In the sake industry, breweries differentiate their products in a variety of ways, but the most important ingredient in any brew is the type of rice that is used, each yielding a very specific flavor profile. Made from fermented rice, sake is actually brewed more like a beer, with the starches from the rice converting into sugar and then fermented into alcohol. In the current sake landscape, there are nine main rice types or sakamai that are most frequently used by Japanese breweries for both sake and shochu alike. The following are the three more popular rice types found in brews we sell at Sake Social.
First is Yamada Nishiki, also known as the “King of Sake Rice,” a rice varietal known to be incredibly elegant, fruity, and complex. The rice polishes very well, which makes it incredibly adept tp making light and fruity brews. Second, is Omachi sakamai, which is considered to be an old heirloom sake rice strain. Omachi tends to be mildly aromatic, earthy, and complex. This strain has been used to produce many of the world’s most famous brews. Finally is the Gohyakumango rice strain, known to produce clean light and compact sake often with subdued aromatics. Sake produced with the Gohyakumango rice strain are relatively cold and hardy; its widespread use is evidence of its popularity among Japanese brewers.
In general, the Japanese do not eat sakamai [sake rice], as its hard exterior makes it much less appealing than table rice. It is also much more expensive and typically restaurants and home cooks stay away from dishes that would feature sake rice. Of the twenty or so sake breweries in the United States, most have traditionally imported their rice from Japan, but some domestic breweries have begun taking on the challenge of not only cultivating their own rice but creating new strains of sakamai as well.
Overall, this is an incredibly exciting and progressive time in the sake industry as breweries are always trying to gain a competitive advantage by creating different rice strains and combining them with different taste notes. Choosing a specific rice strain can make or break a brew, and this is why we see breweries across the world putting a significant resources into their sakamai cultivation programs.