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.