Sparkling Sake with Naoki Toyota

4th September 2023

Sparkling Sake with Naoki Toyota

“In the world of Bubbles, the brain tends to think special, celebratory, expensive and of course deliciously hedonistic….. well my brain does.”

Naoki Toyota and Marie Cheong-Thong at The AWA sake company

Since Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon of Hautvillers, in the 17th Century ‘discovered’ his extraordinary find (besides his other work on blending, Blanc de Noirs and of course, the thicker bottle and closure method using cork and hemp to keep Champagne fresh and sparkling), the World – initially the French – benefitted the experience of fine Sparkling wine namely, Champagne.

Jean François de Troy “le Déjeuner d’Huitres” 1735 (first known depiction of Champagne in a painting)

This led to the progressive development of better production of Champagne and sparkling wines in the 19th Century. Today as we know, Champagne can only be called ‘Champagne’ if and only if, it is produced in the Champagne wine region of France, of course, demanding specific production, grape source and varietals, pressing methods and the all important secondary fermentation in its bottle.

However, there are lots of other delicious sparkling wines produced using similar production methods, different grape varietals, in different areas of France and worldwide (including the Omar Khayyam from India back in the 1990s). Other modern carbonated alcoholic drinks such as Cider, and now, even non-alcoholic fermented Kombocha and Kefir. Sprouting out are the RTD sparkling wine and sake cocktails which are so delicious.

A slightly different production method for Beer and Sparkling Sake where cereal grains are required to go through the saccharification of its starch into a sugar source for fermentation – the malting process. (Not going into the history of these original non sparkling versions nor sparkling ones today!)

We now come on to Sparkling Sake. Sake, known then as Huang Jiu (Yellow Wine) was initially invented by the Chinese 7000 years ago using a totally different production platform, relying on the mystical, magical Qu (Rhizopus and Monascus molds) with powerful enzymes which were later introduced to Japan. It wasn’t till the Yayoi Period where Japanese Aspergillus enzymes came into play. Original sake was a sort of stale, oxidised porridge imbibed from bowls. True Sake wasn’t available till the 12th Century when roughly pressed (filtered) sake was produced a liquid form, served to dignitaries and temple monks.

Today there are around 1200 sake breweries in Japan and a handful worldwide. We now have a brilliant choice and a multitude of different styles including sparkling sake. Happoshu, Japanese for sparkling sake or ‘supakuring’ sake. These can be made with any of the 8 classifications of sake based on their polishing ratio and whether a little extra alcohol is added.

Like Champagne and sparkling wine, sparkling sake can be produced by three main methods, namely, carbonation, steel tank or secondary bottle fermentation. But unlike Champagne, it can be drunk cloudy with the lees still in the bottle and generally, there is no dosage. They tend to be stored in normal bottles with metal caps (like beer) or even screw caps. There is little need for thick bottles and secured corks, as the gas pressure is around 2-3 atm though there are high-end AWA sake at 3-5 atm compared to roughly 5.6 atm for real Champagne at 10 degrees C. Sparkling sake can be anything from around 5% to over 10% ABV.

The emergence of second fermentation in the bottle sparkling sake (AWA sake) started when a group of brewers headed by the President of Nagai Sake Inc., Noriyoshi Nagai, got together with some brewers to form the Japan Awasake Association in 2016 with the aim to constantly improve product quality, raise brand awareness and to expand to new markets. In total, there are currently 23 member breweries. All the Association premium awa sakes have to be naturally fermented in the bottle on 2nd fermentation like true Champagne. It has to be clear and transparent.

In the UK there are now three sake breweries with a fourth coming soon in Guernsey. The Sparkling Sake Brewery only produces true awasake (proper AWA sake double fermented with its second fermentation in the bottle). Hand disgorged too. Naoki Toyota the Toji (brewer) and founder hails from Japan. 2017 saw him arrive on our shores to support his family – a newborn baby and wife attending Business School. In his own words during his two year paternity leave, he experimented with making Pet-Nat sparkling sake. Returning to Nara, Japan he interned with the legendary Kurose san who taught him traditional skills and knowledge of sake making. Returning to the UK in 2020 in the midst of the Covid pandemic, Naoki quietly spent his time setting up his company and launched it in October 2021 making his 70% Hinohikari Junmai Sparkling sake using local Cambridge hard water, 50% kojibuai handmade koji and number 9 kobo (yeast). Unlike normal sake, Naoki chose to use a 50% koji Moromi for extra flavour and sugars to create his awa sake.

Moromi and fermentation room

Two years on, this amazing little company makes 3,000 bottles a year and can be found all over the UK in very specially selected restaurants, quite rightly so. Experimenting with fruit but still keeping the delicious classic version.

The full range of The Sparkling Sake Company collection

The auspicious day – 3rd September 2023 sees the launch of his newest creation the AWA X Blackcurrant sparkling sake.

AWA Blackcurrant

On pouring, the gentle stream of delicate tiny bubbles rising steadily upwards was a beautiful sight. Nose of freshly picked local blackcurrants (organic of course). So deliciously decadent, fruity and clean with gentle sweetness to balance the hint of nigami. Gorgeous finish with stylish pétillant aiding the release of brain endorphins to promote the pleasurable imbibing experience. Magic!!

To learn more on sake, contact Marie.
WSET level1 and level3 and Sake Advisor taught by
WSET certified Educator and Sake School of America Senior Educator

For more information on the Sparkling Sake Company:
Naoki Toyota

Marie Cheong-Thong

Circle of Wine Writer, Guild of Food Writers and a freelance journalist and Blogger. Chairman of the British Sake Association. Judge and Educator.