As rice being the main ingredient of sake, it is said to have existing from the time of the rice culture. There have been written materials from even before A.D. 700 of an alcoholic beverage that uses rice are its ingredient proving its long history.
During this period, uncooked raw rice would be bitten into and put back to its storage, after letting it sit for sometime, it would be taken out and drunk around the time it starts to smell the alcohol. There were also ways of using the mold stuck on the dried steamed rice to brew sake, and this way of brewing is said to be something that still derives to the modern way of producing sake.
By the 900s, techniques that aren’t much different from the modern way of brewing sake had been established, and flavors that match even the taste buds of current sake drinkers started to appear. However, during this time, sake was not a drink accessible to the commoner.
Kamakura to Muromachi Period
In the Kamakura period, the money economy had become more common. It was dealt with as the same way as rice, and with Kyoto at the center of it all, established were build where alcoholic beverages were brewed. This gave birth to what is now known as sake brewery, commencing the start of a sake culture.
At the same time, restrictions on the manufacturing and selling of alcohol, and even taxation had taken place. There were also periods where extreme policies were implemented such as limiting the production of sake by ruining all brewing jars were except for one.
Muromachi period is when sake saw a rapid growth which had ultimately led the shogunate to impose tax on breweries and creating a source of revenue from these booming businesses. Kyoto breweries would gain power into rebelling against the government which had lay bare to the chaos that symbolized the Muromachi period. On the other hand, this is also the time that sake brewed at temples called “Soboshu” also known to have a very high quality, and various districts would go on to brew their own version which has spread to the different types and variations in sake today.
For better or worse, sake had spread all over Japan, and it had branched out to various types, with some becoming more commercial, and others focusing more on its quality.
Especially the sake “Yosozake” is said to have forged the modern day sake culture. The popularity of sake brewed outside of Kyoto had started to be sold even in Kyoto, bringing about the sense of alarm among breweries in Kyoto.
Civil War Period
In the civil war period, the national food culture had become more established, coupled with the mass production of sake, the Jizake or local sake culture had expanded and sped up more and more. During this time, Joryuzake had been introduced, and Shochu had also been circulating around breweries, and options other than sake had started to appear in the market.
During this time, ruler Nobunaga Oda had closed many temple and shrines leading to the decline production of the Soboshu, known for its high quality. To replace Soboshu, the local brewers had adopted the techniques in creating the popular sake. This had become the reason for improvement in quality of locally brewed sake in various districts.
Also around this time, the transition from Nigori sake to Kiyosake had almost been done, and Nigori Sake had stayed to become a home-brewed sake.
Edo to Meiji Period
In the Edo period, to avoid the competition with rice as sustenance, efforts of restriction had been made by implementing a license system in the manufacturing of sake.
In the period where sake was created in accordance to the season, a law had been passed that sake must only be brewed in the winter, becoming a temporary expatriate work for farmers.
It is said that the brewing back to all four seasons had made a comeback during the Showa period, and after over 200 years of ban, it had made a revival using modern technology.
After this, the Meiji restoration, there were also various movements such as competition with imported alcoholic beverages. Especially, in the period right after the war, there were not many alcohol circulating, and cheap alcohol was replaced by alcohol that were risky and dangerous to the health, causing casualties from the consumption of these. It is said that the period where cheap alcohol could be drunk again had only started around the time of the Japan economic miracle.
The Modern Day Sake
In the modern day, not everyone can drink sake, but there are a variety of sake that are available in the market such as sparkling sake, lighter and easier to drink flavors, and high-end sake. This introduction of variety has blossomed a very exciting future in sake.
Sake is not simply enjoyed in Japan, but it is enjoyed in the U.S. and other countries.