In spite of sake’s increasing popularity in today’s culture, it is still quite misunderstood by many. Check this list of the 20 basic facts about sake to better enjoy it!
1. Sake is Pronounced as Sake
The pronunciation of sake is ‘Sa’ ‘Ke’ (ˈsɑːkeɪ/ sah-kay) with a the accent on ‘Sa’.
2. It is a Fermented Beverage
Sake is a brewed and fermented beverage, like beer and wine. But in terms of its fermentation process, it is more similar to beer than to wine.
During wine fermentation, sugar from the grapes is converted into alcohol. For sake and beer, starch from the grains (rice for sake, barley for beer) must first be converted into sugar (saccharification) before being converted to alcohol (fermentation).
The difference between sake and beer production is that for beer, saccharification and fermentation occurs in succession, whereas for sake, they happen simultaneously or in parallel to each other.
3. Alcohol Percentage is 14-16%
Sake, with an alcohol content of 14-16%, is just a bit stronger than wine.
If you prefer lower or higher ABV variants, sake also comes in sparkling or low alcohol types (8-10%) and unprocessed Genshu sake (18-20%).
4. It is Made of Three (+ One) Ingredients
Sake is made from rice, Koji, and water. The quality of these ingredients are the key to getting the right flavor of sake. An optional ingredient is distilled alcohol, which is often added to regular and premium Honjozo-type sake.
5. It comes in Regular or Premium
Japanese law defines premium sake as follows:
Regular sake, on the other hand, comes in with >10% alcohol and may use additives and/or seasonings.
6. There are Two Main Types of Premium Sake
The different types of premium sake are generally grouped into two: Junmai (pure rice) and Honjozo. The simple difference lies in the addition of distilled alcohol.
7. Ginjo is the Best of Sake
One of the most important qualities of premium sake is a high rice-polishing ratio. The rice bran contains protein and fat, which may add unfavorable flavors. Thus, the more polished the rice, the purer its taste.
In the “Ginjo method”, sake yeasts produce fragrant components. The result is a fragrant sake with a clear and light taste. This is considered the best of sake.
Tokubetsu (special) Junmai and Honjozo are also types of premium sake. There is no strict definition of ‘special’ but breweries will state so in the label their reasons for branding their sake as Tokubetsu.
8. Price Reflects Type and Quality
These are the average price range of a 720 ml (24 fl. oz.) bottle in Japan. The price of sake in the international online market would be 2 – 3 times higher than this.
9. It comes in Numerous Brands
There are more than thousands of sake breweries in Japan, and the number of brands is more than double of that. Among them, these 8 brands are frequently regarded as best in quality and most popular. Don’t miss them if you get a chance to try any of them.
10. Nigori is Unfiltered Sake
Nigori is cloudy, unfiltered sake that is popular especially among younger generations. There are two types of Nigori sake: creamy and sparkling. The creamy type is sweeter and is shelf-stable, while sparking type is fresh, acidic, and unpasteurized.
11. Plum Sake is a Non-alcoholic Drinker’s Favorite
Plum sake is very popular among women and those who dislike the taste of alcohol. It is made by soaking green plum into alcohol, such as sake or Shochu (Japanese distilled alcohol). It is sweet, light, and can be drunk on the rocks, with soda, or with hot water.
How to Enjoy it Best
12. Sake can be Drunk at Various Temperatures
Sake can be enjoyed at temperatures ranging from 40 to 130°F. For some types of sake, such as Junmai and Futsu-shu, heating can cause the flavors to flourish dramatically. However, be cautious when trying to heat Ginjo sake, since its fragrance and freshness may dissipate upon heating.
13. Sake Cups Come in Different Types
You can drink sake using sake cups that come in different shapes and materials.
The shape and thickness of the cups affect the flavor of the sake. The appearance and design of the cups also adds fun to the sake experience.
14. Sake goes well with Food
Sake goes well with a variety of food, not just Japanese food. Try pairing sake based on its aroma and flavor profile using the image above. In general, light sake matches well with light food (fish, seafood, salads), and the same rule applies to the aroma, too.
15. It is Served
In Japan, it is a practice to serve sake in your guest’s cup, but not your own. This represents the traditional Japanese value of ‘caring for others’ and is highly regarded among the Japanese people. So, remember to hold the cups properly when serving, and keep an eye on your guest’s cup and refill once emptied.
16. Sake Bomb is American Invention
Although it sounds as Japanese as it seems, it did not originate from Japan. It was thought to have come from American soldiers during World War II when they started drinking sake with beer to get rid of bad sake. Nowadays, people drink it as a rite of passage to adulthood or simply just to have a blast and enjoy the good company.
Good To Know
17. World Consumption is Increasing
From 2001-2015, export volume has become 2.5 times larger. In addition, with Japanese cuisine being internationally regarded as “healthy”, we don’t expect this trend to end any time soon.
18. You can Make it by Yourself
You can make sake on your own (but this is illegal if you live in Japan). You only need rice, water, Koji, yeast, yoghurt, and a week’s time. See Brew Your Own Sake in 5 Easy Steps.
19. Sake Brewery Tours are Available in Japan
Many sake breweries welcome visitors. Aside from sake tasting and witnessing how it is made, experiencing the ambiance of old, traditional buildings with more than a hundred years of history is worth the visit.
In Tokyo, 6 breweries are open to visitors. Don’t forget to ask for a reservation before your trip.
20. October 1st is World Sake Day
October 1st is known as “world sake day”. Traditionally, it signifies the start of brewing season which is best done during autumn and winter. During October 1, several sake-related events are held in the local community, breweries, Japanese restaurants, and sake bars in Japan and worldwide. Check for an event brewing near you.
So that’s it! The more you know about sake, the more reasons you have for trying it, because nothing beats experiencing sake for yourself. Try some and enjoy!