Good sake should be chilled – always?

Good sake should be chilled. Is this always true?

It seems like there are two mantras I here all the time about sake. The first is the average first encounter with sake; a hot fusel drink from a Japanese restaurant. The second is that good sake should be chilled slightly for drinking. While these two lead us to conclude that all good sake is best served chilled this is not strictly the case.

While most daiginjo and ginjo will lose their aromatics if heated to any extent other sakes will nicely take the heat and pass on the warm comfort with each sip. I, like many, had my first encounter with sake as a hot drink at a sushi bar. I was not impressed. Later, quite a bit later, when I was looking in to brewing sake, I experienced my first high quality sake a little chilled in a wine glass. Wow, what a difference. As I looked into sake more, I found more and more references stating, basically, the good stuff should be served chilled. And for the most part this is how I proceeded, never giving it much more thought. However, two people have set me straight.

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A quick look at a couple sakes

A quick look at a couple sakes

I thought that I would compare a few sakes this week and see what I find. I have to warn you that while I know what I like I am not good at breaking it down and expressing what it is that I like. Anyway, I am not letting that stop me. However, you may need to try them yourself to get the full effect.

I picked up some well-known sake; Nanbu Bijin Ginjo, Minato Tsuchizaki Futsu and Tanrei Junmai.

Nanbu Bijin (Southern Beauty) Junmai Ginjo

  • 16% ABV
  • 50% Seimaibuai
  • +1 SMV
  • Acidity 1.5
  • Iwate Prefecture

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Clearing your sake – racking, fining and filtering

Clearing your sake – racking, fining and filtering

Once your sake has been pressed and it is sitting in a secondary container in most cases you will want to increase its clarity prior to pasteurization and bottling. This can be done with different methods and to various degrees. The simplest method and least effective is to simply rack the sake off the lees several times keeping only the clearest of sake. This relies on the yeast and other matter suspended in the sake to naturally settle to the bottom. Given time, however, this method works well and leaves the sake with its natural color, taste and aroma. Sake made this way is Muroka (無濾過), unfiltered sake.

To take it to the next level, finings can be added. Finings are substances that are added to capture organic compounds in the sake. Finings can drag the organic compounds down to the bottom or hold on to them while being filtered from the sake. Two of these fining substances are powdered activated charcoal and bentonite.

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Measuring your Sake – Part Three: San-do (酸度)

Measuring your Sake – Part Three: San-do (酸度)

In part one I talked about how to measure the Nihonshu-do or Sake Meter Value (SMV) or your sake. In part two I covered how to measure the Arukoru bun (アルコール度数) or Alcohol percent by volume (%ABV). In this part, part three I will discuss how to measure the san-do or acidity of sake.

To measure the san-do (acidity) of sake at home, there are two very closely related methods available. The easier and less expensive of the two methods is to use a wine acidity test kit. This kit contains almost every think you need to measure the acidity on sake. However, there is a difference getting from the physical test to the interpreted value, but I am getting a little ahead of myself. The second method differs from the first in that a pH meter is used rather than Phenolphtalein to determine the point of neutrality. Often the second method employs more sophisticated equipment for each of the components but this is not strictly necessary.

So, what do wine acid test kits come with? Well, they come with a small beaker to mix the sample and chemicals in, a syringe to measure with, a solution of Sodium Hydroxide, usually at a concentration of 0.1 Molarity (M) and Phenolphtalein. The idea behind the test is that we have some unknown amount of acid in our sample that we want to measure. To do this we add a known amount of base to neutralize the sample pH. When we have neutralized the sample pH with a known amount of base we can then work out the original amount of acid. Clear as mud? Perhaps an example will help.

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Measuring your Sake – Part Two: Percent Alcohol by Volume

Measuring your Sake – Part Two: Percent Alcohol by Volume

In Part One we talked about measuring the SMV (Nihonshu-do) of your sake. In this part we will discuss two ways to measure the percent alcohol by volume for your sake. Because Heikou Fukuhakkou (並行複醗酵) or multiple parallel fermentation is used to make sake, we cannot employ the same simple method for determining the percent alcohol as is used for other fermented beverages. In particular, the simplest methods used for both beer and wine depend on knowing the initial specific gravity prior to fermentation. For sake, there is no point prior to fermentation when all the sugar is available for such a measurement. Rather, koji enzymes work side by side with yeast in the fermenting mash. Enzymes create sugar and yeast creates alcohol using the sugar; this is multiple parallel fermentation.

The first way to measure the alcohol level we will discuss uses what is known as the boiling method. It is a modified version of the distillation method that can be done at home with relative ease. The basic idea behind this method is that the alcohol in sake has a known specific gravity and a known effect on the specific gravities of substances it is in. Given this we can measure the specific gravity of our sake to get an initial state, replace the alcohol with distilled water and then take a new specific gravity reading. The difference between these two specific gravities can then be used to determine the percentage of alcohol by volume.

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