New and old stories about Japanese Crafts.
As we head into March and spring is getting closer, one of our favorite parts of the end of the winter road is here — namazake, which is the early spring sake that, like it’s fleeting cousin sakura (cherry blossoms), is best enjoyed fresh and savored while it is here. Namazake appears just after the sake brewing season ends, which happily is now.
Most sake is pasteurized twice to halt the work of the enzymes, stabilizing the brew for a long shelf life. Namazake forgoes the sterilization in favor of fresh, spring tastes. Once opened, namazake should be refrigerated and is optimal for two weeks or so. If unopened, you are good for around six months for optimal flavor.
So, on the last weekend of February, we knew it was time to head to one of our favorite places for sake, Sakaya, in the East Village of New York (a fine neighborhood and one with a decided Japanese presence among many eclectic influences). Sakaya is NY’s first and only shop totally dedicated to the elixir. Owners Rick and Hiroko are always welcoming and full of helpful advice.
We partook in a tasting of Shichi Hon Yari from the Tomita Shuzo brewery in Shiga Prefecture. It is a wonderful melange of fresh tastes, drier than your typical namazake in a really nice way — a good mix of earthy, grassy fruitiness. Yes, we bought some and are enjoying a small glass as this is writing. There are many great namazakes offered this time of year, so we encourage you to check out this year’s batch while it’s here and fresh.
We’ve been enjoying our summer and many of the traditions that make summer so special – grilling, growing, late night walks, fresh food – and of course indulging in some of our favorite cold beverages. One of our top choices for a refreshing summer drink is sake. Okay, it’s one of our favorite drinks all year, but on a warm summer evening, a glass (or two…) of chilled summer sake is a wondrous thing to savor and enjoy. Sake has a depth of flavors and types probably unlike any other beverage. So, we wanted to spend some time talking about sake. After all, it is a craft made by artisans and one we appreciate wholeheartedly.
Consider this an homage to sake delivered in a few parts and, most importantly, we’d love to hear your thoughts on sake, so we encourage everybody to tell us what you think and join in the discussion.
There is a wide range of sake varieties and brands, each with it’s own characteristics depending on type of rice, where that rice was grown, the water, etc...These result in each batch having it’s own personality, flavor and aromas. It shares many similarities with both wine and craft beer.
Westerners often think of sake as rice wine, but that is not really accurate and also unfair to this unique beverage. In fact, sake is brewed from grain – yes, just like beer is, and there are certainly similarities to the process that takes place using fermentation to convert grains into an enjoyable alcoholic beverage. As a home brewer (of beer), I recognize and appreciate this. But I won’t go into science here other than to say yeast eats sugar, extracted from the grains, and the meeting of the two produces alcohol in various strengths and, more importantly, a multitude of tastes in various ranges and bouquets emerge. Okay, science lesson over. Sake is sake. It is not a wine or a beer.
Sake is typically classified in four types depending on the process of their creation. We will talk more about that in another post.
Sake is unlike most other alcoholic beverages in that it is served in a wide range of temperatures – from 40F to 140F (5-60C). Personally, we enjoy it chilled more than heated, but it depends on individual preferences. Most brands are pasteurized, which results in a clearer beverage. Unpasteurized sake is called namazake, and it must be stored chilled. It has a very fresh taste and is one of our favorite sakes, especially on a warm summer evening.
Interested? We will write more in our next post, but until then, let’s get the discussion going. We want to hear from you. We encourage you to tell us your feelings and ideas about sake. We look very forward to hearing from you and talking about this wondrous elixir – sake