Sake, also known as Japanese rice wine, is an alcoholic drink made by fermenting rice that has been polished to remove the bran. It is Japan’s national beverage.
The term “wine” is actually a misnomer of sorts. The brewing of sake involves converting starch into sugars which ferment into alcohol, which is similar to beer and unlike the process of making wine wherein alcohol is produced by fermenting sugar that is naturally present in fruits like grapes.
Initially, the brewing of sake was a task exclusive to the government, until temples and shrines began brewing sake in the 10th century. Citizens were soon allowed to brew sake. This happened during the Meiji Restoration. The government instituted laws and set instructions on how to brew sake. The response was 30,000 breweries operating all across Japan, but when the government began levying taxes for brewing sake, almost a third of the breweries closed shop.
Today, sake is produced outside of Japan. China and Australia have sake breweries. Many other sake breweries are operating all across Southeast Asia, South America, and North America.
- October 1 is World Sake Day, according to the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association. This tradition started in 1978.
- Europeans published a book in 1781. Here, it was explained for the first time to non-Japanese how sake is made in Japan.
- The spread of knowledge about sake outside of Japan especially during the 18th and 19th century is the result of the work of Engelbert Kaempfer and Isaac Titsingh.
- There are no clear details regarding the origin of sake. Historians theorize that sake was first made in the Nara period (710-794).
- Kojiki, Japan’s first written history, mentions the consumption of alcoholic beverages of early Japanese.
- It wouldn’t be for long before modern technology became part of making sake. In 1904, the sake-brewing research institute was inaugurated. Three years later, the first official sake-tasting contest took place.
Sake Buying Guide
There are many kinds of sake so finding the one which you will enjoy could be a challenge especially if this is your first time buying sake. It helps by simply answering three simple questions. The answers to these three questions can help you narrow down the type of sake best suited for your preference.
The first question is about aroma: do you want a sake with a fruity aroma, or not? A Ginjo sake has a fruity aroma while the Junmai’s aroma is non-fruity but rather smells akin to the scent of rice. The second question is about the body of sake. Do you want a full-bodied sake or not? Muroka, Genshu, Kimoto, and Yamahai are all full-bodied sake. Hiire-shu and Honjozo are light-bodied sake. The final question is about the aftertaste. Do you want a sake that has an aftertaste that lingers or disappears quickly? The answers to these three answers define the characteristics of sake you want best. It helps narrow down your choices when buying sake.
When it comes to classifying sake based on its value, there are just two categories. Futsū-shu or ordinary sake and Tokutei meishō-shu or special-designation sake. If you are wondering why some sake are expensive and hard to find and why others are cheap and easy to buy, this is the reason why. Futsū-shu is commonly produced while Tokutei meishō-shu is what we can consider as premium sake. There are numerous types of Tokutei meishō-shu based on how special the sake is based on how it was made.
Junmai and Honjozo – These two types of sake follow the same rice milling standards. The only difference is Junmai follows the old way in terms of content while Honjozo contains brewer’s alcohol. Junmai Ginjo and Ginjo are one tier up from the Junmai and Honjozo based on the rice milling standard. Of the two, Ginjo contains brewer’s alcohol. Finally, Junmai Daiginjo and Daiginjo are premium sake because these are
Sake Production & Farming in Texas
The appreciation for sake globally has been growing, so is the Japanese American population in Texas. These two factors alone are enough to give rise to the consumption of sake and trigger a demand that needs a supply, and local businesses have been answering the call. Sake has been produced outside of Japan, and in Texas, there is already a local company that has ventured into this particular line of business. Texas Sake is the primary maker of Texas-made sake.
The Texas Saké Company was considered a first in Texas when it was founded in 2011. Before that, no one tried to venture on making sake a profitable business in Texas.
Pesticides, Additives, and Chemicals:
A true and pure sake only has four ingredients: rice, water, koji, and yeast. This means anything else that is included in the process of making sake is considered as an additive. For example, futsuchu or futsushu – cheap sake or table sake – normally contains additives like sugar and alcohol.
There is a lot to unpack when it comes to sake packaging. Let us begin with the details of the traditional practice. Sake is stored in sake barrels. There are two names associated with sake barrel – komo-daru and kazari-daru. The difference between the two is the purpose of the sake barrel. The kazari-daru are empty sake barrels used for decoration. You can see these stacked on a wall inside a Shinto shrine as a symbol of offering. Komo-daru refers to the sake barrel that is actually used for storing sake. Both types of sake barrels are made from cedar slats bound by bamboo braids. The barrel is wrapped with a straw mat and a label that contains information about the sake.
When steel tanks became available in Japan, it became the preferred storage for sake because wood affects the taste of the sake. But today, it is still common to see sake in a wooden barrel as part of a ceremony. The sake should be consumed within a few days after it was placed inside a wooden barrel.
The ritual of opening a sake barrel is called Kagami Biraki.
Today, sake is packaged in a similar way as other liquors or spirits. Sake comes in bottles of different designs, sizes, and shapes. The box the bottle comes in also varies in design depending on the manufacturer.
Drinking sake often comes with a special or sacred ceremony. It depends on the reason for drinking the sake. Weather also influences the drinking of sake; during cold weather, warm sake is served, while during warm weather, chilled or cold sake is preferred.
There are important details involving the serving and drinking of sake. The small porcelain cup used for drinking sake is called sakazuki, a flat, saucer-like cup. A small cylindrical cup can also be used. This is called ochoko. A wooden, box-like cup used for sake is called masu. Sake is not poured directly from the bottle it came in; rather, it is transferred to a vessel, a flask called tokurri. Today, it is normal to see people drinking sake from a shot glass.
To drink sake hot, use a warm bath. Pour the sake in a tokurri and then let the vessel sit in hot water. Do not submerge the entire vessel. Just make sure the sake inside the vessel is submerged in hot water so that the sake is treated evenly. This means that the hot water should be level with the sake inside the tokurri when the vessel is placed in hot water. The ideal temperature is between 104°F (40°C) to 113°F (45°C). Use a specialized thermometer to measure temperature.
To chill sake, fill a bowl with ice, water, and a tablespoon of salt. Place the sake bottle inside a resealable plastic bag and put it inside the bowl in such a way that the bottle is surrounded by ice.
Nama, ginjo, and daiginjo are best kept inside the refrigerator, opened or unopened. For nama, this is for the sake of the integrity of the sake since this is unpasteurized sake. For ginjo and daiginjo, it is for the sake of preserving the flavor and taste of the sake. Other kinds of sake can be stored in a dark place at room temperature. But remember this: ALL kinds of sake needs to be refrigerated once the bottle has been opened.
In general, make sure your sake is stored somewhere it is not exposed to direct sunlight. Make sure also that the temperature does not drastically shift or change. This means even at room temperature, make sure that the storage area is not prone to a sudden rise in temperature because it is near the fire where cooking takes place, for example. Lastly, avoid storing your sake near items with a strong smell because this will have a serious effect on the smell and taste of the sake after long exposure.
Lastly, pay attention to the expiration date of the sake. This is unlike other spirits you can store for a long time. Sake is good and offers the best quality inside the ideal drinking period indicated in the label of the bottle or barrel.
Make your own Sake Mojito
Sake Mojito is the perfect fusion of drinks coming from two different countries with two very different cultures. Combining Japan’s sake and Cuba’s mojito promises to be interesting, both as a drink and as a conversation starter.
This recipe yields one glass of sake mojito
- Sake, 5 ounces
- Club soda, 1 ounce
- Sugar, 1 tablespoon
- Mint leaves, 6 pieces
- 1 mint sprig
- Lime, 1/2 and cut into small pieces
Step 1. Put the leaves inside a cocktail shaker and crush the leaves.
Step 2. Add sugar and lime.
Step 3. Add sake. Shake.
Step 4. Strain the cocktail into a glass with fresh ice.
Step 5. Add soda and mint sprig