A BASIC GUIDE TO SAKE
If you’re a Sake beginner like me, join my webinar with Amelia Singer, Rie Yoshitake (Sake Ambassador in the UK) and Sorakami (quality Sake retailer) on 8th October 2020 at 8pm (UK time). Register HERE
Sake is a mystery to me, so I’ve read a bit about it to put together my basics guide to Sake, to help you choose a bottle to taste along with the webinar. Sources are quoted at the end – if you find any errors or you would like to add more detail, please comment below. You can do a Sake course with WSET if you would like to learn more.
WHAT IS SAKE?
“Sake” means alcoholic drink in Japanese. “Nihonshu” is the Japanese word for what we call Sake. It is known to be refreshing and for its umami flavour.
Four things are needed to make Sake – rice, water, koji and yeast:
- Sake is fermented rice. The rice “sakamai” is different to table rice and has a higher level of starch. The starch is in the centre so the rice is polished, or milled, to reveal the pure starch. The more polished it is, the better the quality, and this is how it is graded.
- Water is important as the purity and pH of the water used affects the quality of the sake.
- Koji, a cultivated rice mould, breaks down the starch into sugars.
- The yeast converts the sugar into alcohol. Like in wine, the type of yeast used encourages different aromas.
The alcohol level of Sake is 14-20% which is high for a fermented drink. Sometimes alcohol is added for balance and to increase the intensity of the aromas. Acidity is lower than in wine.
Sake becoming popular as with the increase in popularity of Japanese food, and Sake cocktails are popping up as mixologists seek interesting combinations of flavours. Sake can also be added to cooking. Sake has a delicate umami flavour so pairs well with Asian food and earthy dishes like wild mushroom risotto.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF SAKE
There are many varieties of sake, many more than I will describe here, but as an introduction here are some terms you should know:
- Junmai – no added alcohol or sugar (so is considered “pure”), polished to at least 70% of original volume, a rich, full body and some acidity. Serve warm or room temperature. Junmai is often used alongside another term, such as Junmai Ginjo (which is pure with 60% polishing).
- Ginjo – Polished to 60% of original volume, light fruity, complex, fragrant, and easy to drink. Generally serve chilled.
- Daiginjo – Premium Sake polished to at least 50% of original volume, with light complex aromas. Serve chilled.
- Nigori – Cloudy, coarsely filtered, may have very small bits of rice floating in it, sweet and creamy.
- Sparkling – made sparkling by secondary fermentation (similar method to Champagne), tends to have lower alcohol levels, and best served chilled.
- Nama – unpasteurised.
- Koshu – aged
- SMV – number on the label indicating sweetness level, with 5+ being dry and 2- being sweet
- Umeshu – green plums and rock sugar are added for flavour and sweetness… can be added to Champagne as a great alternative to a Champagne Cocktail or Bellini!
When weighing up which to buy, one tip I read was to buy a lower polishing level from a premium brand, rather than a high polishing level from a cheap brand.
HOW TO SERVE
Generally, aged sake has rich flavours so should be served warm. Sake with delicate flavours should be served at room temperature. Fruity sake should be served chilled. If you’re warming it, please heat gently so as not to disturb the aromas.
Traditionally Sake is served in small pottery cups, small glasses, or wine glasses for chilled Sake. Store Sake like wine – in the cool and in the dark. Drinking within a year of purchase. Once opened, to store close tightly and keep in a cool place and drink within one month. Keep Ginjo in the fridge to retain fruity flavours.
NOW IT'S TIME TO BUY
We have partnered with Sorakami to offer a selection of Sake to suit all tastes. If you’re not sure, pick the Gingo.
- Kamoizumi Nigori Summer Snow (Cloudy) - rich & creamy, serve cold
- Tedorigawa Kinka Gold Blossom (Daiginjo Nama) - full & clean, serve cold
- Kamoizumi Shusan Three Dots (Junmai) - woody, serve cold or warm
- Koshi no Kanbai Tokusen (Ginjo) - light and clean, serve cold