Ask Beau - "Why don't sakes vary year-in and year-out?"
I'll begin to answer this question with a story! I was once in Kobe speaking to an owner of a brewery and asked him if he remembered the good rice years - the special vintage rice years - the amazing rice years as they do in the grape/wine world. He paused. He looked down. He looked around. And then he said, "No." What? Are you serious? He laughed and said yes I am serious I do not really remember. Then I quickly composed myself and said, "Do you remember the bad rice years?" Without missing a beat he belted out, "Of course!"
You see in the wine world - one could argue that the final product of the wine is dictated by roughly 80% the quality of the grape and 20% how they produce the wine. Almost the inverse is true in the sake making world. The quality of the rice accounts for roughly 20% of the final product and the remaining 80% is how the make the sake. That is a ton of pressure on the actual brewing process, but it is also a blessing as there is such consistency year-in and year-out! If the rice is great they still have to work, but if the quality is poor then the brewers must really have to work their butts off. Therein rests why the owners remember the poor rice years on account of the fact that to maintain their consistency they must work twice as hard!
For me the consistency in the industry is awesome! I will read reviews of sakes from 8 years ago and then taste the current version and almost to a "T" the brews drinks the same. That is incredible and rarely will you find that in the wine world. Problems occur when breweries lose their tojis (head brewers) or they change equipment or facilities. Then and only then does consistency become a serious issue.
So David one of the great selling points about sake is that if you find a home in a certain sake or a certain brewery's efforts then you can have a life-long affair with that product!
Please send your sake specific questions to askbeau2 @ truesake.com. (This address is not for general questions and I only review the questions once per month. All other correspondence should use info @ truesake.com.)