November 2007

Ask Beau - "Are there 'Quality Vintage Brewing Years' Like Wine?"

Posted by admin in 2007, Ask Beau, Newsletter, November

Coincidentally enough, I received an email question (askbeau2 @ that related to this month's "Sake Bummer" (see above) and decided to run with it.

Trevor B from Seattle wrote:

"The wine world goes crazy for great grape years, and I was wondering if there are quality vintage brewing years for sake brewing rice?"

Beau Timken

Ahhhhhhh yes! The ol' vintage rice question! Are there the "great" years for growing brewing rice? Is there a market for sakes from this year or that? Do customers specifically try to buy sake made with rice grown during those "brilliant" years? The big answer is No! The small answer is not really.

Wine - it can be said - is dictated by the quality of the grape. Some vintners will say that at least 80% of their final product comes as the result of the quality of the grape and 20% comes in brewing technique. It can also be said that the these percentages are almost the opposite for the sake brewing industry where 20% of the final product is dictated by the quality of the rice and 80% comes in brewing technique. That is a powerful contrast between wine and sake making.

So Trevor to answer your question I will harken back to a brewery visit in Kobe over 5 years ago, where I posed the exact same question to the owner of a really cool brewery called Take no Koi. I asked him which years were the really good rice years? He paused and thought for a moment and then he said that he could not really remember. BUT he then went on and said that he could remember the bad rice growing years very well, because those were the brewing seasons that they had to work so very hard to achieve the flavor and quality that was consistent with their brews.

The long and the short of it is that no producer will say "Ohhhhhh yes the 1996 Yamadanishiki was superb, or the 2002 Omachi was outstanding" but they will say the 12 typhoons in 2005 made things tough. That said the individual rice growers may remember specific years that they produced a super high quality rice that fetched a higher price at market. But the brewers themselves would say that there are no great years, rather they would say look for the consistency of quality year in and year out.

Please send your sake specific questions to askbeau2 @ (This address is not for general questions and I only review the questions once per month. All other correspondence should use info @

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