January 2011

Sake Exploration - Drinking Sake Blobs

Posted by Beau Timken in 2011, January, Newsletter
Christmas came early for ol' Beau this year. So there I was, visiting my mom in Florida for the holidays when what did appear, but three bottles of sake that were way way past their prime. (You thought I was going to type "a miniature sleigh with eight tiny reindeer?") Now I can safely say that I am a sake freak when my best Christmas present was discovering a stash of at least seven year-old sakes in a dark and hot closet in Naples, Florida.

When you are the mother of a sake dude it is quite natural to ask said son for some bottles of good sake that could be used as gifts. The problem occurs when you forget to gift those sakes. Well she did, and I noticed that on a latter trip to visit her. "Mom you forgot to give those sakes for presents, and now they are pretty long in the tooth. I wouldn't give them because they are pretty old." Her response was "Well then throw them out!" "What?" "Never!" "Let me keep them here to age them." I forgot uttering these words to her so many years ago and that is why the discovery was so sweet.

In an effort to find a hammer for some killer stone crab claws, my eye was drawn to her wine rack, which was in a small space atop a closet shelf. "Well hello there! Those aren't wine bottles." And I slowly pulled out three bottles of sake that I immediately detected as being "old as shit." Why? Well one of the three is no longer brewed, and the other ones had floating globulars of those wonderful lava lamp looking brown blobs. (Lots of them!) I also found an isshobin (1.8L bottle) of sake brewing water, which I sent as a present because she does not drink. She thought it was sake!

Now there have been some great discoveries in our wonderful human history including the tomb of Tutankhamun, the ruins of Machu Picchu, and the Latin boy band Manudo. But perhaps one discovery eclipses all others, and that is finding a bottle of Jozen Mizunogotoshi dated 03.11, a bottle of Wakatake Onikoroshi also from '03, and a bottle Kikusakari Kurahibiki dated KH.6 which I place also at '03. I'm expecting a call from National Geographic any day now.

So after the initial shock and wonder wore off I yelled out loud! "Yes!!!!" My mom bolted in expecting the worst, "What?" "I just found some seriously old and damaged sakes in your closet." "Yes, you were aging them!" "Huh? How do you remember that?" When I then informed her that I was going to taste them she blurted out "You'll get sick, and I am not taking you to the hospital, you're on your own!" I'm sure my other fellow explorers have heard the same. "Seriously, you are on your own!"

I taste old and damaged sakes for a living. I am a professional. I was trained for this day. I was not afraid. I knew what I was doing. I have no sake fear. But I will be honest, I had never seen so many brown blobs as I did in the Wakatake Junmai Daiginjo. That baby would be a mouthful. It looked like a bottle full of Jelly Beans. I decided to chill them.

What is a sake blob? An orb of floating goo that you should never see in one of your brews? A lava lamp-like undulating mass? In short, it is a protein that has gone back into a solid or semi-solid form - from liquid to mass. And as a consumer this is a change that you do not want to be around if you enjoy drinking your sakes in a pristine state. Other than color it is the best barometer to determine that a sake is "gone."

Other than looking like a Tim Burton snow-globe gone bad, these blobs don't taste differently than the actual liquid. And truthfully before the Wakatake I never even felt or detected one in a sip. They just slide on down. So without further ado here is a brief recollection of a Xmas sake tasting of note featuring some "gone" brews that were passed their prime, but primed me to learn more about the "lasting" effect of improperly conditioned sakes.
  1. Kikusakari Kurahibikix (Date placed at 2003)
    From Ibaraki Prefecture. Daiginjo. SMV: +5 Acidity: 1.4
    The nose on this very dated sake is a vast rich collection of caramel, maple syrup, cooked pineapple, and butter elements. Round, smooth and deep this "damaged" sake drinks extremely well under the improper conditions. The fluid is plump and rich with hints of unripe fruits and lots of citrus elements with a little zesty attitude. Extremely unique in the sense that it is both rich and citrusy amongst some gentle base koshu flavors such as maple syrup and burnt sugar. Despite having brown floating globular dots this sake aged well in terms of complexity, richness, smoothness, and flavor. There is a layer of acidity that pops up and says something is amiss but on the whole a job well done to this time traveler. WORD: Complex WINE: Huge reds/acidic whites BEER: Stouts.

    Here is my review from way back when, when we used to sell the sake in the store:

    Kikusakari Kurahibiki "Echo of Brewery"
    From Ibaraki Prefecture. Daiginjo. SMV: +5 Acidity: 1.4
    This fruity and crisp Dai Ginjo is made using the "Shizuku" or drip method, which is the highest form of brewing in the sake industry. The result yields a nose filled with strawberry, radish, rose pedal and honeydew elements. Behold a bold and vibrant Dai Ginjo that has an abundance of fruit tones but drinks more crisp than fruity. There is a nice clean snap that would appeal to big red wine fans, and an acidity play that speaks to those who like big fruit, but dry finishes. WORD: Crisp WINE: Zins/Cabs/Big whites BEER: Pilsners FOODS: Salads, cheese plates, shellfish, and fruit.
  2. Shirataki Jozen Mizunogotoshi (Date 03.11)
    From Niigata Prefecture. Junmai Ginjo. SMV: +3 Acidity: 1.4
    The nose on this ill-aged sake that is now the color of honey is filled with cooked rice, leather, marshmallow, and honey elements. This koshu is the tale of three sips and three seconds. The first sip is smooth and koshu-lite-like which means light and gentle. The second sip provides the koshu flavor components of clover honey, creme brulee, and a mild smokiness. The third sip is the disappearance of any balance left in this sake. What is amazing is that after each sip you can count to three and there is a mad rush of acidity to the tip of the tongue. This is a first for me! The acidity doesn't start at the tip of the tongue it ends there! Light, round and semi-rich this sake did not "koshu" well. It has its moments of flavor and that Niigata smoothness. The acidity is like a wild cougar in a car with you. WORD: Smooth WINE: Zins/Zesty whites BEER: Crisp Ales.

    Here is my old review of this sake that is now called Jozen Mizunogotoshi "White." (The brewery also makes another version called "Jukusei", which means that they mature the sake longer than the "white - they rest this brew now a year before they release it--used to be 6 months):

    Shirataki Jozen Mizunogotoshi "Pure Flavor"
    From Niigata Prefecture. Junmai Ginjo. SMV: +3 Acidity: 1.4
    This Ginjo has a nose of soft metal or minerals mixed with persimmons and pomegranates. It has a very nice white chocolate clean beginning with vanilla middle and dried apple finish, all the while twisting in a flavor of snow melt and pears. This Ginjo falls into the very clean and pristine category of Niigata sakes, and does not disappoint. The smoothness and thin viscosity melt in the warmth of your mouth and the fresh balance of acidity and crispness makes this Ginjo disappear with a lingering pear-like departure. WORD: Snow WINE: Pinot Griggio/White Burgundy BEER: Pilsner FOODS: Very light specific dishes. White fish with ponzu, scallops in wine, cold steamed chicken.
  3. Wakatake Onigoroshi "Demon Slayer" (Date placed at 2003)
    From Shizuoka Prefecture. Junmai Daiginjo. SMV: +0 Acidity: 1.4
    This improperly aged sake has huge floating brown orbs within its almost soy sauce-like color. Its nose is a unique collection of burnt honey, molasses, chocolate, sugar and pine tar aromas. A smooth start is immediately attacked by a tsunami of acidity that ravages the tip of the tongue. It is the first time that I have actually tasted the floating blobs within an aged sake, and despite some nice flavors such as fruit compote, cooked fruit and honey this brew drinks hot like a whiskey or a bourbon. It has become erratic and despite a nice flavor or two the acidity crashes the party. A "try" at koshu that falls flat. WORD: Chippy WINE: Zins/Whiskey BEER: Stouts.

    Here is the "revised" review, which was written in 2005. (This means that other review was perhaps written in 2003):

    Wakatake Onikoroshi "Demon Slayer"
    Shizuoka Prefecture. Junmai Dai Ginjo. SMV: +0 Acidity: 1.4
    This Dai Ginjo is as solid as they come, with a purring nose of soft ripe fruits and twinge of citrus. From the first pass on the tip of the tongue it is apparent that this Dai Ginjo is built around a perfect blend of fruit tones such as lychee and gentle acidity play. Ripe cantaloupe and tropical fruit flavors and a semi citrus tingle dance through the mouth and end in a smooth and creamy aftertaste. A perfect example of a "round" sake that shows amazingly well built qualities from start to finish. WORD: Round WINE: White Burgundy/Merlots BEER: Fresh Octoberfest releases FOODS: Fresh fruits, creamy cheeses, light appetizers, clean pastas.

In summary, I did not die as my mother feared. In fact, a new appreciation for sakes that do age well was born (again). I love testing brews and putting them through their paces! I love drinking sakes after they were meant to be consumed. I like the fact-finding that can only be achieved by doing it. In this regard I can go back to these makers and say "guess what?" There are so many factors to be considered when making proper koshu - the right rice varietal, the right yeast, the right milling percentage, the right category, amongst others. Some sakes are meant to be aged, and they get groomed that way. And some sakes fall victim to poor handling, and should never be aged, because they were not constructed to be aged.

All in all it was a great Christmas sake tasting and there were no "bahumbugs."

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