Sake Science - Freezer Burn!
We all know the temperature slogan - sake can be served from frozen to piping hot!
Hmmmm really? How many of you out there have really tasted frozen sake? How many of you have had a sake slushy on a very hot day/night? How many of you spaced and left a bottle of sake in the freezer that you were trying to cool quickly? And how many of you visited a brewery in Fushimi (Kyoto) and watched as the owner of 400 year-old sake brewery poured his "specially made for freezing" sake from a tetra- pack container into a frozen pitcher from about three feet in height trying to immediate a Las Vegas like cocktail pour? If anybody uttered "yes" to all of these then carry on - there is nothing to see here - move along - don't let the doorknob hit you in the rear as you leave - adios!
Cold sake is splendid - super cold/slushy sake is different - frozen sake is hard to do! The brewery in question is called Tamanohikari and the Ujita family has produced and sold a Junmai Ginjo called Reishu for years - as a sake to place in the freezer and then to pour into a frozen pitcher. These Tetra Packs look like adult juice boxes, and of course they do not freeze solid. In fact - they recommend putting the boxes in the fridge for 10 hours - I always wondered why ten hours as opposed to 11 or 9. They also stressed that you must include the glass pitcher in the freezer with the sake. Why? Because the sake will not " freeze" or "go slushy" as well in a room temperature glass - in fact it doesn't turn to slush at all!
I like these packs - but in all honesty I sneak more of them into baseball games and concerts than I do freeze them for a sake slushy! (Security will ask - "What is this?" Answer A) Soy Milk - Answer B) Energy Drink - you pick!) So I decided to revisit my sake slushy and the concept of freezing sake - especially in regards to how it changes the final outcome of the product. Freezing is creating stress - there is no question. If I froze a brew - does it drink differently back at chilled or room temperature. Did I damage or affect the outcome of that sake by freezing it? Does the fact that sake is 80% water and 20% alcohol have any bearing? Without going into it too deeply - I was privy to see a machine that only a few breweries in Japan have that freezes the sake so the "ice" ergo "water" can be separated and the result is a higher alcohol content 24%-26% brew that drinks much larger and robust.
For my experiment I decided to freeze one Tetra-Pack and chill another. I also decided to do this with a sake that is not supposed to be frozen. So keeping the experience in house I used the Junmai Daiginjo (They call it a Ginjo but it's milled to 50%) from Tamanohikari as well - one in the freezer - one in the fridge! I put the freezer Daiginjo in a bowl in case it did freeze/shatter. I left all for 10 days - far longer than the 10 hours! The Daiginjo did not freeze. It carries an alcohol content of (16%-17%). Of course each brew was from its same respective batch. Herewith are the results of the freeze-off:
Tamanohikari Junmai Ginjo Reishu "Tetra Pack":
Frozen - The nose is a little more fruity and the texture is like sorbet - a lightly flavored sorbet which drinks crisp for it being frozen. Oh forgot to mention that I poured both into old-style flat champagne bowls - one frozen and one not. The re-pour into the glass also slushed up. It was pretty cool! When the cool liquid hit the glass it simply went slushy! Even down to the last drop. The flavor stays very neutral - very even - not ricey but with a hint of citrus. More flavor comes when fluid warms in mouth if you hold it - otherwise it is neutral and cold - flavorless margarita. At room temperature - after being frozen - the brew was softer and more gentle with a far more shallow flavor.
Chilled - The nose was salty, oceanic, with a hint of lemon. The fluid was clean and smooth with a dry finish. It has a very gentle rice flavor with a quick slightly bitter finish. The overall drinking experience is clean and there is a touch more fruit in the chilled version with a little honeydew melon, but this is in comparison to the frozen brew. At room temperature the brew drank even rounder with more flavor and a smooth and even finish - more impact.
I believe that by "freezing" this sake an effect almost like a third pasteurization takes place - it neutralizes the brew more, which manifests itself in a calming of the flavor and the feeling of the brew. In this case the frozen brew drank far more flat at room temperature. (But dope it's not meant to be consumed at room temperature! I know - I know - did you just get here? Go sit in the back.) I wrote in my chicken scrawl that "freezing dulls the product." So I guess the point is to drink that guy - slushy style and to better gauge if freezing does dampen the sake a bit we will need another test subject.
Tamanohikari Junmai Ginjo "Omachi" (what we call a Daiginjo in the store)
Frozen - The nose on the frozen brew was mild with rice, custard, rose water, and a touch of banana elements. The first sip at a "chilled" temperature - let it come down to chilled - fridge temp - was chewy and tight with an immediate astringency and a snappy hot finish. A smaller vessel produced a rich sweeter - not fruity - brew that drank zesty and semi-boozy. A larger glass drank a little more rich with softer and rounder elements with a better finish. The brew did drink richer than I recalled with cooked pear elements. At room temperature the sake drank richer, heavier, and flatter. A far more muted personality showed itself at room temperature - you could taste a suppression that also had a nagging astringency that was off balance.
Chilled - The nose on this guy was more fruity with honeydew, pear, and vanilla notes. The first sip from a smaller vessel was round and soft gentle hints of nougat and flavored taffy. Larger glass brings out a velvety feeling that is smooth and even with a tingle of heat in the finish. Again - this guy drank more rich than I recalled - (pros take note that the date on both of the Daiginjos were 20.D which could mean the brew was past its prime and tasted a little more rich in this regard.) There is a nice powder sugar flavor that had hints of sweetness in a gentle round flow. At room temperature this brew drank even sweeter with a hint of snappiness, which made it brighter and more lively.
In a head to head tasting there is no question - the freezer did something. The brews drank remotely the same, but the balance was out of whack in the frozen sake. The balance was frozen away! Is that possible? The frozen brew drank boozier and less sweet and the chilled brew drank softer, rounder, and more rich sweet. The frozen brew drank snappier and more astringent with muted flavors. The chilled brew had more drinkability personality - more balance.
GUN TO THE HEAD OPINION:
Oh I do not like generalizing but if I had to I would say that yes freezing a brew alters the overall structure of that sake. In a lower alcohol sake it muted the brew. In a slightly higher alcohol brew it through the balance and astringency out of whack. The evidence presented itself better when the brews came to room temperature.
PS: When I put the half bottle of Daiginjo back in the freezer - it froze solid! (Air?) And secondly I put a very light Junmai Ginjo from Yamagata in the freezer to carry on - and that baby is frozen solid - the bottle didn't break - but it is frozen solid!