Sake has played a central role in Japanese life and culture for the past 2,000 years, and the knowledge and techniques involved in sake brewing have spread to every corner of the nation. In fact, sake is such an integral part of the Japanese diet that having some knowledge of it can add to one’s understanding of Japanese history, culture, and society, as well as of the social environment in Japan today.
Made primarily from rice, sake is a fermented beverage brewed using a microorganism called koji and yeast. It has an alcohol content of from 13% to 16%. The quality of water used in brewing sake is also important. Brewers take advantage of the various kinds of natural water available in Japan to make excellent sake. There are many different varieties of sake, and it can be enjoyed either warm or chilled, depending on the season.
How to Enjoy Japanese Sake
• Sake is an exceptional alcoholic beverage in that it can be enjoyed either hot or cold. It can be served warm, chilled, or at room temperature. Sake can be enjoyed at a wider range of temperatures than other liquors, from 5 ºC to 55 ºC.
•Sake is classified into four general categories: flavorful, light and smooth, rich, and aged. These different types of sake provide a variety of pleasures.
•Sake can be served in glassware in addition to traditional beverageware made of earthenware, porcelain or lacquerware. The diverse shapes and materials are sure to enrich the experience of the various tastes of sake. Selection of the appropriate beverageware in accordance with the temperature of the sake to be consumed will add to the enjoyment of the sake itself.
•Since sake presents a wide variety of flavors and can be served in various ways, there are many ways to enjoy sake, depending on the season and the cuisine with which it is paired. Sake’s many flavors can also be used as the base for cocktails.
•Sake can be paired with cuisines from all over the world, regardless of the foods or cooking styles used. It is served at French, Italian and other restaurants offering Western cuisine.
•Sake brings out the flavor in foods, while at the same time tempering the strong aromas of beef and seafood. It has many uses, as a preparation or a seasoning, in both Japanese and Western cooking
Note: Sake is a delicate alcoholic beverage which is extremely sensitive to light and heat. It should be stored in a cool, dark location.
Types of Sake
There are several different types of sake, and the following special denominations are specified by the Japanese government.
Sake made using white rice which has been milled so that 60% or less of the grain remains. It also contains rice koji and water, and may contain all of these ingredients plus brewing alcohol. It is characterized by a fruity, somewhat floral bouquet and a clear, crisp flavor. If the rice is polished down to 50% or less, the sake is called Dai-ginjoshu
Sake made only from white rice, rice koji, and water. It tends to have a mellow bouquet and a rich, smooth flavor.
Sake made using white rice which has been milled so that 70% or less of the grain remains, along with rice koji, brewing alcohol, and water. It is known for its mild, unobtrusive bouquet, and a crisp flavor.
All other types of sake fall under the category of Futsushu, which is consumed widely throughout Japan. This category offers various tastes, with each brand of sake featuring a unique flavor that is characteristic of the brewery.
Sake varieties are also distinguished by brewing method.
Sake that is not heated for pasteurization after the final mash is pressed. It is characterized by a light, fresh flavor.
Sake with a higher alcohol content because it has been pressed but not diluted with added water. It has a deep, rich flavor and an alcohol content of from 17% to 20%.
Sake that is milky white, since the mash is only lightly filtered using a coarse-textured cloth.
Carbonated sake, with a mouth feel reminiscent of champagne.