Sake or saké (“sah-keh”) is an alcoholic beverage of Japanese origin that is made from fermented rice. Sake is sometimes called “rice wine” but the brewing process is more akin to beer, converting starch to sugar for the fermentation process, by using Aspergillus oryzae.
In the Japanese language, the word “sake” (酒, “liquor”, also pronounced shu) generally refers to any alcoholic drink, while the beverage called “sake” in English is usually termed nihonshu (日本酒, “Japanese liquor”). Under Japanese liquor laws, sake is labelled with the word “seishu” (清酒, “clear liquor”), a synonym less commonly used colloquially.
Sake averages between 11-16% alcohol content.
First you start with the rice. Rice is grown all over the country, but some are better producers due to climate, purity of water and other important considerations. The same is said of of Sake rice, some areas just produce better sake rice rice for the “:clear liquid” than others. The rice is hand harvested and placed into the familiar rice bales. The bales are both artistic and informative that they are inbound to the brewers and that it will become some specific crafted sake. But the quality of the sake is only as good as the master that brews it and only as good as the rice from which it is made. There are many different kinds and flavors of sake.
Sake in Japan is as diverse, particular and is as highly opinionated as any other wine made throughout the world. Those that enjoy it swear their favorite is the best in all of Japan.We shared some with our friend Yukari’s parents in Nara. Last night we shared some with Yukari and her husband some ‘holy’ sake that was blessed and presented to her at the dedication of their daughter. The sake from Nara had a clean dry taste. The ‘holy sake’ seemed to have a smoky taste as if absorbing smoke from burning incense, a common practice in Japan for purification.
Sake may not be enjoyed by everyone and not all that do like sake, like all sake. It is has a distinct taste and perhaps one that must be acquired over time. But it gives one a ‘warm glow’ and for lack of a better description, when the alcohol sets in, it just leads me personally, to a very happy place. Like clinking glasses of wine, beer and other drinks we may say “Cheers.” In Japan, the word used is often, kampai (pronounced com + pie).
“乾杯” (kanpai), lit. “Dry the glass”, similar to “bottoms up” in English). 🙂
Once the sake is ready, if it is really good or a particularly a good year, well then, it is important to let people know. The exceptional sake is advertised by what may look like to all the world as fuzzy, brownish-green disco-balls. These are formed with cedar needles — also known as sugidama (literally, “cedar balls”). They can be found hanging above the entrance to shops, bars, taverns, and a fine izakaya (small local establishment for food and drink) that specialize in quality sake. These time-honored symbols of fine sake make no promises about the caliber of the food where the sake is sold. But my experience has shown us that wherever premium drink is sold, you are likely to find food of similar quality.
Before serving sake, you must first have some things to serve from and in. Sake servers and cups can range from simple, colorful, elaborate,ver expensive and relatively inexpensive.
Materials can be glass, ceramic, metal, plastic and my favorite, bamboo.
It is doubtful that many or any Japanese would use bamboo pitcher or cups. These are probably marketed to tourists and westerners. We had a very nice dinner at a specialized restaurant that featured so many delicious ways (tastes and textures) of bean curd. This same restaurant served our sake in green bamboo cups from a bamboo pitcher. I love the natural look and traditional or not, we are on a search to bring back to the USA, something that looks like the following.