Sake is a Japanese alcoholic drink, brewed from rice. The word (酒) is pronounced as SA-KEH (the E sound like the A in CARE.) Its history can be traced back to the 3rd century. The first sake was called kuchikami no sake, (口噛み酒) or chewing-in-the-mouth sake, and was made by an entire village chewing rice, chestnuts, and millet and spitting the mixture into a tub to ferment.
Centuries later, the use of yeast was discovered, which greatly increased the sake's alcohol content. World War II also altered the recipe, when rice shortages forced brewers to develop new ways to increase their yields. By government decree, pure alcohol and glucose were added to small quantities of rice mash, increasing the yield by as much as four times. 95% of today's sake is made using this technique, left over from the war years, though connoisseurs say that the best sake is still made with just rice, koji (麹) (Aspergillus oryzae, a fungus whose enzymes convert the starch in the rice to sugar), and water only.
There are four basic types of sake, created by slightly varying the brewing method.
- junmai-shu, (純米酒 lit. pure rice wine) made from rice only; no alcohol added
- honjozo-shu, with a slight amount of distilled alcohol added
- ginjo-shu, (吟醸酒) from highly milled rice; alcohol may or may not be added
- daiginjo-shu, (大吟醸酒) from even more highly milled rice; again alcohol may or may not be added
The most common way to serve sake in the United States is to heat it to body temperature (100°F/40°C), but professional sake tasters prefer room temperature, and chilled sake (50°F/10°C) is growing in popularity.
In Japan too sake is generally served warm or hot, the poorer quality of the sake, the hotter you serve it, it is also said that warm or hot sake goes into your system quicker, this habit became popular during WWII to mask the roughness of the flavor, sake is the only alcohol you can drink heated.
Sometimes referenced as rice wine, contrary to wine, sake should be consumed within one year after the bottling date, after which it loses its clarity and taste.
Japanese barrels containing sake