How do you make a 1,200-year-old drink, hip? One way is by calling it the “new wine” and making it an essential ingredient in killer cocktails. That’s what’s happened to sake, the rice-based liquor that is associated with all that is traditional about Japan. Yet from its origins in Shinto ceremonies in the 8th century and its place modern-day weddings, it is currently undergoing a revival.
It may be a laggard compared to sushi in its global appeal but it is increasingly popular among connoisseurs of Japanese cuisine, says Kelvin Zeia, the sake sommelier of Japanese restaurant Zuma in Hong Kong.
“The palate goes from sweet to dry, but there are subtleties between different types of sake,” he says. The alcohol content of around 15% also means it can be a discreet mixer in cocktails.
For many their first experience of sake might not have been a particularly sophisticated experience, most likely downed as a cup of hot grog after a few too many beers at the sushi bar. Yet there is much more about the drink to appreciate.
While it can’t compete with wine for breadth and variety, nor vintages (sake is best drunk “fresh” – within a year or so be being brewed) sake does have a number of grades and types. The complexity of the flavor is dependent on a number of factors; from how much the rice has been polished (to remove the proteins and oils), to the type of water used.
Regional difference then can be detected, says Zeia, as sakes with a cleaner taste will often be made in regions close to mountains with supplies of spring water, rather than lower-lying areas that used more mineral-intense groundwater.
But for novices to begin enjoying sake the essentials come from knowing the three main varieties. For those looking for the Chateau Lafite of the sake world (and looking to splash the cash) there’s Daiginjo, generally believed to be the finest using the highest percentage of polished rice. Like the majority of sake it should be drunk chilled, says Zeia, as heating generally masks the delicate flavors. Generally anything colder than 5 degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit) is too cold; hotter than 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), too hot.
Junmai sakes can have a variety of flavors and are seen as the middle ranked of the three varieties of sake. Made with only rice and koji, the rice mold mixture essential for fermentation, no other alcohol is added. The last main type is Honjozo, that doesn’t use rice polished to the same degree as Ginjo and Junmai sakes. It also has added distillation alcohol and is the type more likely to be served warmed as it has a lighter taste compared to the others.
But better than just drinking sake in its own is pairing it with with food; a sake can be found that complements pretty much anything except for really spicy dishes, says Zeia.
“With white fish, seafood or sushi, go for a Junmai,” he suggests. “With grilled meats, go for a long measure, Junmai Daiginjo sake, like the brand Born, aged in the bottle for about 18 months.”
With these basics in mind, the world of sake can be explored. But ultimately, says Zeia, finding the right sake to suit your own taste is half of the pleasure.
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Sake is great using Bizen guinomi and tokkuri from the Nakamura family and some shiokara or oden.
For better or worse, I'm gonna try my hand at making some sake. I have a source for the rice and koji, and have brewed all kinds of stuff. Hopefully, it turns out drinkable, but at a $50 investment to yield 30 bottles, I'd be willing to try and fail.
Warm Sake after Shabu Shabu on Christmas Eve night in snowy Kyoto is a very happy memory. We also ordered a small plate of fried chicken tenders. Anyone familiar with Japanese christmas impressions will understand the joke!
In Japan about sake, they say, 'You drink the first bottle. The second bottle drinks you.'
One of my favorite drinks. Unfortunately, my very first experience with Sake came directly from Japan after a friend visited and brought me a souvenir. We drank it first mulled, then chilled. Both ways were excellent, and should not be discounted. I don't see why you shouldn't drink it the way you like.
Sadly, I've never since found the like. It was excellent, smooth and incredibly tasty.
I don't know the name of the brand (it was in Japanese), though I do remember the look of the bottle and label. As of yet, I've never found it state-side. I've had many other sakes since, but none that quite compared to that one.
One of my favs is Pure (Dawn):
All of you are alcoholics. Without exception.
You say that like it is a bad thing.
lmao that's what she said...
You gon' learn today!
You would seem to be a troll.
No seeming about it my friend.
I HOPE you mean me too!
They are educated. You manichino.
I have no idea if it is "quality" sake, but I love Momokawa Pearl.
The Momokawa line of polished rock-themed sakes are considered premium Junmai's of some kind, for sure. They are the best I have been able to find at a decent price with any ease in the US. The Pearl is quite different from most sake, however, as it's considered a NIgori, which means it's cloudy from the unfiltered rice grain left behind and the sweetest true sake you can get. Always shake a Nigori before serving to mix up the rice remnants.
Some of the better sushi places in my area (Nashville – Sushi O Sushi by Lennox Village on Nolensville Rd. is amazing) make sake in-house that tastes great whether it's hot or cold. I love "making" sushi rolls and serving it with sake.. Sadly, Gekkeikan is pretty much all that's available at my favorite liquor store. I like to try different kinds.
For those who are more interested in getting the proper serving sets, http://www.j-list.com has awesome deals on the sake "carafe" and serving cup sets that look really great.
You should be able to find Momokawa and G brands of sake in Nashville. Their a small step up in price for a huge step in quality.
To be honest, I really haven't looked lol. I'm sure my liquor store has other brands of sake. They also sell various plum wines and Soju (Korean alcohol) and whatnot... One of these days I'm gonna make another batch of Bulgogi (Korean BBQ) & get a bottle of Soju.. lol..
Cold unfiltered sake, creamy white and wonderful. It is the ultimate in comfort drink.
I agree! Tozai Nigori is my favorite.
Soju is where it's really at.
I'm with you on that. Try Chamishil Soju with Sam gyup
sal (Korean bacon) and all the side dishes. Pure heaven
I have tried a few sakes but my favorite is still the standard Gekkeikan(sp?). I like to drink it warm with a little lime and a touch of salt, the Rice-a-Rita. Try it. Dry, fresh.
I would like to share an experience with you all, about drinking and
driving. As you well know, some of us have been known to have had brushes
with the authorities on our way home from the odd social session over the
A couple of nights ago, I was out for a few drinks with some friends
and had a few too many cocktails and some rather nice claret. Knowing full well
I may have been slightly over the limit, I did something I've never done
before – I took a bus home.
I arrived home safely and without incident, which was a real surprise,
as I have never driven a bus before and am not sure where I got this one.
ROFLMAO! That one's going in my book!
That's great! Very smart. Congrats!
And you've been waiting all week for an alcohol related article just so you could trot out that chestnut, eh? Never mind. Thanks for the chuckle!
Actually the best way to drink it is by pouring some in a shot glass and carfully suspending the glass on two chopsticks above a glass of beer. Wait for your friends then count down and slam your fists on the table, the sake false into the beer and you chug it...Sake bomb
Chris brown is no confucious. Hee-yaw!
Snake? Snake! SAAAAAAAAAAAAKE
Living in Minnesota as I do, I like warmed up sake after being outside on a cold day.
if you can find it at a local liquor store, Tozai is great.
served chilled, the taste is remarkable and the buzz is very unique, not at all like beer or wine and very pleasant.
When it was served to me in China it was warm. I like it better that way.
I get the spring water and ground water comparisons but what about the water from near Fukashima? Does Sake produced from those waters create a warm, fuzzy glow?
It leaves me with a burning feeling,yet I have noticed I see better in the dark.
I got it! The Green Lantern cocktail. 1 part Fukushima Sake and 2 parts Absinthe. Furry Conventions would become a religious experience.
The Palins have their own recipe for sake. They all throw their dirty underwear in the hot tub, let it soak, then drain it off and add a little rubbing alchohol. Voila !! Just like being in Tokyo. Bristoltwit thinks she's a geisha girl.
That heifer, a geisha girl.? LOL!
Sake is served in tokkuri (small sake bottles) and poured into o-choko (small sake cups). It is polite to pour sake into each other's cup when you are drinking with someone. It's good to know whether your company's cup is empty or not. When someone wants to pour you more sake, you should hold your o-choko cup up. While I pulled this off the internet, I was previously advised this years ago by a close Japanese friend.
There is good sake and there is bad sake, and it can be very bad. You get what you pay for.
Also, serving it cold must be the rage among western hipsters because it certainly isn't the norm for nihonjin.
Low grade sake is served hot because heating it doesn't spoil what flavors there are. High grade sake should be served chilled so as to retain the flavors. Basically all hot sake tastes the same.
Serving it cold is the standard for quality sake. I've had the good stuff both ways and it is far far better cold. If you're going to warm it up, don't bother buying the good stuff.
In 20+ trips to Japan, I only had sake chilled.
This was both with sushi and other cooked foods.
I did have Shochu (distilled spirit) heated a couple of times.
Cold Sake is love in it's self.
Warm Sake after Shabu Shabu on Christmas Eve night in snowy Kyoto is a very happy memory. Chilled sake just would not have had the same effect that night! (We also ordered a small plate of fried chicken tenders. Anyone familiar with Japanese christmas impressions will understand the joke!)
This whole article is BS. Chilling dull the taste buds not enhances their ease perception Need proof? Try drinking a Coke or Pepsi warm and you'll see what I mean—you have to drink that junk cold to stomach it. while I agree over heating probably make flavors, chilling does too. Room temp or just slightly below let's you taste buds taste it to the fullest.
There's a difference between chilling and cold. 45-50degF is chilled. Less than 45degF is cold.
Your comment is pure gibberish. And your example of drinking warm Coke or Pepsi is nonsense. Those drinks were designed to be consumed at lower temperatures as are almost all carbonated beverages. Why don't you try drinking chicken soup straight from the can and see if that is palatable to you. Or maybe try some warm wine. Maybe try eating a nice cold steak see how much better it tastes than a hot one.
Odd you say it's not "the norm" for nihon-jin. I have numerous friends from around Tokyo, to Omiya and from Kyoto to Takamatsu. I've visited and speak with them frequently. *Nobody* makes a habit of drinking warmed sake. If the sake is of any quality, it's always served chilled (but not cold).
As for drinking it chilled, I lived in Japan for many years, drank it in bars, at home, at relatives homes and never had it served chilled . Serving it chilled must be the trend among the twenty-somethings.
As for drinking it chilled, I lived in Japan for many years, drank it in bars, at home, at relatives homes and never had it served chilled . Serving it chilled must be the rage among the hipsters.
The sake that I have had in restaurants and bars have always been heated. I assumed that was how it was supposed to be served. Thanks for clearing that up CNN.
I'm always curious how it taste maybe I need to try it next time when I go to a Japanese rest.
Yes, do try it. I was disappointed. It tasted like warm, soapy water someone used to clean athletic socks.
Those weren't socks you were tasting.
;) Do tell, what was it I was tasting? Was it the sushi chef's happy ending?
Sounds like you got cheap sake, warmed up. Ask for a cold junmai daiginjo, or at least junmai ginjo. The first one I tried was Momokawa Diamond from Oregon, and it was utterly amazing despite that it was only junmai grade and reasonably priced.
Bear in mind at a restaurant sake, just like wine, is marked up 200-500% and the good stuff is often only sold by the bottle. One of my favorites cost $45 at a local sushi bar, I was able to get it for $10 at a Japanese market. Your best bet is to find a Japanese restaurant with a good bar that sells good sake by the glass. I started to get interested in sake about 10 years ago and it’s become one of my favorite drinks regardless of cuisine.
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