Sake is a well-loved Japanese alcohol that has gained popularity in many parts of the world. It is made from fermented rice. While some people may refer to the drink as a rice wine, the truth is that sake is created by fermenting the rice in the presence of koji fungus and yeast. This process is unlike the techniques used in making wine or beer.
It’s all in the name
There are some who are confused about the correct spelling and pronunciation of the word sake. While the word is spelled as sake, it is pronounced as /sakeh/, ‘s’ as in sigh, ‘a’ as in father, ‘k’ as in kind and ‘e is pronounced as a short ‘e’.
What’s in your sake
It is important that you learn to differentiate between the different types of sake, as there are several kinds. While the differences may seem minor you will need to experiment a bit to discover your preference in the alcohol. Traditionally, the various types of sake are differentiated based on the amount of milled rice that is use.
Brewer’s choose to mill the rice to get rid of the bran that contains the oils and protein. The rice is washed and soaked in water and then cooked. After it is cooled, the koji fungus is added to it. The fungus helps the starch convert into sugar and facilitates the action of the yeast that is added to the rice mash. Typically, the fermentation is conducted at low temperatures. The rice mash is pressed and filtered, and then allowed to mature for about 9 to 12 months.
Ideally the sake should be enjoyed fresh. The koshu is an exception. This type of sake is allowed to mature for longer and is stronger and rougher than the others. If you enjoy a woody flavor to your sake then try the taru sake. It is matured in cedar barrels.
You may enjoy infused sake that may have a fruity flavor such as apple or cherry. If you enjoy your glass of bubbly, perhaps you may like to try a cup of sparking sake. This type of sake has an additional level of fermentation. The drink’s Alcohol By Volume (ABV) is not as high as it is for other types of sake. It is light, sweet and quite enjoyable.
Buying your sake
If you intend to order sake at a restaurant or bar, it is recommended that you read up on the various types of sake. This will ensure that you opt for sake that will suit your palate and preferences. Do remember that the ABV of sake is quite high (16%-20%). While some brewer’s do dilute the alcohol before they bottle it, it is best to read the details offered on the bottle label.
Shopping online for sake can be quite easy. Most online stores offer customers an extensive search tool that can help them select a bottle that would please them. Such a search tool may include criteria such as the customer’s choice in wine or beer and the food with which one may wish to pair the drink.
Enjoying the drink
There are numerous brands and types of sake, and it is a good idea that you taste a few before you make up your mind. The drink is quite potent and should be enjoyed at leisure. As in food, in drink too, the Japanese have rituals that enhance the experience. The sake is poured out of a ceramic flask or torukki into small ceramic cups known as ochoko. The cup has a wide rim that ensures that the drinker enjoys the fragrance of the sake, even before the drink touches his or her lips. It is recommended that you take a small sip and enjoy the flavor and texture of the sake, before you swallow it.
Sake is shared amongst friends and family, and hence traditionally you must be served sake and serve it to others. If you wish to request a refill, politely raise your cup a little and point it towards your dinner partner. It is courtesy to keep a note of whether your dinner date would like a refill.
There are no hard and fast rules on whether you can enjoy sake with your food. You may choose to drink it with sushi and other Japanese food or also with Western food. For special occasions the drink may be served in cups that look like saucers. Such cups are called sakazuki.
Another interesting way of serving and drink sake is in a masu, or a sake box. The wooden box was used to measure rice and sake. The ochoko may be placed in the masu, or alternatively the masu may be positioned in the sakazuki. To denote generosity the drink is poured in a manner that it fills the inner contains and then overflows into the outer one. Such vessels can be bought online. Raise a toast of Kampei and enjoy your sake, and do remember to pronounce the name correctly.