05 Sep 2019 in Discover Japan
Experience the fresh, lively taste of hiyaoroshi sake this autumn.
Autumn is eagerly awaited in Japan. For nature-lovers, it means momijigari, a chance to admire the colourful, ever-changing landscape of the country’s varied forests, mountains and parks.
For foodies, it brings shokuyoku no aki, a diverse glut of delicious seasonal dishes. And for sake lovers, it’s all about hiyaoroshi, the young autumnal sake that offers a vibrant, mellow taste and is the perfect accompaniment to fatty Fall foods.
Every autumn in the Karuizawa Hoshino Area, a special Sake Terrace is organized to celebrate the arrival of hiyaoroshi. Stay at nearby HOSHINOYA Karuizawa and you’ll be able to sample a wide range of local hiyaoroshi paired with seasonal smoked food – with the vibrant colours of the Japanese Alps as your backdrop.
A singular sake
The smooth flavour of hiyaoroshi is one of the great pleasures of the autumn. Its distinct taste is a result of both its young age and the unique brewing process. While most sake is pasteurized twice, once after filtering and again before bottling, hiyaoroshi is pasteurized just once.
The tradition is thought to date back to the Edo Period, when the cooler temperatures of autumn neutralized the threat of lactic bacteria, making a second pasteurization unnecessary. Pressed in the winter, then matured over the summer, hiyaoroshi is ready for consumption in autumn.
Today, the release of hiyaoroshi is eagerly awaited by sake enthusiasts. Much like France’s Beaujolais Nouveau, there has been a recent drive to establish an official release date (September 9th), even if it is not strictly respected by every brewery. If you’re new to sake, hiyaoroshi is a great starting point thanks to its refreshing smoothness and deep, well-balanced flavour.
And, for connoisseurs, one of the key attractions of hiyaoroshi is that its character changes over the autumn months.
When first released in September, hiyaoroshi has a young, soft flavour that is easy to drink. But, as the autumn advances, the sake continues to age, becoming richer and more complex. Such are the differences in flavour that many breweries release their hiyaoroshi under a different name every month.
Drink hiyaoroshi in September, and you’ll be sipping nagoshizake, usually served chilled or at room temperature to bring out its refreshing smoothness. Because it is mild and highly drinkable, nahoshizake goes well with light foods such as tofu, pickles or plain mushrooms.
In October, nagoshizake gives way to akidashi-ichibanzake. By now, the ageing process has perfectly balanced the flavour and aroma, bringing a deeper taste with a soft edge. Drink it cold to appreciate its sharpness or warm to bring out its sweetness.
The perfect pairing? Oden hotpot or fresh saury fish.
Finally, the November release of hiyaoroshi is known as banshu-umazake. It becomes thicker, with a mature taste packed with richness and umami. Served warm to bring out its comforting mellowness, banshu-umazake is the ideal tipple for strong-flavoured food. Take your pick from salted fish, miso dishes or anything with soy sauce.
Full fall experience
The best way to experience hiyaoroshi is by heading to a sake-producing area like Karuizawa, around an hour from Tokyo by train. Thanks to its setting in the foothills of the Japanese Alps, this small city offers a plentiful supply of pristine water, an essential ingredient for making sake.
Located outside the centre and surrounded by forested hills, Sonmin-Shokudo restaurant in the Karuizawa Hoshino Area organizes a special Sake Terrace every autumn to celebrate hiyaoroshi season.
This year, the ninth edition takes place from September 9th to October 6th, a chance to sample a range of autumn sake from some of the thirteen local breweries.
Staff are on hand to explain the different varieties and guide your choices. And to accompany the mellow tones of seasonal sake, what better accompaniment than freshly-smoked food?
Help yourself to smoked cheese, fish, Nozawana turnips and much more – all grilled inside large sake barrels and smoked using lees from the sake-making process.
For the ultimate autumn experience, combine the Sake Terrace with a night at nearby HOSHINOYA Karuizawa, where you’ll stay in a large tree-filled park crisscrossed with rivers and red footbridges. And you’ll have plenty of time to admire the vibrant colours of the tranquil forests surrounding the nearby volcano, Mt. Asama.
Photo credits: Kurand.jp