What’s the difference between pasteurized and non-pasteurized sake?
Does it really make a difference?
Most of you may be thinking that alcohol is alcohol, so just pass me my drink!
While it may seem trivial, this choice can affect your sake experience.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s back it up and go over the definition of pasteurization. Pasteurization as defined by dictionary.com as, “the process of exposing (a food, as milk, cheese, yogurt, beer, or wine) to an elevated temperature for a period of time sufficient to destroy certain microorganisms, as those that can produce disease or cause spoilage or undesirable fermentation of food, without radically altering taste or quality.”
The main reason for pasteurization, Hiire (火入れ), is so that the microorganisms and enzymes from the koji and yeast do not continue working as this will alter the sake. Contrary to the definition, pasteurization does change the flavor and essence of the sake.
Most sake are pasteurized twice, once after brewing and then once more before bottling.
Breweries pasteurize at different stages of the production process and other use different temperatures for pasteurization. It’s a delicate practice that is manipulated to produce the desired taste and characteristics the brew masters are striving to achieve.
Pasteurized sakes are said to have a softer, more subtle flavor than unpasteurized sakes. Because of this, more sake drinkers prefer this type of sake with food…but true sake lovers drink any kind of sake with any kind of food!
On the other hand, some sakes are not pasteurized at all. They are referred to as “Namazake” (生酒) or “Nama”.
Namazake is said to be fruitier, more acidic and more aromatic than pasteurized sake. Many drinkers swear that the natural aroma of each namazake is what makes them so enjoyable.
Namazake should be kept under a cooler temperature than normal due to the fact that under warm conditions, the sake could go through some unwanted transformations. Hiochikin (火落菌) is a lactic acid bacteria that could form and spoil the sake. When this happens, a white substance forms in the sake which should be your warning sign to stay away!
Ok you got all that?
Not to confuse you, but there’s also sake that has been pasteurized only once. They go by names like Namachozo (生貯蔵) and Namazume (生詰め). We can get into that later.
Hopefully, that gave you a better idea of the differences between pasteurized and unpasteurized sake.
Now that you are equipped with new sake knowledge, go put it to the test!