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March 02, 2016

The Japanese Food Guide: Sake

By Stuart Turner

What is it?

Sake is an alcoholic drink originating from Japan. It is a rice wine made from the fermentation of rice, from which the bran has been removed. Although it is called a rice 'wine', the fermentation process of sake is more like beer than wine. In wine making, sugars are derived from the grapes, but in sake making, the starches must first be turned into sugars in order to make the alcohol.

Undiluted sake has an alcohol content more like a spirit than a wine or a beer; it stands at about 18-20% when brewed, but is often diluted to 15% when bottled. Sake is not traditionally mixed when drank, and it often served up straight in a small glass - although this glass looks like a shot glass, you should sip your sake, not down it! 

How is Sake Served?

As we mentioned above, sake is served in a small glass which is about the size and shape of a large shot glass. Sake can be served chilled, at room temperature or heated. Hot sake is a popular drink in the winter, but if the sake is high-grade, it is never served hot. Serving the best sake hot means you will lose a lot of the delicate aromas. 

Sake cups are called choko and are often ceramic. Sake sets also come with a matching ceramic jug in which the sake is served instead of in the bottle. Traditionally in Japanese etiquette, you do not pour your own sake, instead it must be poured by another guest or your host.

 In more traditional environments, the sake will be served in masu, which is a square wooden box. If your host puts a cup inside the masu, then pours the sake until it overflows out of the cup and into the box, it is a symbol for generosity. 

Once a bottle of sake is opened, it is at it's best for 2-3 hours, and is recommended to be stored in the fridge and consumed within 2 days. This is because once opened, the sake starts to oxidise. 

Sake Traditions

Sake is most often associated with winter in Japan, because this is when it could be brewed. Using modern methods, sake can now be brewed year round. Traditionally, an orb made of freshly cut cedar branches was hung outside the door of the brewery, as the leaves turned brown, this orb was used to visually represent the maturing of the sake. 

Sake is the drink of choice on New Years Eve in Japan, which is one of the biggest yearly holidays. 

 

Sake serving sets are available from Sushi Sushi, so go and choose your favourite!

 


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