The Joy of Sake

Sake, pronounced sah-kay, is an alcoholic beverage of Japanese origin made from fermented rice.  Unlike wine, sake is produced by means of a brewing process more like that of beer.

Types of Sake

In general there are five basic types of sake.  Each requires different brewing methods and different percentages of rice milling.  Naturally, there are other special brewing techniques that are less common.  Below we have included the five main types listing the rice polishing ratio.  Rice polishing ratio is the percentage of the rice that remains after the husk, or outer portion, of the rice is removed.

JUNMAI-SHU
Pure rice wine; no adding of distilled alcohol.  Junmai no longer requires a specified milling rate.  It will be listed on the label.

HONJOZO-SHU
At least 30% of rice polished away; a tad of distilled alcohol is added.

GINJO-SHU
At least 40% of rice polished away; with or without alcohol added.  If the bottled is labeled Ginjo, it means distilled alcohol was added.  If labeled Junmai Ginjo, it means no alcohol added.

DAIGINJO-SHU
At least 50% of rice polished away; again with or without added alcohol.  If the bottle is labeled Daiginjo, it means distilled alcohol was added.  If labeled Junmai Daiginjo, it means no alcohol added.

NAMAZAKE
Special 5th designation for unpasteurized sake; incorporates all of the above four.

 

Sake Etiquette

While not a requirement, sake etiquette can help expand your knowledge of a different culture and add to your next sake endeavor.  Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind while drinking sake.

DO:
Hold the flask with one hand at the top palm facing down when pouring.

Politely bow your head in appreciation when your cup is filled.

DON’T

Pour a cup for yourself.  Someone else should pour it for you as a social bonding experience.

Don’t pour into the cup while its resting on the table.  The recipient should always hold the cup with both hands when receiving sake.

 

The History

Sake is an ancient beverage which has been produced in Japan, Korea and China for over 2500 years.  Farmers began fermenting their rice into a thick, low alcohol, porridge that was eaten, not drank.  During the Middle Ages, the Imperial Palace established a brewery and sake became a central component of religious practices. Over the next thousand years, the market was gradually taken over by merchants.
By the 17th Century, major sake production had shifted into the cities as the drink became more popular with the rich and samurai class.  With addition of a higher alcohol content, sake did not spoil quite as easily.  In the early 1800s major production shifted to Nada in the Hyugo prefecture where it is still considered today to be the center for sake brewing.  The water power in this region was used to mill the rice, allowing for the production of a finer sake.