The number one question I get asked as a Sommelier is if expensive sakes and wines are better than the cheaper ones. It’s a very good question! Maybe you have even wondered this yourself. The answer is more than a yes or no. I will say that the more expensive ones tend to be significantly more complex and intense in aromas, flavours and taste. As you read on, I hope you get a better understanding of what I mean about that. There is a 277 year old brewery in Japan and I am going to talk specifically about two of their sakes, the ingredients and techniques that are used to make both, and what makes them so different.
The Hakutsuru Sake Brewing Company, founded in 1743, is one of the largest sake breweries in Japan and is located in the Nada region in Kobe. Let’s look at the Superior Junmai Ginjo and the Junmai Dai Ginjo Hakutsuru Nishiki. The word ‘Junmai’ means “pure rice”, meaning, no additional alcohols or sugars were added in the making of the sake. The Superior Junmai Ginjo Sake is made with high quality rice, the local spring mineral water referred to as Miyamizu and koji. This is a clear-colored sake at 14.5% alcohol with good minerals and has faint floral notes of cherry bud and kumquat. It is a straight-forward, quaffable sake that can be enjoyed with lighter fare dishes, such as sashimi or grilled vegetables. Drink chilled or at room temperature. I prefer it chilled, but you might try it both ways to see how you like it.
Then we have the Junmai Dai Ginjo Hakutsuru Nishiki. Say that 5 times really fast! The rice used in this sake is extremely special. The Hakutsuru Sake company spent more than 8 years doing scientific research and development to create it. This new strain of rice is called Hakutsuru Nishiki. In 2007, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries officially recognized and registered it. It is so nice to see an old company stay true to their original techniques and methods, all while embracing modern science and technology.
So, they start with this very special rice, but they polish it more than their regular sake. This rigorous process removes the starches and proteins from the outside of the rice and eventually, yields a very fragrant and delicate sake. The color is a light yellow and the aromas are floral, orange blossom, green apple skin, vanilla, roasted chestnuts and wet rocks. It comes in at 15.5% alcohol and the smoothness is velvet-like and leaves a long, pleasant finish in your mouth. The food pairing can be raw oysters or even a big juicy steak, but try it with the corn cake recipe below. This is a fabulous sake that I think would be perfect for celebrations or as a gift to someone special in your life.
I hope you learned something new today and that this little lesson encourages you to explore a wider range of sakes. Kanpai!
FALL CORN CAKES
*I use canned corn because it is already cooked, but if you prefer fresh, then use 2 shucked ears of corn. It’s great as an appetizer or as a side dish.
1 15-ounce can of corn, drained
¼ cup milk
2 tablespoons of olive oil (melted butter is OK, too)
¾ cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt + black pepper
½ teaspoon dried tarragon
½ teaspoon paprika
Vegetable oil for frying
In a medium bowl, whisk the egg, milk - start with 3 tablespoons and add the rest, if the batter is too thick - and oil or butter. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, salt+pepper, tarragon and paprika. Add dry mixture to the egg mixture, then add the drained corn and mix well. Heat vegetable oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. When the oil makes little ripples, very carefully drop 1-1½ tablespoons of the corn batter into the pan. Make sure not to let them touch. Fry 2-3 minutes on one side, then flip and cook for another 2 minutes or until they are golden brown. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.