A Short Summary of Sake — Japanese rice booze

To keep up with my “write 500 words a day” routine I’m writing a short post about something that has been (on)top of my mind for the past 18 hours or so. It’s almost dinner time and I need to get a post out there and my brain has been a little slow today — And last night’s Sake may be partly to blame.

First of all, sake is great! Sake is a Japanese alcoholic drink that’s made with Rice. To write this I looked around the web to learn a bit more and see what people are saying about this alcoholic drink that predates recorded history 🔖. While typically referred to as Japanese Rice Wine, it actually has more in common with beer than wine🔖. In fact, it has a few unique characteristics that set it apart from other alcoholic drinks entirely. It’s been growing in popularity in the USA and around the world and is said to pair well with all cuisines since there are so many styles and varieties.

🍣 I don’t think I’ve ever had sake while NOT eating sushi.

Sake is brewed from 4 basic ingredients: rice, water, koji and yeast. With just those few ingredients infinite varieties are possible. Each grain of rice is polished from 70% to ~20% of it’s original size. Polishing is when the rice is tumbled around in a machine to first remove the brown outside, and then more and more white is removed to get nearer to the ‘pure starch’ center. Sake’s that use the more polished rice are usually more expensive and called “Daiginjo”. The last thing about the rice is that sake has it’s own special variety of rice. It’s short-grained and looks sort of like little spheres instead of an elongated grain like regular rice.

Sake rice with varying amounts of polishing. via

After the rice, the next ingredient that impacts flavor most is the water. The water that’s used is usually high in dissolved minerals. This means that different regions of Japan have different tasting sake because the water contains different stuff! I wonder if these water differences change things more than how the region of a grape changes things in wine… I’ll need to drink more sake.

The last two ingredients, koji and yeast, are used for fermentation. Koji is a fungus and it’s the same thing that’s used to ferment soybeans to make soy sauce. It turns the starch into sugar. That needs to happen because sugar is what yeast needs so it can ferment things into alcohol. There are many different strains of koji and yeast so those are yet another way for the maker’s of sake to get a wide-range of tastes.

A long time ago before we (humans) figured out the yeast thing, Sake was made with spit instead of yeast 🔖.

Main types of Sake

There is more than the sake-bombing warm stuff you drop into beer and chug as quickly as possible. Sometimes Sake has distilled alcohol added but It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean it’s worse. The sake brewers carefully blend alcohol in to create the complex flavor profiles they’re looking for. Sakes of all varieties can range from sweet to super dry, and it’s usually written on the bottle. The types below are how a menu would probably separate their selection of sake:

  1. Junmai-shu- rice only; no adding of distilled alcohol
  2. Honjozo-shu- a tad of distilled alcohol is added
  3. Ginjo-shu- highly milled rice, with or without alcohol added
  4. Daiginjo-shu- even more highly milled rice, with/without added alcohol
  5. Nigori- unfiltered and cloudy.

That’s it for this short summary about sake. I think I’ll have to write another post to share more about all the crazy history and complexities involved with sake. To write this I watched a few videos and read several articles and it’s made me realize that Sake deserves way more respect in the beverage world — next time I’m at a liquor store I’m going to see what sort of selection they have and try something new. If you want to learn more, follow me on here and you’ll see my next post about sake.

In the meantime, if you can’t wait and want to learn more about sake right now, I’ll put some links to the tabs I have open that I used to write this post.

Learn More Links:

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