Written by: Jess Morton
Edited by: Shannon Chapman
On a walk down the cobblestone street of Gistmill Lane there’s a small brewery tucked in a corner right before Trinity Street. You’d walk right past it, if it weren’t for the fabric banners proclaiming the Izumi brand. I stood right next to these attention-grabbing signs while on the phone with my buddy Zach trying to give him directions. “From Trinity Street head west, towards the wedding party with the men in blue suits, I’m right past that!” On that particular afternoon I saw two bridal parties within thirty seconds of each other. This is not surprising, considering this is the original location of the Gooderham and Worts Distillery. This district is a historical site housing the largest collection of Victorian-era industrial architecture in North America. Telling someone who’s never been to this district before to head towards the big heart sculpture, pasts the Gooderham and Worts sign isn’t particularly helpful.
Ontario Spring Sake Water Company, situated in Toronto’s Distillery District, produces the Izumi Sake. Sake has a similar texture and mouth-feel of wine, made from fermented rice, and ranging in a similar ABV from 12-18%. Unlike most sake imported from Japan, the Izumi sake is unfiltered and unpasteurized. Also unlike most Japanese sake, Izumi sake is brewed year-round. This makes their production a lot more consistent, and more readily available.
This two crucial difference are a product of two factors: a) the weather in Japan doesn’t permit year-round traditional sake making, and b) most imported sake is filtered and pasteurized so it can survive the shipping process and increase its shelf life. According to Ontario Spring Sake Co. these factors will provide Torontonians with sake unlike any other on this side of the pond.
Fun Fact: A sake-making facility is referred to as a brewery, because the method more closely follows beer brewing versus winemaking.
Most brewery or distillery tours consist of an incredibly knowledgeable tour guide talking for about an hour. Sometimes there’s a tour of a facility, getting a glimpse of holding tanks, barrels, and even stills (depending on what alcohol the company makes.) Every tour can guarantee you one thing: tasting the booze.
This is what makes a brewery or distillery tours such a great experience. Attendees not only get to sample different products, but also get first-hand explanations of why they taste the way they do and what makes them unique. It’s those anecdotes of the history, art, and science of brewing or distilling that make a great tour.
Ontario Spring Sake Company Tour Info
Cost: $15 – includes samples of sake
Length: 1 hour
Currently only runs on Saturday and Sunday.
This tour is great for those who don’t know anything about sake and want to gain baseline knowledge, or even just make more informed decisions about their LCBO purchases. I learned so much from this tour. I don’t want to give out too much information, lest I spoil the experience for future attendees, but here are a few secrets I’m willing to give away:
The flavour of sake doesn’t come from the rice or the koji mold, as you might think. Most of the flavour, and primary tasting notes, come from the yeast. There are a number of different yeast strains with different flavour profiles. Izumi sake primarily utilizes Yeast Strain #7. This strain gives the sake flavours of melon, apple and pear. This strain is also one of the most popular yeast strains utilized in the industry.
Ontario Spring Sake Company has three batches of sake going at once. Each of these make up any number of their eight sakes listed on the website. The brewery also blends these batches to ensure they produce a consistent line of sakes. **
The only sake Ontario Spring produces that doesn’t follow a strict brewing method is their Arabashiri sake. Arabashiri is a first run sake, single-tank, and incredibly fresh. If you don’t make it out to a tour on the weekend, sake lovers can go during the week for sake tastings. The brewery has a chalkboard behind the bar listing the current runs of Arabashiri (along with their standard sakes.) There’s usually more than one Arabashiri available to drink. These sakes will feature different flavours, giving you a new experience with every visit.
Cocktails vs. Neat
Like any respected spirit, bartenders like myself can utilize sake in a wide array of cocktails. Sake offers a unique flavour profile unlike typical rail spirits. Of course this also means some types of sake should not get mixed with anything. Think of a single malt scotch. Some spirits you have to sip neat, otherwise it’s just ruining the thought and care put into it. If you find yourself in possession of one of the Izumi sakes I suggest mixing with their Nama-Nama. Don’t mix with the Arabashiri or Nigori sake. Both of these sakes have more complexity to them in either flavour and/or texture, and incorporating them into a cocktail will cover that up.
High Tide – A Sake Highball Cocktail
0.75 oz of fresh lime juice
½ Inch piece of Ginger Root
1.5 of Nama-Nama Sake
0.5 oz of green tea
Garnish: Lime Wheel
Muddle the ginger in the bottom of the shaker. Add the remaining ingredients. Shake with ice, and strain into a highball glass with ice. Top with tonic water.
Note: The Nama-Nama sake can be subbed with any Junmai Ginjo sake. Be sure to give the sake a try on it’s own before putting it into the cocktail.
Traditionally, only friends can pour sake for each other. You cannot pour sake for yourself, unless you’re by yourself. In that case an exception is made. This means sake is better drunk with friends.
Nama-Nama is the sake for beginners. When doing any sort of tasting it’s important to start with the most neutral spirit. This is Izumi’s signature sake, and the lightest sake in their lineup. It features notes of melon and pear. A great easy-drinking sake.
2) Teion Sakura
In comparison to the Nama-Nama this sake is little lighter in body. The initial sips reminded me a North American style of whisky. It’s dry, with a little spice. The residual sugar is balanced out with notable acidity. Notes of green apple and nutty koji.
Low Temperature Fermentation
This sake is a staff favourite at Ontario Spring. This differs greatly from the previous two in flavour, as it hosts more complexity. It has an acidic bite to it. To me this almost had the mouth feel of a wine with heavy tannins. Genshu is balanced out with a long finish.
This sake is a unique experience only available on site. This is basically a ‘first-run’ sake, meaning these are un-blended and single batch. Each batch of sake is slightly different from the other. The sake is incredibly fresh. Upon arrival at the brewery patrons can see the different batches of Arabashiri written on the board. Each of these sakes is numbered, and usually there are two or three available at one time.
The one I sampled was batch #122. It had an ABV of 18.1%. It was cloudy, giving it a lovely smoothness, with notes of mango and cantaloupe, with a dry finish.
** For those who aren’t familiar with blending spirits, think of the methods used in blended whisky. This is done to produce consistent flavour, ABV, and colour. This is often due to barrel-aged spirits being hard to control.