A majority of sakes are pasteurised in order to stabilise quality, however namazake forgoes this process. Lack of pasteurisation leaves namazake in a fragile state, so strict storage and transport conditions are generally considered necessary to help guarantee the quality. Namazake must be kept refrigerated and is usually best to be consumed as quickly as possible, better within 3 months. Namazake is available only on-location at breweries or in selected places close to the brewing source. Only a limited amount is exported to Hong Kong and importers have to guarantee that refrigerated warehouses and transportation are used throughout the process.
Namazake is often characterized by its refreshing and vivid flavours. It is better to be consumed immediately because of its vulnerability, otherwise, sake’s flavour can deteriorate due to external factors, losing their fresh aromas. Spoiled sake shows the loss of floralness and fruitiness, stronger mouthfeel of alcohol, and the bitterness in taste. If the storage environment is not cold enough, the lactic acid bacteria in the bottle will turn into Mevalonic acid (MVA or Hiochi bacteria), making the whole bottle of sake turbid with an unpleasant sour smell, making it almost impossible to drink.
However, there are always curious enthusiasts in the sake world, who are eager to explore more. In fact, as long as certain requirements are met, namazake can be matured beautifully.
I may be one of those extremely curious people. Originally, I thought that namazake should be drunk as soon as possible. Until many years ago, I met “Houraisen Wa Junmai Ginjo” aged sake in Nagoya. In fact, as long as the temperature is maintained at about -5°C, the sweetness of namazake will be more prominent after a period of time. This “Wa” is only released after the sake is aged for at least 1 year, it is very delicate and the taste is harmonious and smooth.
Another interesting example is the ‘Yukimi-sake’ from my favourite brewery ‘Nechi Otokoyama’. This sake is only available at the end of each year, but I bought it in October of the next year, it is definitely considered the bottom batch as a namazake. Though I was expecting nothing before opening the bottle, thanks to the shop’s storage condition, I found it extremely delicate, silky, elegant, and deeply flavoured when I drank it.
Its new stock replenished 2 months later in December. Attributed to the previous enjoyable experience, I purchased it without any thought. This time I drank it fresh but I felt completely different. Not only did it have a rich ripe banana aroma, but the alcohol (17% abv) was quite abrupt, the balance was not that good. After a sip, I regretted that it should be aged in the refrigerator for maybe half a year. Because this sake is not available in Hong Kong, I have to wait until we could travel again.
I recommend that readers should try to age your own namazake, maybe you would have an unexpected surprise!
Based in Hong Kong / Official trainer of Dassai / Experienced sake educator (WSET, SSI) / JSA Sake Diploma / International sake judge