Although Japan boasts many fine breweries and exports considerable quantities, the traditional Japanese alcoholic beverage is sake. Contrary to popular belief, sake is a brewed alcoholic beverage derived from rice. Its history can be traced as far back as 1000 AD and was produced probably earlier.

Sake consists of rice and water, as well as koji, which is responsible for the conversion of starch to sugar, hence the quality of the end product depends much on the quality of both water and rice.

Kyushu shinriki rice, and those from the Yamanashiki prefecture are known to yield fine sakes. But sake can be produced anywhere from any type of rice. Quality will vary. Today some large sake brewers like Gekkeikan have plants in California and even in Oregon.

Others brew sake in Pacific Rim countries and Australia to satisfy the demand of Japanese tourists, excuties of Japanese companies, and curious diners.

Alcohol content is a function of starch. Rice contains approximately 76 per cent starch but the centre of each kernel contains more, therefore brewers (toji in Japanese) polish the rice when they want sake with higher alcohol content. Some grind the rice kernel down to 50 per cent, others less. The more polished rice the higher is the price of the sake.

The ground rice by-product is not wasted, but used in other brews. Fine sake requires meticulous craftsmanship and precision. Approximately 1.8 litres can be obtained from 1.3 Kg. of polished rice. Generally alcohol content is 15.5 per cent, but it can reach 16.3 per cent if highly polished rice is used or pure alcohol is added.

The production of sake requires soaking, then steaming for 20 minutes, and cooling.

Koji is produced by adding fungi spores (aspergillus oryzea) to the steamed and cooled rice. This is then stored in proofer-like room with high humidity for 36 hours. Koji is now ready to be mixed into the sake base (moto) which consists of koji, water, more steamed rice and yeast. Now the yeast starts converting the sugar to alcohol.

Following this, moromi (sake mash) is prepared by mixing moto, water and koji in a large fermentation tank until most of the sugar is converted to alcohol. This stage of fermentation lasts about a fortnight. The liquid is then drawn, the residue mixed with alcohol and then pressed in an attempt to extract more flavour. Subsequently distilled water is employed to reduce the alcohol to reduce the strength to the original level to maintain a desirable balance.

Some sake producers at this stage employ pasteurization and age the product in tanks for six to 12 months.

Premium and ultra premium quality sake undergo longer fermentation cycles than regular products.

It is important to note that sake is brewed from December to April and traditionally fishermen were the toji (brew masters) when the fishing season was closed.

Today there are 1500 sake producers in Japan with outputs ranging from 35- 500 kilolitres. Huge multinational corporations like Gekkeikan brew and market in many countries.

Specially designed attractive packaging is employed.

Sake should be consumed chilled (8 – 10 C. = 45 – 50 F) to appreciate its nuances best. Generally the acidity of sake ranges from 1.2 – 1.8 per cent with residual sugar hovering from 1 to 5 per cent. Sake is almost always clear, with some showing yellowish tinges.

In the past, and even today, some people prefer their sake warm (38 – 49 C = approximately 100 – 125F), but such temperatures tend to hide defects of the product.

Sake aromas are very subtle and one must pay attention to detect the earthiness, citrus aromas, nutty nuances, fruitiness, and alcohol. In the mouth it can be light, medium or heavy, with a mellow and smooth texture. The aftertaste of sake ranges from very short to long and satisfying pending quality.

It is best to enjoy sake with sushi and sashimi, although chicken and white-fleshed poached fish may be paired with it. Strongly flavoured, spicy, roasted foods would overwhelm delicate sake flavours.

Manufacturers suggest using sake for cocktails and it can be, but since you want to appreciate the delicacy, enjoying it with food or on its own appears to be a better idea.


(Japanese call it nihonshu) categories:

No alcohol added:

Junmai daiginjo-shu (rice kernels are ground to 50 percent)
(Constitute 4 percent of market share)
Junmani ginjo-shu (ground to 60 percent)
Tkubetso junmai-shu
A limited amount of alcohol added
Daiginjo-shu (polished to 50 percent)
(Less than 4 percent market share)
Ginjo shu (polished to 60 percent)
(4 percent market share)
Tokubetsu honjo-shu (polished to 70 percent)

Some of the small sake brewers are: Takasago shuzo, Kuji shuzo, Fuji shuzo, Yamatogawa shuzo, Sudo honke, Tentaka Shuzo, Kaetsu shuzo, Masuda shuzo, Miyozakura Jyozo, Daion shuzo, Yoshida shuzo, Rihaku shuzo, Imada shuzo, Tenzan shuzo and Chimoyonosano shuzo.

Rihaku shuzo and Tentaka shuzo have fine products, especially Junmaigdaiginjo Rihaku and Tentaka Ginsho.

Please remember no alcohol addiction help would ever be necessary if one drinks moderately.



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