Sake (pronounced sa-kay) is a japanese rice wine and the national beverage of Japan. Sake drinks like a wine but is produced by a brewing process more more similar to that of beer. With an average alcohol content of 15% to 16%, sake is generally stronger than beer or wine. Below we’ve listed six important grains of information for the sake novice, let the sake crash course begin!
Sake is brewed from milled rice
Sake comes in multiple grade levels which are determined by how much the rice has been milled, meaning how much of the outer portion of each rice grain has been ground away. Milling the rice down leaves less rice, but a higher quality product. It removes things like fats and proteins among other things that impede fermentation and cause off-flavors.Therefore, sake that is milled down to 50% is considered very premium.
Graphic courtesy of Urbansake.com
There are different types of sake
- Sake can be made with or without added distilled alcohol; sake made with distilled alcohol is considered fortified. Fortified sakes, however, do not necessarily have a higher alcohol content, as they are usually diluted before bottling. The addition of distilled alcohol, makes the sake lighter, sometimes a bit drier, and in the opinion of many, easier to drink. Sake with added distilled alcohol also has a more prominent fragrance.
- Unfiltered sake is when some of the rice polishings are left in the mixture, resulting in a cloudy sake commonly referred to as Nigori. These tend to be sweeter.
- Cedar sake, or Taru is stored in cedar tanks shortly after fermentation. Similar to any other alcohol stored in barrels, it obtains the smoky and rich flavors of wood.
- Unpasteurized sake refers to sake that has not been pasteurized the typical two times. This is known as Nama. Nama has a fresh, lively touch to the flavor and should be stored cold.
- If sake is aged longer than a typical fermentation cycle, then the result is Koshu. Hard to get and quite expensive, Koshu a totally different flavor profile; it is much heavier and richer than unaged sake.
- Genshu, or undiluted sake has a higher alcohol percentage (along the lines of 17%-19%) due to a lack of dilution during the fermentation process.
Sake can be consumed either hot or cold
When sake was originally introduced to the west, the quality was not the best. In order to mask the bitter qualities of the low quality, sake breweries instructed that it be served hot. The higher the quality of the sake, the better it is served chilled.
Sake pairs perfectly with a variety of cuisines
While sake and sushi are a perfect match, sake also pairs well with a variety of other cuisines. Most fried or oily foods will pair well with a more acidic sake, which cuts the fat well. Citrusy or tart foods pair beautifully with sakes that share a similar flavor profile, Konteki (Junmai Daiginjo) for example with a beet and orange salad, or even seared scallops! The same goes for grilled food, especially seafood. Tozai (Junmai) or Chiyonosono (Junmai Ginjo) pair beautifully with both grilled lobster and grilled calamari.
Traditionally, serving Sake requires manners…
It has been rumored that pouring your own sake is bad luck. While this is untrue, pouring someone else’s sake is a way to build a bond and is considered very polite. Turning down sake when someone offers it is seen as a terrible offense, and implies that they are beneath you.
Sake is not a shot!
Sake, like wine is meant to be sipped, not shot. Sake bombs are another bizarre western tradition, and are seen as a waste of sake. It would be the same as pouring a shot of chardonnay in beer, and chugging.
Any other questions about sake? You ask or comment here (on our blog,) on Facebook or in the store. We are excited to hear from you! We also deliver locally, to East Hampton, Wainscott, Southampton, Watermill, Amagansett, Bridgehampton, Sag Harbor, and Montauk.
—Pauline Fink, Staff