Japan’s national alcoholic beverage sake has now become an international icon.
Japanese-owned businesses in foreign countries always entertain clients in local sushi and sashimi restaurants that naturally stock a range of sakes. They effectively promote sake and Japanese culture wherever they do business. There are more than 1500 sake breweries in Japan, and several in South Korea, the U.S.A, Australia, and Canada. (Ontario Spring Water Sake Company is located in Toronto’s Distillery District).
Sake contrary to what millions believe to be rice wine, is in actual fact a beer, although it looks more like a colourless wine. There are a lot of misconceptions about sake – one of them is that it should be consumed warm. Actually, fine sake should be served chilled, but low quality pro cuts taste more acceptable when served warm.
Sake is a relatively low alcohol, versatile beverage that can be paired with all types of light foods, especially sushi and sashimi, seafood, grilled squid, deep fried spring rolls, dim-sum, light Chinese specialities.
The most important ingredient of sake is water, followed by rice. “Polished” rice (50 percent) yields a higher quality than rice that is “polished” down to 70.
Japanese scientists are still researching and developing rice strains that are best suited for sake brewing. Most sake sold is pasteurized and filtered, but unpasteurized products must be refrigerated at all times to prevent spoilage.
Ontario Spring Water Sake Company brews several brands under the Izumi brand. It poured its products at the Toronto Sake Festival. I tasted four of its eight products and found Namanama Junmai (unpasteurized) and Genshu Junmai (unfiltered) to taste best of all. Both are available at the brewery (300 ml for $ 12.95). Of all the sake breweries (67) present I tasted eight more – Tongmai Junmai Daiginjo (89+/100), Hakkaisan Junmai Ginjo (89+/100), Nonbu Bijin Shinpaku Junmai Daiginjo (89+) tasted best.
Organizers staged a very short seminar before the tasting began during which several misconceptions were clarified.
Several trays of sushi were served, but all had dried out as they had been prepared long before service. Sushi must be made and consumed immediately to taste its best!
If you interested in finding out more, and live in the GTA, a trip to the Distillery District may prove to be an eye opener!