Sake. To most Westerners, it’s a drink shrouded in thriller. Rice wine? Japanese spirits? All the identical factor? Have to be drunk heat? Myths abound.
For those who had been like me, your first publicity to sake was presumably within the 007 thriller You Solely Dwell Twice, when Bond (performed by Sean Connery) first meets his Japanese counterpart, Tiger Tanaka. Supplied a martini (I nonetheless keep a martini should be made with gin, not vodka), he opts for sake. “Particularly when it’s served on the right temperature, 98.4 levels Fahrenheit, like that is,” he suavely imparts, impressing his host.
A extra sensible publicity quickly got here as a scholar attempting a neighborhood Japanese restaurant. Sake was obligatory, even when we knew nothing about it. However it was heat and alcoholic – what extra did a scholar want?
Regardless of Bond’s excessive precision palate — he can inform temperature all the way down to the decimal level — and desire, it was not lengthy earlier than we had been being advised that consuming sake heat was very poor type. Can 007 have gotten it flawed? I’m nonetheless not sure many people had a clue.
What precisely is sake?
Sake is created from rice. Fermented rice, though the method that sees the conversion of starch to sugar has extra in widespread with beer than wine or spirits.
It has been a part of Japanese life for greater than 2,000 years. Some consider it dates again to China round 4,000 BCE. Its significance to Japan goes again to the early a part of final century, to the Russo-Japanese Battle.
Homebrewing of sake was banned as homebrewing meant tax free, and the taxes on sake on the time made for a rare 30 p.c of all income the federal government was gathering. It’s nonetheless forbidden, though sake solely makes up 2 p.c of presidency income today.
Easy the method is likely to be, there are all method of variations, ranges of high quality, and brewers (they’re known as brewers, not distillers). There are some 2,000 sake breweries littered all through Japan, so it takes little creativeness to see that there should be an unimaginable variety of very totally different sakes on supply.
Principally, sake is rice, water, and the fermenting agent known as koji. The result’s an alcoholic stage that normally sits between 13 and 16 p.c. The rice used is totally different from the usual desk rice so in style with Japanese meals. Relatively, it’s the delicate, low-protein, large-grain varieties; greater than 80 sorts are appropriate for sake.
The water can also be necessary. Completely different brewers will declare their explicit water is superior – similarities to the manufacturing of whisky are widespread.
Koji just isn’t strictly a yeast, however slightly cooked rice/soya beans inoculated with a fermentation tradition. It is usually used for mirin, miso, rice vinegar, and soy sauce. For the manufacturing of sake, it reduces the carbohydrates within the rice into sugars, which subsequently ferment (as per wine) leading to alcohol and carbon dioxide. Koji can also be important in that it contributes the umami character, essential to good sake. Few drinks anyplace on the planet are as wealthy within the umami character as sake, due to a a lot greater proportion of the related amino acids. Value noting that the extra polished the rice, the much less of the umami character that will get by way of.
Good sake needs to be consumed inside per week of opening the bottle – and saved refrigerated – though a day or two is much better. Sake ought to normally be consumed inside a yr of manufacturing. For critical appreciation, the tiny glasses usually used are greatest averted. The idea was that very small glasses led to the host constantly refilling his company’ glasses, selling hospitality. A visitor ought to by no means be left to fill his personal glass.
A key determine in sake appreciation is 180. The usual bottle is 720 mls, which is 4 occasions 180. Massive bottles are 1.8 liters, which is 180 by ten.
Though sake may be very usually used for toasts in Japan – kampai is Japanese for “cheers” – to understand good sake it needs to be sipped, not handled as a shooter and slammed down. Sake is gluten-free and incorporates no preservatives. It is a perfect drink for a lot of meals – that umami character makes it an ideal match for meals equally blessed. Suppose seafoods, meats, mushrooms, aged cheeses, and extra. A number of enjoyable to experiment.
The 5 fundamental varieties of sake
This leads properly to the varieties of sake which can be accessible. The 5 fundamental varieties are Junmai-shu, Ginjo-shu, Daiginjo-shu, Honjozo-shu, and Namazake. However there are extra. The sharpening/milling of the rice is vital – the diploma of the sharpening is known as Seimai Buai. The milling removes the bran, and therefore the protein and oil, contained within the grain.
Let’s undergo the principle varieties.
Junmai-shu is an “unadulterated” sake with no alcohol added. The Seimai Buai is a minimal of 70 p.c, that means that not more than 70 p.c of the rice maintains its unique dimension – therefore, 30 p.c of the grains have their outer layers eliminated – so a sake with a ranking of, say, 60 p.c can have had 40 p.c of the grain eliminated. Rice for consumption will likely be polished to 90 p.c or extra, that means solely 10 p.c or much less of the grain is eliminated.
These usually are not precise authorized specs however should be talked about on the label. These sakes vary from mellow to fuller and richer kinds. The acid ranges are inclined to the upper finish of the spectrum, and brewer’s alcohol just isn’t added. It is a model usually served scorching. Sake with a better proportion of the rice grain eliminated will naturally be dearer, although not all the time higher.
Ginjo-shu is 40 p.c milled, therefore 60 p.c at unique dimension. That is an fragrant model of sake and tends to the extra elegant, delicate, and lighter. Normally served chilly. Alcohol could also be included. Fermentation takes place at a decrease temperature.
Daiginjo-shu is a kind of Ginjo-shu sake, the place the milling is simply 35 to 50 p.c. Once more, the aroma is vital. These are fuller kinds, whereas retaining a delicacy.
Honjozo-shu sake additionally has 70 p.c milling however consists of the addition of brewer’s alcohol. That is thought of to offer a lighter physique and clean style. Usually served heat.
Any sort of sake will be Namazake. It’s the place the sake just isn’t heated for pasteurization after the ultimate mash is pressed. Must be saved chilled.
Jizake is sake produced by small brewers.
Unfiltered (or evenly filtered) sake known as Nigori-zake. The method (or lack of it) ends in a cloudy product and sometimes has some koji rice left within the bottle. Normally candy. Kijoshu, which makes use of much less water and extra sake in the course of the fermentation course of, can also be thought of to be “dessert” sake.
Koshu is sake that has been aged for an extended interval than the same old 9 to 12 months, giving it a extra highly effective texture and taste.
Sake aged in wood casks is Taruzake.
Sake is normally diluted by the addition of water earlier than bottling, giving an alcohol stage round 13 or 17 p.c. If it’s not, and has a stage round 17 to twenty p.c, then it’s known as Genshu.
Akai sake can have a reddish hue, ensuing from a particular sort of koji.
Sake will be infused by numerous fruit flavors, making it superb for cocktails. There are additionally glowing variations created by a secondary fermentation that normally have a decrease stage of alcohol. You’ll be able to even discover sake with gold flakes in it known as Kinapaku-iri. Evidently, it’s not low cost.
Arabashiri is sake that has not been matured, produced from the primary sake out of the press of the rice mash.
Till a few many years in the past, there was an official rating system for sake however that is now not in existence.
The water used for brewing sake known as Shikomimizu. Evidently, it varies enormously from exhausting to delicate relying on the brewer.
Onerous water, that with a excessive mineral content material, provides a strong profile to the sake whereas the softer waters produce a gentler consequence and provides a sweeter impression. The fragrant profile is normally thought of to be because of the totally different yeasts used. Initially, the native yeasts had been used however, as within the case of wine, with the event of varied business cultures it’s potential for a brewer to supply a yeast to offer the specified consequence.
Why drink sake heat?
The traditional knowledge that had everybody consuming their sake heat is claimed to have come from a time after World Battle II when rice shortages pressured brewers to fortify their sake with distilled alcohol. Warming it helped knock the perimeters off any imbalance or sharpness.
By the late Nineteen Sixties, breweries moved to “pure rice” sake with no distilled alcohol concerned. The upper high quality allowed shoppers to drink their sake chilled. Heating sake now’s achieved the place the flavour profile advantages. Equally, the addition of alcohol throughout manufacturing is now a stylistic selection.
The time period for heat sake is Kanzake. It could possibly vary from room temperature, round 20°C, to highly regarded at practically 60°C.
Ochiai works as each a sake educator and, along with her husband Andrew Cameron, runs Déjà Vu Sake Co, an Australian importer of the best sakes. She has additionally judged on the prestigious Worldwide Wine Problem Sake Competitors held in Japan.
Sake tasting notes
I requested Ochiai and Cameron for a small collection of their most interesting for this piece (in reality, simply three sakes is just about the identical as attempting to elucidate wine in three bottles). I got here away past impressed and I heartily encourage everybody to both find these sakes in your personal markets or to strive different prime examples. If you’re having hassle, ask at a neighborhood Japanese restaurant for some suggestions.
Déjà Vu additionally focuses on Japanese whiskies and beers, and you may anticipate a take a look at some prime Japanese whiskies within the coming weeks.
First up from the trio is the Fukuju Junmai Ginjo (AUD$72) from Kobe within the Hyogo Prefecture. Fukuju was established in 1751. Kobe was initially referred to as Nada and nonetheless is within the sake world. That is crucial sake area in Japan, producing round 25 p.c.
Fukuju, a small brewery producing craft sake, derives its title from the mythology of the Seven Fortunate Gods and is at the moment within the arms of the thirteenth era. The brewery makes use of exhausting water referred to as Miyamizu and is understood for its dry, elegant model. The Junmai Ginjo (15 p.c with 60 p.c milling) is bottled in a blue UV bottle, which helps retain freshness. So profitable have they been that that is usually served on the Nobel Prize dinner in Sweden.
For anybody who thinks sake is a bland or impartial drink, this sake will come as a shock. It’s full of fruit flavors – pink berries, tropical notes, mangoes, apricots/peaches, rock melons, and extra. They explode throughout the palate and linger with intent. A delicate, cushiony texture with a vibrant, shiny clear end. Noticeable umami and a touch of underlying sweetness. A pleasure to drink.
The Shichida Junmai Daiginjo (AUD$113) is from the Saga Prefecture within the Kyushu area. The brewery, referred to as the Tenzen Brewery, dates again to 1875 when the Shichida household purchased some gear to help a neighborhood who had gone bankrupt and remained concerned. This sake (16 p.c, 45 p.c milling) is created from Yamadanishiki rice. The household is at the moment sixth era. The water is medium exhausting, and the area’s hotter temperatures assist to make a clear, delicate model, but full-flavored and well-structured with noticeable umami character.
What is instantly obvious right here is the floral aromas that fill the glass. Enticingly aromatic with stone fruit flavors. If you wish to know simply what the character of umami is, do that sake. Underlying energy and spectacular size. Beautiful, supple texture. This might be superb for lighter dishes and but has the depth to hold one thing spicier. There’s a sure hedonistic notice to this sake. Scrumptious.
Lastly, Tsukinokatsura Yanagi Junmai Ginjo (AUD$98) from the Kyoto Prefecture. Tsukinokatsura was established in 1675 within the extremely regarded Fushimi area of Kyoto, the second largest area after Nada. Tsukinokatsura is the oldest brewery right here (it’s so outdated that it wants specialists known as Miyadaiku for any repairs as no nails are in use). It’s a small however revered producer and well-known for reintroducing the Nigori model of cloudy sake half a century in the past. The water right here is delicate. The present proprietor is fourteenth era.
This brewery’s Yanagi Junmai Ginjo (16 p.c, milling 50 p.c, though some references confer with 30 p.c) makes use of solely use Iwai rice, Kyoto’s unique rice, solely grown right here. The model is mild and dry, very a lot on the delicate finish of the spectrum.
There’s a character right here not dissimilar to what one would possibly discover with a crisp Pinot Grigio, a scrumptious Nashi pear notice, and hints of inexperienced apple. A targeted and lingering model. Some underlying spicy notes, that umami contact, a touch of vanilla, and a supple texture. Some pink fruits. Terrific size. Has an actual magnificence to it.
If you’re not aware of prime sake, now’s the time.
For extra data, please go to www.dejavusake.com.au.
* This text was first revealed October 1, 2020 at For The Sake Of Sake: A Primer With Tasting Notes