Thursday, 31 May 2012

Alco-Shops part 2: The Chinese Supermarket

Slightly early post this week, since I’m not going to be around tomorrow to post it, so here’s part two of the [going-to-be] regular Alco-Shops feature.

I visited the Chinese supermarket near work the other day to pick up some cooking supplies, and while browsing the myriad different types of soy sauce I realised that I had found an interesting new resource, for out of the corner of my eye I noticed there were several different types of Japanese Sake. They were of various sizes, styles and prices, and just like that I’d found something to brighten up my day. I certainly wasn’t intending to buy any booze that day, but for £4 a little bottle of sake (300ml, 15% abv) would do very nicely. And I can always pick up a different one next time.
Kylie is eyeing you up from behind the bottle

 Shopping at the Chinese supermarket is fun for a while, but once you've seen all the chickens' feet, rabbits' tails and donkey noses, it kind of loses its novelty appeal. This was just the kind of thing to move the Chinese Supermarket from the Not to the Hot column.

Once I’d selected my various fish-vinegar-soy-sauces I saw some other weird spirits near the checkout, too. I was tempted, but figured I’d investigate that at some future time. I don’t really know why I was so surprised – where else would you expect to be able to buy sake? It is the Chinese supermarket, after all – Tesco sells booze, doesn’t it?

Nevertheless, there you go; try out some proper far eastern booze without having to use your passport – unless you look young, and need it for ID.

Ruby isn't interested in Saki
Well, I was fairly excited about trying the bottle of saki that I bought, so I only waited as long as the weekend. My one previous experience with saki was a good few years ago when I had gone up to Newcastle for a friend’s birthday. His housemate had a bottle that had never been opened, and my friend said it would be fine to try it. I read the card that was included in the box, and learned that saki can be drunk cold, warm or hot. I drank it at room temperature.

Made in the US of A!

It was dark in the house, but I seem to remember the saki was a kind of pinky colour – like sherry. You can see from the pictures that the Nigori brand that I bought last week is very different. I think I was drawn in by the bottle, the alcohol content (which was 0.5% greater than all the others), and the fact that on the back it boasts, “one of the oldest and most traditional of all sakis”. What I didn’t notice was that it said, “made in Berkeley, Ca”.

Now, I have learned that saki is made from rice in a manner that is similar to how beer is made, so it is like rice beer more than rice wine. The rice is scrubbed to leave the starchy element, and after brewing it is usually filtered out. Blah, blah, blah, have a look at Wikipedia if you want more detail.

It looks like they’ve put the ricey stuff back in mine, such that it ends up like Orangina, and you have to shake it ‘before use’. Also, it should be chilled and in general consumed within 2-3 hours of opening. It was only a 300ml bottle, so I figured I may as well drink it in one sitting – which I did, but it was hard work.

Shake it, baby - YOU won't break it!
Despite being a very different type of saki from the one I had tried previously, the flavour was exactly how I remembered it – just with chewy bits. I can’t really describe it for you, I’m afraid, but it convinces me that saki isn’t a taste I need to revisit all that often – until I’ve fully acquired it, I suppose. With so many other interesting beverages out there, I can’t say how long that might be.

Before I go; a word about the weekend. Those of us in the UK who have good employers, and who don’t work in the retail or service industries have an extra long weekend this weekend -  because it’s the Queen’s Jubilee.  Four days off for free! Woo-hoo! Thanks, Queenie! I’m certainly not a royalist, nor will I be partaking in any Jubilee celebrations, but I will be celebrating inwardly at the prospect of (hopefully) three nice lie-ins - only three because my brother-in-law has booked us a round of golf at 07.24 on Sunday. I like playing early, but this is ridiculous. The bacon’s still frozen at that time! I suppose the idea is to get there before there’s anyone else around to see how crap we are (I am), so I appreciate that much, at least.

Also, yesterday was pay day. It’s been an especially long time coming this month, so yesterday I celebrated by finally buying a (hopefully) nice bottle of brandy. I went for Courvoisier VSOP, which is a blend of cognacs, some aged up to 10 years, though in general the designation “VSOP” or “Very Special Old Pale” [that’s not very French, is it?] means the brandies are aged at least 5 years. So we’ll say 5-10.

I haven’t tried it yet, and I’m very much starting out on the brandy journey of discovery, but I can hardly wait. I’ve been meaning to buy a decent brandy for a while, but I always get distracted by the single malt scotch. That almost happened again, and I literally had to drag myself away before I bought something else as well.

So, I hope you have a nice weekend. See you next week.


  1. I do like a glass or two of sake with my sushi... I hear that it's generally the cheap shite that gets served warm as it kind of helps the flavouring. Never had the milky stuff, but will look out for it now.

  2. Can't really say what the quality of mine was. I'm still very much a sake novice. It's interesting though that serving sake warm is said to help the flavour, when with whisky it is generally considered that serving with ice is thought to help, since the low temperature helps to mask undesirable flavours.

  3. Tastes a bit like sherry from if I remember correctly from my limited saki experience. Can also taste a bit like those stupidly strong Belgian beers (10-14% ones). Glad you mentioned that it is technically a beer.

  4. Yep. I've done my research.