones recommended by the store manager (He eventually brought 7 bottles for me to try).
My favourite was the Gekkeikan Hizō Saké 月桂冠秘蔵酒 from Kyoto. While I do like the smooth and clean taste of a typical premium quality Junmai Daiginjo 純米大吟醸, the Gekkeikan Hizō Saké (also a Junmai Daiginjo) had a distinct osmanthus flavour, that was very different from any sake that I’ve ever tried. (In the end, I bought a 720ml bottle back for ¥5,000.)
I also requested to try all three types of shukō: chunky miso from Kinzanji Temple, Kishu pickled salty plum and cream cheese made with Ginjo Saké. The shukō was similarly priced at ¥220 each. What was really enjoyable was how each shukō interacted with the different sakes. You sip a little, then you take a small bite of the appetizer, training your taste buds to pick out the nuances and figure out the sake that pairs best with each shukō.
After 30 minutes of Saké heaven, it was time to come back down to Earth. I climbed up the narrow steps and settled my bill. Payment is based on trust; as the shop does not keep tab of the number of glasses you drink. So be sure to count the glasses you’ve consumed, don’t take advantage of the system and let the store manager know.
A Quick Primer on Saké
For the uninitiated, Saké – or more accurately termed in Japanese as nihonshu日本酒 or seishu 清酒 – is made from rice, yeast, koji (a type of mould) and water. Brewers may choose to add other additives, such as sugar or brewed alcohol, to change the flavour profile of the Saké. For simplicity’s sake, the quality of the sake is largely dependent on two factors:
- No additives: If the Saké is made without any additives, it is considered junmai 純米or literally, “pure rice”. If it does contain additives – typically brewed alcohol, it is considered jozo 醸造.
- Polishing: Rice needs to be milled or “polished” to remove its outer kernels and expose its starchy core. The more polished the rice, the better the quality. This is indicated on the label as seimaibuai 精米歩合, expressed as a percentage (e.g. 70% means at least 30% of the rice has been polished off). The lower the percentage of seimai, the higher the quality.
|Percentage of Polishing
|With additives (brewed alcohol)
If you’re keen to learn more about Saké, check out this easy guide by Boutique Japan. Saké aficionados can read this comprehensive guide by the Japan Saké and Shochu Makers Association.
Address: 3 Chome-5-1 Itachibori, Nishi Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 550-0012, Japan
Telephone: +81 6-6531-8119
Opening hours: Monday to Friday, 9am to 7pm, Monday to Saturday, 9am to 6pm. Closed on Sundays and Public Holidays.
Website (in Japanese): http://www.sake-shimada.co.jp/
About Wai See
Wai See posts pictures of her travels and perspectives of the world via @teetravelogue. An avid lover of Japanese food and culture, she is currently studying Japanese again so that she’s better prepared for her next adventure to the land of the rising sun. Wai See is also a self-confessed coffee addict and alcoholic, with a strong preference for sake and Japanese whisky. She is working on her cooking skills, so that she can finally make a Totoro bento for her family. You can contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.