Everything You Need To Know About Sake & Where To Find It in Japan

Everything You Need To Know About Sake & Where To Find It in Japan

Learn about Japanese sake

While Japanese foods such as sushi and ramen are famous around the world, sake, the Japanese’s favorite drink, remains a mystery outside of Japan.

Sake has been famous in Japan for centuries – the country’s oldest sake brewery is over 800 years old.

There are sake breweries all over Japan, and one of the best things about traveling around Japan is tasting two, three or more of the local beers from each region.

What exactly is sake?

Sake is a clear, smooth and very tasty rice wine.

Sake, typically between 13% and 17% alcohol, is found almost everywhere in Japan, from the tiniest backstreet bar to the fanciest Michelin-starred restaurant. If you haven’t tried sake yet, you’re in for a treat.

How is sake made?

Although it looks like a spirit, sake is brewed rather than distilled.

The process of brewing sake begins with polishing rice. This is done to remove unwanted minerals, fats and proteins found on the outside of each grain of rice.

The more the rice is polished in the first stage, the more refined the taste of the final sake will be.

Next, the polished rice is washed, steamed and fermented with yeast before being pasteurized.

The finished sake is then aged for at least six months, although some brewers age their sake for years or even decades.

Resident: The process of brewing sake starts with grinding riceThe process of brewing sake starts with polishing the rice (Image credit: Todd Fong)

What does sake taste like?

If you’ve never tried sake, the taste might surprise you.

The taste of sake varies depending on the individual recipes each brewery uses, but much like wine, sake generally ranges from sweet to dry.

Of course, adding more sugar during the brewing process results in a sweeter sake.

Whether sake is dry or sweet, it is usually very easy to drink.

The flavor is subtle and concise, with little aftertaste. Sweet sake is usually full-bodied, while dry sake is more flavorful and a bit sharp.

Some brewers age their sake for a longer period of time, resulting in a smoother, richer aftertaste with a deeper appearance.

Some sake is not rigorously filtered during brewing, resulting in a cloudy, creamy drink that goes well with spicy food.

Another type of sake called namashu is unpasteurized and has an incredibly fresh flavor and fruity aroma.

Resident: Although it looks like spirits, sake is brewed not distilledAlthough it looks like a spirit, sake is brewed rather than distilled (Image credit: Todd Fong)

how to drink sake

There are two common ways of drinking sake in Japan. The first time was a raucous evening at the bar after a long day at the office. The second (and more dignified) way is as a well-chosen accompaniment to seasonal Japanese dishes.

In bars and restaurants, sake is usually served slightly chilled in small cups or glasses called sakazuki.

For special occasions, sake is usually served in a glass that is housed in a small square wooden box called a masu.

In this case, the sake is poured into a glass and allowed to overflow into the masu, which symbolizes prosperity and good luck.

Sake can also be warmed gently and served hot, which slightly changes its taste and aroma.

Although served in a shot glass or mug, it’s important to remember that sake is not a drink that should be drunk in one sitting.

Sake is meant to be sipped and enjoyed, whether with a big meal or a night out on the tiles.

Residents: In bars and restaurants, sake is usually served slightly chilled in small cups or glasses called sakazuki.In bars and restaurants, sake is usually served slightly chilled in small cups or glasses called sakazuki. (Image credit: Todd Fong)

Perfect Pairing with Sake

As you might expect, sake pairs really well with a variety of Japanese dishes.

This is due in large part to its unobtrusive taste, but also because sake helps to accentuate the flavors of key ingredients in Japanese cuisine.

Sake is great when paired with Japanese staples like fresh fish and seafood and grilled vegetables.

Sake also pairs well with many non-Japanese foods, especially salads, as well as thick meats and cheeses.

In general, the style of sake should match the food being served, so sake pairs well with sake.

Sake is also an excellent palate cleanser between courses.

How to choose a good wine

The good news is that bad quality sake is hard to find.

Most sake brewed in Japan is technically classified as futsu-shu, or non-premium sake, comparable to table wine.

If you’re looking for a particularly good spirit, then go for ginjo sake or junmai sake.

Both are made from higher quality ingredients, including rice grown specifically for sake.

Both ginjo and junmai sake are known for their fine and delicate taste and pleasant aroma.

As a rule of thumb, the best gingko and junmai sake are made in areas of Japan known for growing rice.

When purchasing a bottle of sake, check the percentage stated on the label. This does not refer to the alcohol content in sake, but to the amount of rice polished during the brewing process.

The lower the number, the more polished the rice and the higher the quality of the sake. Sixty percent or less sake is guaranteed to be a very good drink.

If you’re traveling around Japan, why not try some of the incredible sake that’s waiting to be discovered in every corner of the country?

From Tokyo, head to Ibaraki Prefecture to visit Sudo Honke, Japan’s oldest sake brewery, founded in 1141.

In Ine, a beautiful seaside town in Kyoto Prefecture, you can taste a unique red wine made from red rice at Mukai Brewery, the first sake brewery in Japan to have a female head brewer .

Niigata, one of Japan’s largest rice-producing regions, also produces excellent sake – some of the best in the region. Niigata also has more sake breweries than any other prefecture in Japan.

Both Fukushima and Hiroshima prefectures are known for their high-quality rice and abundant fresh water, and also produce superb sake.

On your next trip to Japan, be sure to explore the many different varieties of sake that are waiting to be discovered all over the country. cheers!

For more information on Japanese sake, visit japan.travel

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