Born in London in 1951, Peter earned a degree in Japanese from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). An expert on diverse forms of popular music, Peter is also a well-known TV and radio presenter. He has lived in Japan for 40 years and has a deep understanding of the language and culture.
Originally from Israel, Yoram Ofer runs a bar in Kyoto that specializes in nihonshu: Japanese sake. The bar opened in 2000, and stocks a range of around 70 different types of nihonshu. Yoram Ofer came to Japan at the age of 24. He got his first taste of nihonshu in Osaka, where he was working for an advertising agency. But it was only when he encountered junmaishu, a form of nihonshu that uses no added brewer's alcohol, that he became hooked. He compared different types of junmaishu as he began to explore the world of nihonshu in earnest. With room for only eight people at the counter of his bar, Yoram Ofer strives to identify nihonshu selections that optimally match each customer's preferences.
May 23, 2017
Japanophiles: Yoram Ofer
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Now that Japanese sake is increasingly available wherever you are in the world, you might think that it requires little or no introduction. It's likely that from time to time many readers have ordered a flask of sake to go with a meal of Japanese food. Perhaps others enjoyed it so much on one occasion that they drank too much and ended up with a "never again" hangover the next morning.
But whether you're a sake novice or you can already compare and contrast yamahai and kimoto-zukuri, you know the difference between ginjo and daiginjo, and you like sake from a particular region of Japan, you should discover plenty of interest in this edition of Japanophiles, which features Yoram Ofer, an Israeli who runs a bar in Kyoto that stocks a unique selection of excellent sake.
The experience begins with a selection of three sakes. The customer's reactions help to shape Ofer's thinking about what other types of nihonshu they might enjoy.
Although food is served, the main focus at this bar is always on the sake.
There are various ways to categorize sake, or nihonshu as it is called in Japanese. The description will change depending on such factors as differences in rice polishing, brewing methods, filtration, and aging, and the temperature at which it is served. Some sake is sweet, some dry. Some cloudy, some clear. You can buy sparkling sake, and even sake that contains no alcohol at all.
Ofer serves only junmaishu: nihonshu with no brewer's alcohol added. These days, many bars in Japan will stock at least a few bottles of junmaishu, but few take pains to serve only junmaishu, and Ofer's lineup is researched with great care, as we discover when we join him on a visit to a favorite shop in Kyoto that has played a key role in his sake education.
Yoram Ofer clearly enjoys his life in Kyoto.
Over the past few decades, nihonshu has undergone a major shift in both popularity and identity in Japan. Far less sake is being bought than at its peak half a century ago, but a significant proportion of the nihonshu now available is of a high quality.
Meanwhile a host of sake spin-offs have been developed. These days you can find sweets and other goodies made with sake lees (sakekasu) and countless recipes incorporating shio-koji (salt koji) or some other form of the special rice koji that is used in the brewing process. You can even buy sake ice cream.
These new applications of sake knowhow can be expected to follow nihonshu around the world, as more people in other countries discover what a great and versatile drink it is.
In the course of the show, interviewer and interviewee discover that aspects of their professional activities overlap in interesting ways.
Host Peter Barakan is himself a fan of sake, but he quickly finds himself in need of expert advice from Ofer, beginning with pointers on how to appreciate the characteristics of the sake that he's sampling.
The bar is not big. There's only room at the counter for a few people at a time. If the place were any bigger, though, Ofer would be unable to focus his attention on each individual guest. And with that focus, Yoram Ofer is upholding a great Japanese tradition of optimizing value for both sides in each unique encounter. He is applying the spirit of the tea ceremony to the realm of sake, and serving as an expert guide on the path to nihonshu enlightenment.
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