I recently tasted an incredible sake at Bamboo Sushi in Portland. This delicious experience prompted me to do some research on sake. So I’ve been sharing my findings with you. Two weeks ago, I talked about how sake is made. Last week, I talked about the different types of sake. I save the best for last: Enjoying sake. I’ll start by talking about the sake I tasted and then get into other factoids that can help in the enjoyment of sake.
Introducing God of Water Sake
The wonderful sake I tasted in Portland was God of Water, Suijin Junmai. (Suijin actually means God of Water.) It’s made by Asabiraki Sake Brewery.
Here is a colorful (albeit a little choppy) description of this sake and the brewery written by sakejapan.com. “Asabiraki is one of the most awards winning sake breweries… Their brew master has honor of WINNING GOLD MEDALS 12 YEARS RUNNINGS at the National New Sake Competition… Like a Water Dragon, the God of Water, Asabiraki Sujijin is smooth, strong & dry profile Junmai sake. Suijin is a great supporter to bring up every flavour of your meal. Almost like premium water. If you would like to drink sake during a meal, doesn’t matter its Japanese dish or not, this sake will definitely make your meal at least twice taste better. Drink chilled in a hot summer day or drink warm (45 degree) in a cold winter time.”
It’s hard to compete with that!
The Taste Profile
The description above is quite accurate: smooth, strong and dry. I would add to that rich, full bodied, complex and fresh. Rich and full bodied are typical descriptors of junmai sakes.
Enjoying Sake Hot, Cold and in Between
I had always thought that sake was meant to be drunk warm – until one day a high end Japanese restaurant served it chilled. I was shocked. They explained to me that a lot of people heat up sake to hide the not-so-good tastes, that the best sake is served chilled. I was blown away.
sake-world.com validates this guideline by saying, “Most good sake should be enjoyed slightly chilled. Cheaper sake is served warm.”
But they give a longer answer, saying that sake was traditionally served warm, because it was “much rougher, fuller, sweeter and woodier than it is now. Warming suited it much better back then.” Brewing has changed dramatically in the last 30 to 40 years. “Most premium sake today is delicate, fragrant, and elegant. To heat such sake would be to destroy precisely the flavors and fragrances the brewer worked so hard to have you enjoy!”
They continue by saying, “The truth is, there is plenty of good sake, premium ginjo and sometimes daiginjo even, that goes quite well when gently warmed.”
The long and short of it: At the end of the day, it’s all about enjoying sake. Honor your preferences and do some experimentation. Try the same sake at different temperatures, since different temperature will bring out different characteristics. Be sure not to overheat or over-chill your sake.
What Should You Drink Sake out of?
With premium sakes, experts recommend drinking sake out of a glass, which won’t interfere with the complex and often subtle flavors and aromas. But it’s also fun to drink sake out of a traiditonal ochoko or masu.
The Symbolism of Over-pouring Sake
At Bamboo Sushi, they served the sake in a glass that was sitting in a masu. They over-poured the sake by quite a lot and explained that over-pour symbolizes prosperity. How cool is that!
Does Sake Have Good Years and Bad Years?
The quick answer: No. According to sakesocial.com, “The wine scenario is basically 80% grape quality and 20% technique to achieve each year’s wine. Sake making is practically the inverse – 20-40% of the final product is dictated by the quality of the rice that season – the other majority is brewing technique. And therein rests the reason why sake has a consistent quality ratio that is not possible in wine or beer production year in and year out.”
Sake Is Best Fresh
Similar to sparkling wine and champagne, sake is best to drink within 15 months of bottling. Higher quality sake will last longer. But don’t plan to store your sake for any length of time; and check shipping dates, which are often on the bottle.
Sake Is Very Clean
According to sakesocial.com, “There are not many ‘cleaner’ or simpler alcohols than sake. Rice and water that has been fermented and then pasteurized – pretty darn clean! Sake has 1/3 the acidity of your typical glass of wine (red or white), and this is incredibly appealing to those who have acid reflux and or other digestive issues. Another positive aspect of sake is that it is very low in histamines, which is incredibly important to those who are afflicted by allergens.”
A Funny Think About the Word Sake
What is sake? According to boutiquejapan.com, when you “ask this question in Japan versus the rest of the world,… you’ll get two different answers. In English, sake refers to the alcoholic fermented rice beverage from Japan… But ask for sake in Japan and you may be met with a questioning look. Why is that? Because in Japanese, sake refers to all alcoholic drinks.” The Japanese call our version of sake nihonshu, or wine of Japan.
As an independent wine consultant with WineShop At Home, I absolutely enjoy bringing a taste of the Napa wine country home to you one sip at a time. Whether you simply love to drink wine, seek a special personalized wine gift, or are in search of a new wine jobs opportunity as a wine consultant, feel free to contact me for a truly unique wine tasting experience!
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