Sake Exploration - Drinking a 40+ Year-Old Sake
The bottle in question was a 1.8L brown beauty that came nested within the most ornate massive wooden box - you smell special here? And it was a gift. A gift from the owner of the famous Ohyama brewery in Yamagata prefecture to none other than Kazu Yamazaki from the Japan Prestige Sake Association, who imports the Ohyama line of brews into the US. Shacho from Ohyama thought that Kazu would greatly appreciate the contents of said bottle - he did / we did. (Kazu thought that nobody more than I would find this fascinating and so he wanted me to be with him when he tried it. He also knows that I know CPR - And that's why I saw the bottle on one trip to NY - we planned then and there to try it together on a special sake exploration tasting at a future date.)
On September 26th 2009 a bottle of sake came back from the dead. A bottle of sake came back to life after over 40 years of laying deep within the fluid soils of forgotten sake cemetery lands. A brew that was once lost - discovered - bottled - gifted - then shared. The Ohyama Dai Koshu said that it was 30 years-old on the label and that accounts for the first segment of time. The second segment of date authorization came from the owner directly who said they found the bottle (there were two of them) in a part of the brewery that is not well traveled! (Look at what we have here! - what the heck is that? - whooaa there's another one - great box.) Basically the bottles were discovered - think King Tut. Nobody knows how long they were "lost" - but the kuramoto thought that it was at least five years.
Then they dated the bottle 17.11 and sent it via container ship to Kazu. Like all good sake souls who are inundated with sample, purchased, and personal brews Kazu hoarded the bottle - meaning he wanted to save it for a special occasion then "lost" it himself. It's very easy to put special sakes in a "special" place. And it's even easier to forget these special places. He did and he did. Then during one cleaning session Kazu found the box. He opened it and noticed the dreaded floating brown "lava lamp" globs found in sakes that have gone "bad." That's when I saw the bottle! I said, "bummer but I'll still try it!" So we made a plan to taste it.
So what the heck was this sake anyway:
|Ohyama Dai Koshu (30)
Daigingo - with added alcohol (jozo)
Rice: Yamadanishiki milled to 40%
The koshu had a short cork with a plastic coating on the tip in the bottle and a plastic coating over the top of the bottle. The plastic on the outside had deteriorated, and judging by the short cork this guy took in a lot of oxygen over time.
Kazu had stored the bottle at room temperature for almost five years, but we decided to chill it for the tasting. When he pulled the bottle out of the fridge he noticed that the "brown blobs" had reduced in number. I will check into this to see what sort of protein re-animator-like phenomenon was occurring. (if any at all.) So herewith are my tasting notes of a sake that was perhaps a little off of its prime, or not!
The color of our dear "Lost Survivor" was a wonderful golden hue that made me think of a light honey with some trapped rays of sunset sunlight. (Yes I was getting into the mood.) The nose was brilliant - a truly fabulous collection of caramel, musky, earthy, grainy, and woody elements that lingered far from the glass. In retrospect I didn't think - I just drank. I sort of forgot how old a brew I was really tasting. And as I write this I feel as if I should have taken a moment to pause before just doing my old tasting routine. I dunno! I feel sort of romantic about this whole lovely experience.
The first sip was a tail of two extremes. Smooth, elegant, soft - the first sip passed through the palate like a ball gown. An amazingly graceful glide of deep rich flavors that danced in the maple syrup, honey, smokey, and cinnamon tones on a flow that stayed smooth from start to finish. Then it happened. What was that? My swallow was on fire and in my neck where that swallowing action occurs a gentle burn started to kindle. It was like an electric stovetop that started to warm slowly. From smooth dance of exotic and ancient flavors to a small brush fire in the middle of my throat - very interesting indeed. Now please note Kazu didn't get the same burn - but in all of my years of tasting sake this had never happened before so deep into my throat. Also please note Kazu is a smoker and he wouldn't know if a fire were raging in his throat or not.
What a fantastic sipping experience. Despite the gentle arson attack in my neck I had two glasses of this wonderful brew. Each sip produced new and expressive flavors - burnt rice, chocolate malt balls, chewy honeycomb, and maple syrup candy. The smoothness was a sheer delight. The body was still present and the movement of the brew was deliberate and confident - like your grandfather dancing at a wedding - you can't find fault as it is too darn cute. My final flavor was similar to a butterscotch candy that melted through my mouth - rich and sweet. At room temperature the body became more full - but the flavors also became more base.
Basically that was one of my top ten favorite sake moments. I was honored to share that little piece of sake history and I am glad that I am not blind, dead or worse. (Never thought that would happen - looking for the dramatics here people - did it work?) I could go on and on about why it still tasted great - I will dig deeper to discover why the flame in the throat was so pronounced so deep - the jozo (added alcohol?) - and why the color wasn't far more deep soy sauce brown, or why so much oxygen in the bottle didn't just destroy the whole bottle - nevertheless it was special from beginning to end.