|My inclination to be sassy makes me want to say “What about sparkling sake?” when someone asks me this question.
Of course, I only say it in my head so I don’t become a social recluse but it comes from my frustration with the category, where the sakes can be fresh and beautiful, made with integrity, or strange and disjointed.
All too often, sparkling sake seems too much like a gimmick, where someone pondering the age old issue of “how do we get young people to drink sake?” came out of it the other end with an answer for a pop-drinking, sparkling water loving generation and culture that they weren’t part of. There’s also the notion that the export market will like sparkling sake and use it as a gateway to more serious sake. Not trying to be a Debbie-Downer. I promise.
Quite simply, when a consumer picks up a bottle of sparkling sake, it’s a game of chance.
To counter this perception and lack of consensus in the marketplace, the Japan Awasake Association was formed, who’s mission is to share knowledge and information between brewers making sparkling sake to improve quality and to set a standard for the category. The aim is to place sparkling sake amongst the top sparkling beverages of the world and promote it’s versatility in the marketplace. The association has also created a set of standards that producers must follow in order for the sparkling sake to be certified “Awasake” by the association.
**“Awa” means bubbles, so Awasake is in reference to sparkling sake.**
Awasake designation (from www.awasake.or.jp):
There are 6 requirements that must be met for a sparkling sake to be designated as a Awasake by the association:
1) The only allowable ingredients are rice, rice koji, water.
2) Awa sake must only use domestic rice and must be classified as above “grade 3” quality by agricultural testing. (this is done by the agricultural boards)
3) The bubbles must be from natural carbonation (traditional method)
4) Visually, the sake should be clear and the bubbles after the sake is poured into a glass should be consistent and persistent.
5) The alcohol must be over 10% abv
6) The pressure when the sake is at 20 degrees celsius should be 2.5 bars.
Additionally, the quality should remain consistent for 3 months at room temperature. It must also be pasteurized.
These sakes will have official Awasake stickers on the bottles, making it easier for identification.
I think this standardization is a great step in the right direction for the sparking sake category because it gives clarity to a consumer as to what goes into a certified Awasake. However, I also think there are sparkling sakes that will never be certified Awasake that are fun, easy and can be enjoyed without thinking about it too much.
Here are a couple of great sparkling sakes that don’t have Awasake certification for separate reasons. For the Mizubasho Pure, it’s now certified but as this association is brand new (2016), what’s currently in the market is pre-certification.
Hakkaisan Sparkling Nigori – a slightly cloudy sake that has notes of honeydew, Asian pears and tropical fruits. It’s been carbonated so although it will never be a certified Awasake. Nonetheless, a delicious sparkling sake with lots of potential for pairing potential.
Mizubasho Pure – Nagai brewery was one of the frontiers in making a traditional method sparkling sake. They researched for years how to utilize Champagne techniques in a sake context and was instrumental in forming this association. The Pure is clean with precise bubbles and a great mouthfeel.