Just as East Tennessee starts getting comfortable with this sushi thing, along comes sake—the Japanese spirit that complements sushi so well, but can be just as intimidating to the uninitiated. Certified sommelier David Bohannon sells sake for Beverage Control, Inc. and says that Knoxville’s expanding its sake options. “Consumers are learning there is more to sake then ‘house style,’ or ‘futsu,’ which is more than 80 percent of the sake produced.” Bohannon created the sake training program for the service staff at Nama Sushi. Here is his cheat sheet for those who already enjoy the potent potable (with its alcohol by volume of 9-18 percent), and those who would like to get started:
Varieties defined: “Generally the more the rice is milled, the cleaner, lighter, more delicate the flavor.”
• Futsu: The equivalent of “table wine.” No milling requirements; lowest quality sake; most is produced in California.
• Junmai: Pure, basic sake—no alcohol added and made with rice that has been milled at least 30 percent.
• Honjozo: Same milling requirements (30 percent) as Junmai, but lighter and more fragrant because of the addition of neutral grain alcohol at the end of fermentation.
• Ginjo: Much more delicate and complex than the above two because the rice has had 40 percent milled away, grain alcohol has been added.
• Daiginjo: Basically an extension or improvement upon Ginjo.
• Nigori: Sake that can fall into any of the above categories that has not been filtered.
• Namazake: Sake that can fall into any of the above categories that has not been pasteurized.
Proper temperature: “Quality sake is consumed at room temperature or chilled. Futsu sake is usually served warm to mask impurities and accentuate its potency.”
For starters: “Obviously, warm house sake is where most people do start, but another good place to start is ‘nigori” style sake. It is served cold, because it is unfiltered, so some rice sediment remains giving it a milky texture; it is usually a little sweeter. Many nigori drinkers liken the flavor to coconut milk.” Recommended: Gekkeikan Nigori or Moonstone Coconut-Lemongrass Nigori.
Worth paying extra for: “For the more luxurious styles look for sake with the qualification of ‘daiginjo.’ Whether it’s $15 per 300ml bottle or $50, the sake goes through roughly the same brewing process that represents the pinnacle of the craft.” Recommended: Horin Junmai Daiginjo from Japan, the official sake served at the Imperial Palace.
Pairing sushi and sake: “My main advice of matching any beverage with sushi is to keep in mind that the hardest match is not with the fish, but with the rice! Sushi rice is the most varied ingredient among chefs, and, depending on their ratios of vinegar, sugar, salt, among other ingredients, make the difference in how the food will pair with sake or any other beverage. Sake flavors are very subtle—unlike powerful reds wines and big, oaky whites—so I recommend trying a flight of sakes if you can, along with the sushi chef’s best Sashimi Keep it simple!”
If you buy a bottle: “Sake does not improve with age, and is best consumed within one year of bottling.”