Welcome to Liquid Lowdown, a column that explores the unusual, lovely world of native drinks made proper right here in metro Phoenix (or simply past). Snap open a can or thrum the cork from a bottleneck. Cheers. Let’s get bizarre.
Identify: Navajo Native Tea-Brewed Junmai Ginjo
ABV: 15 %
Maker: Arizona Sake
The place to Purchase: You’ll find this restricted launch for about $30 at craft beverage distributors from Flagstaff to Tucson, however solely choose distributors, so name forward.
Lowdown: Atop Arizona’s craft beverage scene, you’ll discover bold, rigorous artisans who craft beer, cider, and mead. You’ll additionally discover Atsuo Sakurai, co-owner and brewer of Arizona Sake in Holbrook. Famously, in 2018, Atsuo was named one of the best sake craftsman on the planet past Japan by a panel in Tokyo. Lately, Atsuo launched his newest bottle. It travels to a considerably stunning place: a lot deeper into Arizona.
This bottle unites junmai ginjo, his customary sake, with Navajo Tea. Also referred to as greenthread, Navajo Tea is a lean, willowy-armed herb that just about appears like wild growths of lengthy grass. Contained in the bottles of pale straw-gold sake, just a few sallow sprigs lean.
In Japan, sake is a notoriously strict product. Atsuo, who discovered over lengthy years of brewing in his residence nation, has succeeded partly by selecting correctly when to interrupt from previous strictures, for instance, by utilizing California rice. Atsuo brews with an open thoughts. Utilizing Navajo Tea in such a scrupulous beverage speaks to his curiosity, his willingness to grapple with and, if all goes nicely, embrace the unknown.
For Atsuo, nevertheless, Navajo Tea is a recognized unknown.
“I used to be searching for one thing from Arizona to combine with Japanese tradition, as a result of my spouse is from Arizona and he or she’s Navajo,” the Yokohama native says. “So my Japanese tradition and her Native tradition.” The concept to make use of Navajo Tea got here from his father-in-law, the bodily herbs from pals who collect.
Final yr, Atsuo and his spouse and co-owner, Heather Sakurai, completed constructing a small sake brewery. Not does he brew in his storage, however he nonetheless makes sake in micro batches: 100 gallons at a time, up from 50. It’s nonetheless handmade with ardor and a private contact. It’s nonetheless pushed by his approach and persona.
Not like a few of his different bottles, his newest is pasteurized, a possible warper of taste. Additionally, infusing such a pure, high quality beverage with new taste feels dangerous. How would his newest and most experimental bottle stack up?
The sake pours a clear mild gold, lucent, with very faint shimmers of an evanescent inexperienced, or possibly I’m loopy. The flavour? Sensible. Like studying a poem or seeing a portray that you could’t totally unravel with any effort of logic or cause, however that you just simply merely admire, dazzled, as its tonic impact sweeps you.
Critically, the Navajo Tea infusion is ghost-light. It alters his customary junmai ginjo in very small methods. Within the minutes after opening the bottle, and because it warms from being chilled, its taste appears to alter.
Sallow lengths of Navajo Tea, additionally referred to as greenthread, lean within the bottle.
At first, there’s a deep florality, one thing with out the standard fruity notes of his sakes. After which, possibly 5 minutes in, an elusive fruity taste flashes, one thing within the zone of lychee. Lastly, some faint lemon and a little bit of peach develop, whereas, as ever, the sake maintains an utter minimal of sweetness. At occasions, you get deep milky rice notes just like these of an important horchata however, once more, no sweetness. And all of the whereas, the early florality and herbaceous notes persist, dragging you lovingly by means of some far-flung meadow the place Navajo Tea twists from the soil, all different flavors altering the best way our state adjustments from north to south.
The Navajo Tea sake is masterful, identical to Atsuo’s others.
“The flavour could be very pure and smells like grass,” Atsuo says. “It provides in a extra religious manner, I feel. It’s from our state and mom nature.”
Atsuo, who says his enterprise has been largely unchanged for the reason that pandemic started, nonetheless prefers his unique to this mild infusion. He envisions his Navajo Tea sake as one individuals can get for pals, a bottle channeling an essence of his present residence state.
“I need individuals to get pleasure from with household and pals,” he says. “It’s a really distinctive memento to allow them to style how Arizona feels within the bottle.”