Topic

What is Sake?

What is Sake?

What is Sake?

Wine is made by fermenting the sugar in grapes into alcohol. Sake is made by fermenting the sugar in rice into alcohol. Hence, sake is often referred to as rice wine. This sounds simple enough, but compare the nutrition facts on a bottle of Mott’s to a bag of Uncle Ben’s, and you may ask: how is sugar converted into alcohol when rice has no sugar? The short answer is that rice has starch, and starch can be turned into sugar through a complicated process. The longer answer is that science is fun, and maybe check out Youtube.


So that’s the what and the how. As for the where, sake comes from Japan. And as to the why: because it’s delicious and extremely versatile.


Sake is made in a wide range of styles, but fortunately, you can tell a lot about a given bottle based on its label. For example, the words “Ginjo” and “Daiginjo” both denote fragrant sake with fruity and floral aromas. These are at the premium end of the spectrum, and should be served lightly chilled or at room temperature so their flavors aren’t dampened. Meanwhile, “Honjozo” sakes are savory and earthy, and should be served at any temperature you like.


If you’re a fan of natural wine, then a couple terms to look out for on sake bottles are “Namazake” and “Nigori.” Nigori sake is unfiltered and thus cloudy, while Namazake is unpasteurized, meaning it can be particularly fresh and lively when young, but it can also go downhill quickly after release. Whether or not you care about cloudiness or stability, you probably do want to know if it’s dry or sweet. The simplest thing for you to do is look for a numerical value (the “SMV”) between +20 and -20 on the back label. The more positive the number, the drier the sake, and the more negative, the sweeter it is (zero is neutral).


Whatever style you go for, keep in mind that sake has been made in Japan for more than 2500 years, meaning it’s tailor-made to enjoy with Japanese food. Of course, sake should be one of the first bottles you reach for when you’re having sushi, but its moderate alcohol (15-20% ABV), light sweetness, lack of bitterness, and low acidity mean it’ll complement, rather than overpower, pretty much any type of food.


How long can sake stay open for?

We tested sakes which were open for a week and found a consistent flavor. After that, it’s on you.


Is sake good with food other than sushi?

Yes. It’s great with any salty and fried food too. Fritto misto, Po-Boys, and even fried chicken. Be careful, the alcohol can sneak up on you if you drink like it’s Mardi Gras.


How do I find dry sake on the menu?

If you want something dry, avoid Nigori style sake. Look for sake with higher alcohol levels to ensure you have totally dry sake. Nowadays, most sakes are dry and crisp.


What type of sake should I try if I like White Burgundy and Champagne?

Sake flavors are determined by the brewery rather than by the place they are from. Look for breweries like Heiwa and Nishide for a nutty and lean flavor.


What are Junmai and Daiginjo words on the menu?

These are grades of the rice. Think of the grades like the fat on a steak. Producers mill the rice grains down to get to the main event rather than leave behind any fat. Just like steak, fat isn’t always a bad thing. It can add flavor. Junmai Daiginjo is the most polished, that’s the filet. Although sake is rice wine, their production facilities are called breweries. The categorization of their brews is best understood if compared to beer. You have the brewery name, you have the specific bottling, and then that bottling has some classification similar to how you would categorize a beer as an IPA or stout to indicate the process in which it’s made.





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