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From the Desk of The Soul of Japan: Doburoko!

I have been on a roll this month.  Sake and onsen events kept the good times rolling.   Good "Nomunication" and fading memories the next day.   Finally had a chance to enjoy "doburoku"  in Kawabata's Snow Country.   Doburoku is an unrefined common mans' alcoholic beverage, or homebrew as some would call it.   Sort of like the moonshine of the U.S.A., in that they are both  illegal to make at home, and are cheap in comparison to more refined alcoholic beverages like premium rice brews and Bourbons.  Anything refined and aged equals expensive, especially for farmers and common folks living in the countryside.   

Centuries ago, Japanese sake was  used in shinto rites, weddings, and imperial coronations.   In short, sake was made for the gods and unless you were a shinto priest you were not allowed to drink it.   However, doboroku was considered crude and drinkable by mere mortals, in other words, affordable and relatively easy to make and enjoy without getting too drunk.

Link to my favorite sake in the pic:

Doburoku, in my opinion, is the father of Japanese rice brewed alcohol, its crude cousin, or whatever you would like to call it.   Some may even consider it more related to Nigorizake, the psuedo - pino colada variant of America's popular cocktails with coconuts, only without the coconut.     Doboroku is a drink that can be enjoyed for its sometimes tart and cloying sweetness, and its laxative  benefits!   So if you work the next day, call in and stay home.   People tend to binge on this crude rice beverage without thinking about the side effects it will have the next day, thanks to the lactic acid and other enzymes that promote good digestion.   Please do  not confuse doburoku with amazake, which looks identical to Nigorizake - cloudy sake with leftover unfermented sake rice solids.   The only difference is that Amazake has 0% alcohol, and is more suitable for kids and teetotalers.   In winter, amazake is served hot!   In the picture below, I used an empty beer can; a tefal hot water pot to heat the doburoku.   You can really enjoy the full range of flavors with different temperature.

How does doburoku taste?

It's an acquired taste for starters.   Some, upon first sip, will instantly grimace at the sourness in some doburoku.   You will get all sorts of flavors ranging from too sweet, to too sour, and acidic.   What I prefer is sweet, smooth, and creamy like the ladies in my doboroku.  Some doburoku still have actively fermenting yeast even when bottled, so in such a case you will get a gassy carbonated taste.   

How does it look?

It's milky coloured and often very thick and creamy.   Some doburoku drink smoothly while others are  pressed or filtered and  have bits of rice in them making it a little rough on the palate.   Some doboroku are pink or even french vanilla yellow to appeal to females who want something a little more delicate with hints of fruit or banana.    The single most pronounced flavors I get with really good doboroku is green apple!   

What is doboroku?

The simplest definition would be Japanese sake, not murky nihonshu,  that is half brewed where the yeast is stopped half way through the fermenting process.   True sake is sake where the yeast has fully matured during the fermenting process, and this lends the clean delicate flavors of  real "seishu" with the proper amount of alcohol produced during fermentation.   Doboroku is generally lower in alcohol than sake and is cloudy and thick like a milkshake.   

What is the difference between "Doburoku" and "Nigorizake"?

Doburoku is unfiltered and unpasteurized whereas nigorizake is slightly or roughly filtered and pasteurized, there are also some variants to this as well depending on the brewer.    Another thing to remember, is that under Japanese Sake tax laws doburoku cannot be considered "nihonshu" or real sake.   Instead, it is just referred to as an alcoholic beverage.   

Which is better?

If you want to really get a taste of rough and unrefined go with traditional doburoku.   Nigorizake, while similar in a lot of aspects as its cousin, will be a bit easier on the palate, and with a lot more identifiable flavor profiles.  

Where can I buy it?

It's seasonal whereas nigorizake can be bought year-round.   Generally between November and December is when you can buy really good doburoku.  From October through to April is the best times to be enjoying Japanese nihonshu in general, but for doboroku between November and December is best, this is mainly because they are limited in quantity.    Mostly Japanese people in their 70s and 80s drink doburoku, and this is for medical reasons.   

Food pairings?

Doboroku works well with offal type dishes and organ foods like squid guts and odd fish parts that are salty and slimey.  

What regions of Japan do you recommend I go to for doboroku?

Miyazaki, Yamagata, and Niigata Prefectures - my own preference.


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