The nigori this time wouldn't have been my first choice from a craft perspective, but turned out all right. I dropped in to an Asian food shop near Zurich main station, which is Korean-owned but stocks a lot of Japanese food and drink.
They used to have Hakutsuru's Sayuri nigori, which I'd had before in a Japanese restaurant in London, but seemed to have switched to Sho Chiku Bai's Crème de Sake. Which, when I looked at the label, isn't even made in Japan, it's produced by Takara USA. The label is also very uninformative when it comes to what's actually in the bottle, only saying that it's 100% product of natural fermentation. Well, you could say that about a lot of things. The Takara USA site says it's a junmai (again, can mean a lot of things) and the label did say it's 15%. Still pretty unclear what is actually in there though.
Anyway. This time around I picked up a chocolate milk that we knew we liked better than the last one, plus a few things that had come to mind during the last tasting. We heated the oven, unloaded the fridge, filled the Hario cool carafe with ice, poured the nigori, and got started!
We tasted the nigori first - delicate aroma, muted sweetness like a marshmallow, David thought it was like banana milk. On tasting there was plenty of lactic acidity but balanced with a pronounced sweet finish (almost artificial sweetener sweet) with notes of melon and sweet milk. David got banana in the aroma and apple on tasting. But it was definitely more balanced than the Shirobuta we had last time.
- Crème caramel fleur de sel Is it even legal to have caramel without salt these days? Made with salt from the Camargue region, these crème caramel were sweet, caramel-flavoured puddings that stuck to the inside of the mouth. Taking a mouthful with the nigori, they went together beautifully with the buttery/fatty cream blending well with the nigori. The crème caramel didn't have a particularly strong flavour, but seen the flavour profile of the nigori I wouldn't be surprised if the salt helped to accent it. Drinking the nigori after swallowing the crème caramel accentuated the acidity a little, but overall it was still balanced.
- Fudge This didn't blend together in the mouth quite as well as the crème caramel, but still went together very well with the nigori. The acidity in the sake was more apparent - maybe because the fudge had more overt sugar than cream/fat - but still pleasant even as it highlighted the acidity and alcohol. Trying the nigori after eating the fudge, the sugary aftertaste emphasised the acidity but didn't disturb the balance of the sake to the extent that it became unpleasant.
- Tiramisu Worked very well with the nigori in the mouth, we thought the dry cocoa powder might be a problem but it wasn't at all. The mix of cake and cream boosted acidity and alcohol to some extent, more than the crème caramel, but still pleasant. David suggested that the plain cream was neutralising some of the flavour of the sake, making the combination less satisfying than the crème caramel. Drinking the nigori after the tiramisu resulted in the acidity being more prominent but again still balanced. It has to be said that it wasn't a very good tiramisu.
- Chocolate milk We had high hopes that a different, more intense, brand of chocolate milk would give us a better result than last time but unfortunately were disappointed. It was hard to taste the nigori at all, and even adjusting quantities the tastes didn't blend and left an acidic aftertaste. Nigori after the chocolate milk was acidic and really emphasised the alcohol, and really didn't do anything for it at all. David found that neither worked against the other and thought they blended well, but found it underwhelming and they didn't really "pair" in the sense of drawing anything out from each other.
- Fondant chocolat (better known in the UK as "death by chocolate" but basically hot chocolate cake filled with hot chocolate sauce) We let these cool down a bit after taking them out of the oven, and it was immediately clear from the noises and facial expressions that we had a winner! The hot chocolate sauce emphasised the alcohol, but in a good way, making it tingle the tongue. The nigori cut through the syrupy chocolate sauce, making the texture less cloying but the taste just as intense. It wasn't quite as good with the nigori after the cake, with strong acidity but it still cleared the tongue and tasted pleasant.
- Crème brûlée We considered trying to grill the sugar topping into the traditional hard caramel glaze, but we'd had most of the bottle of nigori at this point and neither of us was sure how to operate the grill so we settled for sprinkling the sugar on the top and letting it absorb moisture to form a sort of crust. Despite our reservations, it was surprisingly good - the flavour was muted but the nigori brought out the egg and vanilla notes from the custard really well. The acidity of the nigori was buffered by the egg and fat, and the dessert wasn't too sugary so it didn't draw out acidity. Drinking the nigori after the crème brûlée emphasised the acidity a little more, but not much and it was overall still pleasant. The overall effect was subtle, not nearly as intense as the hot chocolate sauce or the crème caramel.
We tasted the nigori again at the end, it was slightly warmer but still very nice. The acidity was a little more noticeable but the flavour still balanced. David preferred it a little warmer.
But with all the tasting done, it was time to think it over and come up with some rankings!
1: Fondant chocolat/crème brûlée (joint first)
3: Crème caramel
6: Chocolate milk
1: Fondant chocolat
2: Crème caramel/crème brûlée (joint second)
6: Chocolate milk
David thought the crème brûlée deserved top billing as it became more than the sum of its parts to a greater extent than the others, with lots of subtle flavours. And as for me, well, hot chocolate sauce.
We've (mostly) run out of ideas for nigori for now - except trying it with curry which we'll have to do at some point. If you have any suggestions, let me know!