February 2012

Nama Sake - Bright Green Cords!

Posted by Beau Timken in 2012, February, Newsletter
In a word - we sell a lot of nama sake! Has it always been this way? Nope! Why? Because there hasn't always been a lot of nama in the US. And even today we are not "exposed" or have access to all that much of this bright segment in the sake world. Another "why?" It's a tricky business as namas are - well - ummm extremely perishable and need special treatment. Is the US system set up for these finicky beats? Well it's very safe to say that historically we were not!

It wasn't all that long ago that sake used to come to the US in the same containers that delivered non-perishable items such as chopsticks and soy sauce. Yup, those huge containers that you see stacked atop one another on those massive tankers waltzing over the oceans once used to carry "perishable" sake. The voyages would last 30 days at the very least and of course the sun is known to be pretty strong en route. Heat and time are two of sakes least favorite friends, and there was a lot of that back then.

But eventually, like all things, the quest for quality brought the usage of "refers" or refrigerated containers to the forefront. As better sakes got exported, conditions for these finer sakes became "better." Handcrafted - not machine made - sakes required special handling, and the path to a better delivery system was being paved by these temperature controlled units. By the time True Sake opened, some sakes were even being flown over from Japan.

What's the big deal with nama sake? Why is it so special or "desired?" Firstly, nama is not the end all be all! It's simply another expression of sake. I used to initially describe nama sake as more "3-dimensional." When the store started selling nama in 2003/4 my elevator pitch to describe nama sake went something like this:

Customer - What is nama sake?
Me - Well, it's unpasteurized sake.

Customer - So?
Me - As you know sake is typically pasteurized twice, but these brews are not heated at all!

Customer - So?
Me - Ummmmm how can I say this? When you heat a sake up (once or twice) it tamps down the brew to an extent. It's almost like storing it for 6 or so months. So heating a sake twice is almost like resting it for a year!

Customer - Huh?
Me - What named sake do you like?

Customer - Gokyo or Masumi
Me - What kind of car do you drive?

Customer - Volvo!
Me - Imagine if Volvo came to you and said give us your car for a day. In that time they put in new racing suspension, performance tires, new powerful engine or super charger, etc and gave it back to you. It's still you car, but it feels much different. It's far more lively and has far more expression!

Customer - Oh so nama sake is more lively and has far more expression?
Me - Yes, to a certain degree! Remember sake is a living, breathing thing that gets its breath taken away by pasteurizing it. But when you don't heat up that brew it stays lively and bright and vivid! Add to that the fact that a lot of nama is left undiluted (genshu) as well, which makes it all the more expressive.

Customer - So it's like a living version of the Masumi and Gokyo that I am familiar with.
Me - Bingo!

When I tired of stating the above I started the next lesson of teaching about the seasonality of sake and how and when to capture sake in the brewing process. I would talk about Arabashiri sake and similar other freshly pressed sakes. These conversations usually ended well as the customers were fascinated to taste something that was "fresh."

Back in the day we had access to roughly two or three namas, and one or two of those were actually nama-chozo, which means that they were actually pasteurized once. But the theory was to call them "nama" and the west would not know the difference! Well, we have figured it out! Thankfully! And today it is perhaps one of the most exciting and sought after segments in the sake market. People love their namas! And rightfully so, they are exciting and special and seasonal and sexy - well maybe sexy is going a bit far. Point being is that if you have not yet tried a nama sake perhaps today is the day!

And to help you on your nama pursuit we have decided to celebrate the greenness (freshly pressed sake has an almost green sheen to it) of nama sake by placing bright green cords around those sakes in True Sake that have never been heated - nope not once! So keep an eye out for seasonal namas and for those namas that are available year around.

Click here to see what new namas will soon be wearing green cords!

Get your green cord on!

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