Fresh? Fruity? What kind of sake is namazake?

Greetings Sake Lovers,

welcome to another KURAND Magazine article that introduces you to the world of sake. This article will introduce namazake (unpasteurized sake).

What is Namazake?

As a very strict rule, antioxidants such as sulfites are never added to sake. This is of course a positive because some people have allergies to them. However, the less obvious negative is that sake is much more unstable. By unstable, we are referring to the microbial stability of the sake. Various microbes are involved in the process of brewing sake. Even if the yeast is removed, as is done in wine making, the remaining enzymes such as those produced by the koji would remain meaning that in the right conditions the fermentation and starch to sugar conversion would continue and the flavor of the sake would, over time, change and in some cases degrade.

Therefore, the sake has to be stabilized. While in the old days, in a time before pasteurization, they would add strong strength alcohol, the modern way to stabilize the sake is to pasteurize it at around 60 degrees. This level of heat kills of any leftover enzymes, bacteria and completely stops the fermentation and saccharification and its tracks. Effectively sterilization, in Japanese it is called hiire. Koji enzymes are not the only microbes that hiire eradicates. A very stubborn form of lactic acid bacteria called hiochi-kin in particular — once a brewer’s worst nightmare because of its ability to destroy entire batches of sake, although these days this rarely happens — can, in the worst cases, turn elegant fruity sake into foul tasting eggnog. So where does Namazake fit into all of this?
Simple: namazake is unpasteurized sake.

Characteristics of Namazake

The biggest difference with pasteurized sake is the fresher flavor. As the yeast is still alive the ginjo aroma that is distinctive to many premium sake is also much more pronounced. The downside of namazake is that it is unstable so its quality deteriorates quickly. It is particularly sensitive to temperature. Because, microbes are active at warm temperatures, namazake has to be refrigerated to keep them dormant. As long as they stay dormant, the flavor won’t change too rapidly. Namazake is still a bit of a rarity on the market because of its short shelf life, but it makes a special appearance throughout the year in the form of seasonal sake.

Blindtasting Namazake

Why not challenge your friends to a blind-tasting duel. Sometimes namazake is easy to spot and sometimes it isn’t. In its very clear forms, you may detect aromas of chestnut, freshly cut grass, herbs and other flora. It also tends to be more acidic and have more umami, which is the sweet/salty tartness you sometimes get on the finish. All in all, namazake should be more youthful, untamed and fresher. Some people claim namazake has a cooling feel on the nose and some hints of mint.

Once Pastuerized Sake

In the standard brewing process, there are two pasteurizations. The first is done right after the sake has been pressed and the second is done before bottling. You may wonder why a second is necessary if the first is supposed to kill all the microbes and bacteria, but shortly before bottling water is added to sake and there is a risk that there could be some microbes in the water.
Namazake may omit one or both of these hiire. In the case of once pasteurized sake, its name changes depending on the pasteurization that is omitted. If the pasteurization before bottling is omitted, it is called namazume (bottled nama). If the one before storage is omitted, it is called namachozo (stored nama). It is a little difficult to describe the difference between each once-pasteurized sake, but it definitely exhibits fresh aromas and flavors than twice pasteurized sake.
For reference, although not a legal definition, among brewers namazake that has omitted both pasteurizations is called nama-nama.

The KURAND sake selection includes a number of very high quality namazake and a special corner for seasonal sake, so depending on which time of year you visit, there is always something new to try. And because our sake is delivered direct from the brewery, it is always fresh. Why not pop in the next time you are in Tokyo, and discover the diversity and depth that sake this fresh has to offer. We look forward to welcoming you soon.