The most dynamic aspect about sake is the simplicity. It really is so simple. Rice and water. That’s it! Well aside from the elf magic and star dust. Really. Honestly. Okay, I went a little too far with the rice and water only. Keep the elf magic and star dust and add mold (yuck) and yeast (ummm what?). Of all the boozes in the liquor universe none can lay claim to being more clean than sake. Take rice–add a little mold–add some water–a dash of yeast and voila you have the cleanest burning fuel on the planet.
It’s so simple that you–yes you–can make sake in your mouth. That’s right – you can make sake in its most basic form right there between your north and south enameled grinders. How? Take steamed rice–chew it–don’t swallow–rather spit the wad in a bucket and wait! Disgusting! Not really, just a very good example of how easy it is to make sake and a great lesson in the first form of this ancient beverage. In a word, the first incarnation of sake was made by this chew and spit technique (please check out our learning section for far greater insight into this tasty way of mouth brewing,) and the success rate was 100%.
When you take a kernel of rice, which is made up of vitamins, proteins, fats, minerals, lipids etc, you want the most critical part of the grain–the starch. Forget all of the “good” parts that actually benefit a human body, we just care about what benefits a good brew! Starch is the true golden element in sake production. Starch–Starch–Starch say it. Love it. Learn it. Its the engine that drives the whole locomotive called fermentation. If you chew rice, the enzymes that reside within your mouth break down the long chain starch molecules into smaller glucose chains that are easily “fermented” when consumed by hyper-active piranha-like yeast cells.
So after chewing the steamed rice you face down wind and spit the gruel into a bucket. Thwack! It hits the mark and does what? Sits there of course. Sits and sits and sits. Ahhhh but what–what is that? Do you hear that sound? Hmmmm sounds like the falling of downy flakes–the sound of a Frost poem in winter as millions of naturally occurring airborne yeast cells converge upon the spit mash at the bottom of the bucket. These living yeast organisms then begin to eat your special spit–converting the gruel that has gone from starch to glucose–into alcohol and carbon dioxide (you damn polluter!) And voila! You have made sake! By the way natural, airborne yeasts can only generate an alcohol content of roughly 3-5%, whereas modern day special brewing yeasts can thrive up to roughly 20%.
So why all the spit? Just a brief history lesson to show the pure simplicity of sake, plus it’s a great visual! It’s easy stuff. Just rice and water fermented! It’s not distilled or pressure altered! There are no preservatives added, unlike our dear friend wine who enjoys the dainty smack in the face of sulfites. It’s also a tad cleaner than our pal beer with all the roasting etc. Sake is just clean and easy–and so darn flavorful too!
Okay–I knew it would come. I knew that you were thinking about it and just too darn polite to belt it out. Well at least one of you yelled out the ubiquitous “But why do I always get hung over when I drink sake?” Well frankly its because you’re drinking crap, pal! The more premium the brew the less brutal the hangover. If you drink rot gut anything you will get a skull ripping experience–you hear me Mr.Mad Dog-Night Train-Wine Coolers? Are you feeling me Popov vodka? How about you Old English 800? And you too Colt 45? Yes–if you make something cheaply it makes you feel cheap. Same goes with poorly made sake–lots of impurities to mess with your pure next day.
One of reasons for wine’s knock-out-punch down-for-the-count effect are the preservatives known as sulfites. Some will argue that there is no relation between headaches and sulfites – some will even argue that there is no such thing as sulfite intolerant people – these are the same folks who will try to convince you that Neil’s footprint never graced the surface of the moon. Sulfites suck! That’s why Japan’s sake industry banned them way back in 1973. So when you think of sake think of rice and water (mold and yeast) that is pasteurized. Yup! Heated up rice and water. Clean Clean Clean stuff.
Huh? What was that? Okay folks we have a smarty-trousers out there. The gentlemen yelled “what about sakes with added alcohol ?” You sir are correct and thank you for your participation. Yes, there is an entire category of sakes that have added distilled brewers alcohol. To fortify the brew? Nope. Too add more punch? No Sir-ee! To act as a preservative ? Nuh-uh! Brewers will add alcohol in very limited quantities to bring out the aroma (think of alcohol in perfume) and to smooth out the brew. In fact adding alcohol does the opposite of making it more boozy–it makes sake feel and drink easier, perhaps silkier!
Why do I insist that sake is the “Cleaner Burning Fuel”? Because it is silly! Rice and water that is fermented and then pasteurized. So simple and so “clean.” And if you are a doubter then remember at the very least sake is 80% water and 20% alcohol, so put that in your glass and drink it!