March 2012 Archives
The origin of Sake is unclear, and it's thought to date back to 3rd century Japan. By the 8th century it was one of the most popular drinks in Japan, and about a thousand years ago it had become commonplace among important cultural events such as weddings, religious ceremonies, and New Year's celebrations.
HOW IS IT MADE?
We won't bore you with the details, but the basic process of creating sake comes down to fermenting rice with the use of water, yeast and Koji-kin. Rice doesn't have sugar in it, so unlike the grapes in wine, and the barley in beer, it can't be fermented without the koji-kin (super special moldy rice). This unique type of mold allows the starch in rice to be converted to sugar. This is necessary for fermentation, and thus, necessary to create alcohol. The remaining rice, sugar, and other solid particles are filtered away, and what you're left with is sake. Whew, I'm glad we got that out of the way, now let's get to the fun stuff.
The best way to determine if a sake is good is for you to try it, and see if you like it. But if you're looking for a set standard to determine high quality, there are two words you need to keep in mind: Rice Milling.
Rice milling is the process of shaving away the outer shell of a grain of rice. The more that is shaved away, the more pure the rice becomes, and the higher the quality of the resulting sake. There are many grades and types of sake, but the sake with the most rice shaved away, and thus, the purest product, is Daiginjo sake. It has a minimum of 50%. This means that at least 50% of the outer rice grain must be shaved away for it to be classified as Daiginjo. Sometimes they even shave 60% or 70% to ensure the absolute highest quality. Following this is Ginjo, with at least 40% shaved away. This process removes many of the fats and amino acids that might have adverse effects on the sake's ultimate taste or aroma.
Junmai is another very important word when you're looking for quality. Junmai refers to a very specific kind of sake that has no additives in it. It means that when you're drinking the sake, it is only pure sake, without any flavor enhancers, color dyes, or additional alcohol. Many companies will add flavor or distilled alcohol to shorten fermentation times and increase production. This doesn't necessarily make the sake bad, it just means it's not pure.
So when you see Ginjo or Daiginjo, it refers to the super high grade of rice milling. When you see Junmai, it refers to the purity of the sake. When you see the two words appearing on the same bottle, it means the sake is absolutely pure, and that the quality of the sake is of the highest caliber.
You will find many differing opinions on this subject matter. Please direct hate mail to the comments section below : )
Short answer: Anyway you like it! Most sakes can be served either hot or cold. This excludes the Draft Nama Sake, which should pretty much always be served cold. But as we were saying, most sakes can be served either way. The temperature at which sake is served will have an effect on the sake's taste, aroma, and overall texture and appeal.
Hot Sake tends to make the alcohol content feel more powerful. Many foreigners think of sake as 'having a kick' because they try it warm for the first time. Heated sake is recommended to be paired with plain foods, such as light sashimi without wasabi or a simple noodle dish. This is because the sake is a bit more powerful when heated, and a robust flavored meal would clash with that. The sake becomes a bit dryer when hot, and the flavor becomes less sweet, and slightly stronger overall.
Cold Sake, on the other hand, is a beverage of subtly. It leaves you with a gentler, milder, more aromatic drink. This works well with strong flavored foods, whether they be spicy, sour, or sweet. A cold sake will have a pleasant and tantalizing aroma. The flavor will be a little more delicate and understated, and the texture will be much smoother overall.
Lower quality sakes tend to be served hot, because the heat covers up many of the flaws in the beverage. And chilled sake is generally reserved for the premium drinks like Daigonjo, Ginjo, and Junmai. It should also be noted that traditionally, sake was brewed in wooden barrels that left a powerful taste and a strong earthy smell, which a high temperature would help cover up. As the techniques for making sake advanced, and the earthy smells and tastes went away, the need for heated sake became more obsolete.
So should your sake be served hot or cold? It comes down to what you want out of the beverage. Is the sake being served with food? What kind of food? Are you looking for a more powerful sake that 'has a kick' as they say? Or do you want something smoother? Are you looking for flavor, or aroma? And of course, what's the weather outside? No one wants cold sake in ice cold weather.
And please note that when we say heated sake, we don't mean magma-hot-sake that was put in the microwave for 15 minutes. A good way to heat your sake is to place the glass bottle within a pot of heated water atop your stove. Every sake has its peak temperature where it is best served. Hot sake, in general, should be no more than 105 degrees, and cold sake, in general, should be around 40 to 50 degrees.
Short answer: Lots. But here are a few of the basic types you'll encounter.
Daiginjo and Ginjo: We already went over this, so we'll keep it short. These sakes are super refined with the purest rice, and the highest attention to detail. They offer traditional styling, with a smooth texture and a great taste.
Nigori: 'Nigori' loosely translates to cloudy. It refers to the murky appearance of the sake. It has this effect because at the end of the fermentation process, not everything has been filtered away, leaving a lot of the smaller particles. This gives it a stronger texture, a more robust aroma, and a very sweet flavor. Make sure to shake this one before drinking so you get all the benefits of this uniquely sweet style of sake.
Nama: Draft Name Sake is unlike other types of sake because it is unpasteurized. Because of this it needs to be stored in a cold place, and should be served chilled. But it also offers a sweet, subtle taste, and a very light, soft texture that you don't get with a lot of other sakes.
Junmai: Junmai can be incorporated into many different types of sake, but in order for the sake to be classified as Junmai, it must be pure. No additives, no color dye, no additional alcohol added. This ensures a rich quality, and taste in keeping with the highest tradition.
Flavored Sake: The flavored sakes are the exact opposite of the Junmai. They offer a new take on an ancient drink, and are good for those first learning about sake. They've got a sweet flavor, and are a great gift for people who may be tired of drinking wine, but might not have quite developed the palette to appreciate a Junmai.
So if you have any other questions about sake, or have a favorite style you don't see here, or if you just want to check in and see how we're doing, you can leave us a comment below.