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Namazake, or unpasteurized sake, is a somewhat seasonal style that is becoming more popular, especially outside of Japan. Prized for its freshness and lively character, it is nominally available all year round, though it is usually released in the spring, right after the brewing season. Perhaps lacking the refined and suble character of some pasteurized sake, namazake is nonetheless a fascinating experience, jumping out from the glass with vivacity, brashness, and a beautiful fresh, aromatic quality.
In the past year or two I've seen more folks from the natural wine scene becoming interested in sake, and oftentimes heralding namazake as a "purer" and more "natural" expression. In my personal opinion I wouldn't necessarily jump to that conclusion, and find it hard to draw direct comparisons between sake making and wine making. The biological processes that take place in sake brewing are more complex and layered than in wine. Rice has no fermentable sugars to start with, and so after a saccharification process, there is a long two-to-three month fermentation process that relies on the interaction between koji mold, yeast, and lactic acid bacteria to achieve the desired results. After the fermentation, there is still biological activity happening in the sake, and the only way to give it any long-term stability is pasteurization. Hence namazake is incredibly fragile, a raw example of Japan's national drink.
The three sake in today's offer were all freshly bottled earlier this year and are in great drinking condition. Please remember that these should be consumed fairly quickly, and should always be stored cold, preferably in a refrigerator. These are all quite limited quantities, and what we have in store is all we'll get. Oskar Kostecki
Asamai Shuzo is located deep in Akita Prefecture, in the northern part of Honshu, Japan's largest island. Akita is known as snow country, with very cold winters due to to winds blowing off the Sea of Japan-perfect for sake brewing. Asamai Shuzo uses only Akita-grown rice, which is quite rare; many breweries will source rice from all over Japan. Each year they produce a small amount of sake, but it's very well regarded both locally and nationally, and we're very happy to find some here in New York. The Amanoto Tokubetsu Junmai is a blend of Ginnosei and Miyamanishiki rice polished to 55%. The nose explodes with notes of fresh-cut grass, melon, grapefruit zest and a medley of floral tones. The palate is equally vibrant, introducing more herbaceous green notes. This sake has great acidity, and equally great resonance on the palate. Delicious on its own, this would also be great with a variety of spring salads, greens, or lightly-fried fish. Oskar Kostecki
Omachi is quickly becoming my favorite sake rice. It is the oldest known pure (i.e. non-crossbred) variety, and when brewed to its full potential is wonderfully balanced. Integrating earthy and herbal tones with a subdued fruit profile; less flashy and effusive than Yamada Nishiki, but with depth and complexity. This beautiful namazake from Rihaku Shuzo in Shimane Prefecture is one of the most elegant namas I've had, with notes of white blossoms, pear, white peach, and fresh cut grass on the nose. For "Origin of Purity" they are using flower yeasts, isolated from Japan's natural flora by the crazy cats at Tokyo Agricultural University and used in sake production since the late '90s. Flower yeasts add a heightened aromatic quality, which coupled with the savory undertones of the Omachi rice makes this a very complex sake. The palate opens with more earthy tones of radish and steamed rice, along with citrus and citrus rind, and a slight lactic quality I associate with nama. It's vibrant but elegant, with notes of raw cacao and hazelnut as it warms up in the glass. Very limited in quantity, this is a must-try on my list. Oskar Kostecki
Tomita brewery was established in the 1540s in Shiga Prefecture, close to the city of Kyoto. They are working intensively with local farmers and use only organically grown, pesticide-free rice in their production. For this bottling, they use Tamazakae rice, indigenous to Shiga. Tomita is a very small, old school operation, and I've always found their sake to be quite rustic. This namazake is no exception, and though there are the wonderful lively qualities associated with unpasteurized sake, there is also an undercurrent of a more savory quality, slightly earthy, slightly mushroomy, with a faint aroma of dried leaves. This is coupled with grapefruit zest, orange blossom, and a yogurty, lactic quality on the palate. A very fascinating and complex sake, and incredibly food friendly. Oskar Kostecki