Barroom Basics: The Skinny on Sake November 03, 2015 07:26
Sake is one of the most versatile and refreshing players in the alcohol world. Yet it remains cloaked in a veil of eastern mystery to many people. Today, we’re hoping to shed some light on the matter so saddle on up to the bar and we’ll begin.
What is sake?
Sake is a brewed alcoholic beverage made from rice that is produced from time honored traditions in Japan. While sake is often referred to as “rice wine,” it really is not wine at all. Sake is produced through a brewing method quite similar to beer. More on that process below.
How is it made?
The brewing of sake takes several months and begins, of course, with rice. Similar to other brewing and distillation methods, the higher the quality of the natural ingredients, the higher the quality of the finished product. The rice used in sake is classified by how much of the tough outer layer of each grain is milled away. The finer each grain of rice, the higher quality of the rice, and thus, the higher quality of the sake. Got it? Good.
Next, the rice is put through a series of water and steam baths and is introduced to a mold called Koji-kin mold. Once the mold has spread throughout the rice, the mixture is known as Koji (similar to a malt in beer making). The Koji is then mixed with water and more rice to create glucose from the rice starch. Yeast is then added to the sugary mix to create a mash, this step allows for the conversion of the glucose into CO2 and alcohol, et voila parallel fermentation.
The process in reality is much more intricate, but at least you now understand the basics. After the fermentation process the sake is strained of any remaining rice particles, pasteurized, filtered, matured, and bottled.
What are the different types of sake?
While there are literally thousands of styles of sake, below are seven main classifications that you can use to navigate your way around. A sake can be categorized by one of these terms or by a combination, depending on its production method.
The first four classifications designate the ingredients or method used to produce a sake.
Daiginjo-shu - Fragrant and full-bodied sake made from rice that has had 50% of its shell polished away
Ginjo-shu - A light sake made from rice that has been polished down by 40%
Junmai-shu - A full and flavorful sake made from a rice polished down by 30%
Honjozo-shu - A light, yet earthy and fragrant sake made from rice that has been milled down by 30%
The last four classifications speak to a sake’s aroma or flavor which can be affected by the grade of the rice or an aging process.
Kunshu - Has a very clear fragrance with a light body, best enjoyed on its own
Soshu - Smooth with a refreshing light taste
Junshu - Sake with subdued flavors, often enjoyed warm to bring out its innate charms
Jukushu - Matured with well developed, sometimes spicy or bitter flavors
So how do I choose a good sake?
Good question. Choosing a sake to drink depends on two things, are you pairing your sake with food, or are you looking for something specific to enjoy on its own?
After work drinks // Classic flavors
If you’re a classic afterwork cocktail drinker, likely to order a martini or gin and tonic, then a Junmai or
Ginjo may be for you thanks to their pure and smooth flavors. If you’re more of a rum cocktail or beer
drinker, you may want to try out a Daiginjo characterized by the high quality of rice used to produce smooth refreshing flavors. All of these sakes pair well with salty bar snacks, so drink up!
Event reception or appetizer course // Fresh + light
Found yourself strolling through a reception or convention? Stand out from the crowd with a
flavorful Ginjo or Junmai. These styles of sake will pair very well with light fresh foods like fruit or
Home cooked flavors // Earthy + fragrant
Home cooked meals are by far some of the most enjoyable. Toast your or your loved ones’ kitchen accomplishments with a classic Junmai. The clearly present natural flavors in a Junmai pair very well with sweet and earthy flavors often found in home cooking.
Sushi night // Bright + inviting
We love us some sushi. Take your sushi experience to the next level by pairing your next meal with a light
and mildly fragrant Honjozo. The light characteristics play very nicely with the delicate characteristics of
sushi and will also pair well with salad dishes or other fish dishes like ceviche.
Date night // Effervescent w/ a wild side
If you and your date are dining on delectables such as roasted fish, fried or roasted chicken, or even
roasted vegetables, you may consider pairing your meal with a Daiginjo. This style of sake is made from a
high quality rice grade and if brewed in the yamahai style, it will have a bold flavor profile.
BBQ pitmaster // Robust + spicy
Looking for something rich and spicy to compliment marinated meat or a juicy steak? A traditional Ginjo is
probably the way to go here. This sake has deep rooted almost spicy flavors that pair exceptionally well
with smoked or grilled meat.
After dinner celebration // Elegant + vivid
While we certainly don’t need to wait for a special day to enjoy fine sake, there are a few styles that
make a wonderful addition to a celebratory day. These styles of sake are extremely fragrant and distinct in
flavor, so they’re best enjoyed sipped by themselves while you take in your surroundings. Check
out a sparkling Junmai Daiginjo or for a heartier flavor profile, you may like a Junmai Kimoto.
Cheers to your sake adventures + happy hunting!