You might wonder whether sake can be aged like wine and to what extent it benefits from ageing. Sake is traditionally brewed to be consumed young. So it wouldn't be wise to store a bottle of your favourite sake in your cellar for several years to mature.
There is, however, an increasing trend toward aged sake these days. Even traditional sake, designed to be consumed young, often undergoes a few months of storage before shipping. This allows brewers to seal in flavours and balance out erratic notes.
Due to the increasing popularity of aged sake, we wanted to explore and clarify a few key points about aged sake so you can be more confident next time you come across this rare and unique drink!
First, let's define a few terms. A term commonly associated with aged sake is "koshu," which refers to sake that has been aged for an extended period. Koshu is sake that has been aged between one year and more than a decade in tank, barrel, or bottle form. You might even have a bottle of forgotten sake in your cellar that qualifies! This means there can be a wide variation in the quality of the so-called koshu.
To spread the concept of long-term ageing and improve brewing skills and standards, the Vintage Sake Research Institute of Japan developed a more rigid definition of aged sake.
According to the Institute, choki Jukuseishu refers to sake that has been deliberately aged for no less than three years at the brewery. This is the type of sake we'll be discussing.
The process of ageing sake is not as simple as ageing wine. The composition of sake is much more variable, so there is no one-size-fits-all technique or rule. In the same way wine ages differently based on different factors, sake ages differently based on its acidity, body, sugar level, alcohol content, bitterness, and umami levels. In the case of wine, each of these components is determined by the appellation, grape type, and production techniques used. As far as sake is concerned, it's not quite so obvious.
What is aged sake like?
As sake ages in a bottle or a tank, its colour changes from gold to amber. As a result, the process produces a complex aroma that includes honey, dried fruits, wood, dried mushrooms, and spices. There is a refinement and roundness to aged sake, along with a condensed taste and a condensed texture. People often compare the liquid's colour to whiskey or sherry because of its characteristic colour.
Earlier, we described how sake ages and its final flavour profile in relation to its microbiological makeup. The critical factor here is the speed at which oxidation happens. During the Maillard reaction, amino acids react with reducing sugars, resulting in the amber colour of aged sake.
There are three types of aged sake or "choki jukuseishu."
Sake of Honjozo and Junmai grades matured at ambient temperatures. The relatively high ambient maturing temperature accelerates the oxidation process. As a result, the sake transforms quickly and develops unique aromas and flavours. Kojuku types have a deep colour with complex, robust flavours. The latter is excellent with food with thick umami and sweetness.
It is a typical ageing process combining both ambient temperature and low-temperature storage. The colouring is lighter than Kojuku types, and it pairs well with foods with moderate sweetness, sourness, and bitterness.
Highly aromatic sake such as ginjo and daiginjo is matured at extremely low temperatures. The result is a light and delicate sake with light colouring, a mild taste and plenty of depth. The aromas are slightly muted, while the signature elegance and subtleties of the ginjo and daiginjo remain intact.
History Of Aged Sake
Japan's first records of matured sake date back to the Kamakura period (1185-1333). A few centuries later, in the Edo period (1603-1868), there were mentions of kunenshu or "nine-year-sake." As its name indicate, it was sake aged for nine years. At the time, kunenshu was up to three times the price of regular sake. It was praised for its rich and distinct flavours, making it a big hit among aristocrats.
Since then, matured sake has continued to be loved by connoisseurs. However, it eventually lost popularity due to changes in the tax law, forcing brewers to ship their products earlier.
Aged sake is reviving again today, but it's still a minuscule part of the overall sake production, making it a rare and expensive treat.
Aged Sake On Your Body.
A document from the Edo period emphasizes that "new sake goes right to your head, whereas aged sake intoxicates your body more gently." Some more recent medical research confirms that aged sake is more gentle on our bodies than freshly bottled sake. So trying matured sake instead of whiskey may be the way to go if whiskey has begun to weigh you down.
Why not try aged sake for yourself and discover this less known part of the sake world?
Check out our available matured sake below.
Thank you and kanpai,
The Sorakami Team