The simple definition of Sake refers to beverages that contain alcohol in general. In western countries, this may refer to wine, but in Japan when we say Sake, we usually refer to Japanese Sake.
Sake is a brewed alcohol made by fermenting rice, making rice is one of important factor to determine the taste of sake. Production method of sake is based on alcohol fermentation of sugar, but rice do not have sugar itself, sugar is accumulated as starch. So one more procedure should be needed. First, Aspergillus oryzae is used for sugar decomposition.
In particular, the rice is milled, steamed, mixed with Aspergillus oryzae and made into mixed-malt. Malt is added yeast to make yeast starter (moto) and yeast is cultivated in large quantities. Adding yeast simultaneously, differentiated sugar is alcohol-fermented.
At this stage, gradual-adding (Dan-jikomi) is processed, that is also one of the characteristics of sake making process. It is carried out in order of first-adding(Hatsu-zoe), middle-adding (Naka-jikomi), and final-adding (Tome-jikomi). This suppresses the growth of unnecessary bacteria, cultivates yeast bacteria more effectively, and facilitates temperature control. This is the characteristic of Sake, which glycosylating by Aspergillus oryzae and alcohol fermentation by yeast are proceeded simultaneously. Which requires very advanced technique. Furthermore, it is said that this makes it possible to produce high brewed alcoholic beverages. Original sake is made from this mash fermented in such long-time procedure.
When the fermentation is over, the mash is compressed and divided into sake and sake lees. Freshly squeezed alcohol is filtered and heated for the purpose of sterilization and prevent degradation of quality. At this stage, since alcohol degree is slightly different, after adding processes such as charging water, alcohol degree is adjusted and bottled. This is the whole process to make new sake.
Japanese Sake made from unique processing techniques from Japan
Japanese Sake is said to be enjoyed much earlier in the period of BC, and before the Japan as a nation had been established. In our modern times, rice, rice malt, and water are the main ingredients of what is called “Seishu” or refined Sake, and in the liquor tax law, it is defined as the alcohol content that has 22 degrees or less. As the Kanji “Kiwameru” or “to purify” indicates, it has been used during the ancient times for dedicating or as a gift to the gods, and to purify oneself.
Moreover, compared to other types of alcohol,Japanese Sake that has an elegant taste and richness is also popular outside of Japan often called simply as “Sake” among foreigners.
What is the alcohol content of Japanese Sake?
Similar to Seishu, there are “synthetic seishu” that is very similar taste and color. This also includes simply fermented where moromi or murkiness remains is called “Doburoku”.
In liquor tax laws, those 22 degrees and lower alcohol content are considered as Seishu, and Sake with 22 degrees and over alcohol content are defined as liquor, but alcohol that has the same manufacturing methods as Seishu is considered as Japanese Sake. Among different types of Seishu, those made by the manufacturing method and uses ingredients that satisfy a certain criteria are classified in a specific class name, and those that do not meet these standards are categorised as Futsuu shu or ordinary classed Sake.
In the special class, there is Ginjoshu and Junmaishu, and among different alcohols in the world, it is particularly categorised finely segmented.
What is the taste of Sake?
It would not be an overstatement to say that Japanese Sake has walked alongside the history of the Japanese people. With its long history, its taste cannot be expressed simply by sweet tap or dry tap, but there are many other words to express it. There are also many expressions that seem similar, but mean different things, and some are hard to imagine without becoming an experienced Japanese Sake drinker. For example, “Kire ga aru” or with sharpness is often used to express the taste of Sake.
This refers to the Sake that has a sharp taste that runs down very well without an aftertaste. On the other hand, “Tanrei” refers to the taste being crispy and dry or having a lighter taste that is soothing. When you teach someone the taste of Japanese Sake, try to use these expressions that are unique to Japanese Sake. You might get brownie points for being a Sake expert.
How to enjoy drink Sake?
A big characteristic of Sake is its variation on how to drink them. There are three drinking temperature of drinking Sake.
- Cold Sake (Reishu)
- Cold or room temperature Sake (Hiyazake)
- Kanzake (Warm Sake)
First of all, “Reishu” or cold Sake is put in the refrigerator to cool. “Hiyazake” on the other hand, is also drunk in a similar manner, but it is often drunk in room temperature. Both are often mixed together. In the past, when refrigerators did not exist, those that were not heated were called “Hiya”, and this is where it derives from. The room temperature Sake and refrigerated Sake are separated in this way.
“Kanzake” refers to heated Sake, but depending on the temperature, it could further be divided into “Nurukan” which is luke warm Sake 40 degrees in temperature, “Hitohadakan” which translates to human temperature, this is typically around 35 degrees.
“Atsukan” on the other hand is typically one of the hottest, and it is around 50 degrees. Even in other cultures, heating up alcoholic beverage is quite rare, and it can be considered as one of the charms of Japanese Sake. When you’re about to order your Japanese Sake, take note that there are types or brand of Sake that goes well than other when enjoyed as hot Sake, not all Japanese Sake can be enjoyed as Kanzake.
There are also personal preferences, so when you have trouble how to or what type of Sake to drink, it may be best to ask the Sake brewer or liquor shop.