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In the spring, a young man’s fancy may turn to thoughts of love, but a young sake sommelier’s fancy turns to thoughts of namazake—the fresh, unpasteurized sake also know as draft sake that breweries release in early spring. Yasu Suzuki, the sake sommelier at New York City’s Sushi Seki, adores these vibrant, lively sakes. “You experience all of the original freshness, all of the flavors and aromas,” he says. “It’s the closest thing to visiting a brewery and scooping out fresh sake from the tank.” Here, Suzuki’s top three namazake picks, plus his tips on how to drink them.
Brewed in Nara, the birthplace of sake, Harushika’s namazake is one of the lightest and crispest. “It almost has the freshness of eucalyptus,” Suzuki says. “It is brewed by one of the best masters of sake in Japan.” The name, appropriately, means “spring deer.” Beer equivalent: Pilsner. Wine equivalent: Sauvignon Blanc.
One of the few female master sake brewers, Miho Imada, makes this fruit-forward, Asian pear-inflected namazake in Hiroshima. “Miho is very innovative,” Suzuki says. “She is not only the brewer, she is a leader in the local agriculture. She recently started growing an ancient rice grain. She keeps challenging and playing.” Beer equivalent: Wheat or Belgian-style. Wine equivalent: Chardonnay.
Koshi No Homare
“To me, this was one of the best this year,” Suzuki says of this sake made in Niigata in northern Japan. “It is undiluted so it has a slightly higher alcohol between 16-17%. A couple of alcohol percentages more gives you a very different texture. It has more concentration and more heat. It is also a perfect example of a master brewer doing a great job of enhancing the flavor of the rice.” Beer equivalent: IPA. Wine equivalent: A “funky Sicilian.”
When to Drink Them:
Now. Sake producers release bottles when they think they should be drunk. But Suzuki also suggests aging undiluted bottles like Koshi No Homare for a few months. “Wrap a bottle with the day’s New York Times so you don’t forget the date. Throw it in the corner of the fridge and wait until autumn when the sake will have matured and become richer with more depth,” Suzuki says.
How to Drink Them:
Slightly chilled in a wine glass. “These sakes are very young and active,” he says. “The round shape of the glass allows sake to become more focused and balanced.”
What to Pair Them with:
“Believe it or not, spring sake is perfect with a sandwich or a burger,” Suzuki says. He also recommends fresh cheeses like burrata or ricotta, spring vegetables and caprese salad.