Home > Uncategorized > Chill out – Saké education starts on World Saké Day

Chill out – Saké education starts on World Saké Day

A friend from Quito stopped in Grand Junction a few weeks ago and we ended the first day by dining at No Coast Sushi, the original (there’s now two) sushi and contemporary Japanese restaurant owned by Chis Boyd, who started his sushi apprenticeship at 16 (he’s now 42).

Premium sakés, such as the TY KU coconut-infused (left) and TY KU Silver, are best enjoyed chilled. Both are available in Grand Junction andelsewhere. Japanese tradition says you never pour your own glass.

Premium sakés, such as the TY KU coconut-infused (left) and TY KU Silver, are best enjoyed chilled. Both are available in Grand Junction and elsewhere. Japanese tradition says you never pour your own glass.

Every town, even those in the middle of fly-over country, has a place that claims it’s a sushi restaurant and you can find hand-made sushi in the deli at the local market. But Chris Boyd’s mom brought sushi and traditional Japanese dining to Grand Junction 25 years ago with the opening of Suehiro Japanese Restaurant and today the family is still at the top of its game when it comes to fresh fish and Japanese dining.

But this isn’t a restaurant review; instead it’s a reminder that Oct. 1 is Nihonshu no Hi, or World Saké Day.
Most Americans pay little heed to saké except for the occasional encounter at a Japanese restaurant where their meal is accompanied with hot saké served in a small white pitcher.
Sadly, that’s also where most Americans end their saké education.
“I think education is the key” to appreciating a drink that may go back to 300 B.C., said Boyd, who takes pride in the premium sakés he pours. “I’m trying to get more people interested in saké and showing them how easy it is to match saké with food.”
If that sounds like something you’d hear from a sommelier, it’s because saké reflects the same sense of terroir as does fine wine.
However, instead of discussing weather patterns, rainfall and soil types, when saké tojis (master brewers) get together they talk instead about strains of rice and yeast and the all-important (and often closely guarded) water sources they use.
Water, which makes up 80 percent of saké, and the type of rice contribute to the terroir of saké, with some sakés showing softer, fruity undertones while others are sharp and clean, Boyd said.
The four main types of saké differ mainly in how much milling (or polishing) the rice undergoes while being prepared for steaming and brewing.
Polishing removes the husk, fats and proteins, which may cause off-flavors, and prepares the rice for brewing.
More polishing is said to make a more refined saké, and different types of rice add different flavor components to the finished saké.
Junmai and Honjozo sakés use rice milled at least 30 percent; Ginjo has at least 40 percent polished away; and Daigin (often the most expensive because it uses more rice) may have as much as 75 percent of the grain milled away.
One source I consulted said most saké produced for everyday consumption in Japan is the lowest grade futsu, where less than 30 percent of the rice grain has been milled away.
In brief, sake is made when rice is polished, washed and steamed and then mixed with a special yeast and koji, which is steamed white rice cultivated with a specific mold that changes the starches to sugars needed for fermentation.
The entire batch ferments for four days (with gradual additions of more rice, koji and water), after which the mash sits undisturbed for up to a month.
All saké has a bit of distilled brewer’s alcohol added to the fermented mash (the amount is strictly controlled by law), a technique that pulls desirable flavors from the mash and retains them in the finished saké.

A worker at Ota Brewery in Iga, Mie prefecture on the main island of Honshu, Japan, hjandwashes the rice use in Ota saké. Their sake Hanzo is named after the great ninja Hattori Hanzo.

A worker at Ota Brewery in Iga, Mie prefecture on the main island of Honshu, Japan, hand washes the locally grown rice used in Ota saké. Their sake Hanzo is named after the great ninja Hattori Hanzo. Photo courtesy Ota Brewery

Then, the mash is pressed and the resulting saké has water (again, the role of good water) added to cut the alcohol to around 14-16 percent.
Because saké has no sulfites or tannins, it is pasteurized prior to storing and shipping.
Boyd said people who drink only hot saké are missing some of the true essence of what saké can provide when it is served cold.
“With cold saké, the flavors are so pure,” he said. “I like warm sakés during the winter, it warms your stomach and creates a nice mellow feeling.
“The hot saké is really popular – in the winter our saké sales soar – but I prefer chilled saké, because it shows a higher quality of saké making.”
As part of World Saké Day on Oct. 1, which also is the traditional start of the saké brewing season, both No Coast Sushi restaurants will offer 50 percent off all premium bottled chilled sakés.
Additionally,  those premium sakés will be 20 percent for the rest of the month.
Boyd also is offering a free Saké 101 class at 5 p.m. Oct. 24 at the No Coast Sushi in Grand Junction, 1119 North First St.
Information at 255-1097 and in Fruita, 229 East Aspen Ave., at 639-8271.

Check your local Japanese restaurants for similar deals.

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