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Kusudama Junmai sake, vintage 2007
Often referred to as the little Kyoto of the Japanese Alps, Hida Takayama town is a popular district filled with Japanese charm. Our artisan brewer, Hirase Shuzo, was born there in 1623 for almost 400 years, over 15 generations, has never stopped brewing quality sake. The name Kusudama means medicine. This sake is made with groundwater from the Alps of northern Japan, Hida rice, and extremely cold annual temperatures. It is said that this sake is made with the hope that it will cure what ails you.
LEARNING ABOUT SAKE
Your Japanese grocery store Nishikidôri tells you everything
Do you know Japanese sake?
Sake is becoming more and more appreciated and recognized for its qualities. Indeed, many sommeliers and chefs have been conquered by its gustative qualities.
Contrary to popular belief, Japanese sake rarely exceeds 16 degrees. Less acidic and sweeter than wine, it goes as well with Japanese cuisine as it does with Western cuisine from aperitif to dessert.
Just like wine, we will note during its tasting, the dress, the color, the nose, and the mouth.
The complexity, elegance, and diversity of its aromas are surprising and have nothing to envy wine (fruity, floral, vegetal, spicy...).
To obtain good sake, you need the know-how and technique of a master brewer as well as good ingredients.
The origin of Japanese sake
Japanese sake "nihonshu" is a rice alcohol obtained by fermentation.
Its origin dates back to more than 2000 years ago.
At that time, it was a beverage used to connect the human world with the spirit world, obtained by chewing rice which was then spat into jars to ferment.
It is from the 11th century that sake will be produced with methods similar to those of today. At first, reserved for the imperial court and religious rituals, sake was democratized over time until it became the national drink.
The ingredients of Japanese sake
- 20% rice
This is rice grown specifically for sake production. There are about a hundred varieties in Japan. It is characterized by a larger grain size than normal rice and a low protein content.
Among the most prestigious are Yamada-nishiki, and Gohyakuman-goku.
- 80% water
The best brewers are always located near a deep-water source. Its purity is essential, its iron content must be low not to affect its fragrance and color.
- The kôji and the yeasts
Koji is a fungus similar to that found on some cheeses. Sprinkled on the rice, it will help develop enzymes capable of digesting the starch of the rice to transform it into sugar molecules.
Yeast and lactic acid will then convert the sugar into alcohol.
There are many types of kôji and yeasts whose use will have an impact on the flavors that will be developed by the sake.
Japanese Sake Making Process
- The polishing of rice "semaibuai
The rice is first removed from its cuticle and then polished. There are several levels of polishing expressed as a percentage, which will determine the grade of the sake. The percentage of polishing expresses the volume of rice grain remaining.
For Junmai grade, the polishing percentage is 70% to 61%
For Ginjo grade, the polishing rate is 60% to 51%
For Daiginjo grade, the polishing rate is 50% or less
The more the rice is polished, the higher the starch concentration and the finer the sake.
- Washing, soaking, and cooking
Once polished, the rice must be washed to remove all impurities, then soaked in water. The art of the Master Tôji; a Japanese Master brewer; is to determine the soaking time and the quantity of water to be used essentially in the manufacturing process.
Then the rice is steamed.
- The motorcycle, start of fermentation
Part of the rice is then placed in a room where the humidity and heat are controlled. The rice sprinkled with kôji will be stirred by hand and then left to rest for 3 days in order to promote the development of mushrooms.
After this step, the master tôji transfers the rice to a vat and adds the yeast to start the fermentation process.
- Putting in a vat
The moto is then transferred to the larger fermentation vats in which water and rice are gradually added.
This fermentation process lasts from 3 to 4 weeks.
Each tank is regularly mixed.
- Pressing, filtration, bottling
The contents of the vats are pressed to recover the dregs of the rice which form a paste (kasu sake) often used in cooking or drinking.
Finally, the sake is filtered then pasteurized, and stored for about 6 months before bottling.
The manufacturing methods
This manufacturing process has evolved over time. Some brewers still use traditional methods such as Kimoto or Gozenshu. They represent about 10% of the production. They use longer processes and let the indigenous yeast and lactic acid bacteria develop.
The main categories of Japanese sake
- Futsushu: ordinary quality sake related to table wine. There is no polishing process.
- Honjôzô: a little distilled alcohol is added at the end of the brewing process by the brewmaster to obtain a lighter and more aromatic sake.
- Junmai: unlike Honjôzô, no alcohol is added which gives a more acidic sake.
- Ginjô: superior class’s sake, the rice polishing is equal or lower than 60% with a low-temperature fermentation.
- Daiginjô: same class as Ginjô but with a polishing equal or lower than 50%. It is very refined, balanced, and aromatic.
- Nigori: less filtered, it is characterized by a cloudy color due to the rice residues.
- Kimoto/Gozenshu: no lactic acid is added. It takes longer to make and develops a richer and more pronounced taste.
- Tokubetsu: Sake made with a different type of rice or a different method of production.
- Sparkling: Sake that sparkles either naturally or by fermentation or by adding gas.
Depending on its manufacturing process, a sake may belong to several categories.
How to store a bottle of sake?
Sake keeps very well in the refrigerator at about 5 degrees. As for wine, it is recommended to consume it quickly after opening.
Note that sake does not contain any preservatives (such as sulfites) because it is pasteurized.
How to choose your sake?
Honjôzô has a light and fresh taste.
Junmai and Kimoto are richer and more generous. More acidic with more body they are perfect to accompany meals.
Ginjô and Daiginjô are very aromatic and develop more floral or fruity notes.
What is the best temperature for tasting sake?
Sake has the particularity of being consumed at different temperatures ranging from 5° to 55° C. However, today the vast majority of sake is served chilled or at room temperature to enhance its aroma and elegance. The recommended temperatures are indicated on the bottles.
Can I drink sake in a wine glass?
Wine glasses are increasingly used to allow the aromas to develop and express themselves fully, especially for the higher categories of sake.
What are the best matches?
Because it is less acidic than wine and has no tannin, sake can be paired more easily with many dishes, from appetizers to desserts.
Raw ham, foie gras, oysters, scallops, fish, red or white meat, cheese, chocolate...
How is Japanese sake drunk?
Sake can be consumed as an aperitif, digestive or to accompany dishes. It can be drunk either cold or hot, depending on your preferences.
What is the alcohol content of sake?
Contrary to popular belief, Japanese sake rarely exceeds 16 degrees.
What is the price of a bottle of sake?
The price of a bottle of sake varies between 10 euros and a hundred euros, but some very rare bottles can be as much as 400 euros.