How To Drink SakeWritten by Marc Smookler
Sake is a Japanese drink that is made by fermenting rice. It is often referred to as a wine but is brewed quite differently. Also, the Alcohol by Volume (ABV) of sake is far higher than that of wine or beer. The sake rice is milled so that it mostly contains starch. To the rice mash, fungus is added and it helps to convert the starch into sugar. Thereafter, the sugar is allowed to ferment in the presence of yeast.
A brew unlike any other
The taste, aroma and quality of sake are dependent on the fermentation process. The amount of rice that is milled is one of the crucial factors that determine the type of sake that is produced. The more the milled sake rice, the more delicate and clear the flavor of the drink.
The addition of brewer’s alcohol to the fermented alcohol is another important issue. It is important to understand that such an addition need not take away from the special taste of the drink, but in fact adds richness to it. Furthermore, the brewer’s alcohol also improves the shelf life of the alcohol.
New to sake? Try our beginner kit!
Choosing the right drink
Unadulterated sake contains ABV of 14% to 20%. It is usually bottled by manufacturers by diluting the drink with water. The taste and fragrance of sake is unlike any other drink. For the novice sake drinker, it is important to try many different types of sake until you can decide on the type that you favor most. When opting for a bottle of sake, it is imperative to pay attention to the details mentioned on the label. Fresh sake is usually the best, so unless you have a taste for koshu you may want to avoid it. Matured sake, koshu, is stronger and rougher than fresh sake.
The Nihonshu-do describes the sugar acid level of the drink. It is also referred to as the SMV or the Sake Meter Value. An SMV of +5 is fairly dry, while -2 would be uniquely sweet. You can choose sake that suits your palate and preference. Sake is also used to mix cocktails. You may also be interested in flavor infused sake that may offer a fruity or spicy note.
Sake is served out of porcelain flasks that are known as tokkuri. It is poured into small ceramic cups called sakazuki or choko. Chilled sake may also be served in wine glasses. For special occasions and rituals, the drink is poured into cups that are saucer-like. An interesting way of serving this drink is in a masu. Masu is a small box that is used to measure rice. The cup may be placed inside the box and sake served in the cup. The masu may also be placed on the saucer-like cup. To indicate generosity the sake should be poured in a manner that it fills both the containers.
Sake may be served at room temperature, warm, hot or chilled. This often depends on the season, the quality of the alcohol and the drinker’s preference. On cold winter evenings you may prefer hot sake and on hot humid days chilled sake would be enjoyable. Top quality sake is not served hot, as the heat causes loss of flavor and aroma. It is best to store bottles of sake in cool, dark and dry area and it is best to finish an opened bottle of the alcohol.
If you aren’t drinking alone, sake should be served to you and vice versa. When your friend or the server pours the sake do hold your cup slightly ahead. Similarly, if you wish to request a refill, hold out your cup, slightly. Don’t forget to return the favor for your dining partners. Kampai is the toast that usually goes with drinking this traditional Japanese brew. Hold the cup close to your face and take in the aroma. Take a small sip, and let it linger in your mouth before you swallow it.
If you wish to warm your sake, simply place the tokkuri in a pan of boiling water. About 40-45 degrees Celsius is a good temperature to enjoy this drink. Some people like to mix their sake with fruit juices and with other liqueurs. It is important to note that it is a potent alcohol and you need to be sure you can consume and hold your drink. This is especially true of sweet sake, that you may enjoy consuming quickly.
Sake is quite enjoyable with food. Some people think that it should not be served with sushi because of the presence of rice in both, food and drink. However, there are no rules to suggest that you cannot enjoy your brew as you relish your sushi. The drink goes down particularly well with spicy dishes. The contrast in flavors is rather interesting and pleasurable. Experts recommend Junmai with seafood and sushi, while Junmai Daiginjo goes well with meats.