Who doesn’t love bubbles? For the little ones, there are bubble baths, root beer floats, and gleefully blowing and chasing bubbles in the park. For us adults, bubbles are enjoyed in drinks: I prefer my shochu with club soda, and yes, Champagne on any night of the week. Gimme all the bubbles! So this month, I’m taking a closer look into the dynamic world of sparkling sake.
Quite a new genre of its own, sparkling sake has really only gained traction in the past decade or so. In its first iterations in the 2000s, the sakes were force carbonated (so CO2 was added into the bottles). These bottles were usually very low in alcohol and sweet, which may have turned serious sake drinkers off.
Since then, sparkling sake has evolved greatly. Eventually, breweries began exploring methods on how to create a naturally-occurring sparkling sake, much like how Champagne or petillant wines are produced. This is an incredibly difficult and painstaking process for sake, that has taken years of research, trial and error to get right for the market. The main challenge is that nothing may be added to the sake to create the final, bubbly product. Sparkling sakes must be junmais, so made with only four ingredients (rice, water, koji, yeast) – no distilled alcohol, acidifiers, or sweeteners can be added to it. So you can appreciate how hard it would be to balance the sweetness with the acidity to produce an exquisite sparkling sake with fine bubbles. The refinement and growth of this category continues today.
Unlike the force carbonated version, sparkling sakes with naturally occurring bubbles are created during the secondary fermentation, when koji and yeast co-mingle with the residual sugars, thus CO2. This month, we’re happy to feature two bottles that are made in this special way.
Although Champagne has been the main influencer for sparkling sake production in Japan, sake has always had its own naturally-occurring effervescence. Sakes like arabashiri, kassei nigori, and many freshly pressed namas all have a noticeable fizz to them – so sakes with bubbles are not a new concept, at all. But today, we are lucky to have a wide-range of sophisticated, drier style bubbly sake for every occasion. Kanpai!
Yoko’s Sidekick + Shochu Director
Shirataki Brewery (Niigata)
Seimaibuai: 60% Gohyaku Mangoku, SMV: -12, Acidity 2.3
Launched in 2015, this sake is festive and perfect for any occasion. Made in a dry style, where two sakes are blended, then force carbonated, Mr. Yosuke Bandai of the brewery says that this sake was specifically made to pair with foods. Get lush pear, cocoa, and cookies on the nose, with a dry, almost herbal finish. Indeed this sake pairs well through all courses of a meal, from hirame carpaccio to okonomiyaki to ice cream! Enjoy cold in a flute.
Heiwa Junmai Daiginjo Sparkling
Heiwa Shuzo (Wakayama)
Seimaibuai: 50% Yamada Nishiki, SMV 0, Acidity 1.7
I love this sake! Imported especially for you, dear Sake Gumi member, this sparkling sake is tart, savory, and damn delicious. Toji Hidemichi Shibata says that he was, “inspired to make a sparkling sake with beautiful bubbles and reduced sweetness.” Looking towards Champagne production, this junmai daiginjo is bottle fermented, and you’ll notice this is made in an usu-nigori style, so it is a bit cloudy from the kasu (sake lees), which lends itself to a ricey nose, with a bit of citrus peel and celery. Try it cold with a bacon cheeseburger or with dinner at The Kebabery!
Phoenix Sparkling Junmai Daiginjo
Tatenokawa Brewery (Yamagata)
Seimaibuai: 50% Dewasansan, SMV -10, Acidity 0.5
Made in collaboration with the French band Phoenix for their 20th anniversary, this sparkling sake is lush and decadent. Get custard, sweet rice, and pear with subtle, floral notes.
Mr. Kawana of Tatenokawa says, “It was an unprecedented challenge to make a clear sparkling sake from a high-quality junmai daiginjo.” The sake itself is refreshing and o-dry, the bubbles are long-lasting, and the perlage is a thing of beauty. Loved this tank fermented sake cold with shrimp cocktail, chawanmushi, and even pizza.
Tatenokawa Brewery and Phoenix Sparkling photos courtesy of the brewery.
Dassai DEX 45 Junmai Daiginjo
Asahi Shuzo (Yamaguchi)
Seimaibuai: 45% Yamadanishiki, SMV + Acidity: Undisclosed
Dassai needs no introduction, and while this is not sparkling, it is a new sake from the brewery that we wanted to make exclusive to our members first. Created under a joint research between the brewery and a professor from the
National Cancer Research Center, Dassai DEX was formulated after the exosome organism was found in Asahi Shuzo sakes. Exosomes are said to boost immunity, and while Asahi remains tight-lipped about their newest sake, it does indeed contain exosomes. In signature Dassai fashion, get cotton candy and plum notes with a silky texture in each sip. Try cold with ceviche or smoked turkey.