Sake World Email Newsletter #179
September, 2015

Dozo, dozo!

In This Issue

Warm Sake  Comeback
Hiya Oroshi
NYC Sake Pro Course
Sake Education Central

Quick Links
Sake World Website
More About Us
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Early Autumn Greetings,  

Sake Professional Course

I hope you are well. September is here, and in fact, it will be officially autumn within a few hours of this newsletter going out. While the foliage has not yet turned in most places, that yearly marvel too is just around the corner.

The torrid pace of sake tastings continues all over Japan and the rest of the world. And with Sake Day (October 1) just around the corner, there is much about which to be excited in the world of sake. 

The 2015 New York City Sake Professional Course will be held December 7 to 9. See below for more information and contact me if you are interested. As the venue is slick yet compact this time, attendance will be limited to only 40.

Enjoy the newsletter, preferably with a glass of autumnal hiya-oroshi, which is explained below. 


Sake Today Issue #6 - now available! 

Issue #6 of Sake Today has shipped. If you are a subscriber, thank you, and look for it soon. Did you just renew that subscription? You should have received it. Not yet a subscriber? You can take care of that here, Why miss out on sake awesomeness?

Like the first five issues, Issue 6 is chock-full of sake information on many levels with something for everyone interested in sake. And take not of our packages: You can order issue #1, #2, #3, #4, #5 or even all six in a package - and/or  subscribe.

The digital version for your e-reader is ready for download too, and that includes iTunes. You can a lso view some content online as well. So check out now - and keep current on all things sake.

If you subsribed to Sake Today from the beginning, first and foremost, thank you! And if you have not done so yet, now would be a great time to renew your subscription

Sake Confidential - Now available

Sake Confidential

Sake Confidential is a beyond-the-basics guide to the sake world, and after a short introductory chapter on all things sake, it goes into depth on many topics not usually touched upon. It is a practical and concise yet complete guide to sake idiosyncrasies, misperceptions, and controversies presented in a conversational and informal tone. Easy to read and frank, it also includes sake recommendations tied into each of the topics presented.

Read a veritable cornucopia of reviews here a New York Times brief mention here, and order from your favorite bookseller here as well. 

Warm Sake Comback
I’m tellin’ ya, warm premium sake is the next big thing.
Warm sake

At the end of this summer, I was a judge in perhaps the most interesting sake competition happening: the Kanzake (“Warmed Sake”) Contest. It is hosted jointly by the Sake Bunka Kenkyujo (Sake Culture Research Institute) and Slow Food Japan, and is just what it sounds like: a tasting competition for warmed and hot sake. 

There were 30 judges, and we assessed 633 sake from 223 kura. The contest reminded me of just how good warmed sake can be (OK, scratch that: I never forgot that for a moment), and made me feel that the time to promote it again has come.

There were several classifications based on price and temperature. I was judging the “reasonably priced, hot” group. Directly to our starboard was the “reasonably priced, warm” sake group. There was also the “expensive warmed sake” group and the “less than fully orthodox sake, warmed” group. 

As we tasted, I was struck by how a few degrees in temperature change could make a big difference. Since ours was the “atsukan” (i.e. hot, not warm) division, it had to be pretty hot. And it would inevitably cool down as we worked our way through each flight of several sake each. So we had to rush a bit to get through them all while we could still consider them atsukan. Easier said than done. 

From time to time there were selections that were actually better when a bit cooler, down into the lukewarm range known as “nurukan.” However, we were to judge them on their merits when hotter, and so, alas, we had to ding ‘em. 

So the temperature range makes a big difference. 

The results are here, although the document is in Japanese.  

Great modern tool for warming sake

However, more important than just which sake did well, the fact that warm sake is returning to the minds and hearts of consumers after a couple of decades of chilled-only premium sake is deliciously refreshing. 

Not just any sake can be warmed; it has to be right for it. That means it needs to have the right flavor and aroma profile. But that is not rocket science. Just taste it. If you think, "Hey, this opens up at room temperature." then try warming it. Sake with earthy, bitter or even sweeter elements goes well warmed. Conversely, most fruity sake is not suited to warming.Yet there are lots of great ginjo that are in fact enjoyable if not better warmed. 

Why do they heat sake? There are several theories, but most point to health reasons. Putting warm sake into your core when it is cold out was considered much healthier. Today, some say that warm sake is gentler on the body, but I am sure just how much you drink supersedes that. Regardless, sake has been enjoyed warm in Japan for centuries upon centuries, and it is only when ginjo started to become popular in the early 80s that chilled premium sake became so popular.

Note, sake was also sometimes enjoyed chilled long ago as well. So, not all sake was hot. 

One massive misperception is that good sake is drunk cold, bad sake is drunk hot, and they heat it to hide the flaws. Poppycock.

No brewer in the history of the industry ever tasted his product and said, “Whoa. This stuff sucks. Let’s tell everyone to heat it and fool ‘em.” Never. To be sure, heating rough sake will hide the flaws. But that is not why they do it.
Certainly, most – if not all – importers of sake know this. But almost none will promote this truth. But hey, I can actually understand that as polarizing a topic makes it easier to convey to the masses, and there is a job to do. Surely getting more and more people to at least try premium sake is a higher priority.

But hey, it is nearing the time to transcend that and move on to the next level, and that is learning how good the right sake can be when warmed.

The revival of warm premium sake in Japan has led to a whole lineup of new toys. Vessels for warming sake and keeping it warm are easy to find now, as are thermometers for measuring the temperature. Just do an internet search an “sake warmers” and see what comes up.

Warming sake at a recent distributor tasting

How does one heat sake? In short, indirectly. The best way is to take the vessel into which the sake has been poured and put it into a pan or pot or kettle of just-boiled water. Do not put it in boiling water as the temperature will cause some of the alcohol to blow off and skew the flavor profile. As it warms, sip it from time to time. Keep tasting it until it is just where you want it. A microwave oven will work in a pinch, although it is admittedly not quite as good.

How hot is hot? Ah, if only it were that simple. But try it a little warmer than we are. Maybe 40C to 44C, or 105F to 113F is a good ballpark figure. Each sake will be a bit different, and each person’s preferences will be as well, so the permutations are endless.

Tokkuri (traditional sake flasks) are cool but not obligatory. The same goes for o-choko (cups). But these too are readily available via sake stores, Asian supermarkets, and the internet. Heck, a tumbler or tea cup will work in a pinch. Try it. The time has come. We gotta start somewhere.

It is not rocket science, in fact, it more art than any science.

The point here is to encourage you. If possible, start with a sake that might be recommended as suited to warming. Then learn to look for earthiness, richness and perhaps less prominent aromatics. Then branch out from there to find your preferences. Go bonzo.

Warm sake is set to make that long-awaited comeback. And remember: you heard it here first.

Hiya Oroshi

...and its lack of legal standing

Fall Foliage

Like almost anything consumable in Japan, sake has its seasons. Examples include warm sake in the winter, nama (unpasteurized) sake in the spring, slightly toned down chilled ginjo in the summer. 

And overall, perhaps the best season for sake is the fall. Like, now. Just about everything seems to taste better in the autumn, especially in Japan. I dunno… maybe it is the mercifully cooling temperatures and dryer air, or perhaps it is the yellows, oranges and browns of the foliage. It may even be that so many varieties of fish express fuller and richer flavors once the fall sets in. Whatever the combination of factors may be, it is surely a great season for enjoying sake. In fact, it is one of the top four, methinks.

There is a special type of sake called hiya-oroshi that is released in the fall that has an irresistible charm to it. The word hiya-oroshi has its origins back in the Edo period (1604 to 1868). Back then, finished sake was stored in the large wooden tanks used for brewing. Normally, this sake had been pasteurized once (by heating it for a short time) before being put in these tanks for maturation. If the brewer needed to ship some out, they would have to pasteurize the sake a second time before putting it into small wooden casks - called taru - for delivery.

This is because the outdoor temperature was still high in the summer, which would allow the sake to become warm enough where dormant enzymes and the lactic bacteria that fed on them could both become active, potentially sending the sake awry. A second pasteurization permanently deactivates these enzymes and “dispatched” any bacteria present, removing that fear, but taking at least a bit of the zing of the sake along with it.

However, once it became cool enough in autumn, brewers could fill their taru from the storage tank without pasteurizing the sake, and ship it with no fear of it going bad. The lower temperatures of autumn ensured nothing bad would happen. Such sake - sold in the fall without pasteurizing a second time before shipping - came to be known as hiya-oroshi.
Hiya means cold, and oroshi means to lower something; in this case, sake was lowered from the tank into the taru.

Note that hiya-oroshi is technically the same thing as nama-tzume, i.e. the second of normally-two pasteurizations is foregone. But nama-tzume is a purely technical term whereas hiya-oroshi has a seasonal implication, i.e. it is only released in the fall.

The problem is, though, that the term hiya-oroshi is not a legal definition and is therefore open to variation from brewer to brewer. In other words, it’s the usual fun-and-games of the sake world: a term on a label means a particular thing – unless it doesn’t.

And, also typical of the sake world, the industry maintains the spirit of it all – what is important is intact, even if the details vary a bit. Almost always, hiya-oroshi will be slightly young and vibrant. That much is consistent from brewer to brewer.

Coming soon to a kura near you

But lately there has been a spate of totally unpasteurized hiya-oroshi out there. So while usually, by definition, the second of the two pasteurizations was skipped, some brewers skip both and ship hiya-oroshi as totally nama. And, in fact, I have even encountered some twice-pasteurized hiya-oroshi out there as well. Huh?

Why? Because they feel it suits their style better. How can they get away with this? Because hiya-oroshi is not a legal definition. In the words of Barbosa from Pirates of the Caribbean, “They’re more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.”

Hiya-oroshi – whether pasteurized just once as is traditional or not – often has a bit more of a fresh, lively taste to it than other sake. While not as brash as freshly pressed sake, there can be a slightly youthful edge to it because it has not been laid down as long as most sake has. Naturally, this varies greatly from sake to sake, and from kura to kura.

Furthermore, there has been a half-baked movement over the last decade or so to release all hiya-oroshi on September 9, a day known as sekku, recognized as a turning point in the seasons. But even amongst the regions that push this, no one has gotten everyone to agree to do that. As such, the dates on which it is released vary greatly as well. No matter. It is always about early September, and spreading it across a few days helps keep the hype restrained.

While mostly a local, fresh product that is widely available in Japan for a short period of time, some of it does get out to other places in the world as well. Look for it at a reputable sake shop near you.

Announcements and Events

Sake Professional Course in New York City, December 7 to 9

Fermenting moromi (mash) under the window

The next Sake Professional Course is scheduled for New York City, December 7 to 9 e at the restaurant-industry education space Journee in the Flatiron district of New York. The venue is compact and ideal for the course, but is a bit smaller than usual. As such, participation is limited to 40 people this time. It promises to be a particularly enjoyable running of the course. 

More information is available here, and testimonials from graduates can be perused here as well. The three-day course wraps up with Sake Education Council supported testing for the Certified Sake Professional (CSP) certification. If you are interested in making a reservation, or if you have any questions not answered via the link above, by all means please feel free to contact me. 


Sake Education Council Website

Please take a moment to check out the website for the Sake Education Council, the organization behind the Certified Sake Professional and Advanced Sake Professional certifications. We plan to grow steadily, strongly and continually, and we will need the support of all those that love sake to do so. Follow us through the "usual suspects" of social media.

Don't forget the archives!

Older editions of this newsletter are archived here.

Sake Education Central

Sake's Hidden Stories and The Sake Notebook are now available for the Kindle, Nook and iBooks!

The Sake Notebook is now available for the Kindle as well as the Nook. And now, it is available for iBooks on iTunes as well!

Sake's Hidden Stories too is now availabe on the Kindle as well as the Nook. And now, it is available for iBooks on iTunes as well!

Both are less expensive than their original pdf version too. Now is your chance to learn more about sake from your phone or tablet! Check 'em out!

Sake Dictionary App for the iPhone, iPod and iPad
The Sake Dictionary App

"For 99 cents, this app ROCKS!!"
     -a satisfied customer

There you are, perusing a menu, or standing in front of a shelf of great sake, or perhaps reading a sake newsletter… and up pops one of those hairy, pesky sake terms in Japanese. You know you have heard it many times, but dammit, you just cannot remember what it means now…

No problem! Just whip out your iPhone or iPod and fire up your trusty old version of The Sake Dictionary. In a matter of seconds, you’ll be amongst the cognoscenti once again. But… if only you could pronounce it properly. Now that would really rock!

Done! Just tap on the term and you will hear a clear example of how to pronounce the term in Japanese. Repeat it a couple of times and the term is yours for eternity, to toss about and impress your mates.

What’s more, it’s less! Less than what it cost before, much less. Like less than one-seventh less. For a limited time only, the audio-enhanced version of The Sake Dictionary iPhone app is available for a mere $0.99.

The Sake Dictionary is a concise little package of all the terms you might ever come across when dealing with sake. Almost 200 of them - including sake grades, rice variety names, seasonal sake terms, special varieties, rare types, post-brewing processing words and the myriad terms used in sake production - many of which are not even familiar to the average Japanese person on the street - are listed up here with concise, useful and clear definitions and the written Japanese version as well. And now, with the new audio component, you can listen and learn just how to pronounce those terms properly.

Start to toss around Japanese sake terms like you were raised knowing them! Gain a level of familiarity hitherto unimaginable! Avoid frustrating paralysis when faced with a sake-related purchase!

Get your copy of The Sake Dictionary now and never be confused by sake terms - or how to pronounce them - again.

Get it here:

(Note if you have already purchased it, this upgrade to the audio version is free. Just go to iTunes and get it!) 

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Sincere apologies for the hassle, mixed with gratitude for reading this newsletter.

I hope you have found the above information helpful and entertaining. For more information about all things sake, please check out Until next month, warm regards, and enjoy your sake.

Questions and comments should be directed to John Gauntner, at this 
John Gauntner
email address.

All material Copyright, John Gauntner & Sake World Inc.


John Gauntner
Sake World, Inc.

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