Confession: Prior to meeting the young, passionate, and talented Tadeo Chua during the Sake Dinner held in YOI Poblacion, I knew nothing about what I thought to be sake.
As he sat and talked to me, however, I learned quite a few things: First, Tadeo’s age was clearly no indication of his depth of knowledge. He has spent some time in Japan in pursuit of the art of making rice wine (in an old school sensei/master way reminiscent of old Karate Kid movies), earning him the title of Sake Sommelier.
Secondly, I found out that the term sake that most people believed to be the earthy Japanese rice wine actually encompasses every alcoholic beverage in Japan (yes, that includes the famous Japanese whiskies and beer). According to Tadeo, “Japanese rice wine is really called Nihonshu (日本酒 ) which means Japanese alcohol, or Seishu (清酒 ), which means clear alcohol.”
Tadeo also walked me through the process of making “sake”:
- Rice Milling
- Rice Washing and Soaking
- Koji Making – Koji spores are a form of fungus which is spread onto steamed rice. This is the hardest part: The room where the fungus is allowed to propagate is kept at a specific temperature and humidity, and some tojis, or Master Brewers, sleep in koji rooms to make sure they get the results they want.
- Moto or Shubo Making – A simple way to think of this process is the beginning of making the yeast starter. This is, according to Tadeo, everyone’s favourite part. “When us kurabitos (brewery workers) and tojis come back for it after we leave it overnight and we hear the popping sounds the moto makes, you will definitely see smiles on our faces. It’s a little funny but it’s because at that point, you can’t really do much but to wait and hope the sake gods bless the mixture to make it work. The popping sound is a sign (that) it’s alive or it worked… That’s why it’s music to every kurabito’s ear. They even write poems (about) that.”
- Moromi Mixing – Moromi is the name for the fermenting mass made by mashing the shubo, steamed rice, koji, and water together.
- Pressing and Filtering
Tadeo also walked me through the different categories of Japanese rice wine (note: Very useful when buying sake from a store!). He said, “Unlike other drinks that are usually labeled by their profile, sake is labeled by the effort or resource put into it. There’s Futsushu, or table sake, where the rice polishing ratio* is higher than 70%. Then there’s the Junmai and Honjozo, where the rice polishing ratio is less than 70%. The only difference between the two is that they added distilled alcohol to the Honjozo. This gives Junmai, the purer version, a more bodied profile. On the next tier are Junmai Ginjo and Ginjo, with rice polishing ratio less than 60%. Ginjo, like Honjozo, have distilled alcohol added to it. On the highest tier are Junmai Daiginjo and Daiginjo, with rice polishing ratio less than 50%… Similarly, Daiginjo has distilled alcohol added to dilute its body, giving it a smoother texture.” In Japan, the sake categories without distilled alcohol added are deemed to be purer, and they tend to become more sought after.
The dinner was a nice illustration of what I’ve learned from Tadeo that night (with an added bonus of a little food and sake pairing). We started off with the Meijo Junmai Shu from the Hyogo Prefecture, a dry and bodied Junmai. Its body played off the texture of the Tako we had (an octopus with red paste). We moved on to the Ishichi Omachi from the Okayama Prefecture, categorised as a Nama Junmai Daiginjo (unpasteurised). Its notes of ripe pineapples, bananas, and green apples that give way to full bodied textures and sweet, fresh, and fruity flavours were magnificent with the complexity and richness of the Shrimp Coconut and Wasabi Bisque (also, this sake ended up being my favourite of the evening). We then had the Daimon 35 from the Osaka Prefecture, a Junmai Daiginjo (super premium, with 35% rice polishing ratio). The strong sweet and umami flavours were what I would call characterful, and went beautifully with the Fish and Liver Sushi Rice with Pickled Shiitake. Our last sake for the night was the Hakutsuru Kinkan from the Hyogo Prefecture, a full-bodied Junmai that held its own against the very rich Salmon with Ikura Yogurt and Spinach Uni Rice we had.
If all this is interesting, people could drop by YOI in Poblacion to learn more about sake (they have an Unli Sake Promotion every Tuesday and Wednesday, where for PHP700 per person, guests could enjoy unlimited servings of a curated sake selection), and try them with different delicious food items on their menu.
Bonus points for spotting Tadeo because he could really get even novices like myself to understand the world of sake.
*How rice polishing ratio works: The lower the polishing ratio, the more polished the rice and the better the starch extraction from the rice, making the sake more premium.
Special thanks to Sake Sommelier Tadeo Chua (note: This article was a collaboration between Tadeo and myself 😉 )
YOI is located in Fermina, 5579 Alfonso street, Poblacion, Makati