Ask Beau - "What do you have against nigori sake?"
Ah man! I don't have anything "against" nigori sake, but I totally appreciate Brian R from Freemont, CA asking that question in the tone that he did. A good portion of his email listed times that I have slightly belittled our favorite cloudy friend. He also pointed out that I called nigori a "gateway" to filtered sake, which for all intent and purposes it is. But let's go back! Way back.
When I first opened True Sake, there were perhaps 10 nigoris available and that included domestic (5) and imported (6). That number has swelled considerably, and that is a good thing, right? I'd say that there are probably 30 different unfiltered sakes currently on the market. So why my frown when this segment has done exceedingly well? It's just. It's just. It's just......... ummmmm nigori.
From the beginning we "got nigori wrong." Huh? Well the term unfiltered is a misnomer to begin with. Cloudy sakes are filtered! They are coarsely filtered. What's not filtered are sakes called "muroka," because these brews are not charcoal filtered. Charcoal filtration plays a huge role in the sake industry, and brewers do so for several reasons including cleaning up the color and taking out the bad elements of the sake, which would have adverse effects later on in the stored bottles lifespan. So when you are talking about "unfiltered" sakes you should be talking about un-charcoal filtered sakes. But we don't and we keep perpetuating this inaccuracy. (I do it - guilty as charged!)
Secondly nigori sake as I like to say is a "bum rush" of flavors that is extremely direct and void of nuance. That is my deal! That is my impression. Many beg to differ, and rightfully so. Nigori is sort of a cocktail version of sake, and it is not nearly as popular in Japan as it is in the west. Why is it popular here? I think for two reasons. The first I just mentioned; it is a very direct flavored sake. Nigori is a full mouth ordeal that does not leave one wanting for big flavors. It's there! And we have noticed over the years that the western palate much appreciates direct and perhaps bold flavors and feelings. Nigori sake meets that to a "T." The next reason for nigori's popularity in the west is the fact that they make nigori in the west! Yes, local breweries in CA and OR make very affordable and "nigori-ish" nigoris right at home. These more affordable sakes get pushed straight into local bars and restaurants and the next thing you know a restaurant will have a sake menu of one hot sake and one nigori selection. Bingo! Nigori is on the menu a lot at sushi and several western restaurants. In a word nigori pays the bills in a sake sense.
So I am not a nigori hater! Actually I just mentioned that nigori pays the bills. This is pretty true at True Sake. But I do see "cloudy" sake as a gateway brew to get folks into premium "filtered" or clear sakes. Why do I push this way? Personal choice! I find that there are more rewarding discoveries for sake drinkers in a filtered brew, there are more nuances, more subtleties, more peek-a-boo surprises than in a white nigori avalanche of flavor.
In the end, if you hand me a glass of red wine or white nigori sake, I'm going "Unfiltered!"
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.)