Heaven's Sake

Sweet, creamy nigori is growing in popularity.

By Mara Zepeda
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jan. 23, 2008

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The rice of fame: Considered less nuanced than regular sake, nigori has charms all its own. (photo by: Michael Persico)

It's a sad, sad feeling to go to a website like 00sake.com, click on "deliver to PA" and get the message: "No sake sale to the shipping state you have chosen." Then to click on, oh, 44 other states and see the friendly message: "No restrictions. You can buy anything you want." It's cruel.

Even crueler is to search for sake on the PLCB Wine & Spirits Premium Collection and to come up with two results, one of which is produced in Oregon. But before my little porcelain cup overflows with tears of self-pity ...

I was in search of nigori (meaning "cloudy"), a milky-white variety of sake that recently captured my affection. With regular sake, the fermented rice mash used in its making is meticulously filtered out. With nigori, a rougher filter is used, allowing the particles to pass through. This coarser method--the oldest form of sake-making--results in a sweet, rich and creamy drink. It's rustic, and apparently lacks the refined, nuanced notes of filtered sake. But who cares?

Clearly I'm not the only one smitten by the charming blue bottles and starchy, opaque refreshment. Jesse Lee, general manager at 1225 Raw Sushi & Sake Lounge, says nigori has "flown off the shelves" since the restaurant opened two years ago. "I thought it'd be a slow process of introducing and educating people, but they really do want to try something new," he says. Of the five regular brands 1225 carries, Lee has three favorites: Sake Romance, Crazy Milk and Kizukura.

Jonathan Read lived and worked in Japan as a chef and started the sake program at Moore Brothers Wine Company in Pennsauken, N.J. "As foreign as nigori is," he says, "there are familiar notes to it," which might explain its growing appeal. There are hints of coconut and mint, and lactic, yogurt undertones. And the textural component adds novelty, setting it apart from both regular sake and alcohol in general. "There's really nothing else like it," says Read.

For the rigorously edited, temperature-controlled selection at Moore Brothers, Read chose Hakushika Snow Beauty nigori, a "crowd pleaser" that's easy on the wallet. "The name automatically put me off. It sounds like something sponsored by Disney, and I didn't want anything to do with it." Slightly sweet but not dessert-like, and blessed with a pleasing chewiness, the brand ultimately won out.

Read recommends keeping nigori in the refrigerator and drinking it six months to a year after it's been produced (there's often a date stamp on the bottle). Forgo serving it with sushi and instead pair it with fried or grilled foods, like tempura, steak, yakitori or kabobs. Read finds it also complements spicy Thai or Korean dishes.

To serve, Lee suggests flipping the bottle and gently massaging it back and forth instead of shaking it vigorously, and then serving it cold. One 300-milliliter bottle is the recommended individual serving size.

But after consumption be warned: the rest of the evening might be a little unfiltered as well.

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