Sake Beliefs – Hey Alcohol And Water You Need To Relax!
I love drinking sake with owners of sake breweries. Who wouldn’t? They are great people who have great lives and generally love life greatly. When I come back in my seventh life I want to own a sake brewery. Until then I have to settle with just selling their sakes, and oh! drinking with them! Which isn’t that bad at all!
During most of these imbibing sessions my mind should be off of the clock! But more often then not I learn more about sake when they have had too much to drink. Go figure. And it is during these special moments that a brewer will say something in passing, but it’s actually quite mind blowing for a sake dude like myself. And in this regard I will give you a wonderful example of a brewer who I had never met before, but we ended up have a few glasses together, and he said something that has stuck with me to this day. It was so simple, but holy moley did it speak volumes.
Takeshi Morimoto is not only the owner of the well-known Morimoto sake brewing company, but he is also the head brewer (toji). I love brewery owners who brew their own sake! I think that’s pretty cool. And he is a cool guy. So during our brief time together we spoke a lot about the ingredients of sake, and I quickly deduced that T-san was emphatic about water. He went to great lengths explaining what is so important about water for his sakes and sake in general. It’s fun for me, because I pretty much knew everything he was saying, but always act the part of a person hearing this for the first time. Did that sound dicky? It’s not meant to sound that way at all, but what I am trying to say is that I have heard this water talk many many many times before. It’s my business! And I know a great deal on the subject, and that is why what he then said made me do a “whoooooaaaaaa – that’s awesome!”
We were speaking about aging sakes. He had an amazing Daiginjo that won a gold medal in 1996 and so he decided to age this particular sake. In telling me this story he explained how the sake tasted great in 1996, but only later in time did it taste as good as it could possibly taste. Why? His exact words were: “When sake sleeps the alcohol and water connection becomes more mild.” SMACK! It hit me right in my psyche! Huh? He further spoke about how sometimes alcohol and water are not ready to blend in freshly made sake. He said that at times they may even conflict. And then he said that both the water and the alcohol need to relax. Hells yes they do I smiled to myself.
I totally got it! It made so much sense and it was so in passing, but the thought is huge! The final product of sake is roughly 80% water and 20% alcohol. I knew this, in fact I helped changed a generation of sake drinkers in Japan a decade ago when I gave a talk about undulating a bottle of sake before opening it to blend the 20% of alcohol which floats on top of the water (alc is lighter) at the top of the bottle. If you tick’tock gently up and down the two remaining ingredients blend together when you pour. Yes, I have done countless experiments with the smartest and wisest brains in the sake world and they agree. But back to my little-drunk-at-the-time epiphany. They need to blend! Blend by choice not by dictate. You can lead alcohol to water but you can’t make it drink. The water and alcohol have to have an agreement. They need to relax. (Yes I was loaded, but it really made me smile)
It makes complete sense that within a bottle of sake there needs to be a final balancing act between water and alcohol. There has to be a time when the water relaxes, and a time when the alcohol relaxes and they blend in tandom. This is truly the sweet spot in the life cycle of a bottle of sake. When water is not relaxed the alcohol can be more edgy, and when the alcohol is not relaxed the water can become more watery. And now fast forward to our company party that we just had for Team True Sake. We took the entire team including our intern from Japan to a Korean BBQ restaurant that didn’t charge corkage – this is key! I brought an assortment of sakes that would speak to these super sake intelligent folks, and I wanted to wow them to a degree. I like wowing!
Currently in the store we have a wonderful seasonally released Spring Nama from Harushika that is bright and very flavorful. It was released in December, and I then matched it up with the exact same sake that was released 8 years ago in December. An 8 year-old nama? You bet! And it drank quite well, or at least better than expected. But one interesting thing emerged from the aged nama sake and that was how the water overwhelmed the flavor of the sake. Meaning the flavor became more compact and the sake drank more watery! (waterier!) And guess what? The water relaxed too much. This sake was a great example of how the alcohol and water blended, how they relaxed but just a little too much. There was too much relaxation! But the point really is to explain that the interaction between the water and the alcohol is perhaps the most important driver in the further life of a released bottle of sake. The point is to catch perfect mutual relaxation for perfect balance.
So how can you relax a little with some alcohol and water? Check out this month’s Top Ten Sakes in the Top Ten section and discover ten brews where water is the story. Then relax!