• What is sake

    Decoding the Mystery of Sake

Sake, often referred to as “rice wine,” is a traditional Japanese alcoholic beverage that has been enjoyed for centuries. Its delicate flavors and unique brewing process have made it a favorite not just in Japan, but around the world. For those unfamiliar with this drink, the world of sake can seem a bit daunting. This guide aims to demystify sake for beginners, offering insights into its history, types, brewing process, and how to enjoy it best.

The History of Sake

The origins of sake can be traced back over a thousand years. Historians believe that sake was first brewed in Japan around the 8th century. Initially, it was a drink reserved for religious ceremonies and royal occasions. Over time, as brewing techniques improved and became more widespread, sake became an integral part of Japanese culture and daily life.

Understanding the Ingredients

At its core, sake is made from four primary ingredients:

  • Rice: Specifically, sake rice, which is different from the rice we eat. It’s larger and contains a higher starch content.
  • Water: The quality of water used in brewing plays a significant role in the final taste of the sake.
  • Yeast: Converts the sugars from the rice into alcohol.
  • Koji mold: A type of fungus that helps break down rice starches into sugars.

The Brewing Process

Sake brewing is an intricate process that requires precision and patience. Here’s a simplified overview:

  1. Rice Polishing: The outer layer of the rice grain is milled away to expose the starchy core. The extent of polishing determines the type and quality of the sake.
  2. Washing and Soaking: The polished rice is washed and then soaked to achieve the desired moisture content.
  3. Steaming: The rice is steamed to prepare it for the fermentation process.
  4. Koji Production: A portion of the steamed rice is sprinkled with koji mold, which converts the rice’s starches into sugars.
  5. Fermentation: The koji rice, steamed rice, yeast, and water are mixed in a tank. Over time, the yeast consumes the sugars, producing alcohol.
  6. Pressing, Filtering, and Pasteurizing: Once fermentation is complete, the liquid is pressed out, filtered, and then pasteurized to stabilize it.
  7. Aging: The sake is aged for several months to allow its flavors to mature.
People drinking sakePeople drinking sake

Types of Sake

There are several types of sake, categorized based on the rice polishing ratio and whether additional alcohol has been added:

Junmai: Pure rice sake with no added alcohol. It has a full-bodied flavor.

Honjozo: A small amount of distilled alcohol is added. It’s light and easy to drink.

Ginjo: Made with rice that’s been polished to at least 60%. It has fruity and floral notes.

Daiginjo: A premium sake made with rice polished to at least 50%. It’s aromatic and refined.

How to Enjoy Sake

Temperature: Sake can be enjoyed chilled, at room temperature, or warmed, depending on the type and personal preference.

Serving: Traditionally, sake is served in small ceramic cups called “ochoko.” It’s poured from a flask known as a “tokkuri.”

Sake food Pairing Suggestions Sake food Pairing Suggestions

Sake food pairing suggestions

Sake, with its diverse range of flavors, aromas, and textures, can be paired with a wide variety of foods. Unlike wine, which gets its acidity from grapes, sake derives its umami from the amino acids present in the rice. This umami quality allows sake to pair harmoniously with many dishes, from traditional Japanese cuisine to Western and other Asian foods.

Junmai: Being rich and full-bodied, Junmai sake pairs well with savory dishes. Think grilled meats, stews, and umami-rich foods.

Ginjo & Daiginjo: With their fruity and floral notes, these sakes are great with lighter dishes like sashimi, salads, and lightly grilled fish.

Nigori: This cloudy sake has a creamy texture, making it a delightful match for spicy foods, creamy dishes, and even desserts.

Sparkling Sake: Its effervescence and lightness make it a perfect companion for appetizers, fried foods, and dishes with a hint of sweetness.

Honjozo: With a slightly higher alcohol content and a light, smooth taste, it pairs well with sushi, tempura, and other traditional Japanese dishes.

Storing Sake

Unlike wine, sake doesn’t benefit from long-term aging once bottled. It’s best consumed within a year. Store your sake in a cool, dark place, and once opened, keep it refrigerated and consume within a few weeks.

Sake is more than just an alcoholic beverage; it’s a reflection of Japanese culture, tradition, and craftsmanship. Whether you’re sipping a robust Junmai or a fragrant Daiginjo, each sip offers a taste of history and artistry. As you embark on your sake journey, remember that the best way to learn is by tasting. So, raise your ochoko and toast to the delightful world of sake!

10 best sakes of 2023

Hakkaisan Tokubetsu Junmai sake

Hakkaisan Tokubetsu Junmai

Hakkaisan Tokubetsu Junmai is a top-tier sake that has garnered acclaim for its impeccable balance and depth. With a smooth and refined taste, it boasts subtle notes of fruit and rice, making it a versatile choice that complements a wide range of dishes. Its elegant finish lingers, leaving a memorable impression on the palate.

Shichida Junmai sake

Shichida Junmai

Shichida Junmai is a testament to the art of traditional sake brewing. With its rich and full-bodied flavor profile, it encapsulates the essence of the rice from which it’s made. Its robust character is complemented by a hint of umami, making it a perfect choice for those who appreciate the intricate nuances of sake.

Dewazakura Cherry Bouquet Oka Ginjo sake

Dewazakura Cherry Bouquet Oka Ginjo

Dewazakura Cherry Bouquet Oka Ginjo is a poetic blend of aroma and taste. Its floral notes, reminiscent of cherry blossoms, are a treat to the senses. The delicate and light taste, combined with its fragrant aroma, offers a harmonious experience, making it a favorite among many sake enthusiasts.

Kurosawa Junmai Kimoto sake

Kurosawa Junmai Kimoto

Kurosawa Junmai Kimoto is a classic that stands the test of time. Its robust and earthy flavors are a reflection of the traditional Kimoto brewing method. With a deep and layered taste profile, it offers a journey of flavors from start to finish, making it a must-try for those who enjoy exploring different sake varieties.

Tsukino Katsura 'Nakagumi' Junmai Nigori sake

Tsukino Katsura ‘Nakagumi’ Junmai Nigori

Tsukino Katsura ‘Nakagumi’ Junmai Nigori is a delightful blend of texture and taste. Its cloudy appearance, characteristic of Nigori sake, offers a creamy and rich mouthfeel. The flavors are well-balanced, with hints of fruit and rice, making it a versatile choice that appeals to both beginners and seasoned connoisseurs.

Dassai 45 Junmai Daiginjo Sake

Dassai 45 Junmai Daiginjo Sake

Dassai 45 is the epitome of elegance in the world of sake. As a Junmai Daiginjo, it represents the pinnacle of sake brewing, with a sophisticated and refined taste that showcases the finesse of the craft. Its delicate notes of fruit and floral undertones make it a premium choice for special occasions.

Sho Chiku Bai Junmai sake

Sho Chiku Bai Junmai

Sho Chiku Bai Junmai is a testament to the harmony of flavors. With a well-rounded profile, it offers a blend of sweetness, acidity, and umami. Its consistent quality and reliability make it a go-to choice for many, suitable for both casual gatherings and formal events.

Momokawa Organic Junmai Ginjo sake

Momokawa Organic Junmai Ginjo

Momokawa Organic Junmai Ginjo stands out in the world of sake with its commitment to organic brewing. Its clean and pure taste is a reflection of the high-quality organic rice used in its production. With a light and refreshing profile, it’s a great option for those who prioritize organic and sustainable choices.

Masumi Yumedono Daiginjo 'mansion of dreams' sakeMasumi Yumedono Daiginjo 'mansion of dreams' sake

Masumi Yumedono Daiginjo ‘mansion of dreams’

Masumi Yumedono Daiginjo, aptly named ‘mansion of dreams’, offers a dreamlike experience with every sip. Its luxurious taste is a blend of fruity and floral notes, complemented by a hint of umami. It’s a choice that promises and delivers an unforgettable taste journey.

Momokawa Organic Junmai Ginjo sake Momokawa Organic Junmai Ginjo sake

Azure Ginjo Sake

Azure Ginjo Sake is a celebration of the sea. With a refreshing and light taste, it’s specially crafted to pair with seafood. Its subtle notes of seaweed and ocean breeze make it a delightful choice for seafood lovers, enhancing the flavors of dishes like sushi and sashimi.