Whether there be a difference in the brewing, pressing, finishing or bottling of the saké, there are several styles to consider as you taste and deepen your appreciation and understanding. Each style produces a wonderfully different experience. We have broken up some popular and lesser known styles over two weeks to get you started. Happy tasting!
Kimoto: A process of creating a yeast starter brew by using ages old, traditional methods of time and labor intensive hand mixing and aerating techniques. This process utilizes an ancient pole mashing process which introduces oxygen into the starter mixture, thus aiding in the natural production of lactic acid. See below. Tends to lead to higher acidity and more depth and complexity. Today, only a handful of Japanese breweries (Kuras) still use the Kimoto method. We are lucky enough to import Kasumi Tsuru’s Extra Dry Kimoto. Rich, complex, elegant and layered – a sophisticated earthy and savory saké with obvious umami. You will find roasted nuts, honeyed rice cakes and shiitake mushrooms on the palate with a refreshing crisp and lasting finish.
Yamahai: A more modern twist on the Kimoto method as brewers sought to reduce the labor of the pole mashing technique. In time, they discovered that lactic acid would also develop naturally by raising the temperature of the water in the yeast starter. Both Kimoto and Yamahai are significantly more time consuming. Because lactic acid can interact with the yeast during fermentation, you find more wild gamey flavors, and tends to lead to higher acidity, and more depth and complexity. Kasumi Tsuru Yamahai Junmai Ginjo is a superbly smooth and soft saké with fresh cheese and yogurt aromas and flavors of ripe peach and rustic apple tart.
Muroka: Saké that has not been carbon filtered with active charcoal, but has been pressed and separated from the lees (rice sediment). This sake will be clear, not cloudy, but may have a little color. Carbon filtration can remove desirable flavors and odors as well as bad ones, thus Muroka saké tends to has stronger flavors than filtered varieties.
Nama: Fresh unpasteurized saké. Most saké is pasteurized (heated) either once or twice before it hits the market, extending shelf life but dulling (stabilizing) varying levels of the aroma and flavor. This is why Nama saké tastes so fresh -- It is!
Nama Nama – Fresh saké that is completely unpasteurized, the most bold in flavor and aroma, but has a shorter shelf life. Cold storage strongly recommended, even if unopened. We keep rotating Nama Nama on tap in our Tasting Room in Forest Grove, OR as a special treat. Bottled last year, Momokawa #701 Nama Nama is a delightful saké that delivers a vibrantly fresh, bold and aromatic flavor. Look forward to more bottled and distributed Nama Nama in the future.
Nama-chozo: Saké that has been stored as Nama and then pasteurized just once before bottling, preserving both bold flavor and aroma and extending shelf life. Hakutsuru Draft Junmai is fruity yet dry with aromas of sweet rice, nuts and barely-ripe pear. Vibrant, light, fresh and smooth!
Nama-zume: Saké that is bottled as Nama and then pasteurized. Yoshinogawa Hiyaoroshi Tokubetsu Junmai is a seasonal product we carry in our Tasting Room. Keep a look out for it next Winter.
Genshu: Saké that is bottled without adding water (undiluted). Most saké are diluted to 14% - 15 % alcohol, but this full strength saké tends to be higher in alcohol because the brewer can manage the ferment so it finishes with an alcohol level in the normal range 18% - 20% alcohol. Genshu are typically heartier in flavor and body. Our own Oregon-brewed g fifty is medium-dry on the palate and has a silky texture with subtle notes suggestive of grape, pear and mint that artfully meld against a backdrop of minerals and spice. You would never know this favorite is 18%. Sip wisely.
Nigori: “Nigori” denotes a style of saké that is coarsely filtered or “cloudy” as some of the rice sediment remains in the saké after filtering (pressing). The rice sediment produces a creamy texture that can be smooth or coarse depending on how much sediment remains. Murai Family Nigori Genshu is smooth and creamy and as a “Genshu” it boasts an alcohol level of 19.8%. A higher acidity of 2% keeps this saké well-balanced, mellowing the alcohol and sweetness into pure, smooth delight. For something a little lighter you can celebrate Cherry Blossom season with Hakutsuru Sayuri Nigori. This pretty pink bottle has a more delicate and floral sake within.
Tokubetsu: A “special” designation that often means special rice or polishing has occurred but sometimes simply means the brewer has designated the saké as special. Murai Family Tokubetsu Honjozo is complex with aromatic notes of banana, nectarine and dairy and layered with melon, toffee and light aniseed flavors. Enjoy the intensity of the aroma and flavor both chilled and warm.
Shizuku: Means “drops” in Japanese. A canvas bladder is filled with unfiltered saké and suspended. The saké sweats out of the canvas and drips into a catch basin, drop by drop, with no added pressure applied. See below. This is a slow and painstaking process, and because this style is the most delicate made, the saké produce is deservedly very pricey. This style is a rarity and is often found as a Daiginjo. Murai Family Shizuku is a very limited release found in select restaurants across the US. Contact us if you’re interested in hunting it down.
There are many more styles where these come from! Stay tuned next week for another batch of popular and lesser known styles and saké suggestions. You'll continue to find favorites as you go, but we encourage everyone to try them all.
Not sure where to find our products? Shoot us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll direct you.
Stay tuned right here every Saké-Sunday for more tips, tricks and lessons to keep you fresh on saké. Next Sunday: What’s Your Style? Part 2