“Ask Beau” – “How often do you revisit sakes and why?”
This is a great question!
For as much as I state that sakes and the sake making industry focus on consistency year in and year out, there are so many factors at play that some sakes do in fact “change.” I love the fact that many of my sake reviews from over a decade ago are still very much spot on! And that’s not me, that is the awesomeness of the sake makers themselves. They pick a style and stick with it even if the things in the process change like a dry crop of rice or changing a yeast. But more and more I have noticed that sakes in fact do change over time and it’s important to check in with a sake now and again.
As mentioned, there are many factors at play with the lifespan of a sake. Some are rock solid and live within themselves like Dewazakura’s Ginjo called Oka, which has had pretty much the same compact flavor and profile over two decades. But speaking of decades this brewery released a special 20th anniversary version or tribute of this sake, which more resembled the sake 20 years ago and it drank a little more fat and fruit forward. BUT it was still close! It still had many of the ginjo-like attributes that speak to fans of this amazing sake.
So in a word, yes! Yes I have to check in with certain sakes to see if they resemble what they historically have shown. My team is very good at saying, “Maybe you should touch base with this brew or that sake, because it has changed a bit from your review.” And so I do, and voila they are right and then we re-record the new version of the same old sake.
If I had to pick the number one reason for a change in a consistent sake’s attributes,it would probably be on account of a new toji or master brewer. This then becomes a philosophical difference and not so much a raw materials issue. Typically a new toji comes up through the ranks in a brewery so they practice many of the same philosophies, but on certain occasions a new toji comes in and applies his or her own thumbprint and toji guild training.
Of course other reasons include using perhaps a new rice varietal, different kobo (yeast), new koji room, other new production equipment, mechanized process, dry or hard rice from hot growing season, change in water supply, change in pasteurization technique etc. So when we stock so many sakes it is common to run up against a sake that has changed it’s profile a bit, and that means that I have to taste and taste and taste. And that is too bad. NOT!