Happy NamaFest! Coming out of the long brewing season that starts when rice is harvested in the fall, brewers typically release namazakes (unpasteurized sakes) in early spring. These sakes embody the freshness and hope for the year ahead. We like to celebrate NamaFest by popping these bottles of cold, fresh, crisp brews. Please store your namas in the fridge and join us for another rendition of NamaFest!
Typically, sakes are pasteurized twice, once after pressing and a subsequent maturation period, and once before shipping. Pasteurization happens at a relatively low temperature of 149˚F. This temperature is enough to kill the lactic acid bacteria called hiochi-kin, which can cause sake to spoil. If hiochi-kin proliferates in sake, it can taste excessively yeasty and syrupy, accompanied by white film that floats around in the sake - no thank you!
So why do brewers release namas? Namas are enjoyed by people who want to try sake in their freshest state. Often times, namas are vibrant and bright with a fruity aroma. If they were pasteurized, some of these dynamic flavors would be smothered. Indeed, when drinking any of the bottles offered this month, the words “crisp” and “fresh” will come to mind.
The world of namazake goes deep. Here are several types of namas (remember, regular sakes are pasteurized twice, once after pressing, and once before shipping):
Nama-zume Pasteurized right after pressing, and is stored at a low temperature for about six months, then skips pasteurization right before shipping.
Nama-chozo Skips pasteurization after pressing and stored at a low temperature for about six months, then pasteurized right before shipping.
Nama-nama or hon-nama Skips both pasteurizations.
What are the differences? Nama-chozos and nama-zumes enjoy the best of both worlds because they are "half" pasteurized. They can retain some of the lively flavors of a nama-nama, but are also more shelf-stable because they have been pasteurized once. For this month's Sake Gumi, Level One members are getting namachozos, while Level Two members are getting nama-namas.
We'll be celebrating NamaFest as a happy hour on Zoom on Thursday, April 29 at 5:30pm. In addition to trying these Sake Gumi bottles, we'll be launching a NamaFest Pack featuring two fresh new arrivals – don't miss them! We'll keep you posted on the details of the event. In the meantime, pencil it into your calendar!
Co-Founder + Sake Director
LEVEL 1: Introductory Membership (Two 300ml bottles)
Echigozakura Namachozo Futsushu
Echigozakura Shuzo (Niigata, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Menkoina 72%, SMV: +1, Namachozo
“We wanted to create a fresh sake that can be enjoyed even during the hot summer months. This namachozo is very fruity and fresh and captures the refreshing style that Niigata is known for,” says Mina Kobari of Echigozakura Shuzo. Just in time for the sunny days ahead, this sake is refreshing like a crisp Fuji apple, with a hint of cherry blossom on the nose. This sake really comes to life with food – I loved this sake chilled with a kale salad dressed with a simple vinaigarette. The name of the brewery combines the location of the brewery Echigo and the word sakura (cherry tree). Says Kobari, “It derives from our wish to give something beautiful back to the community every year as it grows rooted firmly in the local land (Echigo) – just like a cherry tree.”
Kamotsuru Namakakoi Junmai
Kamotsuru Sake Brewing (Hiroshima, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Hattan Nishiki 65%, SMV: +4, Namachozo
Kamotsuru is an institution in Hiroshima Prefecture and is located on Sake Brewery Street in Higashi-Hiroshima City. Their brewery is surrounded by white and namako (grid pattered) walls with red brick chimneys. Toji Ryuta Ide of brewery No. 4 (Kamotsuru has four brewery sites in total) says about this namachozo, “Namazake must be treated with special care. You have to be especially hygenic during production and be mindful of the timing of the bottling. This sake balances freshness and acidity.” Notice aromas of fresh mushroom and coconut and enjoy chilled for a juicy finish that ends satisfyingly dry. The acidity in this sake shines with rich dishes like pork dumplings or cheese piroshki.
LEVEL 2: Premium Membership (Two 720ml bottles)
Taka “Noble Arrow” Nama Tokubetsu Junmai
Taka Brewery (Yamaguchi, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Yamada Nishiki + Hattan Nishiki 60%, SMV: +5, Nama Nama
“Namazake lets you taste sake with intense flavor and fresh effervescent texture,” says Takahiro Nagayama, the toji and owner of Taka Brewery. On making this namazake he says, “First, I had to fully understand how namazake changes over time. Due to the reaction of the enzyme, the peptide becomes glucose and becomes sweet. Due to this change, the texture becomes heavier over time, and it is no longer balanced. Because of this, I used yeast #7 to give more acidity and robust flavor than our regular Noble Arrow.” Enjoy aromas of green apple and mint, an olive oil texture, and a crisp mineral flavor thanks to the use of hard water. Sip this sake chilled with raw oysters or sashimi. “This sake has been aging since December. I designed our namazake to taste best when it arrives in the U.S. and into the hands of [Sake Gumi] members.”
Rihaku "Origin of Purity" Junmai Ginjo Nama Genshu
Rihaku Brewery (Shimane, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Omachi 55%, SMV: +1, Nama Nama
Yuichiro Tanaka, president of Rihaku brewery describes this seasonal nama as, “A sake with well-balanced apple and banana-like ginjo aromas. Banana-like aromas evaporate during pasteurized sake, so some of these nice aromas are retained in a namazake.” I also noticed hints of jasmine and almond milk. The finish is long and complex thanks the Omachi rice and flower yeast used to brew it, and the fact that this is a genshu (undiluted sake). I loved this sake chilled with kale salad with vinaigrette, or shime-saba sashimi.