'People of Sake' - Hannah Kirshner
Hannah is a food stylist, writer and recipe developer with a painting degree from Rhode Island School of Design. She has 3 chickens in her backyard, is an obsessive cake maker and cocktail shaker, and is the founder of the food publication Sweets & Bitters, but she also has a not-so-secret admiration for... you guessed it … sake.
Hannah last year you had an experience that would make any sake lover jealous – tell us about it
This past winter I spent a little over 2 months apprenticing at a sake bar in a rural hotspring town, Yamanaka Onsen in Ishikawa, Japan. I’ve been interested in Japanese cuisine and culture since my childhood in the Pacific Northwest, and this was an incredible opportunity to delve deep into that.
Did you ever think that sake could be as complex as what you learned?
Sure, but I didn’t have the palate for it. Other than one being a little sweeter or drier, cloudy or clear, I couldn’t perceive the nuances until I had tasted many many many times, and had the chance to taste side-by-side.
Why do you find sake so interesting?
It’s part of a whole cuisine that I love, like wine is with French or Italian food. So for me, going to study in that sake bar wasn’t just to learn about sake. It was an entry point. And working in a neighborhood bar makes you immediately part of the community, which opens the door to all sorts of other experiences.
What was one of your most memorable sake moments during your time at Yamanaka Onsen?
Every day was magical, exhausting, entertaining and baffling! But if I have to choose one…
On my last day, I had a going away party and I got to drink with my 80-year-old neighbor lady. We had bonded over sharing food and gifts even though we couldn’t communicate much. I had a chance to tell her how much I admired her independence and kindness, and to toast to her!
I read on your blog that during your “apprenticeship” in Japan you made a Western style breakfast every morning for two months but as soon as you arrived home to Brooklyn it was miso soup and rice at 5am… and then you went crazy making anything you could with Sake Kasu … do you think sake has you hooked?
Let me set record straight: I did eat a lot of miso soup and rice for breakfast in Japan too! But I craved the comforts of home every once in a while (I was also expected to produce American food for my Japanese friends, cultural exchange goes both ways). I guess by the time I got back to Brooklyn, Yamanaka Onsen had been my home for 3 months and I missed those flavors!
I work in food media rather than in a professional kitchen because I like to be always learning something new. This year I’m fascinated with sake, next year it might be something else. But it all overlaps in surprising ways. Understanding more about sake enriches my appreciation for wine and beer too, and vice versa.
What’s up next in your sake journey?
There is a lifetime of things to learn! I hope to get back to Japan soon. Meanwhile, I’d like to help more people here enjoy sake without feeling intimidated (that’s happened with wine on a pretty large scale).
Thanks Hannah - Keep spreading the sake love!
The Video below is Washu Bar Engawa – the bar that Hannah did her 2 months apprenticeship.
You can learn more about Hannah’s sake experience by reading her article The Sake Ambassador on Roads and Kingdoms.
For more information on her publication Sweets and Bitters see the video below or visit her website here.