If you love sushi and Japanese cuisine, you have likely tried Japan’s national drink, saké, at some point. Whether enjoyed chilled, room temperature or hot, saké will turn any meal or gathering into an event! It has been gaining in popularity outside of Japan for quite some time, and has even found its way into the skilled mixologists’ bag of tricks to create cocktails such as saketinis and sake bombs. While western culture typically refers to the beverage as “rice wine”, saké is actually not wine at all. Here are some other interesting facts about the ancient drink:
Saké is created through a complex brewing process
Unlike traditional wine made from fermented grapes, saké is made from fermented rice through a brewing process similar to that of beer which converts starch to alcohol. First, saké rice is stripped of its oils and proteins, which is known as polishing. Any remaining debris is washed off, and the rice is air-dried. The rice is then steamed, after which Koji (a mold used to convert rice starch to sugar, then into alcohol during fermentation) is kneaded into the rice, and yeast is soon added, too. The brewers keep a close watch on the saké around the clock for a few weeks, fine-tuning the concoction as they see fit. Once they have deemed it ready, the rice mash is pressed, and the liquid left behind after filtering is saké. After resting, it is then bottled.
Higher quality saké has been polished longer
There are several saké designations which have been established based on the amount of the rice grain that has been polished away, with the lowest grade having 30 percent or less of the rice grain polished away and the highest boasting 50 percent. The term “Junmai” translates to “pure rice”, and is used to distinguish saké that is strictly derived from rice, rather than having another distilled alcohol added to the mash as it is processed, which makes saké that has been labeled “Junmai” a more pure and desirable product.
Saké contains more alcohol than you might realize
It may surprise you that the alcohol content in saké is higher than both wine and beer. Undiluted saké contains between 18 and 20 percent alcohol, while wine typically has between 9 and 16 percent and beer usually rings in with 3 to 9 percent. Of course, hard liquors still contain the highest amount of alcohol by volume, ranging from 24 to 40 percent. Funny enough, the word saké can be used for any alcoholic drink in Japanese.
Drinking saké is an important bonding ritual
Per Japanese tradition, one should not pour their own drink, which conveys a distrust of your host or drinking partners. Pouring saké for a friend and allowing them to return the favor is meant to bring you closer together. It is a very popular drink for important events, too, such as wedding toasts, New Year’s parties and other types of celebrations.
Treat yourself to a glass of saké or a saké-infused cocktail for a delicious change of pace from your usual go-to drink!