What is Sake?
By Jimmy Quaile, Certified Sommelier
Sake is an alcoholic beverage that is brewed from rice. It was first produced in China in 4800 BC, making it the oldest known spirit in the world.
How is Sake made?
Sake is made by fermenting Rice, Koji, water, and yeast. The rice is “polished,” or milled, to remove the outer layers of each grain along with fats and proteins. The level to which it is polished denotes the quality. The rice is then rinsed, steamed, and cooled. A percentage of the rice is inoculated with a special mold called Koji. Rice, Koji-Rice, yeast, and water are then combined. Koji-Rice turns the starches into sugars which are converted to alcohol by the yeast. The sake is finally filtered, pasteurized, and aged for six months.
How do you drink Sake?
There are no hard-and-fast rules for drinking Sake. It can be served warm or chilled — and the appropriate temperature can depend on the occasion, the food, or your personal preference.
Typically, high-quality Sake is served chilled and in a wine glass. Warm Sake is traditionally served in small ceramic cups.
What are the different types of Sake?
Junmai – Junmai Sake is made by polishing the rice to at least 30%. It has a full and rich flavor.
Honjozo – Honjozo Sake is also polished to 30%, but has a small amount of alcohol added.
Ginjo – Ginjo Sake must be made using rice that is at least 40% polished. It is usually light, fruity, and slightly sweet.
Daiginjo – Daiginjo-classified Sake is produced using rice that has been polished to at least 50%. The result is complex and fragrant.
Nigori – Nigori is unfiltered Sake. Most Nigori varieties are slightly sweet.
Genshu – Genshu is Sake that does not require water as an ingredient.
Tokubetsu – Tokubetsu is a reserved term indicating that the Sake is special in some way, typically because of its ingredients.
Nama – Nama Sake is unpasteurized.
How long does Sake last?
Sake is best consumed within one year of release. It generally becomes more concentrated in flavor with time. Once opened, unused Sake should be refrigerated and finished within three weeks.
Sake Fun Facts
- There are over 1,500 Sake breweries in Japan and every region has their own unique Sakes.
- In English, the term “Sake” refers to a fermented rice beverage from Japan. However in Japanese, “Sake” refers to ALL drinks including beer and wine. The word Nihonshu refers specifically to Sake.
- Sake, unlike wine, contains no sulfites.
- Sake is known to have over 400 flavor components (aromatic esters), compared to 200 for wine.
- Since water takes up 80% of the components, the quality of Sake depends on the water.
- Sake can be used in cooking and reduces the odor of fish.
- In strict Japanese tradition, a person must not pour his or her own Sake.