Just as every summer has a signature song, it also has a defining drink—something light, celebratory, and fun. In the past few years, rosé has commanded the category, but this year promises libations a bit more exotic.
While sparkling sake has been sneaking onto menus nationwide, it’s reaching critical mass in Boston, showing up on sake lists all over town. If you tend to think of sake as merely an accompaniment to sushi, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by just how closely the sparkling version resembles an apéritif. Each sip provides a small, citrusy "boom" inside the mouth, accented by gentle bubbles. Flavors range from tart lemon to vanilla, and the cloudy sediment left over from fermentation gives it a nicely creamy texture.
A relatively new phenomenon in Japan, sparkling sake was created by brewers roughly 15 years ago in an attempt to bring the alcohol back into vogue with trend-obsessed, westernized young drinkers, whose tastes had been shifting toward European-style hard liquor and wine. To give the quaff its pop, producers stop the fermentation process early, when there’s still a lot of sugar in the mash. They then press the sake into bottles, where a second fermentation occurs, resulting in bubbles.
Nancy Cushman, co-owner and sake sommelier at Boston’s O Ya—and a self-
proclaimed sake freak—includes three sparklers on the restaurant’s list and recommends them as cocktail starters. "Like champagne, they go really well with oysters or chocolate," she says. And because of the low alcohol content (6 to 7 percent, about as strong as hearty bock beer) and colorful little bottles, sparkling sake tends to satisfy the kitten heel–wearing, cosmo-drinking crowd. Adds Leah Ikeda, who consults on the sake list at the South End’s Pho Republique, "It’s a palate teaser."
The Latest Buzz
Tasting notes on three popular Japanese bubblies.
Hana Hou Hou Shu
Superfine bubbles with layers of citrus and a yeasty, near-dairylike creaminess. ($16.99, Brix Wine Shop, 1284 Washington St., Boston, 617-542-2749, brixwineshop.com)
Honjozo Nigori Nagaragawa