Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association | JSS
Sake is made of rice, koji, and water. Koji refers to koji-fungus cultivated on rice, and it is koji that breaks down rice starch into sugar.
Sake brewing in Japan is believed to date back as far as the 5th century BC. It is believed that the method was brought in from China along with rice cultivation during this time.
The strains of rice used for making sake can include both general table rice and special sake rice. Compared to table rice, sake rice is usually bigger in grain size, lower in protein, and has a white, porous core.
Different strains of rice have various digestibility and protein content, so the variety of rice affects the flavor of sake.
Unlike beer or wine, the fermentation process in sake brewing can produce a drink with over 20% alcohol content. However, 20% is slightly too strong for general consumption. Therefore, the alcohol content is usually adjusted with water to around 15%, so the final product can be more enjoyable with meals.
Some sake has neutral spirits added before pressing to stabilize the quality and adjust the flavor. However, brewers are prohibited to add any preservatives and sulfites to sake by law.
A sake label displays basic information about the product. By Japanese law, brewers are required to include the alcohol content, ingredients, product name, net content, bottled date, producer’s name, and legal statement to prohibit underage drinking on every sake label.
There is a variety of types of sake available. Noteworthy are junmai and ginjo especially for people new to sake. Junmai is made exclusively with rice and koji without an addition of neutral spirit and usually has a rich flavor while ginjo has a characteristic fruity aroma and a light flavor.
A “dry sake” can be difficult to define. For example, the lack of sweetness often is experienced as dry. At the same time, acidity can also play a part on the perception of sake’s taste. Therefore a sake with higher acidity and a clean finish could be called dry. To find a sake that you may like, try to communicate with a sake shop staff or a sommelier, especially if you don’t know much about the drink. Tell them the type of wine you like or food you want to pair the sake with to help them picture what type of sake you are looking for.
It depends on the type of sake. Sake is bottled the way the brewer intended it to be consumed, and most sake keeps for up to a year if unopened. However, some types such as ginjo and namazake are a bit more delicate. Make sure to keep these sake in the fridge even before opening, and don’t wait too long to enjoy their aroma and flavor.
Sake is stored similarly to wine. Bottles should be stored in a cool place away from direct light. Keep the bottle upright. Some types of sake such as ginjo and namazake must be kept refrigerated as they are more sensitive to warm temperatures.
Most sake can be served at a variety of temperatures, from 15℃ to over 50℃. Some sake, such as ginjo and namazake are recommended to be served chilled, as their characteristic fragrance disappears when heated.
Sake is served heated for a number of reasons, regardless of its price and quality. The majority of sake can be enjoyed chilled or warmed, including expensive and premium quality sake. Warmth brings out the sweetness and umami of sake, enhances food paired with it, and keeps you warm on a cold day.
The direct influence of the climate on sake quality is relatively limited. In winemaking, grape quality, and thereby the climate, has a significant influence on the outcome. The climate and the resulting rice harvest do contribute to the quality and the flavor of sake. However, they are just a part of many factors influencing the sake properties. Other factors include the types of rice and water, the skills of the brewers, and the local culinary culture.
Sake can be paired with a wide range of food, from appetizers to dessert. Sake has lower acidity and iron compared to wine. The flavor of sake doesn’t clash with the acidity, bitterness, or astringency in food as much. In addition, sake has a high amino acid content that adds umami to paired dishes, enriching the flavor.
Sake has a higher alcohol content than wine and beer and is easier to overdrink. To avoid excess drinking, it is recommended to drink water in between cups of sake. It is best to drink the same amount of water in comparison to the sake, or more.
Sake is brewed across Japan, from Hokkaido to Okinawa. Nada (Kobe) and Fushimi (Kyoto) produce the most sake by volume in Japan, closely followed by Niigata. Also, several regions have been appointed with the Geographical Indication (GI). These areas include Hakusan, Yamagata, Nadagogo, Harima, and Mie as of 2020.
As of 2018, 1740 sake-making licenses have been issued to breweries. However, about 1200 of them are actually producing sake.
In 2018, 406,064kl of sake was produced in Japan. This equals over 541 million wine bottles (750ml).
A 720ml bottle of junmai sake contains approximately 300 grams of polished rice.
The easiest way is to contact the local tourism office, as the brewery may not have English-speaking staff available at all times. Also, not all breweries accept visitors, especially during brewing season. Therefore please always check and reserve before planning your visit.