With intrepid friends D. and R., we managed to get in on a Sakenet Australia event, at Ume Burger, which focused on aged saké. Apparently, the first event was young sake, about a month ago. So, there were 13 of us in the back room of Ume Burger, and Rey took us through a tasting of six sakes (officially five) and then we sat down to a feast of food and more sake (I knew there were burgers, but this turned out to be a nice spread).
The sakés were conveniently lined up on the table left to right, in the order of tasting, and we got to taste them at room temperature and heated (to about 50 degrees, which goes down to 40 when it’s poured). They taste completely different at different temperatures. We also got to try a young saké for comparison. I thought it had stronger flavours and was pungent, and had a liquorice note that I associate with a lot of sakés.
- Suiryū: Jumnai Kimoto Hiyaoroshi (2011): The first one, to me, had a note of whiskey or spirit, but was more mellow and with less flavour than the young saké. This has only been pasteurised once, and used wild yeast, a traditional method (that’s the Kimoto in the name) where you let the yeast bloom, rather than having the control of adding the exact amount.
- Hiokizakura: Junmai Koshu “Toki no Takumi” (2008): “Master of time”, this was even lighter and cleaner. Koshu, in the name, means aged saké. One of the tasting notes for saké is whether it is ‘clean’ or not, meaning whether the taste lingers. People also often compare saké to Japanese savoury flavours like shiitake mushroom, soy and miso.
- Okuharima: Junmai Yamahai “Hakuéisén” (2005): I thought this had a less distinct anise note, but a rounder, fuller flavour. I loved it. But my friends thought it was too medicinal.
- Umetsu: Junmai Koshu “Sachi”(1998): So twenty years old, this tasted like a light sherry to me. It’s made by just one saké master and his helper. I found this a bit strange.
- Morinokura: Junmai Komagura “20 years” (1994): Apparently, you can’t even get this saké in Japan anymore! This tasted more balanced and full than the previous one, a bit like a spirit that you might at the end of an evening.
It was very interesting tasting these warm too. I couldn’t figure out how to describe them when warm (alcohol soup?). I’d always heard that saké is best cold and they heated it up to disguise when saké is of cheap quality. But Rey explained that saké went through different historical trends. Before the period of the samurais, you drank saké hot half the year (when the season was cool) and cold when the season was hot. Then, it became fashionable to drink it hot all year round (as the Japanese were drinking everything hot: like tea). Now, it’s simply a preference. My friend R. was enjoying the warm saké better; I like it room temperature or cold as I can recognise the flavours more and it tastes to me, more similar to, say, a white wine.
Something I’ve always wanted to know is how long you can keep an open bottle of saké. Apparently, as long as it has been pasteurised (young sake must be refrigerated), you can keep it for a long time… I think I’ll keep mine in the fridge anyways, but I’d always rushed to finish any saké I bought so it wouldn’t go off. Now I can take my time.
And finally, we only got to taste aged Junmai, which is just one of the four different styles of saké. Seems like I have some more research to do…
Other interesting info:
- Saké has the highest natural alcohol level of beverages though they’re not sure why. Is it the process, made in the cold? Or the gradual build-up of yeast? Unlike when sugars and yeasts die in wine and the alcohol content goes down, the alcohol level if saké can get up to 22%.
- Saké is made from rice grown over the summer, harvested in October and then young saké is presented over the next 6 months. The ageing of the saké is counted from the time of harvest. There are two pasteurisations usually, though unpasteurised saké or those only pasteurised once have a different flavour.
While I knew we were getting burgers after, I didn’t expect such a feast, for accompanying the burgers were edamame, delicious fries (in miso salt?) and super crispy brussels sprouts. And the rest of the saké! It was really a fun and educational afternoon. Check out Sakenet’s Facebook Page for more information about their events and tastings, and you can order saké from their website too. I bought a bottle of the second saké ($55 on special) and the third one ($60 on special) so I’ll see how long they last me. Not long I suspect.