March 2007

Opposites Attract - How different Sakes Share Similarities

Posted by Beau Timken in 2007, March, Newsletter

Okay okay as we are not really into Spring and not really out of Winter, I thought this time of flux called for even more confusion, especially where your sakes are concerned. Taking this notion of the seasons both Winter and Spring are different seasons all together correct? You do not think of one and the other at the same time. It's usually just your perception of Winter - cold, damp, gray, dark, depressing or your perception of Spring - bright, green, crisp, budding, wet. We, basically, perceive them as mutually exclusive. But is this correct?


Winter and Spring are not joined by a day or a moment - they don't just change automatically from one to the next. They blend. They melt into one another. Thus in more ways than one Winter and Spring have more in common than less. And that is the point of the following tasting that I put together.


Many customers come into True Sake pick a sake by themselves and then turn to us and say, will you please pick the "Opposite sake to this one." Hmmmmm. The opposite huh? I always enjoy when customers ask this as they appear to really want to expand their horizons and really get a sense of the entire sake field in a brew or two. Can it be done? Sure, but what constitutes an opposite. Usually we will fire out the typical "Sweet/Fruity" versus "Dry/Earthy" or we will do the smooth versus sharp, heavy versus light, watery versus rich etc. Basically we are earning our keep as sake guides with this line of questioning as we must really know our stuff to move in such extremes.


What follows are 5 pairings of sakes that will play to the "opposites" angle, but will actually show you how such vastly different sakes have so much in common - sort of like Winter and Spring.


THE SIMPLE OPPOSITES: "Dry versus Sweet"

This by far is the easiest of the opposites angles. Pretty much you can look at the SMV (Sake Meter Values) and establish which brews were made dry and which brews were stopped early in the fermentation process and did not allow those yeast to eat all of the glucose. In this light I have selected Kariho Namahage (Dry) and Rokkasen (Sweet) as my two simple opposites.


Kariho Namahage "Devil's Mask" 
Akita Prefecture.
SMV: +17 Acidity: 1.7
A unique nose filled with grains, cedar, and ripe fruit elements. From start to finish this Devil is a dry sake fan's dream come true, with plump fruit tones and currents of rich roasted flavors. There is a chewiness that makes the dryness dance around the mouth and the elevated acidity leaves a full-bodied experience. How can fruitiness be so dry? Do not confuse this sake with the other Devil's Mask, because this Junmai is far more balanced and exciting. Great for warming.
WINE: Cabs/Big whites
BEER: Crisp Ales
FOODS: Grilled seafood, Bar-B-Q, fried foods.


Rokkasen - "Six Songs Of The Immortal" 
Yamagata Prefecture.
SMV: -12 Acidity: 1.7
In your pursuit of the complete sake experience, one must venture into the so-called sweet zone to discover the splendors and quirks of a Junmai that has a -12 SMV value. This Junmai has a ripe cherry and mushroom nose with hints of earth tones. It is a "mover" Junmai as the sweet flavor rush on the tip of the tongue moves from a robust front to a nice syrupy slide down the back of the throat. The most prominent flavor enveloped in the viscosity is ripe cherries in a syrup sauce, which meets a nice acidity play for a snappy finish. It is freakishly sublime, like a bad hair day that actually looks cool, and it is not Kool-Aide sweet. Recommended by brewer as an after dinner drink.
WORD: Cherries
WINE: Riesling
BEER: Honey Ales
FOODS: Anything that concludes a meal, Dim-sum! (Oily Chinese food)



What do these two "opposite" brews have in common? How do their seasons blend into each other? Firstly they are both Junmai sakes. Secondly there is an abundance of fruit tones in each sake, which is highlighted by a snappy acidity that is elevated to balance out the fruit. And they both have similar finishes that are partly held accountable to both sakes being on the plump side - as in viscous and chewy. From +17 to -12 you'd swear there is no commonality, but there is a lot of togetherness in these two opposites.



This is another potentially obvious opposite to pick - one brew is quick and clean and the other is plump and chewy. You can almost weigh the liquids and be done. Voila there is a thin brew and there is a fat sucker. They are surely opposites in mouth feel and glass legs. It's quite obvious. Is it the glycerine or the amino acids? Who knows, but one thing is for certain when it comes to just sitting in your mouth these two brews are indeed opposites. The first is Yuki no Bosha (fat) and the second is Kikusui (thin).


Yuki no Bosha "Cabin In The Snow" 
Akita Prefecture.
Junmai Ginjo.
SMV: +1 Acidity: 1.9
This Limited Release Ginjo has a brilliant nose filled with peach, strawberry, and minerals. Talk about a fruity beast! A superbly innocent sake that has baskets of ripe fruit tones including strawberries and mangos that dance in a silky and viscous flow. The softness of this Ginjo and the vivid acidity are muted by a fruitiness without being sweet. A tremendous treat for those looking for a fruity experience but don't want gooey sweet.
WORD: Strawberry
WINE: Fruity reds/ Chardonnay
BEER: Fruity ales
FOODS: Shellfish, Chinese cuisine, grilled salty fare.


Kikusui "Chrysanthemum Water" 
Niigata Prefecture.
Junmai Ginjo.
SMV: +2 Acidity: 1.4
This Ginjo has a slightly fruity nose with hints of citrus and persimmons. Dry, sharp and smooth according to most, this Ginjo sits well in the mouth and will tease you with sweet fruit tones and a dry finish. Think thin and crisp. Kikusui is fermented at a low temperature longer than most Ginjos to rid the sake of the sometimes "heavy" characteristics of a Junmai, thus giving it an overall light and dry complexion. Gin and vodka drinkers will enjoy.
WORD: Citrus
WINE: Sharp Whites/Dry Reds
BEER: Ales/Ambers
FOODS: Suitable for light and stronger flavored dishes such as dim sum, chicken/pork with mild spice, creamy cheeses and fresh fruits.


So these opposites have more in common than the fact that they are both Junmai Ginjo sakes. They both in their own weighty capacities have a brightness and crisp tingle that is quite similar. Is it a citrus sizzle, or an un-ripe fruit twang, I don't know, but I do know that they both possess similar drinking shadows for being both Fat and Thin in texture and feeling.



If fermented rice and water could talk then these opposites would be the easiest to distinguish by far. For here we pit the loud mouth versus the hushed soul. Behold the "Chatty Kathy" matched against the "Silent Type." These two sakes are on the opposite side of the room when it comes to chatting capacities, as one speaks in whispers and hushes as the other speaks boldly and pronounces every word with a "Hear Me Speak" authority of style and pomp. The opposites in this context that I selected are Sempuku Kura (loud) and Akitabare Suirakuten (quiet).


Sempuku Kura "Wine Cellar Of 1,000 Fortunes" 
Hiroshima Prefecture.
Junmai Dai Ginjo.
SMV: +3 Acidity: 1.5
This Dai Ginjo has a nectarine and dried fruit nose with a slight hint of coconut. It is dry for a Dai Ginjo and this manifests itself with a springy start and middle-mouth of grass and aromatic flavorings. The viscosity is thick and abundant and the full- bodied richness is not lost on a subtle acidity. Definitely a red wine drinker's Dai Ginjo with lots of flavor and character.
WORD: Bold
WINE: Big Reds
BEER: Guinness/Stouts
FOODS: Baked eel, scallops with broccoli, white fish with ponzu, cold steamed chicken.


Akitabare Suirakuten "Heaven of Tipsy Delight"
Akita Prefecture.
Dai Ginjo.
SMV: +4 Acidity: 1.2
This incredibly nuanced sake has a vivid nose filled with berries, mangos, white grapes, and clover honey elements. Talk about a gentle sake, this Dai Ginjo redefines expressive subtleties. If you blink you will miss it, but close your eyes and spelunk for layers and layers of hidden treasures such as minerals, melon, rock candy and white grape tones. Is it passive or passive aggressive? A superb sake to open the eyes of non-sake believers.
WORD: Subtle
WINE: Layered reds/complex whites
BEER: Blond Ales
FOODS: Lightly flavored cuisines


Now these two opposites are truly across the room from each, but they do have more in common than the mere fact that they are both Dai Ginjo grade sakes. Both of these sakes speak in terms of layers, layered soft fruit tones. They also have similar beginnings that are both bright and spring towards the middle of the mouth. One is so quiet and the other is so loud, but they both have such an array of aromatic flavors such as grass tones, that they do have some commonality sort of like Winter and Spring.


THE TIMELY OPPOSITES: "Fresh versus Aged"

Now this opposite pairing is probably the second easiest behind the old sweet versus dry opposites. In one corner you have a freshly released sake - Nama - that was made at the end of December and graced our shelves at the end of January. The other brew is aged for 8 years, but it is also a Kijoshu, which means that it was built differently than other sakes. To make Kijoshu a brewer will add less water than usual to the steamed rice, and add sake to make a far sweeter brew. Think about it - a two month old sake versus an eight year-old brew, how could they be any further on the spectrum of opposites? The Nama is from Kamikokoro (fresh) and the Kijoshu (aged) is from Hanahato.


Kamikokoro Toukagen Shiboritate "Sound of Seashore"
Okayama Prefecture.
Tokubetsu Junmai Nama Genshu.
SMV: -11.5 Acidity: 1.4
This fat and fruity unpasteurized sake has subtle nose made up of honey, sweet rice, citrus and leather elements. Man! Talk about a solid and chunky Nama sake, this big and bodacious Junmai drinks far too smooth for all of the flavor action. The key is that the acidity is perfectly balanced and that is why all of the ripe, plump, and full-bodied fruit tones drink smooth and round. If you like a little sweetness and a lot of complexity this undiluted (17%) nama is a velvety dream come true.
WORD: Toot-Sweet
WINE: Beaujolais
BEER: Sweet Ales
FOODS: Anything from the grill, spicy or oily fare.


Hanahato Kijoshu "Gorgeous Bird" 
Hiroshima Prefecture.
Kijoshu or "aged type".
SMV: -44 Acidity: 3.5
This kijoshu has been aged for eight years and has a similar nose to a sherry or port with a honey/nutty aroma. This very rich kijoshu is a balanced blend of dried fruits and earthy mushroom elements that has a malty aftertaste coupled with a full-bodied start and middle mouth. The flavor perfectly compliments chocolates of all kinds, especially dark chocolate mousses and other thicker desserts. It does go well with nutty and earthy cigars as well. The red rose color is amazing for a sake, and this brew begs to be served instead of your normal dessert wine.
WORD: Chocolate
WINE: Sherry/Port
BEER: Thick dessert beers
FOODS: Chocolate and sweet desserts of all kinds.



How can one find commonality separated by almost 9 years? These opposites do in fact have a great deal in common, from mouth feel to a sweetness that is smooth and rich. Both brews have a firm acidity play that suppresses the overall fruitiness, and the result is all flavor forward and darn smooth. (On a manufacturing side note the makers of Kamikokoro add a fourth addition in their brewing process, which mirrors the uniqueness of the Kijoshu brewing method.) These two brews have many miles between the two, but they share the same overall road.


THE TRUE OPPOSITES: "Fruity versus Earthy"

This last set of opposites do in fact have very little in common. They are the most purely opposite sakes that we posses at True Sake. This is not the typical sweet versus dry, rather it is a pairing of ripe chewy fruit and clean dirty earth tones. The similarities are few and very far between Ichinokura's Himezen (fruity) and Kirin Koshi No Takumi (earthy) and I am tired of looking! Meet a chunk of the earth and a citrus basket in liquid form.


Ichinokura Himezen - "Princess Food" 
Miyagi Prefecture.
SMV: -65 Acidity: 5
The nose on this "new-style" sake is deep and complex with a mixture of citrus elements and hint of umami. Princess food is a wonder to behold as rice and water combine to taste like grapefruit juice and lemonade. A beautifully refreshing beginning meets a chewy middle-mouth filled with citrus gooeyness. It is light for being so thick, and remember to lick the front of your teeth when the sip is gone. The higher acidity and lower alcohol combine to make a brightly flavored sake that is the quintessential palate cleanser between courses.
WORD: Lemonade
WINE: Dessert Wines
BEER: Shandy (beer/lemonade mix)
FOODS: Seafood salad with citrus dressing, seared Foie Gras, grilled crab with salt.


Kirin Koshi No Takumi - "Sake Specialist" 
Niigata Prefecture.
Tokubetsu Junmai.
SMV: +4
This Junmai has nose of mushrooms and minerals, very earthy. A very light beginning warms up into a thinly rich middle mouth and ends with a nice slide down back of throat. It has a rich and creamy earthy pull that goes thinly through the mouth, and has a very subtle sweetness near the back of the mouth. This Junmai is a great "comparison" sake to that of a sweet floral type. It is a subtle opposite to a "fruity sake" and yet it drinks lighter than a deep rich sake. A compact flavor that is secretive and inviting.
WORD: Mushroom
WINE: Shiraz/Zins/Sauvignon Blancs
BEER: Earthy Pilsners
FOODS: Hamburgers, Fried pork, salmon sautéed with butter.


This is THE "opposite" sake pairing that I know about at True Sake. I have looked and looked for the similarities on a bunch of levels - they simply do not exist. So in a word this is the winner if you are seeking the two sakes born of separate parents.


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