Sake is made from fermented rice. It is also known as nihonshu in Japan. It is extremely popular in Japan and its popularity has grown worldwide due to international interests in Japanese cuisine. Quality rice, Yeast, koji mold, water, yeast are the foundations of sake. They go through a rigorous and precise process that can be costly and time-consuming. It results in filtered, where it is clear to slightly yellowish in colour and unfiltered where it is cloudy.
Polishing of Rice
Japanese rice wine, more commonly known as sake is made by fermenting polished rice.It is produced by a brewing process where the starch is converted into sugars which are fermented into alcohol. The more polished the rice is, the better the taste and the more expensive it is. At least 30% of the grain is polished for premium sake. For high-end sake the grain has to be polished even further:
- Ginjo - At least 40%
- Daiginjo - At least 50%
These types of premium sake are more flavorful and are rich in character. They are best drank neat or paired with flavorful dishes as they may overpower light-tasting dishes.
Adding of Alcohol
As mentioned above, alcohol in sake is a time consuming and costly fermentation process. To reduce costs, some producers add distilled alcohol to their sake. In the case of premium sake, they do not contain any alcohol or only add small amounts for the purpose of adding subtle flavours. The categorisations are as follows:
- Junmai: No alcohol added
- Honjozo: A small amount of alcohol has been added
Adding or removing certain steps during the sake production process can produce some special types of sake. A few are common among sake drinkers:
- Nigori sake (Cloudy sake): While most sake is filtered to produce the clear colour, Nigori sake is coarsely filtered, resulting in a cloudy version where it is caused by some of the leftover rice from fermentation. It is usually sweeter than normal sake.
- Sparkling sake: After production, sake is bottled before the fermentation is completed, resulting in the creation of bubbles which gives it the bubbly feel that sparkling wine has.
Sake can be drunk warm or cold, it is usually dependent on the season and of course individual taste. Sake is usually served in small sake cups, a small glass or a glass placed in a wooden box named as masu. It is customary to serve one another for sake rather than yourself. Periodically, you should check your friend's glasses and refill them before it gets empty.
The world of sake is much bigger than what is written. For more in-depth knowledge, do refer to our Sake Sommelier Association Course where it is suited to both hobbyists and industry professionals.