Greetings Sake Lovers, welcome to another KURAND Magazine article that introduces you to the world of sake.
It’s almost time to usher in a new year and what better way is there to kick off a celebration than with a glass of bubbly. There is just something about rising bubbles that screams celebration. You may think that sake has nothing to offer in this department, but you would be wrong. Sparkling sake itself is not a new thing, but sake made in the champagne style is.
How is Champagne Made?
Alcohol fermentation produces carbon dioxide gas. When wine is returned to the bottle after fermentation still containing a little bit of yeast and sugar and sealed, it begins to ferment a second time. This is called secondary fermentation. The carbon dioxide gas produced is trapped inside the bottle and dissolves into the wine to form a naturally sparkling wine. Natural gas produced inside the bottle is the key difference between other styles of sparkling alcoholic beverages. In the case of champagne, there are some extra steps and rules about the grapes, etc. but we won’t go into those in this article. We will focus instead on how the gas is produced. This is also referred to as the traditional method. In Japanese secondary fermentation in the bottle is called binnnai nijihakko. While originally, sake was made sparkling by adding carbonated gas, some breweries now use the binnnai nijihakko method.
There is even an association which brewers can join in which all members have to make their sake following strict rules. The motivation behind this recent surge in naturally sparkling sake is undoubtedly the Olympics, indeed the association itself started out with the goal of provide sake for toasting wins during the event, although sadly officially champagne will be used. Some racing tournaments in Japan already use this style of sparkling sake in place of champagne. The name of the association is the Awasake Kyokai.
The key to this method of sparkling sake is that the yeast must be alive in the bottle when it is sealed. Why? Because without the yeast there can be no secondary fermentation and without the second fermentation there is no gas. Because yeast has a low tolerance to alcohol, the fermentation has to be stopped before the level gets too high and it stops. A number of methods are used to make sparkling sake with natural gas.
Post Fermentation Type
The moromi is pressed while the alcohol levels are still low and bottled while the yeast is still active. The yeast is able to continue to ferment even after being bottled.
Secondary Fermentation Type
Yeast is added at the end of fermentation in a form called ori, which are basically the fine lees, and pressed. The added yeast continue to ferment even after the sake is bottled. Note the difference here is that the alcohol level can be higher and it will still work.
Taste of Sake Made by Secondary Fermentation
Sparkling sake have varying degrees of sweetness/dryness, gas strength and some even resemble sparkling nigori.
The level of bubbles and flavor varies depending on which type of fermentation the brewer uses.
Active fermentation: dry, very bubbly
Gentle fermentation: sweet, slightly bubbly
Many sake made by a secondary fermentation in the bottle are opaque, but transparent types are gaining popularity. To make sake by in-bottle secondary fermentation transparent, the nigori components are gathered at the top of the bottle and frozen. This top section is then removed, similar to the method used to make champagne (by slicing off the top). However, according to the rules of brewing sake, no additional sugar or acidifiers, etc. can be added after the sake has been pressed / filtered.
Storage & Opening of Sparkling Sake
The bottle should be stored in the refrigerator because the gas pressure within the bottle will increase if the temperature increases and if the bottle is shaken. Also, be careful not to point the bottle opening at people when opening because sometimes the cork will fly off because of the high gas pressure.
Let the sake bottle stand in a bucket filled with three thirds water and 1 third ice for about a minute before serving. This will calm the gas inside the bottle down. Tilt the bottle at a 35 degrees angle, remove the cage (if there is one) and while pressing hard down on the cork turn the bottle holding it at its base in the opposite direction. The key here is to turn the bottle not the cork. You may find that you need to use a serving towel if the bottle is slippery to steady it. The cork should release with a small phut sound, although if you prefer the explosion and pop, that’s okay too. The cork should not go flying off. That opening style is reserved for F1.
What better way to toast in the new year than with a bottle of sparkling sake. At KURAND, we often include a sparkling sake or two in our lineup. One of these is an original product produced with our partner breweries in the champagne style. Why not pop by if you are in Tokyo. We will be running extended operating hours on New Year’s Eve with something special for those that hang around for the countdown. We look forward to welcoming you soon.