February 2010

Ask Beau - "Were there really sulfites used in the sake making process?"

Posted by Beau Timken in 2010, Ask Beau, February, Newsletter
Beau Timken Ha! The great thing about sake is that we all keep learning and learning - me especially! So when I was trained - as in edu-macated about the history of sake, I was told that yes indeed the sake industry did partake in the use of sulfites as a preservative similar to the wine industry. In fact, I own several older bottles of sake with the word sulfite right there on the label - proof? Hmmmmmm. So two newsletters ago I mentioned that the use of sulfites came to an industry halt in the 70's! This I took for fact! It was mentioned as fact in several of my course studies as well as in several books about sake that I had accumulated over the years. Is it true?

I'm very proud to say that one of the greatest men in sake is a "reader" of this rag. Too large of praise? Nope! Philip Harper is a visionary giant amongst men in this industry, and his pioneering accomplishments are second to none. I bow in his general direction! (If you have never read a Philip Harper book - I highly recommend that you do - we sell them at the store.) So I was very pleased and shocked when I got one of "those" emails from Philip last week. "Those" = an email where he sets things straight from a point of supreme confidence of flat out just knowing! Oh by the way Philip is the first "head brewer" in the history of sake who just so happens to be a white guy.

So I will share with you some further "edu-macation" on the topic of sulfites in the sake industry:

"BTW, it says in your newsletter that the sake industry used to use sulfites, but I think you'll find this is wrong. They used salicylic acid, which my (admittedly arts-graduate pathetic) understanding of chemistry suggests is not a sulfite. If you want a bit of trivia on the subject, the use of salicylic acid as a preservative was suggested in the Meiji Period by one of the first overseas students of the chemistry of sake. That was when sake spoiling was an ever-present fact of life for breweries, and there was debate amongst the first overseas visitors to study the subject about the best preventative measures. A German guy suggested the salicylic acid: the British researcher Atinson recommended thorough sanitation with improvements in pasteurization technique. The sake industry adopted the use of salicylic acid, which was then outlawed in Europe and the USA a few years later, though it was another half- century before the sake industry caught up. The moral of the story being that you should always listen to the British guy.

Best, Philip"

Ha - I love getting schooled!

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

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