Monday, September 19, 2011

Sake 101: Other Techniques

Last time in Sake 101, we explored the main classifications of sake and the flavor profiles created by different brewing methods. This week, we'll explain a few other production techniques that greatly influence the finished product:

1. Namazake

Almost all sake on the market has been pasteurized twice - once just after brewing, and once again before shipping. This is done by either running the sake through a pipe submerged in hot water, or by submerging the sake after it has already been bottled. Pasteurization permanently deactivates left over enzymes which can become active again if the sake is stored in slightly higher temperatures - a process that could possibly ruin the flavor.

However, namazake is sake that has not been pasteurized. It must be refrigerated since it is less stable than other varieties, and will develop rather unusual flavors if not stored properly. When namazake spoils it is known as hi-ochi - a condition that can usually be spotted rather easily because a thick, white liquid will condense and float unattractively in the bottle. 

When stored properly, namazake is smooth, easy-drinking and highly enjoyable. While the aromas are rather subtle, it has a rich, textured palate as well as a fresh, lively and elegant flavor. All classifications of sake can be pasteurized (or not), and it doesn't have any effect on the overall quality of the sake.

Ohyama Tokubetsu Junmai Nigori
2. Nigori

Nigori is sake that has not been filtered, and some of the fermented rice has deliberately been left in the bottle. This produces a white, cloudy and somewhat opaque sake (not to be confused with spoiled namazake!) that offers a full body, a smooth, creamy texture, and mildly sweet flavors. Although it lacks the subtlety and refinement of a premium sake, nigori is an excellent accompaniment to a variety of light dishes, especially seafood.

3. Yamahai

If you expect your sake to be fruity, floral and delicate, do not order anything with "yamahai" on the label. While these sakes can be bold, complex and delicious, they can definitely catch you by surprise with their gamey, earthy notes of mushroom, mineral and herbs. This is caused by a slow acting yeast starter that allows for more bacteria and wild yeasts to be incorporated into the brew. These sakes pair well with heartier entrees such as grilled meat or rich pasta dishes.

Dewatsuru Kimoto Junmai
4. Kimoto

Put simply, kimoto is the traditional method of creating the yeast starter - until 1920 all sake was made by mixing rice, koji and water into a puree in order to help the yeast cells reproduce faster. The brewers had to stand around a small tub of this mixture and constantly stir in a rhythmic motion which helped to speed up the production of lactic acid in the moto. The lactic acid protects the moto from unwanted bacteria that may cause unusual flavors, or even spoil the sake. While this tiring, tedious method is no longer common, a few breweries still produce sake this way. The flavor profile is quite similar to sake produced with the yamahai method, offering rich, pronounced notes of earth and mineral.

Of course since we're talking about sake, the brewing variations are endless, but these are the most common terms you will come across. We hope our Sake 101 series has given you further insight into this traditional beverage, and helps you to understand the sake you are tasting or buying.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Sake 101: Main Classifications

To continue our Sake 101 series, here are several sake classifications that will help you understand what kind of sake you are tasting or buying. Although there are many different types of sake, the four basic classifications you will often see are Junmai, Honjonzo, Ginjo and Daiginjo. Unlike wine or spirits, these names refer to the brewing method - not the region, age or varietal.
Ohyama "Big Mountain" Junmai
1. Junmai

Junmai is the most basic form of sake - only rice, water and koji are used in its production. The rice has been polished so that at least 30% of the outer shell of each grain has been removed, resulting in a heavier, full bodied sake with a subtle nose, a bold palate and high acidity. Junmai does not have any specific flavor characteristics, and can range from earthy flavors such as herbs and minerals to refined notes of fruit and fresh flowers. While the flavors are certainly distinctive, they are not particularly complex, which is why junmai is typically paired with food.

2. Honjozo

Honjozo is produced similarly to junmai, but is a significantly lighter style. The rice has also been polished so that at least 30% of the outer shell of each grain has been removed, but a small amount of distilled alcohol (called brewers alcohol) is added to the fermenting sake during the final stages of production. This makes the sake lighter, smoother and usually more fragrant. Honjozo sake tends to be off-dry and low in acidity with complex, earthy flavors and a long finish.

3. Ginjo

Ginjo sake is produced with rice that has been polished so that at least 40% of the outer shell has been ground away, which removes components such as fats and proteins that can impede fermentation and cause unwanted flavors. It is fermented at colder temperatures for a longer period of time and a small amount of brewers alcohol has been added, which results in a sweeter, lighter sake with soft acidity. Ginjo sake is highly aromatic and usually offers delicate fruit and floral notes.

4. Daiginjo

Daigingo is produced very similarly to ginjo sake, except the rice is polished so at least 50% of the grain remains - some brands go even further and remove 65% of the grain, with only 35% remaining. The resulting sake is off-dry and light-bodied with soft acidity, and offers intense aromas and complex flavors of fresh fruit and flowers.

Now that you know the four main types of sake, it's time to mix things up a bit.

Junmai Ginjo combines both brewing methods - the rice is polished so 40% of the grain has been removed, then fermented at colder temperatures for a long period of time (ginjo), however no brewers alcohol has been added so it is considered junmai (only rice, water and koji are used in its production). Junmai Ginjo is considered to be of higher quality than junmai and offers a lighter body, lower acidity and more refined flavors.

Junmai Daiginjo again combines both brewing methods - at least 50% of the outer shell of the rice must be removed, and the remainder is fermented at colder temperatures for a long period of time (daiginjo). No brewers alcohol is added, so the sake is still considered jumai. Light, aromatic and complex, this type of sake is considered to be of incredibly high quality and truly showcases the skill of the brewer.

Dewatsuru Hihaku Junmai Daiginjo
Believe it or not, there are still other types of sake - but we'll leave them for next time.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!