Sake, also known as nihonshu, is a Japanese alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice. Although often referred to as “rice wine”, sake is actually closer to beer in terms of production process. It has been produced in Japan for over 2000 years and is an important part of Japanese culture, cuisine and tradition.
There are many different types of sake, which can be broadly categorized into two main styles: futsu-shu and premium sake. Futsu-shu is the most common type of sake and is made using lower-quality rice and cheaper production methods. On the other hand, Premium sake is made using higher quality rice and a more traditional brewing process. It is also usually aged for longer, resulting in a smoother, more complex flavor.
Sake is usually served warm or at room temperature, although some types are best served chilled. It is often drunk from small cups or glasses called ochoko or choko.
Sake can be enjoyed in many different ways and is a versatile drink that can be matched with a wide range of food. It is also commonly used in Japanese ceremonies and rituals.
If you’re interested in trying sake, or are simply curious about this fascinating beverage, then read on for everything you need to know about Japanese sake!
History of Sake
The history of sake is long and complex, stretching back over 2000 years. Although the exact origins of sake are uncertain, it is thought to have first been produced in China before being introduced to Japan via Korea.
Sake production began to evolve in Japan during the Yayoi period (c. 300 BCE – 300 CE), when wet-rice cultivation was introduced from China. It is during this time that fermentation techniques were developed and the first rudimentary forms of sake were likely produced.
Sake production really began to take off during the Nara period (710-784 CE), when new methods and technologies were introduced from China. It was also during this time that the first professional brewers, known as kurabito, appeared.
Sake continued to evolve during the Heian period (794-1185 CE), with the introduction of new rice varieties and brewing techniques. The term “sake” is first found in literature from this period, appearing in The Tale of Genji, written by Lady Murasaki Shikibu in the early 11th century CE.
During the Kamakura period (1185-1333 CE), sake became increasingly popular, especially among the samurai class.
This was due in part to the rise of the so-called “culture of drinking”, in which alcohol was consumed as a way to bond with others and to celebrate special occasions.
Sake production reached new heights during the Muromachi period (1336-1573 CE), when advances in rice cultivation and brewing methods led to the development of new styles of sake. The introduction of the koshiki method of pressing sake, for example, resulted in a lighter, more refined beverage.
The Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568-1603 CE) saw further developments in sake brewing, including the introduction of new yeast strains from Europe. Sake production continued to grow during the Edo period (1603-1868 CE), reaching a level that would not be surpassed until the 20th century CE.
The Meiji Restoration of 1868 CE led to a decline in sake production, as the new government encouraged the consumption of Western beverages such as beer and wine. Sake brewing began to recover during the Taisho period (1912-1926 CE), but was dealt another blow by the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Sake production finally began to rebound during the post-World War II economic boom of the 1950s. Since then, sake has undergone something of a renaissance, with a growing number of breweries producing premium quality sake for an international market.
Types of Sake
There are many different types of sake, which can be broadly divided into two main categories: futsu-shu and premium sake.
Futsu-shu is the most common type of sake, accounting for around 70% of all sake produced in Japan. It is made using lower-quality rice and is typically fermented for a shorter period of time than premium sake. Futsu-shu also tends to be less expensive, making it a popular choice for everyday drinking.
On the other hand, Premium sake is made using higher quality rice and a more traditional brewing process. It is also usually aged for longer, resulting in a smoother, more complex flavor. Premium sake can be further divided into three sub-categories: junmai, ginjo, and daiginjo.
Junmai sake is made using only rice, water, koji (rice malt), and yeast. No alcohol or other additives are allowed. Junmai sake tends to be fuller-bodied than other types of sake, with a rich, earthy flavour.
Ginjo sake is made using rice that has been milled down to at least 60% of its original size. This results in a lighter, more delicate flavour. Ginjo sake is also typically fermented for longer than junmai sake, giving it a smoother texture.
Daiginjo sake is made using rice that has been milled down to 50% or less of its original size. This results in an even lighter, more delicate flavour. Daiginjo sake is also usually fermented for longer than ginjo sake, giving it an exceptionally smooth texture.
In addition to the above categories, there are also a number of special types of sake that are made using unique methods or ingredients. Some of the most popular include nigorizake (cloudy sake), koshu (aged sake), and kijoshu (sweetened sake).
Nigorizake is a type of unfiltered sake that has a cloudy appearance. It is made using rice that has been milled down to 70% or less of its original size, resulting in a light, refreshing flavor.
Koshu is a type of aged sake that has a mellow, complex flavor. It is made using rice that has been milled down to 60% or less of its original size and is typically aged for 3-5 years.
Kijoshu is a type of sweetened sake that is made using rice syrup or honey. It has a sweet, rich flavor and is often used as a dessert wine.
Sake production begins with the cultivation of special varieties of short-grain rice. The rice used for sake brewing is typically milled down to 70%, 50%, or 30% of its original size, depending on the type of sake being produced.
The next step in the process is known as steaming, in which the rice is cooked in large vats using steam generated by boiling water. The steamed rice is then cooled and transferred to a koji room, where it is mixed with koji (rice malt).
Koji is a type of fungus that breaks down the starch in rice into sugars, which will later be used by yeast to produce alcohol. The koji-rice mixture is left to incubate for 24-48 hours, during which time the koji begins to grow on the surface of the rice.
After the incubation period, the koji-rice mixture is transferred to a fermentation tank, where it is mixed with water and yeast. After that, the mixture is set to ferment for about 20-40 days, during which time the yeast converts the sugars into alcohol.
Once fermentation is complete, the sake is pressed to remove the solids and then filtered to remove any remaining impurities. The filtered sake is then pasteurized to stop fermentation and preserve its flavor. Finally, the sake is bottled and ready for consumption.
Sake Serving Suggestions
Sake can be served chilled, at room temperature, or warmed, depending on personal preference. It can be enjoyed on its own or paired with food.
Some common dishes that pair well with sake include sushi, sashimi, tempura, grilled fish, and chicken. Sake can also be used in cooking, such as in marinades or sauces.
When serving sake, it is important to use the proper glassware. Sake cups or glasses should be small and hold approximately 2 ounces of sake.
Sake can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to one year. Once opened, sake should be consumed within a few days.
Sake is a versatile beverage that can be enjoyed in many different ways. By understanding the basics of sake production and serving suggestions, you can make the most of this delicious drink.
What Is The Flavor Profile Of Sake
The flavor of sake varies depending on the type of sake, as well as the brewing process. Generally speaking, sake is a light, refreshing beverage with hints of fruit and floral aromas. The flavor of daiginjo sake is typically delicate and smooth, while nigori sake is known for its cloudy appearance and richer flavor.
How Is The Sake Industry Look Like?
The sake industry is a multi-billion dollar industry with over 1,500 sake breweries in Japan alone. Major sake producers include Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo, and Suntory.
In recent years, the popularity of sake has been on the rise in Western countries as well. This has led to an increase in sake production outside of Japan, with breweries now operating in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe.
The future of the sake industry looks promising, with continued growth expected in both domestic and international markets.
How Does Sake Compare To Wine?
There are many key differences between sake and wine. For starters, sake is brewed using rice, whereas wine is made from grapes. Sake is also typically consumed with food, whereas wine is often enjoyed on its own.
Another key difference between the two beverages is the alcohol content. Sake usually has an alcohol content of 15-16%, while wine typically has an alcohol content of 12-14%.
Finally, sake is typically served chilled or at room temperature, while wine is served at a variety of different temperatures depending on the type of wine.
What Are Some OF The Health Benefits Of Sake?
Sake has a number of potential health benefits. These include the promotion of heart health, stronger bones, and better digestion. Additionally, sake contains antioxidants that can help protect against cell damage and reduce the risk of some chronic diseases.
While more research is needed to confirm the health benefits of sake, this delicious beverage is a good option for those looking for a healthy alcoholic drink.
Sake is a delicious, versatile beverage that can be enjoyed in many different ways. By understanding the basics of sake production and serving suggestions, you can make the most of this delicious drink. Additionally, sake has a number of potential health benefits that make it a good choice for those looking for a healthy alcoholic beverage.