Monthly Archives: September 2013
Well, the calendar says we are in Autumn now in Japan but unfortunately the barometer tells a different story. Temperatures are still hitting 30C and over and the air-con is still getting a good workout. But you can’t argue with the calendar apparently and so along with the arrival of Autumn comes the ubiquitous Autumn themed snacks, beer, chocolate, soft drinks, chips and of course sake!
Yep, Autumn brings us Aki-Agari and Hiyaoroshi. While it seems for some breweries the two terms are somewhat interchangeable, Aki-Agari basically refers to the Autumn release of sake brewed in the previous season (ending around March/April or so). Some sake is released soon after brewing such as shiboritate (just pressed) and some nama (unpasteurized) but most sake is held on to for a maturation period of around six months.
Hiyaoroshi on the other hand specifically refers to sake that is stored for a while to be released in Autumn without undergoing the usual second pasteurization procedure. As you may or not know, sake is usually pasteurized twice; once before storage and then a second time after maturation when the sake is bottled and shipped. In days gone by it would have been inconceivable to release unpasteurized sake any earlier than autumn as the summer heat could (and did) cause sleeping enzymes and bacteria in the sake to become active, throwing off the flavour profile of the sake. So after undertaking only the first pasteurization the sake was kept in cool storage in tanks (wooden in the old days) till release. Autumn was considered to be cool enough to take the chance of releasing the sake minus the second pasteurization without disturbing any sleeping enzymes, giving folks that zippy freshness of a namazake with the balance of a matured sake. Which makes sense except for the fact that these days refrigeration in breweries, restaurants, retailers and even delivery trucks pretty much means there is no reason why namazake can’t be released whenever a brewery likes. Which is what happens. However, I like to think of Hiyaoroshi sake as the more balanced (due to the maturation) style of nama. Incidentally, the word Hiyaoroshi comes from the middle Edo period (1600’s to 1800’s). Hiya- as in chilled (cold storage) and Oroshi-unload/release.
These days breweries release some of their sake early, some later some brew all year round leaving Hiyaoroshi as a little irrelevant in some people’s eyes but it’s still the time of year which sees the most new sake hit the streets. And if nothing else, it’s a damn good excuse for a sake festival/tasting/event good ol fashioned knees-up, of which there are plenty around at this time of year.
To keep with the theme, I have a personal favourite in Bijoufu’s Hiyaoroshi Junmai Ginjo. From the wonderful sake region of Kochi prefecture, this is a great example of what Hiyaoroshi is all about. The fresh, delicate bouquet of white flowers is amazing. A little steely, tight and. refreshingly dry on the palate with a shiso-like peppery finish. Every bit worth waiting till Hiyaoroshi season for.
Bijoufu 美丈夫 (Handsome Man) Hiyaoroshi Junmai Ginjo
Rice: Matsuyama Mii
If you’ve been anywhere near social media recently and more specifically hanging around sake interested types you would have heard the great news that “The Birth of Sake”, a Kickstarter funded film has achieved it’s donation-funded budget and will be completed for release next year. Why is this great news? Well, it’s the first of its kind for starters. While there are plenty of films and documentaries floating about the place singing the praises of chefs, restaurants and wine, there has never been a mainstream Western-produced documentary on the making of sake and the people behind it. Created by film-maker Erik Shirai, this film takes a look at a Yoshida Shuzo makers of Tedorigawa in Ishikawa prefecture and features not only the fundamental physicality of making sake but also looks at the relationships of the brewery folk and how spending six months of the year together brewing sake shapes the people who make the sake. If the buzz that accompanied the recent Jiro Loves Sushi documentary is anything to go by I think this could be a real door-opener for the uninitiated into the world of sake. As the brewing industry looks more and more to overseas exports, the attention a film like this could bring the whole industry is surely a boon for all.
So on that note I figured I best get out and try me some Tedorigawa sake to see what all the fuss is about. To be honest I have tried Tedorigawa before a couple of years ago but a little revisit never hurts.
Fortunately it wasn’t too hard to pick up a bottle of Tedorigawa Junmai. One sip of this fairly unassuming Junmai though and it’s hard to not get excited about more people knowing about Tedorigawa and their sake. Carrying a fairly high seimaibuai (rice milling rate) of 50% (for the koji rice) and 55% (for the rice added to the mash) I was expecting a lighter perhaps more fragrant style of Junmai but was pleasantly surprised that the full bodied umami wasn’t lost to the high level of milling (Generally, the higher the milling rate the lighter the body and lower the umami). The aromas are definitely of a more stone-fruit driven fragrant, almost Ginjo-esque variety than some of the stoic, muscular Junmai but the way the sake holds its weight alongside the aromas is quite extraordinary. Waay to easy to drink and definitely moreish. Probably better suited to richer types of food but drinks plenty good on its own too. And to top it all off, incredibly reasonably priced for a sake of its calibre at just over Y1000 (around $12AUS).
Sadly, we have to wait until the latter half of next year to see the movie but make some calls, pull some strings, call in favours and get yourself some Tedorigawa sake to tie you over in the meantime.