Sake is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice. In Japanese, it’s usually referred to as nihonshu, the drink that’s served at restaurants and drinking establishments and enjoyed by people all across the globe. Sake has recently started to become trendy and quite recognizable.
The foundation of the drink is rice, water, yeast and koji mold. After the ingredients are combined and fermented, sake is filtered. although it doesn’t have to be. Unfiltered products are also made. The result is clear to yellowish rice wine with mild flavour profiles and noticeable fruity notes, with an alcohol content of around 15%.
The drink goes well with pretty much any food, due to the mild flavour. However, it’s known to pair the best with traditional Japanese meals.
In the past few decades, premium sake has gained popularity, while cheap sake has lost most of its market share due to other kinds of alcoholic beverages. How does one know the sake is premium? The drink differentiates itself in the ingredient quality and the amount of effort put into the production process. Here are some of the factors and terms to help differentiate sake:
Degree of Polishing The Rice
The outer layers of the grains create undesirable flavours in sake. Therefore, rice grains have to be polished at the very beginning of the sake production process. The more polished the rice is, the better it tastes. Of course, this also affects the price tag. Premium sake has at least 30% of the grains polished away. For highend sake, the percentage is even higher.
Ginjo, for example, requires at least 40% and danginjo at least 50% of the grain to be polished away. They are considered one of the most flavourful and rich in character sake.
Addition of Alcohol
Increasing the percentage of alcohol in beverages like sake is often a time consuming and costly process. Therefore, some brands prefer adding large amounts of distilled alcohol. Premium sake is classified as junmai, no alcohol added and honjozo, a small amount of alcohol added. This, of course, adds extra cost to each of premium sake produced.
Special Types of Sake
There are also many special types of sake that are created by adding or omitting specific steps in the production process:
Namazake - also known as raw sake. When making this sort of sake, producers skip the pasteurization process, which results in a fresher flavour.
Nigorizake - also known as cloudy sake. This beverage is only coarsely filtered. As a result, the sake contains some rice solids that are left from fermentation, changing its appearance from clear to cloudy.
Koshu - also known as old sake. As a general rule, sake is meant to be consumed within a few months of production. However, koshu is aged for much longer in bottles or barrels to develop new flavour profiles. As a result, this kind of sake has a much stronger and woody tone and a darker colour.
Jizake - also known as local sake. It’s simply produced locally by small, independent brewers, and the most popular in Japan.
Amazake - also known as sweet sake. While it’s not considered “true” sake, it’s incredibly popular, especially during the cold winter months in Japan. It’s low in alcohol, or non-alcoholic, sweet and thick.
Sparkling Sake - following the popular “sparkling trend,” Japanese producers have recently started adding sparkling sake to their product line up. It’s bottled before the very end of the fermentation process, which results in the creation of bubbles.
How To Drink Sake
Sake isn’t as popular in the west as other beverages. However, you can still order it in many restaurants and bars. Similar to wine, sake comes in many flavour profiles and varies in complexity. The drink is served at different temperatures, depending on the type of sake, season and drinker’s individual taste. As a rule of thumb, most premium sake is best when served chilled or at room temperature.
If you want to try the Japanese drink, buy a bottle of Sake at ZYN in Calgary, Alberta, Canada or shop online at ZYN.ca!