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Unfiltered Sake: The Japanese Champagne

Tom Inoue

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Unfiltered sake has stolen the limelight and is now being produced by more and more sake breweries each year.

You may know it is as the sweet and creamy cousin of Champagne. But do you know what it actually is and what the best ways to enjoy it are?

1. What is Unfiltered Sake?

cloudy sake

Unfiltered sake is sake that has been coarsely filtered only (yes, it is filtered!). It is called Nigori sake (or Nigori-zake), which literally means ‘cloudy’ sake.

To understand more, let’s first go through sake rice fermentation.

rice fermentation

Photo Credit: http://daruma-masamune.co.jp/blog/

This is rice that has been fermenting for more than 15 days. As you can see, it is more like stew than liquid.

Normally, this stew is “pressed” through a fine mesh to filter out unfermented solid particles. It then goes through a second filtration process, with activated charcoal. This yields the transparent, faintly amber sake that we are familiar with.

For nigorizake, the fermenting rice is filtered once through a coarse mesh, which allows rice particles and yeast to pass through. The result is a white- or gray-colored, cloudy, usually opaque brew that is creamy and rich in nutrients.

Alcohol Content of Nigorizake

The alcohol content of Nigorizake varies, so it’s best to check the label per brand.

If you prefer those with low-alcohol content, some Nigorizake come in 10% ABV, like this one by Geikkeikan.

gekkeikan

2. The Taste of Nigorizake

taste of nigorizake

Photo Credit: Marshall Astor

Generally, cloudy sake has a sweet and mild taste which comes from its residual rice components. Its freshness allows it to stand out from other types of sake, which also makes it especially popular among young women.

There are basically two types of Nigorizake:

  • Creamy-type

    This type has gone through pasteurization. It is more stable and lasts longer. Its creaminess comes very naturally and it often comes abundant in unrecognizable unfermented solids. Some varieties even contain solids that are large and chewy enough to eat with a spoon (or a fork, if you must!).

    It goes well with dishes that emphasize its natural taste. Light-flavored fish or sashimi are a good match. Some are best with spicy dishes, too. Generally, it would depend more on the specific taste of each sake product.

    food

  • Sparkling-type

    Sparkling or unpasteurized nigorizake have a shorter shelf-life. Its taste is fresher and often very tart and acidic. Its fun and lively characteristics make it a good component in cocktails. This sake tends to be very popular with women and sake beginners who are not accustomed to the taste of sake.

    Sparkling nigorizake goes well with dairy products and thick, saucy dishes, like Chinese food.

    food for sparkling

Because of its fuller and sweeter flavor, nigorizake can be a good introductory sake.

3. The best ways to Enjoy Nigorizake

serving

Photo Credit: http://syupo.com/archives/12626

Drink it chilled or even with ice to fully enjoy its uniquely thick flavor. Heating this type of sake is not recommended, in general, since doing so will make it lose its freshness.

  • With food

    Nigorizake can be enjoyed both with food or on its own. With food, it is best enjoyed with fish, saucy dishes, and spicy meals. It can also be paired with sweets and desserts.

  • On its own

    It makes a good aperitif and party drink. Add it to cocktail drinks with club soda and citrus for a summery sparkling drink.

  • At special occasions

    It is also perfect on the dining table during Christmas and New Year gatherings since its cloudiness mimics the snow during the holiday season.

4. How long is it at its best?

Though there is no expiration date for sake, nigorizake should be consumed immediately. Its freshness disappears as time passes. Its taste is at its best when it is shipped.

Unpasteurized nigorizake needs to be stored properly at low temperatures. Otherwise it will deteriorate quickly. When buying nigorizake, make sure you ask your supplier/s how their sake is stored. If not kept refrigerated, it is best to avoid it. That sake would have turned sour while in storage or in transit.

5. Popular Nigorizake

Here are some nigoris that you can try:

  1. Kamoizumi Ginjo Nigori
    This sake is the recipient of the 2013 Masu Awards for “Best Nigori Lover’s Nigori”. Made with premium Ginjo sake, this Nigori has a full and thick body that imparts a creaminess that Nigori lovers adore. It strikes a good balance between sweet and dry and is enjoyed well with desserts. It is undiluted and unpasteurized.

    kamoizumi

    Photo Credit: http://www.truesake.com/

  2. Dassai 50 Sparkling Nigori
    The pride of Yamaguchi prefecture, this sake is gorgeously scented with soft and gentle fruit-like aroma, moderate sweetness, and a brisk after-taste. Best paired with light-flavored dishes, Dassai Junmai Daiginjo is known for its orange peel and jasmine aroma with tart orange flavor.

    dassai 50

    Photo Credit: http://www.urbansake.com/

  3. Daishichi “Yukishibori” Nigori
    Drinking this sake is akin to experiencing the essence of snow, hence, it’s name “Yukishibori” (squeezed snow). It is a refreshing, unusually dry Nigori sake that is not as rice-y or nutty but can be enjoyed best as an aperitif.

    daishichi

    Photo Credit: http://www.urbansake.com/

Nigorizake may not be as refined and delicate as premium sake. But what it lacks in elegance, it makes up for in texture, taste, and overall experience. And with a product so unique, it’s no wonder why many have taken a chance to enjoy it. Don’t miss the chance if you find this ‘unfiltered’ sake in a restaurant!

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