Whether you’re a long-time lover of sake, are interested in trying it or have never heard of it before, learning about sake can open your eyes to the beverage’s interesting history, giving you a newfound appreciation for it.
What Is Sake?
Originating from Japan, sake is an alcoholic beverage created from fermented rice. This noncarbonated drink is identified by a pale yellow or green color, mildly sweet flavor, high alcohol content and slightly fruity and nutty aromas. A highly versatile beverage, you can enjoy it on its own, use it for cooking or mix up some delicious cocktails.
Is Sake Wine or Liquor?
Though sake is often referred to as a “Japanese rice wine,” it actually doesn’t fall into the categories of wine, beer or spirits. Rather, sake takes on its own drink category as it involves a unique production method. It’s commonly mistaken for wine due to its alcohol content and appearance, but sake uses a special rice fermentation process that sets it apart from wines and other beverages.
Interesting Facts About Sake
Discover a brief background on sake, its special brewing process and some other interesting sake facts below!
1. You Can Serve It at Any Temperature
Whether you’re craving a hot beverage on a chilly day or need a refreshing drink to cool you off in the summer, sake can be your drink of choice. Serve it any way you like — chilled, warm, hot or at room temperature, depending on the type of sake and the drinker’s preferences.
The temperature largely influences its taste. Generally, the warmer sake is, the drier it’ll taste. While you can mix sake with other beverages, many prefer to enjoy it hot or cold on its own to experience the unique flavor and aroma.
Some people also use sake temperature to determine food pairings. For example, hot sake usually complements dishes that are high in oil and fat, warm sake tends to accompany cooler foods like sushi and cold sake is recommended for lightly sour and sweet foods.
2. It’s One of the Oldest Alcoholic Beverages
The earliest reference to alcohol in Japan was recorded in a third-century Chinese book, which described Japan’s drinking and dancing culture. Specifically, sake is mentioned several times in Japan’s first written history book, “Kojiki,” which was compiled in 712 AD.
For over 1,300 years, sake has been significant to Japanese culture and religion. The Japanese built breweries specifically for the mass production of sake, and its careful and intricate brewing process spread rapidly throughout the country. In 1904, Japan developed a research institute to study the best rice fermentation methods to perfect sake.
Today, it remains one of the most popular alcoholic beverages in Japan.
3. It Has a Complex Brewing Process
The sake brewing and fermentation process was perfected in the 17th century and is still carried on today. Junmai sake, which translates to “pure rice,” is made from water, rice, “koji” — or rice mold — and yeast.
The Junmai sake-making process is known as the foundation for all Japanese sake brewing. Comprised of 12 key stages, the process transforms basic brown rice into a rich, flavorful and versatile beverage in a range of varieties.
Here are the key steps of brewing and fermenting sake:
- Polishing: The brewmaster mills whole brown rice grains down to their starchy cores.
- Washing: The rice washing stage rinses particles and impurities away from the kernels.
- Soaking: The rice kernels are well-soaked in controlled phases until fully rehydrated.
- Steaming: This step allows the kernels to retain the ideal amount of water.
- Koji cultivation: Once the rice has cooled down after steaming, the brewmaster sprinkles koji spores on it.
- Yeast starter: After the koji develops, the brewmaster creates the sake’s yeast starter from koji, water, yeast and a portion of the steamed rice.
- Main mash: The brewmaster combines the yeast starter, water and rice to create “moromi,” or sake mash, then stores it in a fermentation tank for two to four weeks.
- Pressing: The brewmaster transfers the moromi to a pressing machine to separate liquid sake from solid rice compounds.
- Filtration: Using special charcoal filters, the brewmaster filters the fresh sake to balance color and flavor.
- Pasteurization: The liquid sake is heated at a temperature of 140 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit to kill any bacteria that may compromise taste and texture.
- Aging: The brewmaster typically ages the sake for three to six months before bottling it.
- Bottling and distribution: The sake is poured and sealed into individual glass bottles for selling. In some cases, the brewer will add water to lower the alcohol by volume (ABV) before bottling.
4. There Are Multiple Types of Sake
Sake comes in multiple varieties, flavors and sweetness levels. Here are some different types of sake:
- Junmai: Junmai sake is typically brewed at medium-to-high temperatures in quick batches. It contains a high acidity and umami flavor with little to no residual sweetness. Its flavors pair well with ribeye steak, pork, artichokes, asparagus and mushrooms.
- Honjozo: Made from brewer’s — or “jozo” — alcohol, Honjozo sake is known for its mild rice polishing, pleasantly acidic taste, light body and robust finish. Its acidic yet earthy flavors tend to complement steak, grilled chicken, hamburgers and vegetables.
- Ginjo: This variety is a breath of fresh air in terms of taste, aroma and body. With its light acidity and fragrant notes of fruit and florals, Gingo sake is best served chilled or at room temperature. It pairs wonderfully with mild and light foods.
- Sparkling: There are two forms of sparkling sake — carbonated and bottle-fermented. The former, which is the most common type, is created when the brewmaster infuses carbon into rice mesh in a pressurized fermentation tank. Bottle-fermented sparkling sake is usually unpasteurized. It traps carbon dioxide after the liquid has been bottled.
5. It’s Higher in Alcohol Than Beer and Wine
Interestingly, the alcohol content of sake is higher than that of both wine and beer. Undiluted sake can have an ABV of 18 to 20%. In comparison, the ABV of beer is usually between 3-9%, while wine falls in the range of 9-16%. However, sake doesn’t quite reach the ABV of most hard liquors, which can reach an ABV of 24-40% or higher.
Browse Sake Online at Takara Sake
After learning about sake, we hope you’re inspired to try this tasty beverage for yourself. At Takara Sake, we have a delicious variety of sakes to add to your must-try list. Whether you prefer classic sake, fruity flavors or imported varieties, we’ll have something to delight your tastebuds.
Browse our sake products and order yours today!