Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Aged Sake and Japanese Curry

Up until recently, the thought of aged sake, or koshu, didn't really seem like something that I would get into...ah, but again, sake goes and surprises me again.

Take one...a simple Japanese curry with mushrooms, carrots, potato and udon noodles.  Tada-san had just prepared this piping hot bowl for us to share on a stormy San Francisco night.  After a couple bites, that little part in my brain where I store all my sake thoughts said, 'koshu."  It was all over from there.

Enter stage left, Kinzan Junmai Ginjo Koshu.  Brewed in 1998, in a little town in Nagano prefecture, this beauty is light caramel in color; smokey and earthy with mushroom on the nose.  At first sip, it offers a light attack on the palate, meanwhile a bright sweetness takes over as the sake rounds out on the finish with a bolder more pronounced effort.  Quite surprisingly, I am still experiencing this sake minutes after the first sip.  

The savoriness of the koshu was an obvious match with the curry.  But it was the sweetness in it that surprised me.  It kind lured the sweetness out of the curry as well, and at the same time cleansing the palate.  As the koshu warmed to room temperature, it seemed to open considerably more and offer a somewhat succulent quality.

Just a little about aging sake.  Like most steps in the making of sake, these toji, or brewmasters, must have an incredible amount of experience and often intuition when it comes to sake.  Temperature is a major factor when aging.  Too cold, and the sake wont really age, just settle or mature.  The color will never change.  But raise the temperatures and you will actually see a visible change in the color.  Remember, these sakes are not aged in barrels, mostly in the bottle or in the tanks (ceramic-lined stainless).  The color change is the result of the amino acids actually aging.  Therefore, if the temp is too warm, the sake will age too quickly and more than likely take quick turn for the worse.   

Koshu's cousin kijoshu.  I haven't personally seen too many of these, but they are worth the try.  The difference: when making kijoshu, instead of adding back brewing water, previously sake is added and then left to aged.  The one that comes to mind, Hanahato Kijoshu.  Maple syrup, toffee and caramel on the nose.  Full, rich flavors of dried fruits and honey.  AMAZING with candied walnuts and bleu cheese...I'm not kidding.

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