by Kido Hirotaka

Japan is an island country where, because of its geography, most regions can harvest food fresh from the ocean. Perhaps the phrase “raw food culture” derives from other countries that don’t quite grasp that. And your average Japanese probably associates “raw” with “fresh.” What is raw is fresh, and that means delicious.

In the world of Japanese sake, where pasteurization is a part of the process, sake that has not undergone such heat treatment is called “fresh (raw) sake.” Its shelf life is not very long at all, but people enjoy its freshly brewed flavor. In the old days, breweries could give the product to only a select few living nearby–it was apparently greatly prized. The Japanese beer industry was similar; the non-pasteurized product just before it was put in kegs and bottles, or immediately after, was called “Nama (fresh) Beer.”

But there is a huge difference in the process between Japanese sake and beer; the same “fresh” means two totally different things.

The aim of added heat in sake is to kill off special bacteria that would make it go bad, as well as enzyme deactivation. Sake is much different from beer, however, in that the conversion of starch to sugar and then to alcohol occurs in the same tank at the same time, so you can’t just pasteurize it in the middle; the heat would halt the conversion. Enzymes from the yeast remain in the finished sake and if it is not pasteurized, then this “fresh sake” has to be shipped immediately in cool temperatures or else it will easily spoil.

What’s the case for beer, where starch conversion and fermentation occur in separate tanks? After the starches are converted to sugars, the resulting wort is transferred to another tank for the boil. The main reason for this is to reduce the risk of contamination from bacteria. After this process, the wort is cooled, yeast is added, and fermentation begins. In essence, beer accommodates a mid-process boil, before fermentation in a separate tank, making it less vulnerable to bacteria.

Beer also uses hops, which, in addition to lending it fresh aroma and bitterness, play another major role, namely preventing the propagation of bacteria. Particularly in the case of craft beer that tends to use a lot of hops, the effect is enormous.

However, so-called big-name “nama beer” relies on filters to remove any remaining yeast and microbes. The filters presently used by the industrial breweries are micro-filters developed by NASA. The mesh of the filters is so fine, though, that you lose not only microbes, but also some of the flavor and aromatic components. Is beer that is stripped of all flavor characteristics imparted by yeast and other microbes “fresh”? Haven’t industrial breweries merely confused the consumer, trying to exploit that term “fresh,” as it is associated with sake, to their own advantage?










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