There are so many kinds of Japanese Sake. Why are they different? How should I taste sake? What is the best temperature? Is there a correct way to drink sake?
This blog answers to these questions.
What is Sake?
Sake is Japan’s national drink. Made all across the country, there are said to be about 20,000 brand names. Many diverse cultures originated in ancient times because of the climate and natural features of each region of Japan, which has four distinct seasons. Sake has developed with Japanese culture. That is why Sake is an interesting drink.
Sake is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice.
Premium sake uses special rice called sake rice, which is suited for brewing premium sake. There are four important things to make sake. Water, Rice, Brewing Alcohol, and Koji Mold and Yeast.
Sake is in the same category of fermented liquor as wine and beer. Fermented beverages are alcoholic drinks made when yeast ferments alcohol from the agricultural crops used. The fermentation process differs for each type of drink, and a unique characteristic of sake is that it uses a sophisticated production method called multiple parallel fermentation.
Types of Sake
There are several different types of sake, and the following special designations are specified by the Japanese government.
Daiginjo-shu is a form of ginjo-shu made with even more highly polished rice which at least 50% of the outer layer of the grain has been removed. It has an even more refined taste and stronger ginko-ka than ginjo-shu.
Ginjo-shu is made with rice grains from which more than 40% of the outer layer has been removed by milling. Fermentation occurs at lower temperatures and takes longer. Distilled alcohol equivalent to up to 10% of the weight of the polished rice may be added. It has a fruity fragrance, called ginjo-ka, with a light, that is low in acidity.
In honjozo-shu, the emphasis is on flavor and there is little ginjo-ka or aging-induced aroma. It has a reasonable level of acidity and umami and rather than asserting the aroma and taste of the sake itself, it helps to bring out taste of food.
Sake Tasting (Aroma, Color, Taste)
Sake tasting focuses on three characteristics. Aroma, Color, and Taste.
Ginjo-shu (premium sake) has an aroma known as ginjo-ka. This aroma is fruity, with hints of apple, banana, and melon. Matured sake(koshu) also has a rich and mellow aroma, and is often described as resembling dried fruit or spices. For all sake, the aroma is judged on fullness and balance.
Sake is thought to be clear and colorless, but some sake has a little hue to it, and differences in production methods influence the final color and clarity. The sake’s clarity generally depends on the method by which the moromi (fermenting mash) is pressed and filtered. Moreover, if the finished sake is stored for a long period of time, the color will become gold and amber.
Sake’s taste depends on the degree of sweetness or dryness, richness or lightness, and the amount of body the sake has. When the sake has a high sugar content, it tends to taste sweet, but acidity can mask sweetness, so even if two sakes have the same sugar content, the one with stronger acidity may not taste as sweet. Sensations of sweet/dry, rich/light, and body will differ depending on the balance of alcohol, sugar, acidity, and amino acid.
What is the best temperature?
Sake can be enjoyed at a wide range of temperatures. Each temperature has a different name, and you can enjoy unique aspects of the same sake when you try it at different temperatures.
50 degree C: Atsu-Kan: The tokkuri and choko are used to drink it. Vapor rises from the tokkuri. The sake’s aromas are sharpened and it tastes dry, with a clean finish.
45 degree C: Jo-Kan: Vapor rises when the sake is poured. The sake’s aromas are concentrated, and the flavor feels soft and crisp.
40 degree C: Nuru-Kan: The taste feels more warm than hot when drinking. It seems close to body temperature. The sake’s aromas become a bit richer, and the flavor feels full.
20 degree C: Shitsu-on: When the tokkuri is held, it may feel slightly cool to the touch. The aroma and flavor will give an impression of softness.
10 degree C: Reishu: The general term for sake chilled to between 10 degree C and 5 degree C is reishu. Generally, chilling sake to lower temperature masks subtle flavors.
Sake and Shinto rituals
In ancient times, sake was a sacred offering dedicated to the gods. The word that Japanese people call out when they exchange drinks, Kampai, is charged with a prayer for people to make their hearts as one in front of the gods. Even now, sake is indispensable for occasions when people’s hearts and minds gather into one, such as banquets, and Shinto rituals.