July 2010

Ask Beau - "What is your biggest sake weakness?"

Posted by Beau Timken in 2010, Ask Beau, July, Newsletter
My fridge is too small! Ha!

This question really caught my eye. Why? Why does somebody want to know one of my sake Achilles' heels? Are there such things as "sake weaknesses"? It took me a few minutes to really nail something tangible as I have a ton of weaknesses I guess. For example there are so many brewing tricks that I have not fully comprehended - is comprehension a weakness. There are so many nuances to the marketing of sake in Japan and abroad that I do not understand - is understanding a weakness? In a word I am a sake weakling! I am weak on so many levels in all things sake - but I embrace this. I love not knowing, comprehending, and understanding everything about sake, because I love the discovery process. But, David R. from Sacramento I will oblige your question in large part because I do have a serious weakness! In fact it is a glaring "weakness," one that I have mentioned before way back when.

Drum roll please! Taddla Taddla Taddla Taddla Taddla - My sake weakness is "umami"!

I am and have always been "umami" challenged, especially when it comes to speaking about specific sakes as a flavor point. I cannot detect umami in a sake - even when there is a sticker on the bottle that states "This sake has lots of umami in it" (Born Nama Daiginjo). I often hear people - Japanese more often than not - utter words like "Hmmm umami" or "Ah-so Umami des!" And I simply nod and repeat "Hmmmm umami."

Yes, I say curses to Mr. Kikunae Ikeda the Columbus, Magellan, Ponce Delleon discoverer of the infamous "fifth taste" in Japan over a century ago. Curses to you sir - a man who invented a powder that has a terrific name (monosodium glutamate) and an even catchier acronym (MSG), which changed Asian cooking more than any ingredient since salt. And curses to all of my friends who say that it is so simple - it tastes like parmesan cheese, or tomato sauce, or soy sauce - and then finish the sentence with this disclaimer always: "It's hard to put it into words." YOU THINK? How many meals have I been participating in eating dashi (seaweed stock and bonito flakes) with my hosts purring "umami"? Tons. I get it! I really do. But - I don't.

Therefore that is my weakness - my sake weakness. I cannot verbally extol the presence of umami in my sake vernacular. I cannot belt out a "this brew is loaded with umami. "I know it is there. I can taste right past sweet, sour, bitter, etc detecting this savory but not salty quality. But I do not feel qualified to officially state that in the sake that I am currently recording there is an abundance of a flavor that is far more nuanced and complex than the other simple tastes. I am well aware that glutamic acids do register in my palate - I am human after all - but the brain will not allow my mouth to utter the word.

Oddly enough I do not even fake it! I could sit back like the rest of the umami gifted and say "It's so hard to put into words." There! It would be done. And I would be sitting pretty with all the other truffle, aged cheeses, tomato, soy sauce eating folks. But I can't and I don't. I don't even try. I embrace my weakness! It is mine and apparently mine alone.

The good news is that I may get a second chance on a new flavor that is hitting the sake world - a fad word that is getting a lot of play in the description of sakes. So I may just make a dramatic come back in the realm of "egumi" which is most likened to a vegetable (Spring veggie to be exact) sweetness that is almost, but not exactly, bitter (think young spinach). Yes - "Egumi" can be mine because, "It is so hard to put into words."

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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