Nama Sake – The Final Word On Shipping Unpasteurized Brews
It’s possible that True Sake was the first international business to ship unpasteurized sakes to their customers. We’ve been doing it longer than anybody that’s for sure, but I’m just not positive that some wine store shipped a Nama or two back in the day before us. It’s pretty unlikely, because there weren’t many Namas available in the US. So I feel pretty good saying that we have been shipping unpasteurized sakes in quantity longer than anybody in the sake market, which means we know a thing or two. Or do we? Ha Ha.
First and foremost Nama or unpasteurized sake is awesome. It’s a very fun segment in the industry, and has become one of our top selling lines. Customers love the fact that we celebrate the “Seasonality” of unpasteurized sake, and we are very proud to extol the fact that no other booze in the industry has as many seasonally released products as the sake industry.
Why do they do it? Why do brewers release unpasteurized versions of their core sakes? Why go through the difficulty of cold conditioning and shipping certain sakes? Because they love the seasonality connection with the foods and the feelings of certain times of year, and they love feeling closer to their customer base who supports their breweries year-round. It’s cool to make different versions of your techniques and products. Take for example the summer Namas that we are offering now en force! In our fridges, we have a plethora of unpasteurized summer brews that drink light and crisp (in most cases) and do very well in the heat of summer. It’s far better to be refreshed by a clean and cool Summer Nama that is built to drink lean and light, than to get bogged down in the palate with a full-bodied brew on these very warm evenings. That’s cool, literally!
Ok, ok we get it! But what about those of us who cannot go to True Sake? Isn’t shipping unpasteurized sakes difficult on account of their enhanced perishability? Should Namas be shipped? And therein rests the big question that we have over 20 years of optics and experience. In a word, we were put on this planet to promote and protect sake. We are guardians of their welfare and we do whatever it takes for our brews. We firmly believe in the conditioning and maintenance of sake to protect what the brewers work so hard to achieve. We honor their efforts and that True Sake sticker on each bottle is proof.
So where do we stand, after almost 20 years of shipping sake, on the concept of getting you unpasteurized sake to your house wherever you may reside? And is it safe?
The short answer is absolutely yes! The slightly longer answer is that we have conducted many experiments over the years, and have talked extensively with our customers and the sake brewers themselves. And we believe in the durability and stability of our brews as we ship them every day. We are also in the process of changing our Nama shipping program which normally requires that we get a verbal or written agreement that our customers understand that we are shipping a perishable product. They must agree and acknowledge that we know what we are doing.
And we do know what we are doing!
Recently, we tasted two of the exact same unpasteurized sakes from the same batch and from the same actual case of sake. But one of the Namas was in the fridge, while the other sake was outside for almost two years. One was chilled and one was “room” temperature. And you’d think that the bottle that was not refrigerated would be dead or turned to vinegar? Nope! In fact it drank almost better than the bottle in the fridge. Why? Why didn’t it get grotty or turn to evil water? We have a few answers that we use when customers ask us this question. The first and foremost is that sake is built so well these days. It is very durable, and there aren’t as many elements in a brew that can turn bad. Secondly, the final product of sake is 80% water, and this decreases the chances that something can turn (where wine is 100% grape juice). And lastly, sake typically has an alcohol content of 15-16%, which acts almost like a preservative.
I remember the first time that I had a customer call and say that the Nama that they received was “bad.” It was over 15 years ago, and in fact she got it wrong. She ordered a Nama Yamahai when she thought she ordered a Nama Arabashiri – like the one in the picture. In fact, we can basically count on one hand the amount of returns that we have had shipping Nama sake in over 15 years. And each of the employees at True Sake has an anecdote or two to prove the fact that we are good with shipping Nama to you! (Chris often speaks about the Den Nama that he shipped successfully to North Carolina in the heat of July, and our friends in Texas have never complained that a brew showed up damaged in the summer.)
Now I will speak directly to those so-called purists who rail against shipping Nama sake. Do you have 20 years of shipping experience or do you read what was written in a book or sake manual about keeping sake refrigerated? Have you sent out roughly 5-10 packages of Nama sake per day for the past decade and a half? Do you have the optics and exchange of communication with thousands of customers across the US who have successfully received unpasteurized sake? Or have you had a conversation with an “industry” person who might think it’s not a good idea? We have the advantage and the superior understanding, because we do it, have done it, and will continue to ship Nama sake with the utmost confidence.
Nama sake is tougher than you might think, and constant refrigeration is not an absolute necessity. We feel and stake our reputation on the fact that Nama sake can in fact travel without refrigeration and maintain its general character without going off or expiring for several days. We’ve shipped so much that we feel confident in our decision based on the fact that the end-user is the ultimate thumbs up or thumbs down. And it’s been all thumbs up!
So please be confident when you order Nama sake from True Sake – we literally know what we are doing!