The theme for this month came to me as I watched the bees buzzing in my backyard and 2021 was fast approaching. After learning about each of the sakes straight from the brewers featured this month, it became clear that the word that best described these sakes is "new." With the exception of the Heiwa Shiboritate in Level 2 (a seasonal release that is included this month for y'all to get it at its freshest and “new”), the sakes this month are all nigoris (lightly-pressed sake) like you’ve never tasted before. They are fresh, young, and challenging the genre. With three out of the four also being namazake, or unpasteurized, these are fitting sakes to have to usher in the new year.
How are the sakes this month testing the genre of sake? From the bottle-fermented Nagaragawa Sparkling Nigori in Level 1 to the first usunigori (light nigori) in Shiga Prefecture, Soma no Tengu in Level 2, brewers have released these sakes to go against the grain and try something new. I personally love these nigoris because they are not the thick, sweet nigoris that you may have encountered in your sake-drinking past. Kanehara-san of Aiyu Brewery (who makes Tomoshichi in Level 1) challenged the genre with a dry nigori for new food pairings. While nigori is traditionally known to pair with heavy foods like unagi, Kanehira-san wanted to make a dry nigori that pairs with light Italian flavors like spaghetti alle vongole. I'd call that a nouvelle vague pairing!
All of the sakes this month, except for the Tomoshichi are namazakes, retaining the fresh and youthful characteristics of the sake right at pressing. These can include fruity, bold flavors, with pronounced effervescence. In fact, the Nagaragawa and the Soma no Tengu are fizzy, because they continue to ferment in the bottle. In addition to being a namazake, the Heiwa Shiboritate is a shinshu (new sake). Similar to how winemakers rush to release their Beaujolais nouveaus in November, sake brewers' release their shinshu, or first sake of the season, in early winter. These bottles are so highly coveted, we asked the brewery last summer to reserve a certain amount of bottles especially for Sake Gumi. Join us 1/27, at 5:30pm PST for the Brewery Tour + Sake Tasting with Heiwa Shuzo.
What better way to celebrate the new year than with these New Wave Nigoris and a shinshu? Pour the Nagaragawa Sparkling or Heiwa Shiboritate in a champagne flute! Or cozy up to a slightly warmed carafe of Tomoshichi or Soma no Tengu on a frosty January night! Kayoko and I have not been able to go to Japan for over a year now, but I feel connected to the sake-makers as they send us their new sake as soon as they are pressed. Even though we've been semi-dormant for a while, like the bees in my hive, it's clear we are surviving and creating new ideas and life in our own corners of the world.
Co-Founder + Sake Director
LEVEL 1: Introductory Membership (Two 300ml bottles)
Nagaragawa Sparkling Nigori
Komachi Shuzo (Gifu, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Hida Homare 60%, SMV: -4
One of the first things I noticed about this sake is the reinforced lid that allows for the sake to ferment in the bottle, creating refreshingly bright bubbles to accent its citrusy flavors. Gifu is known for Hida beef, and Komachi Brewery wanted to make a sake that would complement their regional specialty. The brewer wanted to make a, “nigori thart is not too sweet or thick and makes the mouth feel refreshed.” With a sturdy rice flavor using Hida Homare (a local rice), and crisp texture of the bubbles, this sake pairs well with roast beef, fried chicken, and other rich foods. Sparkling sakes are celebratory – making it an ideal candidate to ring in the new year! Recommended chilled and enjoyed within two weeks of opening.
Aiyu Sake Brewery (Ibaraki, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Nihionbare 70%, SMV: +3
Rikako Kanehira is the 8th generation owner of the brewery. Since facing the challenges that came with 2020, her staff now only consists of family members. Her mission is simple – to make sake that brings happiness. And happiness indeed exists in this nigori, not only in its sleek packaging, but in its uniqueness. Kanehira wanted to make nigori that was not sweet and instead enjoyable alongside an array of foods, but still had a viscous texture on the palate. I enjoyed the tart apple notes, and crisp dry ending with spaghetti alle vongole. Sip this nigori chilled or slightly warmed within one to two days of opening for the best flavor and aroma.
LEVEL 2: Premium Membership (Two 720ml bottles)
Uehara Brewery (Shiga, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Yamada Nishiki 59%, SMV: +6
Uehara-san runs the entire brewery with two other people. They still use wooden tanks, press by hand, and use ambient yeasts. Known to be the first usunigori (light nigori) in Shiga, this sake has notes of grape vine, yogurt, and citrus. Their rustic methods of sake-making comes through in the sake – bold and layered. This nigori is unique in that it can be enjoyed aged. Uehara-san says, “Genshu (undiluted sakes) are sturdy and do not deteriorate with time. You can enjoy this sake two weeks after opening.” He recognizes that this sake is rich, and recommends this sake chilled or warm with robust foods like tonkotsu ramen and miso-based dishes.
Heiwa Shuzo (Wakayama, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Gohyaku Mangoku 55%, SMV: +1
The sake-brewing year typically begins in September, when rice is harvested, and the earliest that sakes start getting pressed is late October and released in the dead of winter. This sake is unaged and as fresh as it gets. Enjoy the just-pressed, fruity aroma of pears and white grape and a soft and smooth texture that has a hint of sweetness. Notice a bright, grassy, dry ending and leaves traces of grapefruit in the aroma. Shibata-san of Heiwa Brewery says his favorite food pairings are Shine Muscat (a grape varietal in Japan), prosciutto, and Salmon Miso Soy Milk Nabe. Enjoy this sake chilled within a week of opening.