Goros Sake Lowdown
Goros Sake Lowdown
A master of rice wine’s insider knowledge
This article first appeared in The Local, a quarterly feature of Neighbourhood newspaper.
By Cordelia Williamson
Walking into a bar in the day always leaves me feeling on edge. I push on through the glass doors anyway and enter up the stairs; the shift from light to dim like a reverse hangover. I’m at Goros, the Japanese-inspired, somewhat hidden bar on a backstreet of Surry Hills and it’s 3pm on a Friday. I’ve missed the lunch crowd and it’s too early for people to knock off work. Cricket hour.
I perch myself at one of the bamboo-slatted booths and crack the laptop. It’s not long before Miles Brown – saké master and Goros guru – walks in with huge Ikea bags and a smile like a kid. He joins me and, as we offer our individual small talk, my eyes can’t help but dart from the collage-style poster-covered walls, the pink neon ‘Geisha’ sign, flames from behind the kitchen pass, the arcade games across the room and back to the white-blue light from my computer before resting on Miles. Even with no-one here the place is busy.
We move outside because Bowie’s playing both loudly and distractingly; the timber-clad courtyard a mismatch from the electric neon buzz inside.
“I was actually in Japan the first time I tried saké,” Miles tell me. “I was 21 and had no idea what it was. I probably ordered one that wasn’t great. So I just sipped on it and sipped on it. Then I started working here with no real experience or knowledge of saké. So I just took to the internet and watching videos which wasn’t that informative. It’s Japanese and there’s not many sites in English. And it’s not like wine where you can go to the Hunter Valley and see it firsthand. So I did a WSET Level 1 Award in Saké.”
As one naturally does.
Miles speaks softly, considering words before they come which is a nice counterbalance to my Gatling gun pace. He explains to me, an occasional drinker of saké but by no means a master, that although considered a rice wine, saké is brewed much more like beer.
“It's fermented with four ingredients. They get rice (obviously), water, yeast and koji. Kojis are these mold spores sprinkled on the rice. They boil that with water and then yeast and then they get this alcohol content which turns into something that is filtered through machinery and comes out into the distillation process where it's almost ready for bottling. For junmai saké they add alcohol to that final product to increase the shelf life and get more flavors from that as well. If alcohol’s not added then it’s non-junmai.”
There’s four main saké types – Daiginjo, Gingo, Honjozo and Futsu-shu – each graded by how polished the rice is prior to the brewing.
“This changes the purity of the saké and makes a huge difference in taste,” notes Miles. “There’s over 1800 saké breweries in Japan alone. Each offer different styles and differ in taste. The climate, location, water source and local community all have a major impact on the saké brewed.”
My confusion at this point is evident.
“In a way it’s like wine,” says Miles, offering me some comparable to cling to. “Sort of. You develop your palate. Just finding out what you like and what you know suits you and go from there. That’s why we wanted to make saké a big focus here and we reduced our wine list to push people towards drinking it. Goros is a fun introduction to saké.
“Drier styles go well with fish and rice and sweeter ones with desserts or bringing out some flavours in a sauce. But really, it's down to personal preference.”
For the average newbie, Yuzushu (citrus based saké) or Umeshu (plum based saké) are good ones to start off with. Offering saké-based cocktails as well, the venue celebrates the Japanese alcohol outside of traditional practices. Being a purist myself, the thought doesn’t appeal. But come 9pm tonight, Saké Iced Teas and Sing-along Spritzes will be flowing, he assures.
“It's just such an interesting flavour that wines and beers just can't reach,” says Miles. “Why not have saké at any bar, not just a Japanese one? It is just a really beautiful product.”
A couple of smokers have joined us over the course of our interview and I thank Miles for his time. He heads off to set up for the evening’s madness and I make to leave through the deep neon-lit chamber. ‘China Girl’ blasts from the speakers. I laugh at the irony.