My Conversation with John Gauntner
Sake of the Month: March, 2011: Mantensei
Steve here: Okay, John. What is your sake suggestion for this month?
John: Steve, you have to try Mantensei. A great sake with an interesting story.
Steve: Tell me more.
John: A few twists of fate brought this brewer, Touda-dan, to where he is now. A microbiologist by education, he joined a sake brewery because of his love of yeast research. The brewery president at the time, with no heirs of his own, eventually passed the running of the company on to him. Later, the toji (master brewer) passed away suddenly, leaving Touda-dan in charge of production as well. In control of the entire operation, he soon shifted all their sake production to junmai-shu only. He was passionate about the concept of using only rice to brew sake (i.e. no added alcohol).
Touda-dan obviously prefers sake that has a bit of body and maturity to it. His company is located in the western prefecture of Tottori, the least populated in Japan, in the city of Chizu, famous for kitchen knives as well as being the birthplace of shabu-shabu!
Steve: What does Mantensei taste like?
John: It has a soft, honey-laced nose with just a tad of fruitiness. It is dry overall, but with a sweet element creeping out of the background. It has good richness and overall balance in a slightly dry profile.
Steve: I look forward to trying it. By the way, could you explain the term Multiple Parallel Fermentation?
John: Sure. Sake is the only marketed alcoholic beverage in the world that is produced by multiple parallel fermentation. Wine is made using grape juice that has sugar in it already. Yeast takes in this sugar and gives off alcohol. This is chemically a simple fermentation. Beer starts with barley that has starch, which yeast cells cannot deal with. So, enzymes in the malted barley chop the starch to sugar first. After that is done, the yeast converts that sugar to alcohol. So, in beer, starch-to-sugar and sugar-to-alcohol are sequential and separate.
In sake, however, enzymes from the koji mold chop starch in the rice into sugar, but this happens in the same tank and at the same time that the yeast converts the steady stream of developing sugar into alcohol. So in sake, starch-to-sugar and sugar-to-alcohol take place at the same time, and in the same tank. This is called heikou fuku hakkou in Japanese, or multiple parallel fermentation; and is unique to sake in marketed alcoholic beverages.
Steve: Step-by-step, we are becoming educated. Thanks John! See you next month!
John Gauntner is one of the world’s most celebrated sake experts. He is an author, newspaper columnist and international lecturer. See John’s website at http://www.sake-world.com.