By Dan Kochakian
photo – Dovetail Sake maker Todd Bellomy
Craft beer fans are adventurous and enjoy exploring and learning about new styles and types of beverages. Cider is now a big draw, but sake (pronounced sa-kay), an infant in the beverage industry in the US, is quickly coming into its own. Local (Boston) sake brewer, Todd Bellomy (who worked at Boston Beer Co. (Sam Adams) for eight years and studied in Japan), is certain that sake consumption will soon increase among craft beer enthusiasts. Currently, there are fewer than 20 sake brewers in the US while there are around 1,500 in Japan.
Todd explained that the process of making sake is similar to brewing beer, except that instead of mashing, he uses a fungus called koji to break down starches into sugars on a typical batch of 600 pounds of Arkansas-grown brewing rice. After experimenting with test batches of different varieties of rice, yeast and koji, Todd settled on combinations he preferred; he and his partner, Daniel Krupp currently make two year-round styles and one style that is a fall seasonal. The process of growing Koji on 25% of the rice involves sterile environments, rigid temperature control, and some nights of sleeping at the brewery. However it is the cornerstone of making great sake. Before the brewing can begin, a small yeast starter is made in a separate tank to increase the number of yeast cells to ensure a healthy open fermentation.
At the start of brewing, the yeast starter is transferred to a 700-litre tank with 25% of the remaining ingredients where it sits for a day. Then the remainder is added over the course of four days where the rice is digested with the enzyme-rich water from the koji, which converts the rice starches into sugars. The rice breaks down into a watery rice flour; this melting actually occurs simultaneously with the fermentation in the same tank. A lower temperature and slow fermentation produces clean, crisp sake.
For Dovetail’s filtered 16% sake, Nakahama Junmai, the rice mash (called moromi) is pressed and then transferred to another tank where the fine solids will drop out in a week by means of a fining agent and gravity. After being run through a filter into a storage tank, the finished sake, about 450 liters, will be bottled and kegged directly from the last vessel. Junmai has a big tropical fruit flavor with mango and pineapples in the nose and a slight fennel finish.
Omori Nigori is an unfiltered sake with a portion that is unpressed and unfiltered giving it a slight white haze. The 14% Nigori is bottled and pasteurized on the same day; otherwise, fermentation will continue. Nigori has a heavier, rounder profile with apple and pear notes and is available via bottle-only because the active Koji and yeast in draft sake will change and intensify the beverage considerably.
Expand your horizons by sampling some fragrant, fruity sakes that pair well with many types of food. To find one of 70 retailers and restaurants carrying Dovetail Sake, go to www.dovetailsake.com/findus.