Speaking Sake with Nate Chung of Mott St

Ring in 2015 with a sake celebration! Beverage Director Nate Chung of Mott St brings us insight into picking & pairing wines that compliment East-Asian cuisine. Chung’s expertise stems from his upbringing in Hawaii to his time at Mott St. In Hawaii, Chung’s experience with sake was mostly associated with sushi bars or holiday toasts, intriguing, unique varietals at Mott St has opened the door for Chung to experience and flourish in the sake World. “There, the sakes I drank were delicate, crisp, and heady. Notes of rice and tingly acid were the primary profiles. At Mott St, I have been exposed to another dimension. Indeed, our sake list comprises of sakes that are not the typical varietals I grew up enjoying. Instead, our list stands up to the bold flavors in our cuisine. Ripe muskmelon, gripping umami, and smoked cheese are aromas and flavors that have enlightened my palate,” says Chung.

“Chicago is a whiskey town. We like bold flavors and drinks that warm us through the wretched winter weather. Interestingly enough, there are a plethora of sakes that hold up to such demands. A favorite sake of mine is Kenbishi Mizuho Kuromatsu, a junmai yamahai sake. Kenbishi is laden with umami, and bold with layers of complex notes. Another surprising favorite is Mukai’s Inemankai sake made from an heirloom red rice. It smells like smoked gouda and tastes like sherry with a fresh acidity and long finish.”-Nate Chung


Nate Chung shares his expertise below, for the full experience, head to Mott St and try some pairings first hand.

What makes sake so unique?

I am amazed by the spectrum of flavors that yield from rice, koji, yeast, and water. I find the tension of savory with acidic and ripe melons a unique flavor manifestation.

Aside from sushi, what are the best pairings for sake?

Sake ranges from delicate and wispy to funky and meaty. Especially for the latter, I would pair grilled fish, roasted pork, and BBQ. Sake’s umami nature is a phenomenal complement to the maillard reaction in seared foods.

Can you describe shochu? Which are the best brands to enjoy if you are not familiar with it?

Shochu’s bouquets are precise, powerful, and haunting. Sniffing some sweet potato shochu like Hotaru Firefly or Kuradashi Genshu will transport you to pink fields of soft flowers. With a single sip, you’ll see that the ripe fruit highlights the sweet potato’s terroir.

At home sake tasting could be a fun twist on a wine tasting this Holiday season…how do you go about choosing which sake to taste test? Which finger foods would be best to leave out during a sake tasting?

For a tasting of three to four sakes I would choose a bottle from the following categories:
1) Junmai Daiginjo – for the most refined expression of rice
2) Daiginjo – for both aromatic qualities and hints of umami
3) Honjozo or Junmai – for nuttiness, for bolder expressions
4) Yamahai or Kimoto – meaty, umami bombs
5) If you really would like to go all out I’d suggest either a Nigori (cloudy, unfiltered sake) or a Hierloom Rice Sake. Inemankai Red Rice Sake is phenomenal with smoked gouda and sherry notes.

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