We adore sake. Admittedly, it wasn't love at first sip. Our first encounters were with sake bombs and cheap hot sake, and it wasn't until we discovered the world of chilled sakes and unfiltered sake that we truly appreciated the craft and flavors of this brewed wonder.
Intro to sake
Sake is one of Japan’s most iconic drinks. In fact, it is so pervasive in Japanese culture that the word for alcohol in Japan is simply “sake”. The origin of sake dates back to the third century, where Chinese texts depict the Japanese drinking, dancing, and presumably enjoying this delicious drink. By the 17th and 18th centuries, techniques for brewing Sake had been perfected, and its popularity caused sake breweries to pop up all over the country. Ever since then, drinking sake has become an integral and daily aspect of life in Japan.
What is sake?
You may have heard that sake is just Japanese wine. Well we’re here to tell you that there is so much more to this alcoholic beverage than just some version of wine. In fact, sake isn’t even wine at all! The process of brewing sake is actually much more similar to that of brewing beer. But unlike beer, which often includes hops, rice is the only grain that is used in sake. Sake is made by brewing rice, water, and koji (which is rice that has allowed mold to grow on its grains). The person who brews sake is called a Toji, and he or she can play around with the fermentation process to make a unique final product.
Where should I start?
Just like how there are different types of wines and beers, sake can come in many different flavors as well. In fact, there are over 1,600 different variations of sake in Japan. The strongest and roughest sake is called ‘Koshu’. We’d steer clear of this one if you’re just dipping your toes into the sake world. We’d recommend trying a ‘Junmai’ as a good beginner sake. These sakes are usually smoother and sweeter, making it much easier to sip on its own or to pair with your meal.
Hot or cold?
Although sake was traditionally served warmed, most sake nowadays should be served slightly chilled. Sake peaks in flavor just below room temperature, so by serving it chilled, you can keep a lot of the fruity and flowery essences alive when drinking it. But again, there is no one-size-fits-all in the realm of sake. Some sake is meant to be gently warmed, especially when that sake is being served in the winter. So how do you know whether to drink a sake warm or chilled? The answer is up to you, but in general, if it’s a nice bottle, we recommend serving chilled and it’s a cheaper sake, warm it on up 😊.
Does sake pair well with our Fall Box: Journey to Kyoto, Japan? It sure does. When we asked Chef Aya what drinks would pair best with her class, she said Sake and Beer. Sake pairs beautifully with the crisp cucumber salad.