Hot, warm, room temperature, chilled, cold or iced. Japanese sake is a delicate beverage that shows different flavors and aromas depending on temperature. There are so many kinds of sake that it could fit in almost any kind of cuisine. In general terms, rich sake is good for richly-flavored dishes and light sake is good for lightly-flavored dishes. For instance, rich sake with high acidity matches grilled or fried food, while light sake with a fruity fragrance goes well with raw fish.
Sake is a brewed alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice. The brewing process is a little complex as rice does not contain sugar necessary for the fermentation to gain alcohol. With the help of “Koji” mold that breeds on steamed rice, the starch in rice converts into sugar. Then yeast is added to carry out the fermentation.
Consumers are often confused about the difference between the nine types of sake. First, they are divided into two groups – “Junmai-shu” and the others. “Junmai-shu” is made only from rice, “Koji” and water, while distilled alcohol is added to the other group. Then, the degree of polishing rice and the fermentation process determine the grade of sake. The more the outer surface of the grain is removed, the finer the quality of sake will be. In addition, premium sake is produced by the low-temperature fermentation that takes longer than the regular process. The highest grade of sake is called “Daiginjo.”
Overseas demand for sake has been steadily expanding as the popularity of Japanese food keeps growing worldwide. Japan’s sake exports came to 11.5 billion yen in 2014, marking the record high for five consecutive years. The growth is led by strong demand in the United States, the largest importer of sake. The exports to the U.S. more than doubled over the last decade.
At restaurants, foreigners prefer raw sake called “Namazake” which does not go through the heat-treatment process of pasteurization. Some of them consider “Namazake” a kind of white wine and drink it in a wine glass.
There are a total of over 1,500 sake breweries or “Kuramoto” in Japan. Many of them operate in the prefectures with a rich harvest of the rice for sake brewing, such as Hyogo and Niigata. Among the most popular premium sake in Japan are “Dassai” of Asahishuzo in Yamaguchi prefecture, “Denshu” of Nishida Sake Brewery in Aomori prefecture and “Jyuyondai” of Takagi Shuzo in Yamagata prefecture.
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