I've just come back from a week in Spain, eating the best seafood I've ever had in my life. Briny barnacles, giant, creamy Galician oysters, slipper lobsters, razor clams, impossibly fresh sardines—up until this point I always thought Tokyo's Tsukiji market was unparalleled in freshness and variety, but Spain showed me a completely different way to enjoy seafood. And as good as the Spanish wine pairings were, I found my mind drifting to sake, and thinking of the perfect sake for each dish. Here are some basic guidelines for finding the best sake to drink with seafood.
'Sake School' on Serious Eats
Kimoto and Yamahai sakes can be quite a game changer for people who are only accustomed to drinking sake while eating sushi. These robust, funky brews are definitely worth seeking out, and often make a memorable pairing with smoked meats, cheeses, and even chocolate.
Sake comes from Japan, right? Not always. Greg Lorenz, brewmaster of Momokawa brewery in Oregon, is on a mission to open people's minds about American-brewed sake. I recently had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about how a non-Japanese speaker became a premium sake brewer, what challenges he faces brewing sake in Oregon, and the future of the sake industry in the US.
Easy-drinking Ginjo sakes have expressive floral and fruity aromas; they're smooth and well-balanced. While the ginjo category offers wonderful sakes, for a special occasion nothing quite compares to the elegance of Daiginjo. We'll discuss both today.
Within the world of premium sake, any labels that do not explicitly state "junmai" on them can be assumed "honjozo." Honjozo is sake that has a small amount of brewer's alcohol added to the fermenting sake mash. That doesn't mean it's sweet, and it also doesn't mean that is has a higher alcohol level than junmai.
All premium sakes fall into one of two categories: junmai-shu, which is sake made from only rice, water, yeast, and koji; and honjozo-shu, which is sake that has a small amount of distilled alcohol added.
There's a lot going on in each sip of sake—all you have to do is pay attention. Here are a few basic tips to take the intimidation factor out of your sake explorations.
The strain of yeast that a brewer selects—as well as the way the fermentation is carried out—has a direct affect on the sake's aroma and flavor. Knowing a little about yeast can help you pick out flavors in sake, and guide you toward discovering which types of sake suit your palate best.
There's no appellation system with sake, so ingredients are not legally required to come from the prefecture where the sake is made. But for practical reasons, the water in sake is mostly sourced from local wells. The stability of well water is prized for creating consistency in sake brewing. Where great water sources are abundant, you'll find more sake breweries.
One of the fundamental differences between sake and beer is this: sake rice does not contain the kinds of enzymes that barley does, so an additional ingredient is needed to help convert the rice's starch into sugar. Koji-kin is the mold that makes fermenting sake possible.
For thousands of years, rice has been Japan's most important agricultural product. Once a form of currency in Japan, rice is now used to produce many other goods, such as flour, vinegar, mochi, and of course, sake. Here's a guide to a few different types of rice that are used to brew sake.
Sake has been available in the U.S. for many decades; however, only in the past 20 years or so have we gained access to premium sake, which has opened the category up to a world of possibilities in food pairing and ways of consumption. Still, many myths about sake persist. Today, we'll debunk four very common ones.