Special types of sake

By Ellyn Peratikou

So far in his blog series, industry expert Oliver Hilton-Johnson has introduced the main types of sake. In this month’s article, he explains how there are other styles and other, less well-known types of sake on the market:

The types of sake introduced last month can be brewed in a number of different ‘styles’. These ‘styles’ greatly affect the sake’s characteristics and can transform a mild-mannered Junmai, for example, into a full-bodied heavyweight or into a light and fruity tipple, depending on the ‘style’ in which it is brewed.

Main styles of sake 

Namazake is unpasteurised sake (nama meaning ‘raw’ or ‘fresh’). It usually goes through a two-step pasteurisation process to stop fermentation, stabilise the brew and increase longevity; namazake does not. This results in a brew which is fresh, lively and zingy in character with ripe fruit flavours – such as banana, apples and watermelon – and notes of freshly cut grass or wood. Fresh, ripe, fruity, zesty and refreshing are the watchwords here.

Kimoto and yamahai are two of the oldest styles of sake brewing. The nature of the brewing process allows airborne organisms (wild yeasts, fungi, bacteria, etc) to enter the brew at a very early stage. Before all these organisms die off naturally, they have an opportunity to leave their mark. This results in wilder, gamier, fuller and often rougher-edged flavours that are exciting and intriguing.

Bodaimoto is one of the oldest style of brewing method still used today; its roots extend back to the 14th century. Like both the kimoto and yamahai techniques, wild organisms have time to make their mark thus sake made with the bodaimoto technique is similarly funky and wild in character. But, due to the particulars of the technique, this method also tends to result in a slightly sour quality that brilliantly offsets and mellows the gamier notes.

Koshu or ‘aged sake’ is becoming increasingly popular in the West. It represents a tiny, tiny percentage of all the sake produced and so can be highly sought after. Generally, sake is not designed to be aged and the methods employed to do so vary wildly; thus, koshu‘s flavours and characteristics also vary wildly. Aged sake is often likened to sherry in its flavour profiles and generally savoured on its own, after a meal or paired as you would a dessert wine.

Nigori-zake is ‘cloudy’ sake or, more specifically, sake with some rice lees (particles of rice) left in when bottled. On the whole, nigori-zake is less refined, fuller and thicker textured – due to the suspended lees – than its filtered counterparts.

Less well-known styles of sake

There are a number of less well-known styles of sake, some of which are available in the UK:

Sparkling sake is usually low in alcohol and, as the name suggests, sparkling!

Taruzake is sake that has been stored in a wooden cask of Japanese cedar. The sake draws out the flavours of the wood and gives a fresh, lively and often peppery cedar flavour that tends to drown out any other flavours the sake may have! Traditionally drunk at New Year, this sake is a lot of fun but lacks subtlety.

Kijoushu is a ‘fortified’ sake where some of the water used in the brewing process is substituted for already brewed sake. It is a rich, dessert-like beverage that is often aged too. Kijoushu can be deliciously alluring but only a handful of breweries make it, so it’s difficult to get hold of (and expensive!).

Next month

What temperature sake should be drunk at – hot, cold? Is hot sake bad quality? Next month industry expert Oliver Hilton-Johnson will address these questions and debunk some of the myths surrounding warm sake.

About the author 

Oliver is a sake specialist and the director of Tengu Sake, a sake import, wholesale and retail company. Tengu Sake supplies quality sake to some of the country’s finest restaurants as well as delivering directly to the public via www.tengusake.com

Oliver is sake educator for the British Sake Association and leads sake talks, tastings and food pairings throughout the UK.


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