What is this Cloudy Stuff?

Many people have inquired about the white, cloudy, usually opaque sake sometimes seen in shops and restaurants. Often readers liken it to a “icy pina colada.” What is it? How is it made, how does it differ from regular sake? How does it taste?

That is nigori-zake, which simply means “cloudy sake.” The “clouds” are nothing more than unfermented rice solids floating around inside.

Let’s backing up a step or two..when sake is made, the rice ferments in a large tank for a period of anywhere between 18 and 36 days. The bubbly, chunky, fermenting mash at that time is referred to as the “oromi.” After that period, it is still a white, cloudy, soup of rice solids that could not ferment; yeast and other components. The clear, amber sake is then separated from these solids in one of several ways, all of which call for passing the sake through a mesh of some sort.

Sometimes this mesh is inside a pressure-driven machine, sometimes it is but a canvas bag into which the moromi has been poured. There are various ways, some better than others. But regardless of which method is used, the moromi passes through a mesh, with the pale amber ambrosia passing through and the white solids, or lees, remaining behind.

So, in most sake then, we have an almost clear liquid as the result of the pressing of the lees away from the sake. In nigori-zake, however, not all of the lees are pressed away; some of the unfermented solids are left behind deliberately, giving a rich, creamy, fabulously interesting flavor. Note this “eaving of the lees” is done in varying degrees, depending on the whims and fancies of the brewer.

There are also a couple of moromi-zake on the market, in which the product looks like nigori-zake, but was never really pressed. In other words, it never passed through a mesh of any sort. These are rare, and only serve as curiosities, but what is interesting about them is that they cannot legally be sold as sake. How they are taxed and sold I am not sure, but I know one brewer that serves it only on the grounds of his brewery, somehow skirting the law in that way.

Next, there is the “till live and kicking” variety, in which the yeast is still very much active. Sake like this is not stable, and will change quickly, but it is indeed fun to try. Often, the bottles into which this has been put are equipped with special caps that allow the carbon dioxide to gently and slowly escape. This type of sake is often very tart and acidic, and while fun and lively, it may not appeal to those looking for a gourmet sipping experience. Shinkame from Saitama, a tiny brewery with unusual but wonderful sake all around, is the best example of this type of nigori-zake.

Have you tried nigori-zake? I’d love to hear what you think, and if you haven’t tried it yet – what are you waiting for?

I encourage you to give it a try if you can find it. To try this and more than 90 other varieties of Sake, To try this and more than 90 other varieties of Sake, join me at the Sake Professional Course that will be held in Portland, Oregon on November 7, 8 and 9. For more information, click here, or email us at info@sake-world.com. This annual event is great for sake and wine lovers alike, read the review of the Sake Professional Course from Wine Enthusiast Magazine to learn more.

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