Sake Notes: In-Depth Reviews For Each Brew
I used to joke that I drink a lot of bad sake so you don’t have to. In other words I taste each and every sake that gets selected to be in the True Sake line up. Taste? What do you mean by taste? I mean really taste and put each sake through its paces. In a word I feel as if I must pull each sake apart before it is considered good enough for our customers. Really? You bet!
So what does a tasting entail? There are so many answers to this. We often get distributors, importers and brewers come to the store with bottles – sometimes bottles that have been open for several days – and ask us to try a brew or two or eight. This type of tasting is okay, but I feel as if it is very topical or sort of like a surface tasting without seeing the depths of a sake. Arguably this is the most common tasting in the business, and it is effective to a degree. Sure you get to feel the sake and taste the flavors, but generally you are not swallowing. And this holds especially true when you are doing a judging or very large sake tasting. In a sense you capture the essence of the sake, but not perhaps its soul.
When I first opened the store I realized that I needed more time and attention with a sake to really understand it on several levels and to discover why it would speak to different people for different reasons. You can sort of do this with a typical swish and swirl tasting, but how do you know what glass best suits that sake, what temperatures does it best perform, how does it oxidize, and what food pairings might go well with that brew? Sometimes the brewer puts that on the back label, sometimes the distributor will tell you, or sometimes you can find a review on-line, but I wanted it all at once in a compact and concise review that puts you in the know of that sake at that exact moment.
And voila! I created my own sake tasting method that I am extremely proud to say works well! So what do I do? Typically you should taste sake at 10am, when your palate is at its best, after a light meal and in a room with beige walls. (Not kidding!) But no way that’s happening with me. No way! Typically I taste after dinner. When my monkeys were younger I’d put them down so that I could focus. But now I use those chimps (Yes, one reads every word of this newsletter so that chimp comment may come back to haunt me) as extra sake “smellers.” They both have great noses and they help me pull some glorious and hidden aromas. (They do not taste as much as I foist it upon them, nobody likes a liquored up 10 year-old! Not even the 10 year-old!)
I take the sake or two or three out of the food fridge ten to fifteen minutes before I taste. This is really important because I never know what temperature the average consumer will taste the specific sake. I will eventually try the sake at room temperature and then warm certain sakes for further review. But I never taste the sake at just one temperature. This does not seem practical because sakes warm in the glass etc
I then use three separate glasses of differing sizes and mouth shapes to first smell and document the aromas and then taste out of each glass. The first glass is actually a ceramic O’choko, and I use this because I think to even this day some customers drink out of small cups such as these! (Is it wrong? No! But perhaps a bigger glass may be where the sweet spot is for that sake.) The second glass is what I call a pub glass or an izakaya sized glass and it resembles a short water glass. The third glass is a stemless white wine glass, and this is where I get a lot of the aromas for each brew.
And then I do the unthinkable. I drink the sake. I drink, not taste, each brew from each of the three glasses and take notes on each one. I then triangulate the reviews taking the notes from each glass and make one review that mentions which size glass does best and what flavors appear as the fluid warms etc. I also re-taste the next night if I can to determine the oxidation factor for stability issues. If the sake is in a certain “Category” then I will try warming it to see how it performs with heat!
Is that it? Nope! I then use my TasteMatch system to determine what wines and beers a person may need to like to enjoy that sake. I then reduce the entire review into one word that best fits that sake. Lastly, I will select several cuisines that I think would go best with that sake in terms of pairing and performance.
So the next time you read a review at True Sake or on-line at www.truesake.com rest assured that I not only tasted that sake, but more importantly I drank that sake and really put it through its paces. There is simply no substitute for tasting a sake, but this system comes as close as possible for the end user to make an educated and balanced decision. You may thank my liver later!