Conquering the World of Wine, One Sip at a Time
Sara Guterbock, CS, CSW, ISS, DWS
What’s in a NAMA?
Over the past year, our sake portfolio has grown and changed considerably. We’ve added some incredibly affordable sakes from Wismettac, some new flavors from Ty-ku & Takara, and some outstanding premium sakes from New York Mutual Trading Company. We can now proudly say we have the largest selection of high quality sakes in the entire state for our customers to choose from. The momentum we’ve built has allowed us, most recently, to expand our selection of NAMA or FRESH sakes. These incredibly special bottling have a unique character unlike any other style. So, what’s in a Nama…? Read on to find out!
The vast majority of the sakes we sell are all considered premium JIZAKE, or micro-brewed sakes made by small, local, family run breweries, much like our craft and micro brewed beer. These sakes are made with only the finest quality strains of rice, and soft, regional water sources. When completed, they are categorized based on how much the rice used is polished, & whether or not additional alcohol is used to fortify the sake after brewing. This is where the fixed classifications come from that are in the sake’s name, and correspond to what we call the sake pyramid. Junmai Daiginjo, Junmai Ginjo, Tokubetsu Junmai & Junmai are sakes to which no additional alcohol is added. Daiginjo, Ginjo, Tokubetsu Honjozo, and Honjozo are all sakes to which a small amount of alcohol is added after fermentation is completed and before the sake is diluted to its final proof. Unclassified sake is called Futsu shu.
Beyond these style categories, there are numerous modifying terms that can be affixed to the sake’s classification. These terms are connected to various brewing methods and decisions the toji, or brew master, makes during production. Genshu, meaning undiluted, koshu, meaning aged, and nigori, meaning cloudy, are but a few examples of these. You will often see more than one of these modifying terms affixed to a sake’s name, so that the type of sake can become a real mouthful. Junmai Daiginjo Muroka Nama Genshu is a style of sake we sell, illustrating the fixed classification and multiple modifiers!!
Important to this article is the modifying term NAMA, which means unpasteurized. In the USA, this term is sometimes called DRAFT, as for Hakutsuru Draft, or Sho Chiku Bai Rei Junmai Ginjo Draft. Most sakes are pasteurized twice before hitting the market through a heating process that kills microorganisms and deactivates enzymes—once, in tank, just after fermentation, and again, in bottle, just before shipping. This ensures the sake is shelf stable for up to 18 months after bottling, and can withstand the journey from brewery to market. But this heating process also changes the flavor of the sake, and strips it of some of the complex aromas these microorganisms create. Brewers have been working to find ways to more gently pasteurize their sakes, in order to preserve the aromas from the yeasts, which cause floral and fruit aromas, and the koji, which makes fermenting rice possible, and creates delicious confected & nutty aromas, similar to hazelnuts or marzipan, in the process.
With this in mind, three different types of Namazake have been developed. The first type is known as Nama Nama, or simply Nama, and represents sake that isn’t pasteurized at all. These sakes are rich and superbly aromatic, with strong aromas and flavors from the yeast and koji remaining. Wonderful examples of this are our sakes from Amabuki, which are fermented with special flower yeasts. By not pasteurizing the product, the delicate notes of sunflower blossoms and strawberry blossoms from the specially isolated yeast strains in the Namas are preserved. Another excellent example is the Sho Chiku Bai Organic. This Nama has really intense aromas of toasted hazelnut from the Koji. It’s delicious & robust!
The other two styles of Nama are only pasteurized once. Namazume sake is pasteurized in the large tank, but not in bottle. Because it takes a long time to heat and cool a large volume of sake, some of the more delicate aromas are lost; however, namazume is more shelf stable than other namas, and, while less opulent, still retains some richness & complexity. The Ryujin Dragon God Ginjo is considered a Namazume. The last type is called Namachozo. This type of sake is only pasteurized in the bottle, just before shipping. This rapid heating and cooling results in a sake style very similar to Nama Nama, but is far more shelf stable. The Naraman “Bin Hiire” (which means bottle fired) Junmai Nama Muroka, is an excellent Namachozo at a fabulous price!
Namazakes are among most highly prized sakes because they are unadulterated. They should be stored cold, and drunk as young as possible—within no more than nine months of purchase. We keep our Namas in our temperature control room, and order in small quantities to ensure freshness. Please explore these phenomenal, rare items & share them with our clients. It’s the purest, freshest form of sake!!