What is hiyaoroshi and where did you get it?
From the first time I heard about hiyaoroshi (via the Sake Revolution podcast), I knew I had to try one. Outside of my nihonshu exploits, my beer drinking tends to be influenced by the seasons. Crisp lagers and tropical IPAs in summer, the annual releases of Delirium and Sierra Nevada’s Christmas ales or strong, roasty stouts in winter. For me, autumn is all about those malty, caramel-tinged bitters, fiery ginger ales. And one of my absolute favourite beer styles, red ale! Nothing beats a pint of red by a log fire, whilst you watch the burnt-orange leaves fall from the trees outside. For a sake nerd of such persuasion, to discover that there is a specialist autumn nihonshu was very exciting.
In simple terms, hiyaoroshi is a term for sake pasteurised once in winter, before being cellared and matured through spring and summer, ready for an autumn release. As it does not undergo a second pasteurisation before bottling, it may also be described as a namazume. By contrast, akiagari (sometimes used as a synonym, I discovered!) generally refers to a twice pasteurised sake released in the autumn. At least in the modern sake world!
Whilst hiyaoroshi has no legally binding requirements, it is generally made available for sale from early September. It is both very popular and very limited.
For these reasons (along with import waiting times and my over-eagerness), sourcing hiyaoroshi in the UK proved quite a challenge. My local sake haven (the Sparrows in Manchester) bore no results, and internet shopping searches were frustratingly US-focused. Of course, there is also the issue of whether retailers label products with their full specifications. Just as I was about to resign myself to failure, VSF delivered, in the form of Masumi Hiyaoroshi Sleeping Beauty. I was overjoyed!
Specs and techs
Masmi is a sake brand of Miyasaka Brewery established in the industrial city of Suwa, Nagano Prefecture in 1662. It is known for its use of locally sourced Miyamanishiki rice, pure mountain water and the immensely popular Kyokai #7 yeast strain originally discovered in the brewery. Masumi produce a range of classifications across its two sites. The brewery is extremely proud of its ‘local, traditional, innovative’ approach to sake-making. It has earned them countless awards, and an excellent international reputation. I could think of no one better to trust to deliver my first delve into autumnal sake heaven.
Sleeping Beauty is a junmai ginjo, with a rice polishing ratio of 55%, and an alcohol by volume of 15%. It was produced using the yamahai method, a variation of a traditional technique. In yamahai, the yeast starter is left to sit for some time, inviting bacteria to work its own magic and produce lactic acid for sake brewing. The process may also allow wild yeast to settle in the mix, further contributing to the profile.
Caressing the beautifully presented 720ml brown glass bottle, I couldn’t wait to see how all of this came together in the sake. Stored in the fridge since delivery, I brought this up to just below room temperature for the grand opening, which I decided to do unaccompanied by food.
On the first pour, I was slightly surprised to find a typical translucent sake. Autumn conjures up a particular red, orange and brown colour scheme, and whilst uncommon, there are certainly non-charcoal filtered or aged nihonshu tinged with this palette. I suppose my red ale comparisons were still at the forefront of my mind!
A whiff conjures medium intensity umami characteristics; wet leaves, fresh soil and just a hint of mushroom, all whilst retaining an alluring freshness. Few would argue against Sleeping Beauty’s autumnal credentials from an aroma perspective. Hiyaoroshi characteristics are certainly dominant over ginjo’s typical fruity notes here.
The real treat is definitely in the taste. This is a complex yet easy to enjoy sake, again driven by medium-bodied savoury flavours of mushroom, and lightly toasted sesame seeds. Interestingly, there is also a light and fresh tinge of acidity, giving excellent balance and depth of flavour here. I couldn’t help smiling, as it’s rare that I agree with the tasting notes printed on a label.
Encouraged by this bullseye, for a second tasting I took its advice to pair with ‘oven roasted vegetables’, in the form of Meera Sodha’s store cupboard vegan lentil salad (see the Guardian website), which sees roast aubergine peppers and shallots marinated in lemon juice and oregano.. This worked particularly well, with solid allies for both the umami and tangy aspects of the sake.
Sleeping Beauty was my first hiyaoroshi. Delicious as it may be, it’d be crazy of me to shoehorn the entire style based on my impressions. Much will depend on classification, the nuances associated with regionality, rice, water, other ingredients and brewing conditions. However, if it is anything to go off, whilst perhaps not quite as blatant as a pumpkin soup, bonfire or brown knitted jumper, there are certainly elements of the autumn season in this unique and complex style.
September 2021 is a long way off yet. But it’s hard not to drift into slightly anxious musing about where next year’s offering will come from, and whether. Faced with this expertly crafted, bold but never overpowering beautiful sake, I’m very tempted to go all Delirium Noel and just make Masumi’s Sleeping Beauty one of my annual traditions!