Like wine in France, there are different ranges of sake according to their qualities and refinements. Discover all its aspects:
- Sake, Japanese alcohol made from rice
- The making of sake, 4 important factors
- The different grades of sake
- Japanese regions famous for their sake
- Sake-making utensils
- The komodaru, a 350 year old barrel
- Sake tasting dishes
- How to prepare hot sake?
Sake, Japanese alcohol made from rice
Sake ” 酒” or nihonshu “日本酒” or seishu “清酒” is a Japanese rice-based alcohol with an alcohol content of around 15°C. It is a fermented alcohol which is drunk hot or cold, at a temperature which varies between 5° and 60°C.
Like wine, there are different ranges of sake according to their qualities and refinements. It is also used as an ingredient in Japanese cuisine. Nowadays, sake is less consumed in Japan, not being unanimously appreciated by young people, but it is increasingly exported and appreciated by the great French tables.
The making of sake, 4 important factors
The quality of sake and its manufacture depend on four factors:
1 The expertise of a master brewer called toji. The expertise of the brewmaster is paramount to the quality of the sake, usually he has trained in one of 25 dedicated schools, called Ryuha 流派.
2 The quality of the rice, kome 米, carefully selected from about 50 sakerice varieties.
3 The quality of the water, mizu 水, is important. Spring water is added throughout the manufacturing process.
4 Koji and yeast. The koji is a microscopic fungus that allows the fermentation of the product, we also find it in the making of mirin and shoyu soy sauce, or in the miso for example. Yeasts convert sugar into alcohol and are therefore important because they give the flavors and nuances of sake.
You can see in more detail the whole process of sake making with pictures describing all the technical terms on the site of midorinoshima.
The different grades of sake
All sake sold in Japan is graded into three categories according to its koku 石 or “body” written on the bottle. The top one is“tokkyu “級” then“ikkyu 一級” and“nikkyu 二級”. Namely, tokkyu sake is twice as expensive as nikkyu sake.
Sakes are classified according to 5 criteria that must be in harmony: sweetness, acidity, spiciness, bitterness and its full-bodied taste.
They are usually sold in a binzumé bottle. The biggest bottle of sake called isshobin contains 1.8 L . There are of course smaller and cheaper bottles, sometimes sold in drink machines in Japan.
Jizake, local sake are very fashionable today in Japan
Jizake is the name given to different varieties of sake made in limited quantities with only local products as ingredients. Jizake sake has a unique taste reflecting the characteristics of the different regions where it was made.
Japanese regions famous for their sake
Sake is produced all over Japan, but some regions have very good reputations such as:
– Niigata 新潟市, a mountainous region facing the ocean, north of Tokyo, famous for the high quality of its rice and its very pure waters. In addition, Niigata is the largest rice producer in Japan.
– In Nada, a region close to Kobe, river waters are naturally filtered through the canyons of Rokko Mountain. To know more about this region, you can visit this site of Nada sake tour guide in English.
If you are in these regions, you can taste many sake, visit breweries and sake museums!
The komodaru, a 350 years old barrel
The komodaru 菰樽 are large wooden barrels where sake is kept. It is used for ceremonies or to inaugurate a new business, or the completion of it. It is also often used on January 11, the festival of Kagami Biraki (a Shinto ceremony) and then broken with a small hammer called kizuchi. Moreover, the komodaru is always covered with a straw mat and a rope made of rice straw, in order to protect it from bad weather, called wara. You will also find komodaru walls in Shinto temples but of course empty as offerings.
Sake tasting dishes
Sake is often served in a ceramic, porcelain, glass or bamboo bottle called a tokkuri 徳利 which holds approximately 0.8L, and held by a small pot called a hakama.
Sake can be served in:
1 a small cup called a choko 猪口, often made of porcelain or ceramic to drink the hot sake.
2 a masu 枡, a small wooden box whose primary function was to measure rice in the Edo period. Today it is used for drinking cold sake.
3 a sakazuki 盃, is a very flat and flared cup, used to drink sake at weddings, new year or for other celebrations. They are quite expensive but of very good quality.
How to prepare hot sake?
1 Put the sake in the tokkuribottle
2 Place the tokkuri in a large bowl of hot water and heat it in a water bath to 40°C or 50-60°C
3 Place the tokkuri on a hakama
Taste the sake in the small choko cups, these are small in order to cool the sake quickly , it loses about 5°C but keeps the heat well. Sake is similar to white wine, and goes well with most dishes.
If you have the opportunity in Japan to go to an onsen, a hot spring bath, you can also enjoy sake in it! It will be served in a round wooden tray like a hangiri and will float on the water.