A Little About Sake
Posted: June 04, 2009
The first time I had sake was at one of those Mongolian BBQ places. They served it hot, with a salad covered in Italian dressing and crushed up ramen noodles. All I had to say about the sake was, "This is hot and tastes like warm vodka." I wasn't impressed, and didn't have sake again for a long time. I'll bet it's a pretty common experience. I did finish the sake, though. A Little About Sake Sake is a brewed beverage made fromfour ingredients: water, rice, yeast, and a special kind of mold called Koji. And I guess sometimes they add distilled alcohol. Brewing sake is an intricate and often expensive process. I'm not going to attempt a Sake 101 here in this single blog post, there's just too much information,but I'll try to answer the top three most common questions about sake: 1) Do you drink sake hot? Most of the sake on Binny's shelves are brewed to be enjoyed lightly chilled. The back labels on sake bottles often suggest the best serving method. Personally, I tend to avoid sake that is meant to be served warm. 2) What's a 'Junmai?' Junmai is pure rice sake. Junmai Ginjo is rice sake with at least 40% of the rice grain milled away before brewing. Junmai Daiginjo is rice sake with at least 50% of the rice grain milled away before brewing. The more of the rice grain milledaway, the more pure and intense the sake it will make. 3) Why do some of the bottles have this cloudy stuff? That kind of sake is called Nigori the cloudiness is caused by adding a small amount of the lees, mostly rice particles, back into the finished sake. The resulting sake is less precise, but still interesting and delicious. A Few Sakes to Try The sake category in general is growing rapidly right now, new sakes are being introduced all the time, and prices are all over the place in relation to quality with some companies putting as much emphasis on marketing and packaging as on the actual sake and production (that's my cynicism kicking in). I know that the world of sake can be intimidating - there are very few sake experts out there in America, and the labels are just so confusing. How do you know which are good and which are values? Here are a few I've tried and found to be delicious. This list is by no means exhaustive,just a few ideas to get you going. Also, remember that Binny's carries a wide variety of bottles in the 300mL size - common for sake - and perfect for a curious taster or two. Tozai Series - $9.99/300mL and$18.99/720mL A great place to start with sake is the Tozai line - they're reasonably priced and readily available, and offer good examples of different styles. A top seller at Binny's is the Snow Maiden Nigori people love it for it's sweet, easy to drink style. Try these to see which styles you might be most interested in. Pride of the Village Junmai Ginjo -$21.99/300mL This Junmai Ginjo has A nose of flowers and pollen, melon and powdered perfume. It's big (for a sake) on the palate with lots of powdered cocoa, light fruit cocktail and mellow cheese. Ichishima Silk Deluxe Junmai - ???/500mL Available soon at Binny's, this junmai has a lighter nose of peach, apricot and mushroom. The palate is on the sweet side, showing green apple and grapey weight. Moon on the Water Junmai Ginjo -$17.99/300mL With hints of marshmallow, coconut, banana and other tropical fruits on the nose, this sake shows a lot of cut and vibrancy on the palate, leading to light vanilla and understated fruit. Divine Droplets Junmai Daiginjo -$32.99/300mL This sake is simply huge. An awesomeand beautiful nose (both of those words are in my handwritten notes)of cocoa powder and tropical fruits lead to a palate with hints ofcheese, pollen, delicate anise or licorice, citrus. This is a sake that has a very persistent and lingering finish. In 2007, Stephen Tanzer gave this brew a 94 point review. How About You? I'm not an expert on sake by any stretch - I'm just a guy that is lucky enough to work in close proximity to the Binny's sake buyer and who gets the chance to try a few once in a while. Any sake fans out there in Binny's land? Any favorites that you've tried?