Move over, Prosecco and Cava. Sparkling sake offers an alternative to the usual bubbly choices.
When it comes to picking a sparkling wine, habit may have us reaching for Champagne, prosecco or cavaâ€”the old reliable standbys. This spring, switch things up with something a little different: sparkling sake.
Known as happo-shu in Japan, these effervescent sakes come in a range of stylesâ€”from dry and crisp, to fruity and slightly sweet. They tend to skew lower in alcohol than still sake, which makes for an aperitif especially well suited to HawaiÊ»i’s warm, temperate climate. And as a bonus, many come in smaller-sized bottlesâ€”perfect for just a glass or two.
Like regular sake, these sparklers are made from polished rice that has been fermented with a koji mold. In most cases, the fermented sake then undergoes a secondary fermentation to naturally reactivate the dormant yeast and produce bubblesâ€”similar to Champagne.
If you’re familiar with sake, you’ll recognize the same classification system based on how much the rice was polished before fermentation. As a refresher, junmai means up to 30 percent of the rice grain has been polished away; ginjo is more refined (40-percent polished), and at the top, the super premium daigingo, or junmai daigingo, is 50-percent polished. Generally speaking, the sakes get lighter and more fragrant as more of the husk gets removed, and this tends to hold true for the sparkling versions.
Many sparkling sakes are made in the Nigori (unfiltered) style, so they carry a milky color and rice particles, which helps add a richer texture: an important factor for balance under all those bubbles.
Because these sakes are generally light and refreshing, they make good sense during cocktail hour alongside some fried or spicy snacks. Or for the sweeter iterations, think after-dinner drinks as a pairing with desserts, like crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e topped with tropical fruit or a super-rich cheesecake.
For a more novel spin, consider using them as an ingredient in mixed drinks. Mixologists have found that sparkling sakes’ light flavor and gentle bubbles make a natural fit for effervescent cocktails. Try substituting one for sparkling wine in the Airmail (rum, lime juice, honey and sparkling wine) or the French 75 (gin, lemon juice, sugar and sparkling wine). Or, for a twist on the familiar, the bubbly sake will lighten up a white sangria, punch or even a mojito.
DEWAZAKURA TOBIROKU GINGO SPARKLING
Somewhat unusual for a sparkling sake, this example from the Yamagata prefecture is dry and crisp. At 15-percent ABV, it also skews higher in alcohol than many of its peers, making this a sparkling sake to contemplate.
HARUSHIKA “TOKIMEKI” SPARKLING SAKE JUNMAI
From the Nara prefecture, this unfiltered (nigori) sake has a milky color, aromas of tropical fruit, citrus and pear. A lightly sweet profile and assertive bubbles makes this a good choice for an aperitif.
SHOCHIKUBAI SHIRAKEBEGURA MIO SPARKLING SAKE
At just five-percent alcohol, this mild and sweet sake carries a gentle, fruity aroma.
OKUNOMATSU FORMULA NIPPON JUNMAI DAIGINJO SPARKLING
This Fukushima sake sparkler was originally brewed to spray in celebration of the Formula Nippon car race. Refined and elegant, it is made from highly polished rice and carries a delicate melon-like aroma. At 13-percent alcohol, it is a more serious example of the category.
CHIKURIN HOU HOU SHU SPARKLING SAKE
Fans of this gentle sparkler appreciate the balance it strikes between acidity and a soft, creamy texture.
CHIKURIN HANA HOU HOU SHU SPARKLING JUNMAI
This distinctive entry gets its rosy pink color from an infusion of hibiscus and rose hips. Light and refreshing, it carries notes of melon and berries.