Sweet is delicious; delicious is sweet! Ever since the image of dry sake was attached to sake, we have become able to produce sakes with new types of tastes and hidden flavours, a development which is nothing short of sheer bliss for the consumer.
I will be drinking at a bar and hear someone say that they would really like to drink sweet sake. This is more a trend amongst women but that is not to say that there are no male fans hiding in the wings. I am one such man.
Why do we detect sweetness in sake?
It would be all too easy to put this down to preference. However, I believe that there are key factors in there that guide us to a naturally good flavour. I have listed 3 of these below.
Key Factor 1: Levels of alcohol
Sakes at the higher end of the alcohol level spectrum (18-20%) inevitably taste drier. Sakes at the lower end (lower than the average 15-16%, 8-12%) taste comparatively sweeter. The lower alcohol Junmai type has a less aggressive palate and the effects of intoxication are slightly delayed making it popular with the ladies.
Key Factor 2: Carbonated gas
At present, in amongst the newfound diversity of the sake genre, unfiltered, unpasteurised, and undiluted type sake are becoming standard fare and with it sakes that have cleverly trapped the gases that are released during fermentation. A clean finish that does not leave any off flavours or sweetness in the throat makes for a refreshing deliciousness.
(A lot of summery and new brew cloudy sakes fit into this mould). They are referred to as bubbly, pasteurised, or secondary fermentation sakes etc).
Keyfactor 3: Acid
Without exception, all sakes contain acid. When we say acid, we are referring to the compound substances that originate in the sake such as Succinic Acid, Inosinic Acid, Citric Acid, and Malic Acid, and not the CO2 gas that is separate from the fermentation; acids which are essential in production.
How do you find sweet sake?
One way is to ask the staff at the bar or restaurant but let’s first look at the label! That’s the other one on the opposite side of the bottle to the brand label; if you are lucky, it will show the sake’s specs — a sort of resume for sake if you will. Everything from the alcohol content, brewing water type, raw ingredients to the acidity and sake-meter-value are displayed.
(This information is to be used as a guide only).
Given for example, that two types, sake A&B contain the same 15% alcohol and 1.3 acidity; but whereas A has a sake-meter-value of +3, B is -5; the sake with the minus value, B, should taste sweeter than the other. Think of it as the sum of the remaining parts that are not alcohol (umami from the rice, sweetness and body).
The method of measurement is the same across the board regardless of brewery thus a minus value seals the deal. Perhaps it is best to taste at a place where you can see the label! (in the worst case scenario, if you cannot find a sake to suit your tastes, it might be best to explain to the staff and leave ! If the place values a high level of service they will respect your decision — Let’s be courteous in the manner that we leave.)
The way to enjoy sweet sake.
Sweet sake is something to be enjoyed not just at room temperature and chilled; sweet sake comes with its own unique enjoyment.
Make a Japanese-style sweet and sour cocktail.
If the sake is a little too sweet, mix it with sparkling water. Adding carbonated gas to the natural flavours results in a champagne-esque transformation. Or you could accentuate with a dash of plum. Enter the sweet and sour Japanese style cocktail!
Dry and sweet vs salty flavour
The saltiness of pickles, and nuts like peanuts, almonds and pistachios etc enhances sweetness. The fatty quality of the nuts melts together with the salt to produce a unique flavour.
Put sweet with sweet
Chocolate is also good, just as you would pair it with whisky or brandy. (I recommend chocolate with over 90% cocoa). A bitterness and slight sweetness thickens the sweetness of sake.
An all holds barred warm sake
Simply leave the sake to return to room temperature. Playing with different temperatures is just another way to have fun.
Here are a few kinds of sweet sake!
Fukunishiki FU junmai Alc: 8%, SMV: -60
The fruity-like sweet qualities from the rice lend it a soft finish and light natural palate.
Sea of Japan, sparkling junmai, Awabuta (bubble pig) Alc:10%, RPR: 70%
A sake with a cider-like body.
Eiko Fuji Momoyuki (Super Fortune) A plum wine made with a base of 3 years aged Junmai Daiginjo
A plum wine made with a base of sake that is treated like a liqueur. The aroma of the plums and moderate sweetness is divine. I recommend drinking it on the rocks or mixed with soda.
From time to time, why not try changing your order from dry to sweet. Just as there are five basic flavours, sake is no exception (or 7 to be precise): dryness, sweetness, bitterness, astringency, savouriness or umami (the body and creamy quality of the rice), and sourness.
The types of sake, the production method, the difference in sake rice, koji, yeast, rice polishing ratio, water and the seasons, the craftsman, and all the various factors that make up sake help to define the flavour of sake. Flavour is not an addition to this formula, but a multiplication.
The diverse depth of sake stems from this.
According to the marriage with cuisine, the same sake can give a completely different impression. Sweeter sakes should be used at the start (aperitif) and the end (dessert wine); drinking while examining the balance with other sakes makes for a complete flight.
I will leave my introduction to sake, and how to navigate to enjoyment of the beverage for the next time.
Original article: KURAND
Deciphering the ‘sweet’ in sweet sake