Sake Information Center

About Sake

What is sake ?
wat is sake Sake or saké (/ˈsɑːkeɪ/, "sah-keh") is an alcoholic beverage of Japanese origin that is made from fermented rice. Sake is sometimes referred to in English-speaking countries as "rice wine". However, unlike wine, in which alcohol (ethanol) is produced by fermenting sugar that is naturally present in grapes, sake is produced by a brewing process more like that of beer.

The brewing process for sake differs from the process for beer, in that for beer, the conversion from starch to sugar and from sugar to alcohol occurs in two discrete steps. But when sake is brewed, these conversions occur simultaneously. Furthermore, the alcohol content differs between sake, wine, and beer. Wine generally contains 9%–16% ABV, while most beer contains 3%–9%, and undiluted sake contains 18%–20% (although this is often lowered to about 15% by diluting with water prior to bottling).

In the Japanese language, the word "shu" (酒, "liquor", 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. There exists an unrelated word also pronounced sake, but written differently ( as 鮭), which means salmon.

In Japan, where it is the national beverage, sake is often served with special ceremony- gently warmed in a small earthenware or porcelain bottle called a tokkuri, and sipped from a small porcelain cup called a guinomi. Divider
Polished rice image Dai Ginjo
Daiginjo-shu is ginjo-shu made with rice polished even more, so that no more than 50% of the original size of the grain remains. Some daiginjo is made with rice polished to as far as 35%, so that 65% is ground away before brewing. Daiginjo is made in even more painstaking ways, with even more labor intensive steps.
A subclass of ginjo-shu below, brewed with very highly polished rice (to at least 50%** see below) and even more precise and labor intensive methods. The pinnacle of the brewers" art. Generally light, complex and quite fragrant.
Daiginjo is fundamentally speaking an extension of ginjo. The rice has been milled so that no more than 50% of the original size of the grains remains, although this often goes to 35%, and even more care has been taken to create sake representative of the pinnacle of the craft. Although there is a range of styles of daiginjo, and not all look like the chart below, here is a somewhat typical example.

Regular. Futsuu-shu is "normal sake," i.e. sake that does not qualify for one of the above three levels of classifications. It is the equivalent of "table wine" in the wine world, and makes up about 80% of all sake that is made. Sake like this is produced with copious amounts of pure distilled alcohol added to increase yields. Although a lot of futsuu-shu is cheap, nasty, and vile, there is plenty of sake in this group is perfectly and enjoyably drinkable. One should avoid collectively dismissing futsuu-shu as rotgut.

This is sake made with rice that has been polished (milled) so that no more than 60% of its original size remains. In other words, at least the outer 40% has been ground away. This removes things like fats and proteins and other things that impede fermentation and cause off-flavors. But that is only the beginning: ginjo-shu is made in a very labor intensive way, fermented at colder temperatures for a longer period of time. The flavor is more complex and delicate, and both the flavor and the fragrance are often (but not always) fruity and flowery. Super Premium, Special brew. Brewed with labor-intensive steps, eschewing machinery for traditional tools and methods, using highly polished rice (at least 60%**) and fermented at colder temperatures for longer periods of time. Light, aromatic, fruity, and refined. Ginjo sake is much more delicate and light and complex than the above two. Why? The rice has had the outer 40% of the grains polished away, leaving the inner 60% left. This is opposed to leaving 70% for junnmai and honjozo. On top of that, special yeast, lower fermentation temperatures, and labor -intensive techniques make for fragrant, intricate brews. Here is a typical ginjo chart. Divider
Heating the sake changes the taste
Sweet-Dry Divider
Regions and their characteristics
Regionality Hokkaido
The northern island of Hokkaido is cool in summer and cold in winter, so sake matures more slowly there. This generally makes for a smoother texture and a lighter taste. Brewers take advantage of the natural environment. For example: in the winter, some brewers get their water from ice floating in the Sea of Okhotsk; and in some places caves are carved out of snow banks several meters high, to make sake cellars.

Full-bodied, velvety sake is prominent in this region from Aomori Prefecture to northern Yamagata Prefecture. Akita Prefecture is the biggest producer in the Tohoku region. Many of the master brewers now plying their trade in Japan originally came from Tohokufu Iwate Prefecture. Sake from Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures has a somewhat more refined character, although breweries in Fukushimafs Aizu district tend to favor a rich texture and a sweet taste.

Niigata Prefecture is known for its refined, dry sake, and is the third largest center of production in Japan. Many breweries have won gold at the Zenkoku Shinshu Kanpyo-kai (a prestigious contest held to appraise newly brewed sake from throughout the country). Mountain ranges cut Nagano Prefecture off from the rest of the country, and the gJapan Alps yeasth produced here gives a distinctively fragrant character to Nagano sake. Sake from Yamanashi Prefecture is known for its pleasantly unassuming flavor.

Greater Tokyo, home to millions of discerning consumers, occupies a large part of the Kanto region, and much of the sake brewed here has a refreshing personality. Ibaraki has more sakagura breweries than any other prefecture in the region, and the area around the city of Ishioka is a well-known center of production.

Shizuoka Prefecture is the best known center of production in the Tokai region, and much of the sake brewed there is of the ginjo-shu type, using Shizuoka yeast to create sake with a fruity flavor. The other three prefectures in the region produce sake with a pronounced, slightly sweet flavor. Sake from Aichi Prefecture has a mellow character, probably brewed that way to make it go well with the strongly seasoned local cuisine.

Each prefecture in this region produces its own distinctive sake: Ishikawafs is mellower, Toyamafs favors refinement, while Fukuifs tends more toward a smooth, velvety finish. The rich culinary culture of the old castle town of Kanazawa, which was the center of the bountiful rice-growing feudal province of Kaga, has retained its traditions since the Edo period (1603-1867) and greatly influenced sake brewing methods in Ishikawa Prefecture.

Hyogo Prefecture is the largest center of production in Japan. It is also one of the best, with the Nada district famous for its sake since the Edo period (1603-1867). The Yamada Nishiki variety of rice, which is grown in the prefecture for the production of sake, deserves special mention. The premium miya-mizu water used in the Nada district is somewhat hard, yielding crisp, strong sake. On the other hand, the soft water used in the Fushimi district of Kyoto Prefecture, Japanfs second most important center of production, results in a velvety, high-quality sake. Osaka has been famous for its sake since the 1600s, and many breweries there still pride themselves on following traditional methods.

Hiroshima Prefecture produces a sweet sake with a mellow character. This makes it the complete opposite of the refined, dry sake of Niigata Prefecture, although both have won rave reviews at contests held to appraise sake from throughout the country. The Omachi variety of rice grown in Okayama Prefecture is considered as good for making sake as Yamada Nishiki. It yields a more robust beverage than the more delicate sake brewed from Yamada Nishiki rice.

Kochi Prefecture faces the Pacific Ocean and produces dry, robust sake with a friendly kick, whereas the other three prefectures face the Seto Inland Sea and produce sake with an entirely different character?delicate on the palate, sweet to the taste.

Kyushu is known for a distilled liquor called shochu (awamori in Okinawa). Even so, sake holds its own in this part of Japan, and Fukuoka has many sake breweries. Kumamoto Prefecture is home to the Kumamoto yeast, a vital component in the making of the ginjo-shu type of sake. Much of the sake brewed in Kyushu has a rich, sweet flavor, except for Kumamoto where dryness is favored. Divider
Different brands of rice
 Rice field 2 Yamada Nishiki
From Hyogo, Okayama and Fukuoka. The so-called King of Sake Rice. Fragrant, well-blended soft flavor. Representative Sake Brands: About any daiginjo in the country (slight exaggeration). Hard to give one good recommendation. Nadagiku, Tatsuriki, Okuharima (all Hyogo) and Ginban (Toyama) are good examples.

From Okayama. Generally less fragrant, more defined flavor elements, more earthiness. The only pure strain of rice left in Japan (to my knowledge, so don"t argue for this point should you choose to quote me). Representative Sake Brands: Bizen Sake no Hitosuji (Okayama). Most visible users of Omachi. Use it across a whole range of sake types . Lots of it good warmed. Some fermented in Bizen-yaki tanks. Also look for Yorokobi no Izumi form Okayama.

Miyama Nishiki
From Iwate, Akita, Yamagata, Miyagi, Fukushima, and Nagano. Slightly less dry sake, more rice-like flavor, more mouth feel, and quiet nose. Representative Sake Brands: Sharaku (Fukushima), Hamachidori (Iwate). Both sake have great mouth/tongue feel and presence.

From Niigata, Fukushima, Toyama, and Ishikawa. Smooth and clean and dry and slightly fragrant. Representative Sake Brands: Shimeharitsuru and Kubota, or just about anything from Niigata.

From Kagawa. Rich and earthy, very distinctive. Representative Sake Brands: Ayakiku (Kagawa). They use only Oseto rice here, in all their sake.

Hatta Nishiki
From Hiroshima. Earthy undertones, usually in the background. Rich flavor, quite nose. Representative Sake Brands: Kamoizumi and Fukucho from Hiroshima. Two very different styles, the former being wilder and earthy and the latter being softer and sweeter.

From Tottori and Shiga. Soft and deep, with complex background activity when brewed right. Representative Sake Brands: Kimitsukasa (Tottori ). Hard to find but at Akaoni.

Kame no O
From Niigata and Yamagata. Rich and flavorful and a bit drier and more acidic than other rice types, but I have not had enough to intelligently comment. Representative Sake Brands: Although there are several across Niigata and Tohoku, look for Kame no O (Niigata, Kusumi Shuzo).

Dewa San San
From Yamagata and Niigata. Complex, not so dry, midly fragrant. Representative Sake Brands: Fumitoi (Yamagata). Bottles are clearly marked with blue sticker, so easy to find Dewa 33 sake, always from Yamagata Divider
Pouring sake In Japan, sake is served chilled (reishu 冷酒), at room temperature (jōon 常温), or heated (atsukan 熱燗), depending on the preference of the drinker, the quality of the sake, and the season. Typically, hot sake is a winter drink, and high-grade sake is not drunk hot, because the flavors and aromas will be lost. This masking of flavor is the reason that low-quality and old sake is often served hot. There are gradations of temperature both for chilling and heating, about every 5 degrees, with hot sake generally served around 50 °C (122 °F), and chilled sake around 10 °C (50 °F), like white wine. Hot sake that has cooled (kanzamashi 燗冷まし) may be reheated.

Sake is traditionally drunk from small cups called choko or o-choko (お猪口) and poured into the choko from ceramic flasks called tokkuri. This is very common for hot sake, where the flask is heated in hot water and the small cups ensure that the sake does not get cold in the cup, but may also be used for chilled sake. Traditionally one does not pour one’s own drink, which is known as tejaku (手酌), but instead members of a party pour for each other, which is known as shaku (酌). This has relaxed in recent years, but is generally observed on more formal occasions, such as business meals, and is still often observed for the first drink.

Another traditional cup is the masu, a box usually made of hinoki or sugi, which was originally used for measuring rice. The masu holds exactly 180 ml, so the sake is served by filling the masu to the brim; this is done for chilled or room temperature sake. In some Japanese restaurants, as a show of generosity, the server may put a glass inside the masu or put the masu on a saucer and pour until sake overflows and fills both containers.

Saucer-like cups called sakazuki are also used, most commonly at weddings and other ceremonial occasions, such as the start of the year or at the beginning of a kaiseki meal. In cheap bars, sake is often served room temperature in glass tumblers. In more modern restaurants wine glasses are also used, and recently footed glasses made specifically for premium sake have also come into use.

Sake is traditionally served in units of 180 ml (one gō), and this is still common, but other sizes are sometimes also available.

Traditionally sake is heated immediately before serving, but today restaurants may buy sake in boxes which can be heated in a specialized hot sake dispenser, thus allowing hot sake to be served immediately, though this is detrimental to the flavor. There are also a variety of devices for heating sake and keeping it warm, beyond the traditional tokkuri.

Aside from being served straight, sake can be used as a mixer for cocktails, such as tamagozake, saketinis, nogasake, or the sake bomb. Divider
Sake is sold in volume units divisible by 180 mL (a gō), the traditional Japanese unit for cup size: sake is traditionally sold by the gō-sized cup, or in a 1.8 L (one shō, ten gō) sized flask. Today sake is also often sold in 720 mL (four gō) bottles – note that this is almost the same as the 750 mL standard for wine bottles, but is divisible into 4 gō. Particularly in convenience stores, sake may be sold in a 180 ml single serving glass with a pull-off top (コップ酒 koppu-zake) – this is generally cheap sake – or in a small 360 ml bottle.

In general, it is best to keep sake refrigerated in a cool or dark room, as prolonged exposure to heat or direct light will lead to spoilage. In addition, sake stored at relatively high temperature can lead to formation of dicetopiperazine, a cyclo (Pro-Leu) that makes it bitter as it ages (Lecture Note, Oct. 2011). Sake has high microbiological stability due to its high content of ethanol. However, incidences of spoilage have been known to occur. One of the microoganisms implicated in this spoilage is lactic acid bacteria (LAB) that has grown tolerant to ethanol and is referred to as hiochi-bacteria (Suzuki et al., 2008). Sake stored at room temperature is best consumed within a few months after purchase.[citation needed]

After opening a bottle of sake, it is best consumed within 2 or 3 hours.[citation needed] It is possible to store sake in the refrigerator, but it is recommended to finish the sake within 2 days. This is because once premium sake is opened it begins to oxidize, which affects the taste. If the sake is kept in the refrigerator for more than 3 days, it will lose its "best" flavor. However, this does not mean it should be disposed of if not consumed. Generally, sake can keep very well and still taste just fine after weeks in the refrigerator. How long a sake will remain drinkable depends on the actual product itself, and whether it is sealed with a wine vacuum top. Divider
Several articles on this page uses material from the Wikipedia article "Sake", which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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